Published: 6th NOVEMBER 2018

Bike Life: Protected bike lanes will transform our cities

Bike Life (2017) showed strong support for cycling by residents in the seven UK participating cities.

Man on bicycle on protected cycle lane, passing a bus stop

Almost four in five residents support building more protected cycle lanes, on our streets, even when this could mean less space for other vehicles. And 64% of residents said they would find these routes very useful to help them start cycling or cycle more. With such strong demand from the public, what does the evidence say about protected bike lanes?

Tim Burns, ߣߣƵ Senior Policy & Partnerships Advisor discusses the issue.

Improving safety and feeling safe

Bike Life showed in 2015 and 2017 that safety continues to be the single largest barrier to more people using bicycles for everyday journeys.

Research from Canada compared 14 different types of routes used by people cycling in cities. The routes ranged from major streets with no infrastructure present, to painted bike lanes and on-street protected cycle tracks. They found the infrastructure provided made a big difference in terms of safety. Protected bike lanes – with actual barriers separating people riding bikes from other traffic – reduced the risk of injury by 90%[1]. This is not the only study of this type and the wider evidence base strongly suggests protection has a clear and significant benefit for safety.

Perception of safety was also higher in protected bike lanes. According to People for Bikes, 96% of people riding in protected bike lanes in America felt safer on the street because of the lanes[2]. Results from Bike Life support this – for example more people would find protected routes very useful to start cycling or cycle more, than other types of more common cycle infrastructure.

By actually creating separation between bicycles and cars, not only do injuries reduce, but more people feel empowered to cycle. This improves accessibility for everyone, especially less confident individuals unlikely to currently ride a bike.

Numbers of people riding bikes

Across the seven Bike Life cities, the single longest protected route built in the last two years was the Oxford/Wilmslow Road cycleway in Greater Manchester. This is a busy 7km artery route into central Manchester passing through the University of Manchester campus. It was opened in two stages – initially Wilmslow Road, and more recently the full route including Oxford Road closest to the city centre.

The average number of daily cycle journeys recorded along the cycleway rose by 86% (from 960 in March 2015 to 1,791 in March 2017) following completion of the Wilmslow Road stretch[3]. Subsequently, following the opening of the Oxford Road cycleway, the number of riders using the route now exceeds 5,000 a day on a regular basis, with a high of 5,803 recorded on 3rd October[4].

A similar result was seen in central London. After the first five months of opening the East-West and North-South Cycle Superhighways the number of people on bikes using them increased by over 50%[5]. This equates to 8,400 using Blackfriars Bridge and 7,000 using Victoria Embankment each day in the morning and evening peaks.

Street capacity – moving people not cars

Whilst protected bike routes on streets are increasing in the UK, currently they are still very much in their infancy, especially compared to road space for cars. In six of our cities where data is available, only 19 miles of protected bike lanes on roads physically separated from traffic and pedestrians exist. This equates to 0.2% of the total miles of roads in the same six cities (9,351 miles in total).

Progress has been slow partially as a result of the need to reallocate road space from cars to bicycles. This is seen by decision makers as a politically unpopular move likely to lead to public outcry and greater congestion. Yet Bike Life suggests residents are more in favour of change than often is thought to be the case. So, does reallocating space actually hinder keeping our cities moving?

As our cities continue to grow we need to focus on making our streets as efficient as possible at moving people, rather than cars.

In London at peak times, the new East-West and North-South Cycle Superhighways occupy only 30% of the road space and yet move an average of 46% of people along the route at key congested locations[6]. Overall, looking at all modes of transport two weeks after opening, these superhighway corridors were moving 5% more people per hour than they could without cycle lanes. This suggests reallocation of road space to cycle lanes is making these routes more efficient.

Street capacity and liveability

Another good example is Dronning Louises Bridge, one of the busiest routes into central Copenhagen. Between 2009 and 2013 space for cars was reduced to increase the width of existing protected cycle lanes, alongside improvements to the pedestrian space and bus conditions.

This led to an increase from 81,000 to 97,000 people using the bridge each day[7]. Cycle use rose by 60%, walking by 165% and bus use by 5%. There was also an increase of people visiting the bridge to socialise and tourists enjoying the space. This example shows reallocating space for walking and cycling can not only improve the efficiency of streets, but also improve the liveability and attractiveness of streets.

Transforming our cities

The evidence above suggests protected cycle routes along our city roads have significant potential to improve safety for people on bikes and dramatically increase the number of people cycling. Reallocating space to make room for this infrastructure can also make our streets more efficient at moving people, whilst also creating more liveable and attractive streets.

In the Bike Life cities, 69% of residents think their city would be a better place to live and work if more people cycled. Greater cycling therefore has the potential to make cities better places. And to unlock the potential of cycling there is arguably no better opportunity than the creation of a network of safe and attractive protected bike routes.


[1]Teschke et al, 2012. Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study. The American Journal of Public Health.

[2]Portland State University, 2014. Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.

[3]TfGM, 2017. personal communication

[4]TfGM, 2017. Cycle counters clock up major milestone

[5]TfL, 2016. Update on the implementation of the Quietways and Cycle Superhighways programmes

[6]TfL, 2016. Update on the implementation of the Quietways and Cycle Superhighways programmes

[7]Bike Account Copenhagen, 2016

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