How Safe Are Bike Lanes for Texas Bicycle Riders?
Bicycle crashes can cause injuries and even be fatal. In Texas, reported the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a dozen Houston-area cyclists were killed in 2013, an increase over 2011 (10 fatalities) and 2012 (eight). Texas state law considers a bicycle to be a vehicle: according to the Texas Transportation Code, “A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle.” The law does not require bicycles to use any special lane, but cyclists must observe safety rules of the road in normal traffic lanes. Local laws in Texas, however, may add and regulate bike lanes.
University of New Mexico and University of Colorado researchers studied major American cities, including Dallas, and concluded that infrastructure built for bicycles, particularly physical barriers that separate bikes from speeding cars as opposed to shared or painted lanes, significantly lowered fatalities in cities that installed them. These separate bike lanes improved safety overall for bikes, vehicles, and pedestrians; cities with a larger proportion of cyclists tend to have safer roads.
The bad news? According to streetsblog.org, the researchers found that painted bike lanes provided no improvement on road safety—it was actually safer to have no bike markings at all.
“You’re better off doing nothing,” a study co-author said. “It gives people a false sense of security that’s a bike lane.” And is it always safer to ride your bicycle in designated bike lanes? A blog at bikelaw.com points out that cyclists who are far to the right of a lane are less visible to oncoming cars turning left. Many vehicle drivers don’t notice bikes in bike lanes, or treat bicycle riders like pedestrians, expecting them to move more slowly and be able to react instantly.
In August, The City of Carrollton provides safety reminders and law information for bicyclists, similar to safety tips for pedestrians, but adding:
- Never ride opposite the flow of traffic.
- Use a white front light and a red rear reflector or light.
- Although Texas law does not require a helmet, it is strongly encouraged.
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