One in five bicycle injuries happen in marked on-road bike lanes: new study

Are the roads safe for cyclists?
NZPA/Ross Setford

Are the roads safe for cyclists?

Think you're safe riding in that on-road bicycle lane? You may be wrong. 

A new Australian study interviewing almost 200 riders hospitalised after a serious crash on their bike show one in five of them was in an on-road cycling lane when they were hurt.

And the accidents occurred most commonly when a car was either turning into the path of an oncoming cyclist or when a vehicle driving alongside a rider turned left into their path.

Many Australian cyclists are being hurt in on-road cycle lanes.
NZPA/Wayne Drought

Many Australian cyclists are being hurt in on-road cycle lanes.

The 186 cyclists who spent a night or more in The Alfred or Royal Melbourne hospitals in Australia following a serious bike crash agreed to take part in the study, led by Monash University researchers in Victoria, Australia.

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The median age of those interviewed was 44 years, and four out of five people injured were male. And a significant number – around 65 per cent – were riding on "road" bikes, or racing-style bicycles.

The creation of more bike lanes by the state government and councils could be a reason for the high number of crashes in them. The lanes also attract more cyclists, making more crashes likely.

Ben Beck from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine was one of the researchers who conducted interviews with the cyclists.

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"Twenty-two per cent of all on-road crashes occurred while the cyclist was riding in a marked bicycle lane," Beck said, showing "that cyclists are still at risk of injury when travelling in on-road bicycle lanes".

The research, published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, found half the accidents involved a car and a cyclist travelling towards each other from opposite directions, and one-third happened when a car and cyclist were travelling in the same direction.

And one in five on-road crashes happened when a cyclist was in a "bunch" of riders.

"In these cases, other cyclists contributed to the crash in the majority of scenarios," Beck said.

He said bike lanes had lower crash risks, and stressed the findings should not be seen as indicating these lanes were dangerous. 

"[It is] more that our results demonstrate that cyclists are still at risk of injury when riding in bicycle lanes."

Cyclist Conor Murtagh found out the risks of Melbourne's roads last October, when he was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Carlton, Australia.

The 23-year-old international relations student was on Lygon Street, cycling out of the city on the eve of last year's grand final long weekend, when a car – he thinks it was a Volkswagen Jetta – turned in front of him. 

After it hit him, the car did not stop.

Murtagh – who covers more than 500 kilometres each week on his bicycle – was left with fractured vertebrae and spent time in a back brace. He is now fully recovered. 

"As far as long-term things go it's nothing," he said. "[But] i've become hyper-aware."

Bicycle Network chief executive Craig Richards said bike lanes attracted many more riders than unmarked roads, so it was logical they would record more crashes.

"But when we calculate the number of crashes on a route and compare it to the number of riders, we actually find that bike lanes are safer than no bike lanes," he said.

He said the critical issue was separating traffic from bicycles. This would lead to "very large numbers of riders, especially women, commuting to work on bikes", he said.

Richards said that separated bicycle lanes were "the gold standard for safety and convenience" and would make streets more attractive and safe for cyclists.

 - The Age

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