Gotta Keep 'Em Separated

Bikes. Cars. The eternal enemies, especially here in Southern California, where there is a daily battle for space on the roads.

I straddle this divide. I drive everywhere, but in there is a bike rack on my car and a helmet and pump in my trunk at all times. I consider myself a recreational cyclist. There are many though, who are using bicycles as a primary means of travel, and the fact is that very few roads in Southern California are properly set up to be used by both bikes and automobiles.

There’s a huge push to have more people use bikes to get around. Proponents cite the health benefits of exercising and the possibly beneficial environmental effects of swapping out your car for a bike. But this push has also led to animosity and even aggressive behavior on the roads.

Now, new research demonstrates that for bikes and cars to share the road safely, they need to NOT REALLY share the road at all.

A study out of Monash University in Australia found that creating bike lanes with paint was actually worse for road safety than having no bike lane at all. To determine this, they had cyclists use GPS, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors so that they could follow their paths, gauge the distance of passing objects (cars mostly) and see actual events where cars and bikes were using the same road.

When cars passed bikes, the median passing distance was a mere 75 inches. And check this out: when there was a painted bike lane, cars left 10 fewer inches of space. When there were cars parked on the side of the road, they left 12 fewer inches. And when there were both parked cars and painted lanes, motorist left 15 fewer inches.

So the irony is that some of the things we are doing in the name of making it safer and more orderly on the roads are actually making it worse.

The solution, according to researchers, is to have a complete physical separation between car lanes and bike lanes. This, or course requires more money and road space to implement.

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