According to an online news report published on eurekalert.org, a special painted-off area, also known as a “bike box,” helps keep bicyclists safe, according to a new research study conducted by the Oregon State University College of Engineering. The research study states that bike boxes also prevent accidents at metropolitan, signalized intersections. The research results published in Accident Analysis & Prevention are significant due to the number of fatal cycling crashes that happen each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cycling deaths are on the rise, and almost half of these bicycle-car crashes occur at intersections in urban areas. In 2020, more than 930 bicyclists were tragically killed in the United States. This is an 8.9% increase over 2019.
The National Safety Council, a non-profit organization that keeps track of bicycle fatality data, states that bicycle traffic deaths have risen by 44% in the last ten years.
The research study was conducted by Logan Scott-Deeter, an Oregon State civil engineering graduate research assistant, Professor David Hurwitz, a professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State, and Brendan Russo from Northern Arizona University. The bicycle safety research project utilized a bicycling simulator that recreates traffic conditions so they could observe and compare the results of three different intersection treatments – bicycle signals, the bike box, and a mixing zone.
Mixing zones blend in the bike lane before an intersection and then are replaced by different lane markings such as “sharrows.” Sharrows show motorists that bicycles will be sharing one traffic lane with motor vehicles that are trying to turn right and cross over the former bike lane.
Bicycle signals are dedicated traffic lights for cyclists. When the bicycle signals turn green, the bicyclist can safely cross the intersection.
Bike box treatments are painted boxes that create a special bicycle lane allowing cyclists to get a head start through the intersection. These are much more visible to drivers of motor vehicles and have been proven to be the safest option.
Researchers at Portland State University put forty research subjects through several traffic scenarios for all three intersection treatments. To gauge how well each design performed, the study researchers tracked eye movements, charted the riders’ paths, measured stress levels, and administered a survey.
The study concluded that the bike box performed the best and provided the best balance of increased safety and keeping cyclists ready to respond to traffic situations.
The study also found that mixing zone treatments created unpredictable riding behaviors, and bicycle signals made it more difficult for cyclists to detect a potential conflict vehicle. According to the cyclists, the mixing zone treatment “created the most discomfort” but also made the bicycle riders more careful through the intersection. The study found that the unpredictable and sporadic riding habits connected with mixing zones can expose bicyclists to higher accident risk.
Bike boxes demonstrated the most effective treatment for promoting safe cycling habits while delivering enhanced safety for cyclists who were riding into signalized intersections with motorized traffic.
Bicycle signals provided the highest levels of comfort for cyclists, but the bicyclists often assumed the traffic signals would protect them and the cyclists began to use less caution. This could lead to an increased risk of colliding with errant drivers. The researchers stated that they recommend installing bicycle signals only if an intersection clearly needs one.
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