Bicycle infrastructure for enhanced cycling safety

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Inconclusive impact on disparities

Strategies with this rating do not have enough evidence to assess potential impact on disparities.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Bicycle infrastructure, including bike paths, lanes, cycle tracks, and other road markings and features, accommodate or provide dedicated spaces for cyclists. Bike paths are dedicated car-free travelways that are often shared-use paths with pedestrians. Bicycle lanes include unprotected lanes with painted separation from traffic. Cycle tracks, also called protected bikeways or protected bike lanes, are lanes separated from traffic by a barrier, which can be tall and continuous or provide lighter separation, such as a curb1. Bicycle facilities can be added to new or existing roads as independent initiatives or as part of a comprehensive package of interventions such as a bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced injuries

  • Reduced bicycle crashes

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased active transportation

  • Increased physical activity

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that bicycle infrastructure such as cycle tracks, paths, and lanes improve bicyclist safety1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

A higher availability of bicycling infrastructure is associated with better safety outcomes for bicyclists and other road users, especially when bike facilities are protected and separated6. Protected bike lanes appear to reduce bicyclist injuries5, 7, increase cyclists’ perception of safety9, and reduce bicyclist crashes, especially when tall, continuous barriers or a grade with horizontal separation are used1. On-road bicycle lanes2, 3, 10 and off-road paths appear to reduce bicyclist crashes and injuries compared with no facilities2. Adding bicycle lanes on urban arterial streets also appears to reduce risk of bike crashes4, 11 and may reduce risk of crashes for all road users, with lanes 4-8 feet wide recommended4. A New Orleans-based study suggests on-road bicycle lanes may reduce injury severity and head and face injuries for cyclists involved in crashes with motor vehicles, compared with no bicycle lanes10.

Studies comparing the U.S. and some European countries find fatalities among bicyclists and pedestrians in the U.S. are much higher12, 13. Experts suggest differences may be associated with higher bicycle ridership, networked bicycling and walking facilities with separated rights of way serving desirable destinations, lower urban speed limits, fewer vehicle miles traveled, and smaller and less powerful personal motor vehicles12, 13. Bicycle infrastructure that decreases bicyclists’ interactions with cars or pedestrians and makes potential interactions safer are associated with fewer bicyclist injuries14. Slower traffic speeds and volumes4, 6, 8, 14, smoother and flatter pavement, road lighting1, 2, 7, 8, 14, fewer driveways and approaches that cross bicycle lanes11, and greater numbers of bicyclists on the road15 are also associated with fewer bicyclist injuries. Turn lanes, separate bike signals, and other intersection design features can increase safety for bicyclists16. Roundabouts can increase injury risk more than other types of intersections2, 17, especially without cycle tracks2, 14. Sharrows, which are road markings that indicate motor vehicles should share the street with cyclists, but do not designate a fully separate bicycle lane, appear to increase injury risks for cyclists18.

Access to bicycle lanes appears to increase bicycling15, 19, especially when protected lanes are used and separated from traffic by a physical barrier9, 20 and when facilities are implemented as part of a comprehensive package of interventions such as a bicycle and pedestrian master plan15. Experts also suggest increased access to bicycling infrastructure may help reduce unequal enforcement of penalties for bicycling infractions (e.g., riding on sidewalks). Neighborhoods without bicycling infrastructure are more likely to have lower residential stability, higher poverty rates, and greater numbers of Black and Hispanic residents21.

A cost benefit analysis of the 45 miles of bicycle lanes New York City installed in 2015 found it was cost effective based on the increased likelihood of people cycling, improved air quality from the reduced traffic congestion, lower health care costs from lower injury rates and increased active living and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) saved22. A Netherlands-based cost benefit analysis suggests that investments in improved bicycle infrastructure yield positive net benefits in the long-term23. Costs for infrastructure improvements vary significantly by locale and type of improvement, for example, in one study, bike lanes cost an average of $133,170 and signed bicycle routes cost an average of $25,070 per mile24. Some studies suggest that bicycle facilities may increase sales at local businesses9.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated inconclusive impact on disparities.

It is unclear what impact access to bicycle paths, lanes, and tracks have on disparities in access to active living opportunities. Research suggests that bicycle lane investments are typically made in areas of greater sociodemographic advantage36. Available evidence indicates there are likely multi-faceted, non-infrastructure barriers to bicycling for people of color and those with low incomes, such as lack of confidence in cycling skills, fears regarding physical safety and crime, or concerns about inequitable law enforcement tactics21, 36.

People of color experience a disproportionate share of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. and are more likely to encounter inequitable effects of policing during traffic enforcement efforts meant to increase safety21, 36. People of color, those with low incomes, and those without health insurance are more likely to suffer pedestrian injuries and fatalities because they are all more likely to live in communities that are the least safe for walking37. More traffic citations are issued in neighborhoods with lower residential stability, higher poverty rates, and greater numbers of Black and Hispanic residents. For example, in recent years, 86% of tickets for bicycling on sidewalks in New York City were issued to Black and Hispanic cyclists21.

A Chicago-based study found that bicycle infrastructure on high traffic streets was associated with fewer cycling tickets issued, but bicycle infrastructure was less likely to be in place in neighborhoods of color. Additionally, tickets were disproportionately issued in areas without bicycle infrastructure, and to people of color, most frequently for illegal cycling on sidewalks; the study findings highlight the lack of bicycle infrastructure in neighborhoods of color and demonstrate uneven targeted policing tactics21. Bicycle lanes are associated with bicycle commuting, which may be higher in neighborhoods with residents that are more likely to be white or have higher income levels36. While residents in neighborhoods of color, or with lower incomes, may cycle even in the absence of supportive cycle infrastructure, experts suggest the multi-faceted, non-infrastructure barriers to cycling likely have a greater impact36.

Experts suggest that if bicycle infrastructure is implemented alone, it may increase disparities36. However, if infrastructure additions are part of broader interventions that address the non-infrastructure barriers for cyclists of color, then implementation may be seen as a tool for racial justice and can reduce the potential for negative interactions with law enforcement21, 36. Experts also recommend embedding equity in bicycle and pedestrian master plans by acknowledging equity as a value of the plan, stating planned actions to increase equity, and establishing how planners will be accountable to the commitment38. To reduce disparities in access to safe, active transit opportunities and improve equity, communities with lower incomes need to receive more financial and infrastructural investments than communities with high incomes39.

What is the relevant historical background?

Automobile-centric design motivated many zoning patterns and urban movements in the U.S., creating community inequalities through reduced access to transportation option and increased residential segregation, which further entrenched health disparities40. Communities of color and with low incomes experience discrimination along with socioeconomic and physical barriers that restrict their access to safe, convenient, and affordable options for active transport38. This includes lack of access to secure bike parking, disproportionate traffic safety risks, and fears of crime or racial profiling21. People with low incomes have also been displaced from urban centers by gentrification, moving to suburbs where there is more affordable housing but longer commute times, yet another barrier to active transit41. New York City’s "broken windows" policing strategy in the 1990s employed racial profiling and aggressive response to minor infractions, including pedestrian and bicycle violations; the policy was found to reduce quality of life, restrict mobility, and erode public trust for people of color21, 42.

Over the last decade, cities have increasingly invested in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to support active living and harness the potential benefits for the environment, the economy, and public health. However, the built environment in under-resourced communities remains a significant contributor to health inequities for people of color with low incomes40, 43, 44. Communities with low incomes and communities of color still have fewer places to engage in outdoor activities, have less access to cooling shade, and experience more extreme heat and poorer air quality45, 46, 47.

Equity Considerations
  • How does your organization engage neighborhood residents, especially residents of color and those with low incomes, in the planning and development of bicycle infrastructure? Do those leading initiatives come from the local community and represent its needs?
  • Which city planning groups or community organizations are involved in identifying neighborhoods that would benefit from bicycle infrastructure? How are funds raised and allocated for planning initiatives in your community?
  • Whom can you partner with to develop and support bicycle and pedestrian master plans with a multi-faceted approach to increase safe, active living across your community?
  • What other strategies could be implemented alongside bicycle infrastructure to increase its ability to make equitable change? What is the local policing approach to bike and pedestrian infractions?
Implementation Examples

Bicycle paths and lanes are becoming more common around the U.S., with an increase in paved, off-road trails from 5,904 miles to 39,329 miles between 1991 to 2021. The length of protected bicycle lanes went from 34 miles in 2006 to 425 miles in 201825. Cities like Austin, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee are investing in more protected bicycle lanes; cities like Atlanta, Georgia, Kansas City, Missouri, and Nashville, Tennessee are similarly increasing investments in on-road bicycle lanes26. About half of all respondents to a nationwide 2012 survey had bicycle paths within a quarter mile of their homes and about 40% had bicycle lanes (NHTSA-Schroeder 2013).

Many organizations are working to increase bike paths and lanes, including the League of American Bicyclists, the People for Bikes Green Lane Project and the Alliance for Biking & Walking27, 28, 29. For example, the League of American Bicyclists runs the Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) program that provides assistance, tools, and recognition for states, communities, universities, and businesses to support increasing bicycling opportunities locally27. Additionally, People for Bikes has helped make the case for how bicycle infrastructure positively impacts the local economy and supports equitable transportation in cities30. Federal funding levels for bicycling and walking infrastructure was capped at $850 million/year in 2015 with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act31. Federal agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offer several planning resources to transportation officials in installing bicycle paths and lanes32. There are several federal grant programs available to help with funding for projects to expand and improve bicycle infrastructure, which now include selection criteria requiring applicants to address how proposed projects will advance equity33.

In Houston, Texas, a place governance organization connected two disinvested neighborhoods to green space and amenities by developing and implementing a bicycle path network that enables circulation of pedestrians and cyclists across the city center from the eastern and western edges of the city34. In Hidalgo County, Texas, public health officials supported the establishment of community coalitions to drive the expansion of the local bicycle infrastructure and physical activity opportunities, resulting in the addition of 5 miles of bicycle lanes, bicycle parking, and free water refill stations, among other bicycle amenities35.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

PBIC-Design resource - Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC). Design Resource Index.

PFP-Trail action guide - Partnership for Prevention (PFP). Places for physical activity: Facilitating development of a community trail and promoting its use to increase physical activity among youth and adults - An action guide. Washington, D.C.: Partnership for Prevention (PFP); 2008.

ChangeLab-Zimmerman 2013 - Zimmerman S, Kramer K. Getting the wheels rolling: A guide to using policy to create bicycle friendly communities. Oakland: ChangeLab Solutions; 2013.

RWJF-Action strategies - Leadership for Healthy Communities. Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009.

RTT-Toolbox - Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTT). Trail-building toolbox.

LAB-Bike laws - The League of American Bicyclists (LAB): Bike laws and model legislation.

CDC-PA Transportation - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s your role? Transportation.


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2 Reynolds 2009 - Reynolds CC, Harris MA, Teschke K, Cripton PA, Winters M. The impact of transportation infrastructure on bicycling injuries and crashes: A review of the literature. Environmental Health. 2009;8:47.

3 Chen 2012a - Chen L, Chen C, Srinivasan R, et al. Evaluating the safety effects of bicycle lanes in New York City. American Journal Public Health. 2012;102(6):1120-1127.

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7 Harris 2013 - Harris MA, Reynolds CC, Winters M, et al. Comparing the effects of infrastructure on bicycling injury at intersections and non-intersections using a case-crossover design. Injury Prevention. 2013;19(5):303-310.

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13 Pucher 2016 - Pucher J, Buehler R. Safer cycling through improved infrastructure. American Journal of Public Health. 2016;106(12):2089-2091.

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18 Wall 2016 - Wall SP, Lee DC, Frangos SG, et al. The effect of sharrows, painted bicycle lanes and physically protected paths on the severity of bicycle injuries caused by motor vehicles. Safety. 2016;2(4):26.

19 Parker 2011 - Parker KM, Gustat J, Rice JC. Installation of bicycle lanes and increased ridership in an urban, mixed-income setting in New Orleans, Louisiana. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2011;8(Suppl 1):S98-S102.

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23 Fishman 2015 - Fishman E, Schepers P, Kamhuis CBM. Dutch cycling: Quantifying the health and related economic benefits. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(8):e13-e15.

24 UNC-Bushell 2013 - Bushell MA, Poole BW, Zegeer CV, Rodriguez DA. Costs for pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure improvements: A resource for researchers, engineers, planners, and the general public. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Highway Safety Research Center; 2013.

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27 LAB-BFA - The League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Bicycle Friendly America (BFA).

28 PeopleForBikes-GLP - PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project (GLP). Report: Protected bikes lanes 101.

29 ABW - Alliance for Biking & Walking (ABW). Protected bike lanes mean business.

30 PeopleForBikes-Economic Benefits - PeopleForBikes. Protected bike lanes statistics.

31 LAB-Federal Funding - The League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Benchmarking data: Federal funding & planning for biking & walking.

32 CDC-PA Transportation - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s your role? Transportation.

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