In an attempt to see if protected bike lanes will increase bicyclists’ safety, Anchorage has opened a pilot project along Pine Street and McCarrey Street. The goal is to learn how the experimental lanes might be implemented citywide.
Completely funded through the Federal Highway Administration, the trial run includes a “vertical element” that physically separates the bike lane from vehicle lanes.
The pilot study runs through September, and includes a Sept. 9 ceremony, 10 a.m., at Russian Jack Springs Park. A team will be on hand to intercept surveys in order to gather data for cyclists and pedestrians for future pilot projects around Anchorage.
Protected bike lanes have been growing in popularity around the nation, but they are not without controversy.
It is still unclear how a protected bike lane would hold up in Anchorage during the long winter months which can include heavy snow and frequent snow plowing.
A 2022 article in Forbes noted that the main problem with bike lanes is the impossibility of structuring bike lanes without vehicles turning into these lanes to get to underground garages, above-ground parking lots, and to make right or left turns at intersections.
Industrial engineer John Forester described the problem in detail in his popular book, Effective Cycling,. There he estimates that accidents on bicycle lanes are 2.6 times higher than on traditional roadways, because bicycle lanes are more fundamentally hazardous.
As cities expand bike lanes, Forester predicts there will be more, not less, vehicle-bike collisions because it’s hard to make intersections between cycle lanes and roads as safe as normal roads. Problems largely surface when cyclists either fail to follow the traffic rules or motorists turn into cyclists.
Forester has been particularly critical of California’s bike lane plans.
“Nobody with traffic-engineering training could believe that [bikeway] designs that so contradicted normal traffic-engineering knowledge would produce safe traffic movements,” Forbes quoted Forester. “If these designs had been proposed for some class of motorized traffic—say, trucks or motorcycles—the designers would have been considered crazy.”
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According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 41,615 U.S. bicycle injuries in 2021, along with 966 fatalities. While fatalities were up considerable over the past decade, injuries in 2021 were down by about 6,000 when compared to the 10-year average.
The average age of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes was 49 in 2021 with 86% being male. Similarly, 81% of bicycle injuries were among males.
The vast majority (85%) of bicycle traffic fatalities occurred in urban areas in 2021, with 29% happening at intersections and 9% at roadsides, bicycle lanes, sidewalks and other sites.
In Alaska, 3% of total traffic fatalities were bicyclists. This amounted to two deaths.
It is still unclear how a protected bike lane would hold up in Anchorage during the long winter months which can include heavy snow and frequent snow plowing. The September trial run will likely conclude before there is any measurable snowfall in the city.