BACKGROUND: Bicycling has the potential to improve fitness, diminish obesity, and reduce noise, air pollution, and greenhouse gases associated with travel. However, bicyclists incur a higher risk of injuries requiring hospitalization than motor vehicle occupants. Therefore, understanding ways of making bicycling safer and increasing rates of bicycling are important to improving population health. There is a growing body of research examining transportation infrastructure and the risk of injury to bicyclists.
METHODS: We reviewed studies of the impact of transportation infrastructure on bicyclist safety. The results were tabulated within two categories of infrastructure, namely that at intersections (e.g. roundabouts, traffic lights) or between intersections on "straightaways" (e.g. bike lanes or paths). To assess safety, studies examining the following outcomes were included: injuries; injury severity; and crashes (collisions and/or falls).
RESULTS: The literature to date on transportation infrastructure and cyclist safety is limited by the incomplete range of facilities studied and difficulties in controlling for exposure to risk. However, evidence from the 23 papers reviewed (eight that examined intersections and 15 that examined straightaways) suggests that infrastructure influences injury and crash risk. Intersection studies focused mainly on roundabouts. They found that multi-lane roundabouts can significantly increase risk to bicyclists unless a separated cycle track is included in the design. Studies of straightaways grouped facilities into few categories, such that facilities with potentially different risks may have been classified within a single category. Results to date suggest that sidewalks and multi-use trails pose the highest risk, major roads are more hazardous than minor roads, and the presence of bicycle facilities (e.g. on-road bike routes, on-road marked bike lanes, and off-road bike paths) was associated with the lowest risk.
CONCLUSION: Evidence is beginning to accumulate that purpose-built bicycle-specific facilities reduce crashes and injuries among cyclists, providing the basis for initial transportation engineering guidelines for cyclist safety. Street lighting, paved surfaces, and low-angled grades are additional factors that appear to improve cyclist safety. Future research examining a greater variety of infrastructure would allow development of more detailed guidelines.