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I've read it's safer to ride a bike on the street than the sidewalk. It's been covered on this site: Is it really safer to ride in the road than on the sidewalk? Also, Redit has a good list of specific studies.

I've also read that separated bike lanes improve safety. For example, this streetsblog.org article cites a study of 12 major cities. It has this image which I'd agree is representative of the kind of separated bike lane one might find in large cities:

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But "separated bike lane" could also mean something like this, from the Massachusetts DOT:

enter image description here

To me, these two things are very different kinds of bike lanes. A problem with sidewalks is motorists aren't habituated to looking for cyclists because they are encountered so rarely. In a big urban bike lane, this is hardly a problem. Look at all those cyclists! But in a less dense area such as the 2nd picture, I'm skeptical that what amounts to painting a bicycle on the sidewalk does much to reduce conflicts between motorists and cyclists.

Regardless, I've read many claims that "separated bike lanes are safer for all users" which don't distinguish between these two cases.

What studies have been done on separated bike lane safety, especially in cities of less than 100,000 people or in suburban areas? Are separated bike lanes indeed safer for cyclists in these conditions? Are particular bike lane designs safer than others for less dense environments?

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    Remember that "safer to ride on the road than the sidewalk" also includes safer for pedestrians, who are valid roadway users deserving of consideration too.
    – Criggie
    Jul 19, 2020 at 22:51
  • @Criggie that may be true, but that's not at all what I'm asking about. It is also safer for cyclists to ride on the road.
    – Phil Frost
    Jul 20, 2020 at 3:20
  • I don't have answers to your three questions. But don't mind sharing my personal experience which is that motorists are more likely to spot cyclists on roads or adjacent bike lanes (even on roads where cyclists are rarely encountered), compared to pedestrians who rarely seem aware of their surroundings at all. I have avoided accidents with pedestrians a lot more than I have avoided accidents with motorists (even though I have encountered a lot of aggressive motorists). Jul 20, 2020 at 8:19
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    Cambridge, MA, the location of your 2nd photo, is considered by many as an integral part of the Boston dense urban core. In this picture the bike lane is also height-separated from the road surface, so motorists would have to drive up onto the "sidewalk" to hit a cyclist, which seems unlikely. I'm not sure any studies you're looking for would make such detailed distinctions.
    – Armand
    Jul 20, 2020 at 19:33
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    @Armand Yes the cars would have to drive up onto the sidewalk, or turn into or from a driveway, or an intersecting street. I can see three such crossings in the Cambridge photo: two driveways in the foreground and then one street where there is a white car turning.
    – Phil Frost
    Jul 20, 2020 at 21:53

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As seen from this study, cycle tracks (also known as “separated” or “protected” bike lanes) are both the safest and preferred by the cyclists.

Differently, streets with painted bike lanes between parked and moving cars are generally among the worst. Shared car-bike lanes are bad. The worst is, of course, no bicycle infrastructure at all.

Multiuse paths also do not feature good safety record (likely pedestrians using them are under danger). Bicycle only paths are much safer.

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