Is protected bike lane really causing more car crashes along Central Parkway?

Councilman: This area is not safe

CINCINNATI — Despite community complaints that a certain stretch of the Central Parkway protected bike lanes is dangerous to motorists, additional signage along that stretch would increase driver awareness — and would be less costly than removing the lanes altogether, as some have suggested.

That’s according to a report from city staff, released May 4, that analyzed crash data along the bike lanes between Liberty and Linn streets. The city council's law and public safety committee will consider a motion from Councilman Christopher Smitherman filed a motion to remove the lanes; city council's law and public safety committee considered the motion Monday morning.

Compiled by the city’s Department of Transportation and Engineering, the report was the result of a motion, filed in February by City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, to remove the bike lanes along that stretch, citing safety concerns — particularly regarding motorists colliding with other vehicles parked in the parking lanes, which sit adjacent to the bike lanes, toward the center line.

"I don't want an accident to happen there that we can't back when we knew there were problems," Smitherman said in the committee meeting. "I'm sharing with you, police officers are articulating, this area is not safe."

Before the bike lanes were installed in 2014, what are now parking lanes were the right-most travel lanes.

COLUMN: Controversy around protected bike lanes a good thing

Smitherman’s concern initially arose from previous reports from community members and business owners in the area that, because drivers weren’t used to the new parking and lane configuration, more motorists found themselves involved in collisions with parked cars.

The law and public safety committee will meet in two weeks to further discuss the lanes.

The confusion was echoed in the report by consultation with the Cincinnati Police Department Traffic Unit, who the report cites as calling the area “more congested and the configuration confusing” since the installation of the bike lanes.

However, the report also stated the Traffic Unit “had no data or information that would suggest either removal or retention of the bike facility.”

Looking at police crash data along the Liberty-Linn stretch, the report found that, of 62 crashes in that area in 2015, only four (6 percent) were a result of a motorist rear-ending a vehicle parked in the parking lane.

Here’s a breakdown of the crash data along the stretch of Central Parkway in question:

Crashes along stretch of Central ParkwayInfographic

When considering the full length of the bike lanes — which connect Downtown and Northside — this particular stretch of roadway saw less than half the rate of rear-end, parking lane crashes as the bike lanes as a whole, the report found.

The report also found that, of the three major segments — those being the lanes along Central Parkway, Glenway Ave. and Hamilton Ave. — the stretch along Central Parkway saw the lowest rate of parked car crashes.

This data, the report stated, shows “the number of crashes on Central Parkway is comparable to the number of crashes on similar streets.”

The report also included a cost estimate for retaining the Central Parkway bike lanes, with “additional signage and traffic striping improvement,” which DOTE staff pinpoint at less than $30,000 — compared to the nearly $235,000 it would cost to remove the bike lane altogether.

The initial complaints about the bike lane and traffic confusion from community members eventually prompted the city last year to lay markings along the parking lane that read, “CAUTION PARKED CARS."

The report stated CPD District 1 — which is dispatched for automobile crashes and cars parked in violation of the bike lanes — suggested “the conflicts should lessen as drivers and bicyclists become more familiar with the area and the traffic configurations.”

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