CINCINNATI -- What some have said is a connection between the city’s only protected bike lanes and increased car crashes became a harder claim to back Monday, after the city released a new round of traffic data showing comparable crash occurrences both before and after the lanes' installation.
The question arose earlier this year: Has adding the bike lanes to Central Parkway’s traffic configuration caused more crashes along the stretch? Upon hearing complaints from the community, Councilman Christopher Smitherman requested the city administration prepare a report studying year-to-year crash data along the parkway’s stretch from Liberty to Linn Street, which holds a segment of the bike lanes.
Crash data compiled by the city’s Department of Transportation and Engineering and released Monday compared the number of total crashes, injury crashes, rear-end crashes and parked vehicle crashes from 2011 up through April of this year. The change in the road’s parking configuration when the lane was installed in 2014 prompted some in the area to raise concerns over parked vehicle crashes specifically, an issue Smitherman then brought to council in February of this year.
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Installing the bike lanes resulted in losing one travel lane in each direction (except during rush hour), converting the right-hand lanes into parking lanes. During rush hour, parking is prohibited in the right-hand lane to accommodate increased traffic.
The change has caused some to describe the stretch as dangerous due to driver confusion over when they are allowed to park and where.
But the report found little difference in crash incidents between 2012 and 2015, with 57 and 62 total crashes respectively. There were 14 crashes in 2016 as of April, down from 19 last year and 17 in 2012 by that time. Parked vehicle crashes were also comparable, with 17 in 2012 and 19 in 2015. As of April, only one parked vehicle crash was recorded for 2016.
The report includes data from 2013 and 2014, but a Cincinnati Police Department policy enacted in 2013 stated minor crashes were not to be recorded in police traffic data for that year and a portion of 2014, effectively making those years statistically incomparable to the others in the study.
Here’s the full breakdown:
The report also compared crash data along the stretch with a similar portion of Central Parkway between Elm and Broadway streets, one that does not include a protected bike lane. The report documented a “similar pattern” in traffic crashes since 2011:
Total Crashes, from Elm to Broadway
2011 - 34
2012 - 34
2013 - 17
2014 - 37
2015 - 48
2016 (through April) - 13
The study of this stretch also reflected the uptick in crash totals from 2014 to 2015, as a result of reverting back to original crash reporting standards within the police department's traffic unit.
City staff also attributed the traffic crash trends to the ongoing Mill Creek Expressway construction project along Interstate 75, causing many to travel Central Parkway as an alternative.
“There are many variables that can impact the number of crashes along a roadway,” the report stated. “Citywide, more volume typically equals more crashes. The redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine and the West End has also likely increased traffic in the area, as well.”
The report concluded that “it appears that drivers are growing accustomed to the new traffic pattern.” This was reiterated in a separate report, also produced at Smitherman's request and released Monday, regarding the bike lanes' impact on traffic congestion. In that report, city staff stated they "have not witnessed any traffic congestion on Central Parkway" since the lanes were installed.
A previous report, released in May, found that 6 percent of traffic crashes in 2015 occurred in the parking lane, compared to 31 percent in the travel lane. Monday’s report was a follow-up to that initial study, which concluded that the Cincinnati Police Traffic Unit “had no data or information that would suggest either removal or retention of the bike facility.”
When considering the full length of the bike lanes — which connect Downtown to Camp Washington — this particular stretch of roadway saw less than half the rate of rear-end parking lane crashes as recorded along the whole stretch of bike lane in 2015, the May report found.
Another report released two months prior also recommended the city keep the bike lane, but that report was quickly recalled by city staff, saying the report was released prematurely.
Smitherman's request did not include bicycle crash statistics along the stretch.
Follow transportation and development reporter Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).