Dispatch Report on Summit St. Bike Lanes Raises Questions

The Summit St. two-way bike lane. 
Ray George's excellent Columbus Rides Bikes website brings us a report on the Summit/3rd Street bike lanes, the first one of its kind in the State of Ohio.

This lane, which is a two-way bike lane going from Hudson Street south to 11th Avenue in the University District and then one way the rest of the way downtown (including a lane across the I-670 overpass) is separated by concrete barriers and other road controlling measures. 

The Dispatch report that Columbus Rides Bikes shared on Facebook today is entitled "More crashes come with more bicycle traffic on dedicated lanes," and discusses the new lanes and the number of accidents that have happened there.  None of these accidents/crashes has been fatal.

So... you can read the article and get the statistics.  Here's a summary of them, though, with a quote from the article:
...the number of crashes has jumped. Between 2012 and 2015, there were five crashes involving bicycles on Summit between Hudson and East 5th Avenue. In 2016, the first full year with the bike lanes, that jumped to 14, according to Columbus police.
Fairly straightforward, right? After the lanes went in, the number of yearly crashes jumped approximately 13-14 times. And the article points out that of course, there was going to be a period of breaking in where people learned how to use the lanes properly. That just makes sense, and I think there is one main factor in this:  The protected lanes are attracting a lot of new cyclists - some of them experienced and some of them new to street riding.  This is, as we said, in the University District, where a lot of college students live and who may not have had extensive traffic experience due to their age. Not a criticism, naturally, just stating a fact.

I'll be frank: part of me wants to get upset about this. After all, I spent a few years talking about how Columbus (and Ohio) traffic laws are more than adequate to help people get around by bike safely.  And I was not a fan of bike lanes and the like, because I thought they would attract riders who weren't experienced and would get themselves hurt.  And that has happened, apparently.

But the reason I'm not getting upset is this:  the city is learning from its mistakes.  Here's a quote from the article:
The city has been evaluating the area to see whether it needs to make changes, too, [Columbus City Engineer Nick] Popa said. For example, the city plans to remove a parking space at Summit Street and 14th Avenue, to make it easier for cars turning onto Summit to see oncoming traffic.
One of the big criticisms I have had about bike infrastructure creation in Columbus has been that the city seems to be putting bike lanes and such into place without a plan for either maintenance or education. And if there were problems with cars and parking? Well, the bikes would lose.

An example of this would be the sharrows that were put in on High Street back in 2009 (and elsewhere, but as a Clintonville-to-downtown cyclist, these were the ones I saw the most).  I mentioned in a few places back then that I was disappointed that the sharrows would simply disappear in areas where on-street parking was in place.

Or the Morse Road bike lanes - the ones that actually tell riders to get on the sidewalk at one point (illegal and dangerous).  A real WTH moment for a cyclist who knows what they're doing.

A more logical and safe plan would have removed the street parking in those places in favor of the sharrows if the city really wanted to make cycling safe. Instead, the haphazard on-street existence of the sharrows would do nothing but confuse cyclists.

Now, instead, we have this bike lane on Summit/3rd (and a similar, one-way-only lane on 4th Street coming out of downtown, which runs parallel to Summit/3rd.).  And it's separated.  There was quite a lot of street construction that went into creating these lanes - even though I wasn't riding my bike at that time, I saw the construction happening from the bus I was taking downtown.

To me, that says that the city is learning and is making a more concerted effort to make bicycling more attractive and safe. Granted, there's still a lot that can be done to improve the plight of cyclists in Columbus and Ohio in general.  Bike-oriented questions on drivers' tests (preferably required to pass the test), better enforcement of all traffic codes in the city (motorists and cyclists), more educational opportunities for people, and more.

But it's a small, important step in the right direction. And perhaps I've just gotten more patient in the past few years. I plan on using this lane when I get back on the bike this month, and I'm looking forward to it.

People, not speed.


  1. Jamie, columbus should have looked to DC, where a similar bike lane was added on 15th NW and had a 3-4x increase in bike/car crashes. Why does every city have to recreate the wheel? Folks say motorists will learn over time. Thing is, this area has new motorists every year and new cyclists who are lulled by green paint into "feeling safe". You will NOT be safe if you ride in the direction where motorists aren't looking or in locations where you are hidden by parked cars.


  2. My comment on the Dispatch article:
    These crashes were predicted to happen by those of us who rode a similar bike lane in DC (15th St NW), and which had a similar increase in crashes.. Here are the breakdowns in crash types on Summit. 

    In 2016, there were 15 bike/car crashes: 
    8 motorist drive outs 
    4 right hooks (3 at traffic signals) 
    2 sideswipes (cyclist in travel lane and motorist in bike lane after turn) 
    1 cyclist drive out 
    5 cyclists were riding contra-flow 
    12 of the 15 crashes were injury crashes 

    In 2017, there were 11 bike/car crashes: 
    5 drive outs 
    2 right hooks 
    2 right cross 
    1 cyclist drive out 
    1 cyclist ran red light 
    6 cyclists were riding contra-flow 
    8 of the 11 crashes were injury crashes 

    We even have a new crash type to count - the right cross is a motorist turning right hitting a contra-flow cyclist (who they couldn't see and didn't expect). This bike lane violates many rules of the road and engineering standards. Ask those 20 injured cyclists for their opinion. 

    I believe taxpayers paid an additional $1M for this bike lane over the buffered bike lane design originally planned (the 4th St design from downtown to Summit). I hope no more cyclists are injured. But if they are, this bike lane should be redesigned. It should be 1-way and it should be moved outside the parking lane, as the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials bikeway standards recommend. This "design flexibility" now sanctioned by the FHWA is misguided because people are getting hurt.« le

    1. Hi Tricia, great response!

      The two-way nature of the lane gives me great pause as well... that was really not a great idea from the get-go. If this had been a single-direction bike lane, then your "new crash type" wouldn't even be an issue. I rode it this morning, in the south-bound direction (in other words with the flow of the rest of traffic).

      It seems that the right-cross against contra-flow cyclists shouldn't be possible if motorists are obeying the traffic signal that indicates no right turn when the cyclists have a green light. I'll have to take a look at it on the way home, but the cyclists' traffic lights are in place for bike traffic going each way, I hope.


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