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Are you safer riding on the shoulder or in a bike lane?

Long-time residents in Sacramento have seen major changes over the years when it comes to bicycle traffic. With more people raising concerns about environmental and personal health, biking has become a cleaner and healthier alternative, which has led to an increase in bicycle use throughout the city and surrounding areas.

Even though some areas have embraced the change and added bike lanes on major roads and streets, bicyclists are still forced to use the shoulder or traffic lanes in certain areas. Some have started to ask if it wouldn't be safer to install bike lanes everywhere. But would such a plan really offer greater safety? 

The answer is likely yes.

Many people have long held the idea that bike lanes offer greater safety for bicyclists than riding with motor vehicle traffic in street lanes or on the shoulder. Even back in 1999, a Federal Highway Administration study seemed to conclude the very same thing. But why? Well, this could have something to do with the basic psychology behind the designated bike lane.

Just like divided roadways that separate traffic coming from opposite directions, designated bike lanes are designed to separate bicycle traffic from motor vehicle traffic, making it safer for bicyclists to travel on roadways. Psychologically, we view these lanes no differently than we would a divided road, meaning we are more likely to stay in our own lane than stray into a bike lane.

The same psychological factors may not be present, however, when riders use the shoulder. Drivers typically view the shoulder as a designated space for motor vehicles. As such, complacency on the part of the motorists could result in a driver unintentionally travelling into the shoulder close enough to a bicyclist to cause a serious or even fatal accident.

Whether or not you believe bike lanes are safer than travelling on the road, know that negligence is oftentimes a factor in most collisions with bicyclists. One moment of distraction or inattentiveness can lead to a violent collision that could lead to injuries and the possibility of legal action in the end.

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