When a bicycle lane isn’t enough, cities sometimes install bicycle buffer zones. These extra spaces on the pavement are painted over, often with bike symbols or painted lines, instructing both cyclists and motorists to stay out of that space.
Using these zones can help to prevent accidents, which is the No. 1 goal when considering cyclist safety. They do this in a few different ways, which we’ll explore below.
Why not just use a wider lane?
Wider bike lanes may help, but studies have actually found that buffer zones are more helpful. It’s the empty space that is important. A wider bike lane doesn’t help if the cyclist still rides in the area that is close to traffic, or if drivers mistake a wide bike lane for a traffic lane. A buffer zone maintains that empty space at all times, and separation prevents accidents.
Preventing dooring incidents
When a buffer zone is on both sides of the bike lane, it also moves cyclists farther away from parked cars. This can help to prevent accidents when motorists open their doors to exit the car and swing it open into the bike lane — known as “dooring” the cyclist. The extra space means that, even when a motorist neglects to check for a bike, no one gets hit or forced into traffic.
Buffer zones give cyclists more confidence
A confident cyclist is a safer rider. Many feel nervous riding right next to traffic and may try things like riding on the sidewalk — which is statistically less safe, but which feels safer. A buffer zone gives cyclists more confidence and peace of mind while riding in the bike lane and sharing the road with traffic.
What if an accident still happens?
You can see how bike lanes and buffer zones help keep you safe every time you take your bike out for a spin. Unfortunately, even when the odds of an accident are lower, these crashes do still happen. If you get injured by a negligent driver, you must know what legal options you have.