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Do Bike Lanes Cause Vehicle Congestion?

This time of year not only brings us the holidays, but also snow and sometimes a lot of it. Whenever there is a heavy lake effect coming down on us, the likelihood that traffic of any kind moving quickly is unlikely, especially if it occurs during rush hour. This was the case last week on Thursday when visibility was low due to high winds and a lot of snow coming down. My bicycle ride home along Delaware Avenue downtown took me longer then usual but I arrived home safely passing the line of traffic that was lining up to turn onto Tupper Street to reach the entrance of the Kensington Expressway.

I always enjoy traveling faster then vehicle traffic on my bicycle through city streets. There is a certain pleasure recognizing that I can get around more easily, cheaply and in a way that improves my health instead of degrading it when heading to work or errands. The City of Buffalo has made a significant effort to complete our streets making them safer for all users encouraging more people to walk and bike more often, which is having a significant impact.

Already Buffalo ranks high among the top 100 cities in sustainable transportation performance. The U.S. Census American Communities Survey reveals:

Buffalo is #7 in the country in car-independence, with 31.42% of all households going car-free, a higher rate than in San Francisco (28.56%) and Chicago (28.85%).

Buffalo is #14 in the country for bicycle commuting, with a bike modal share of 1.6% (up from 0.43% in 2000). The percentage of commuters using bikes to get to work in Buffalo more than tripled with a 269% increase from 2000 to 2012.

Buffalo is #12 in the country in both the walk to work and the transit to work categories. Buffalo has nearly the same proportion of people making work commutes by transit (12.52%) and by walking (5.43%) as Portland, Oregon (12.89% and 5.47%, respectively), widely cited as a leader in sustainability. Walking and taking transit to work increased by 19% and 7%, respectively, from 2000 to 2009.

However, to much my dismay WGRZ Channel 2 News this past Friday has continued down the path of misinformation by insinuating that the congestion I easily pedaled past safely was caused by the reduction in travel lanes and the addition of the turning lane and bicycle lanes. In the story (video), City of Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak appropriately pointed out that the traffic has been smoother since the conversion. A point, that may appear counterintuitive but it’s important to look at the facts.

Nationwide, cities are putting roads on diets, reducing lanes and width and in the process making them safer and more efficient. The Federal Highway Administration recognizes “road diets” as a proven safety countermeasure with roadways that have been converted, similar to Delaware Avenue, experiencing a 29 percent reduction in all roadway crashes[1]. In a study on the effectiveness of “road diets”, roadway efficiency in many cases increased allowing for more vehicles to travel through a corridor, albeit at a lower speed[2]. Also, It is important to understand that increasing high-speed, peak-time capacity (going back to four lanes) is a recipe for more traffic and more congestion. By making it easier for drivers only, traffic that once may have avoided the route will now choose it. Thus, the improvements designed to reduce congestion actually create more of it[3].

This is not the first story WGRZ Channel 2 News has done to discredit the city’s efforts at making our streets safer and to my knowledge they are the only news outlet that has. It does beg the question, why do they NOT support making our city a better place to live, work and play for everyone?

[1] Highway Safety Information System. Summary report: Evaluation of lane reduction “road diet” measures and their effects on crashes and injuries. HSIS FHWA-HRT-04-082.

[2] Burden, D. and Lagerwey, P. (1999). Road diets: fixing the big roads.

[3] Randy Salzman, “Build More Highways, Get More Traffic”


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