Whether you bicycle as a hobby or cycle to work every day, you have probably thought a great deal about your choice of route. Which streets have the heaviest traffic? Do you want to go uphill for a significant portion of your ride? Are any special events going to block your way?

In addition to these considerations, many cyclists plan their route based on the availability of bicycle lanes. However, the protection that these lanes offer can vary.

Your level of safety may depend on the type of bicycle lane.

Depending on the area you travel through, the lanes available to bicyclists can vary significantly. Types of bicycle lanes include:

  • Shared lanes, sometimes called “sharrows”—These narrow lanes are shared between motor vehicles and bicyclists, and show an increased risk of collision.
  • Marked lanes—Conventional bike lanes with a clear demarcation between bicycle traffic and car traffic make cyclists visible but do not necessarily offer greater protection.
  • Lanes at street level with a physical buffer—Lanes separated from traffic by iron rods or other buffers help decrease the risk of collision, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) notes that cyclists are at a higher risk of nonlethal injuries.
  • Protected lanes above street level—Bike lanes raised from the roadway increase visibility and offer physical separation from traffic, significantly decreasing the risk of collisions.

Bicycle lanes of all types are not without risk, and cyclists should prepare for these potential hazards. As the IIHS notes, pedestrians sometimes enter bike lanes that are at street level, and avoiding these pedestrians can cause bicyclists to swerve and fall. In addition, many conventional bike lanes place the bicyclist’s path alongside parked cars, putting them at risk of dooring.

Despite these hazards, bicycle lanes—especially protected bicycle lanes—can help cyclists avoid sharing a lane with cars, making them safer on their morning commute, a recreational ride and more.