Here’s a finding that should ease the minds of those who ride their bicycles to work: Bike lanes protect them as they pedal to their destination.

Researchers found they act as a calming mechanism on traffic, slowing cars and reducing deaths.

The researchers analyzed 13 years of data from 12 U.S. cities: Oklahoma City, Memphis, Kansas City, Mo., Dallas, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Ore.

“Bicycling seems inherently dangerous on its own,” said study co-author Wesley Marshall, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing at the University of Colorado Denver.

“So it would seem that a city with a lot of bicycling is more dangerous, but the opposite is true. Building safe facilities for cyclists turned out to be one of the biggest factors in road safety for everyone,” Marshall said in a university news release.

During the years included in the study, there was a 51% increase in the number of Americans bicycling to work, and the number of protected bike lanes have doubled each year since 2009.

At the start of the study, the researchers believed that with more bike lanes and cyclists, drivers would be more likely to slow down and be aware of cyclists, a “safety-in-numbers” effect, so to speak.

But they found that improvements in cycling safety aren’t due to a higher number of riders, but rather to protected bike lanes.

For example, Portland saw the biggest increase in bike lanes. Between 1990 and 2010, city’s bike lanes increased from 1% to 6%, while the road fatality rate dropped by 75%.

With more bike lanes, fatal crash rates dropped in Seattle (60.6%), San Francisco (49%), Denver (40%) and Chicago (38%), among others.

“When we believed it was the old safety-in-numbers concept, that meant we had to figure out how to get more people on bicycles to make a city safer,” explained study co-author Nicholas Ferenchak, an assistant professor in the department of civil, construction and environmental engineering at the University of New Mexico.

“That’s not easy. But this research has boiled it down for city planners: Create cycling facilities, and you’ll see the impact,” he said.

The study was published May 29 in the Journal of Transport & Health.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more on bicycle safety.