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Looks Like Fatalities Are On the Rise in the World of Bicycling

Last week’s Road Rules referenced a recent article in the National Post newspaper by Lawrence Solomon—Ban the bike! How cities made a huge mistake in promoting cycling.  The article addressed the under-usage of dedicated cycling infrastructure in the cities around the world that, during the past decade or so, have embraced the “cycling revolution”—as Vancouver has done.

Mr. Solomon advanced the proposition that instead of the dedication of a portion of existing road capacity to bicycles encouraging more cycling, with less motor vehicle traffic and with less tailpipe-caused pollution, in actual result the reduced road capacity for motor vehicles has increased traffic congestion, resulting in more emissions, not less.

Cycling culture

In short, ‘if you build it he/they will come’ is not working out as well as the cycling revolutionaries had hoped it would.  Of course, arguably, this cycling culture is still in early stages.  Perhaps even more dedicated cycling infrastructure will at some point ‘tip’ the citizenry to more fully embrace this old-made-new-again mode of urban transiting.

But, if it does, Mr. Solomon has another warning in a follow-up article, also with an attention-grabbing headline—Two-wheeled killing machines.  In this he cites the latest statistics in the European cities that were amongst the early ‘converts’ to day to day cycling, statistics now showing that their decades long downward trend in cycling deaths has reversed, climbing to “eight per cent of all traffic fatalities, up one third in the last decade,” and “12 per cent of all road fatalities in urban areas.”

Injuries in cycling

Mr. Solomon also notes that in the Netherlands, often held up as the best cycling model, “cyclists account for 30 per cent of [traffic] fatalities.”  The bicycle, he writes, “where it is most in vogue, is a killing machine: fatalities are five to 10 times that of automobiles per kilometre traveled.” (Note that measuring by ‘per kilometre traveled’ factors out the increase in numbers of cyclists resulting from ‘the revolution’).

Injuries in bicycle accidents     

In addition to deaths, injuries are also on the rise.  In the Netherlands, cyclists now account for “63 per cent of all those seriously injured in road accidents… up from 51 per cent a decade ago.” And, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, 80 per cent of these injuries do not involve a motor vehicle, but rather road conditions, and cyclists engaging in inherently unsafe cycling behaviors such as distracted cycling, impaired cycling, bicycle ‘street racing’, unsafe loading, and failing to properly maintain their bicycle.

Cyclists’ fault

When motor vehicles are involved, “the fault is often the cyclist’s for having run a red light, swerved into the motorist’s path, or being intoxicated: … surveys in two Dutch city centres found 42 per cent of cyclists had blood alcohol levels …[over] the legal limit; that rose to 68 per cent by 1 am.”

In North America, says Mr. Solomon, while cycling only accounts for two per cent of road fatalities, the current trending mirrors the European results: “the US Department of Transportation [says] cycling accidents have risen six per cent over the last decade, [with] intoxication … a [frequent] factor: 19 per cent of cyclists who were killed had blood alcohol concentrations consistent with binge drinking.”

Serious considerations, for sure.

Road Rules by Cedric Hughes and Leslie McGuffin

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