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Bicycling: The Risks are Real

This is not official ‘bike month’ or bike season, but with the ‘cycling revolution’ in full swing, bicycling, even in often wet and sometimes snow-covered Vancouver, has become topical year round.  It seems important to address some of the ‘unorthodox’ and unexpected views and ideas about this worldwide revolution recently advanced by Lawrence Solomon in the National Post newspaper.

Improving infrastructure does not work?

The unexpected view, discussed in two previous Road Rules articles, is that under-used bike lanes are producing slower travel times in more bottlenecked motor vehicle lanes, meaning more tailpipe-caused pollution, not less.  And the unorthodox views Mr. Solomon advances go so far as to say, not only is bicycle-dedicated infrastructure not fulfilling its environmental promises, it is also not making cycling safer for cyclists nor indeed for road sharers of all kinds.  This is a concern, to say the least.

Bicycling is risky

As cities around the world are budgeting to spend and indeed are spending millions of dollars adding this revolutionary new infrastructure, fatalities and injuries from bicycling are trending significantly upward.  And it isn’t just that with more bicycles on the roads more crashes are inevitable.  The statistics measure changes in fatalities and injuries according to kilometers traveled, which factors out increased numbers.  Other factors including the design of the dedicated infrastructure must also be at work here. 

Cycling is risky

Facing the reality about cycling, it must be said that it is inherently risky.  A helmet provides some protection but is not a ‘roll bar’ working in connection with crumple zones, seat belts, and air bags. Bike tires have recently benefited from all sorts of inventive upgrades in material strength, durability, and design, but they are not and will never be perfect.  Basically bicycles are light weight, fast moving, almost silent and invisible vehicles offering no protection against the forces unleashed by multi-ton vehicles in motion with which they share the road.

Most cyclists understand that the risks are real.  Most have experienced ‘close calls.’ As they are for motor vehicle drivers, intersections are also risky for cyclists, anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of all cycling crashes occurring at intersections in high-cycling cities, says Mr. Solomon.

No results

While much expense and design expertise has gone into cycling infrastructure at intersections, the results may be unimpressive:  “Where curb lanes are reserved for cycling lanes, cars must cross cyclists’ paths to turn right; when they shared the curb lane, that potential for conflict was rarer.  As a remedy, planners have often designed bike lanes to leave the curb just prior to reaching intersections, forcing cyclists to swerve into an auto lane and creating a carbike conflict of another kind.”

Mr. Solomon cites a number of measures being considered by European cities to reduce cycling casualties including “banning mopeds from bicycle lanes, encouraging cyclists to use quieter residential roads, redesigning buses to prevent cyclists from sliding underneath, and encouraging seniors — who have the highest cycling-accident rate — to use tricycles.”  But in the end he is dismissive. Mayors with “cycling visions,” he says, need “to end their bike-path detour and get back on the road to safety.”

Road Rules by Cedric Hughes and Leslie McGuffin

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