Great cycling infrastructure prevents catastrophes: A Q&A with Professor Teschke

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Writer: Shannon Pidlubny

After media coverage of Professor Kay Teschke’s research on cycling crashes on streetcar or train tracks, SPPH got an update from Dr. Teschke about the response to her research and her future work in this area.

What has been the response been to your research, published in BMC Health in July?

The article has been shared on Twitter in places such as England and Germany, and in Portland and Seattle, from city planners to engineers.

The majority of the responses have been from Toronto. The findings were not a surprise for cycling advocates, or for those working in emergency rooms, who see the aftermath of cyclists getting into crashes on streetcar tracks.

I have also been contacted by an engineer and city planner who has been involved in designing new cycling infrastructure in Surrey who said that the research helped to reinforce what the City has already planned for, including incorporating cycling infrastructure into the Light Rail Transit project with design features that minimized cyclists from interacting with the tracks.

What should city planners consider when planning bike paths across streetcar tracks?

Kay Teschke

Professor Kay Teschke

When designing new infrastructure for cyclists, the safest routes are those in which bikes lanes are separated from traffic and streetcars. In cities with streetcars or trams, dedicated rights of way, or separated bike lanes, allow people to cycle without interference from tracks. Having separated bike lanes also means not having crashes with motorized vehicles.

In terms of cost, even the most expensive bike path is less expensive than building new roads for cars and is less expensive to maintain.

Could your study demonstrate the importance of population health measures?

Surveys have found that people are more motivated to use their bikes to commute, or for pleasure and exercise, when the infrastructure is in place.

Having separated bike lanes is primary prevention – it prevents injury from happening in the first place. But it also demonstrates primary prevention of chronic illness, and obesity, because having infrastructure, such as separated bike lanes, promotes cycling and exercise. Riding next to traffic is a deterrent for many people, especially women and families.

Are you planning other research projects in this area?

I am currently looking at Vancouver and Montreal census data to determine if people are more likely to use their bikes to cycle to work based on the number and type of bike paths in their community. I may also look at ICBC data to examine cycling injuries at traffic circles.

Is infrastructure the future of cycling?

When municipalities put in great cycling infrastructure it can solve problems that are much more difficult to deal with by trying to educate every individual cyclist and driver. For example, cyclists are often injured when they crash into a car door. To reduce ‘dooring,’ municipalities either have to work to change the behavior of the driver of the car, the behavior of the cyclist, or both. But instead, if municipalities put in protected bike lanes then those crashes will not happen. Great cycling infrastructure prevents catastrophes from the mistakes people make.

Photo credit: Ken Ohrn

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