With warmer spring weather approaching, Vancouver natives are taking advantage of the sunshine by cycling around the city. However, sharing the route with motor vehicles or pedestrians can entail risks.
Dr. Kay Teschke
UBC School of Population and Public Health professor, Dr. Kay Teschke, recently published articles in BMJ Open
and BMC Public Health
, which looked at cycling crash circumstances and injury severity, based on data from Vancouver and Toronto. She explains the risks and benefits of cycling, as well as precautions to minimize risks amongst moving vehicles and pedestrians. She also addresses the advantages of implementing bicycle infrastructure in large cities.
What are some of the risks involved with cycling in North American cities? How does this compare to other cities around the world?
The main risk to cyclists is shared space, especially sharing the road with motor vehicles, but also multi-use paths shared with pedestrians.
We studied bicycling injuries in two of Canada’s largest cities, Vancouver and Toronto. Toronto’s busy streets often had streetcar tracks and they were a factor in about a third of cycling injuries there. In Vancouver, traffic circles were a frequent traffic calming feature along residential streets, but unfortunately these increased injury risk. On the other hand, Vancouver’s separated bike lanes were a great success, with much lower injury risk.
About one-third of the bicycling crashes were collisions with motor vehicles and the resulting injuries were more severe than in other crash types, underscoring the importance of separating cyclists from motor vehicle traffic.
In many northern European countries, like Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, there are three types of facilities: for walking, for driving and for cycling. The idea is that each mode is a different size and goes a different speed. Separating them minimizes the chance that errors will have catastrophic consequences. It’s basic physics: force = mass * acceleration.
In North America, we have especially forgotten about facilities for cycling. Many neighbourhoods are also missing sidewalks. We pay a price. For driving, walking & cycling together, our traffic injury and death rates are twice as high as in the safer European countries.
How does bicycle infrastructure benefit both cyclists and non-cyclists? Would it be beneficial for large cities to implement bicycle infrastructure?
Our research shows that three types of cycling routes have double benefits for cities: they are safe and they encourage people to cycle.
- Residential streets bikeways with traffic diversion provide comfortable and safe routes for people to travel to and from their homes by bike.
- Separated bike lanes alongside major streets provide a comfortable and extraordinarily safe way for people to cycle to destinations like shops and work places.
- Off-street bike paths (e.g., in parks, along waterways) provide great opportunities for connections between homes and destinations, as well as for recreational cycling.
Our research also shows that bicycling injury severity and injury risk are reduced on routes that have gentle grades, and low vehicle speeds (< 50 km/h). Low vehicle speeds also reduce injuries to pedestrians and car occupants.
Cities that provide these kinds of facilities allow more people to choose healthy modes of travel, cut congestion, noise and air pollution, and make their cities more liveable. Recent Metro Vancouver data shows that people who cycle or walk regularly are 50% less likely to be overweight.
Are there any other precautions cyclists and non-cyclists can take to reduce the number of bicycle collisions?
Before talking about risks, it is important to know that cycling is safe – similar in safety to walking. Both are very healthy modes of travel.
To minimize collision risk, great things cyclists can do are:
- choose the safest types of routes (listed above) wherever they are available,
- take it slow, and
- use lights (even in the daytime).
The best things drivers can do are:
- drive slowly enough to see cyclists (and pedestrians) given the conditions,
- look for cyclists – key problem areas: turning left & right, opening car doors, driving behind cyclists,
- be patient until passing is safe,
- provide wide space margins behind and beside cyclists (cyclists may ride in the middle of a lane when riding to the side is not as safe – this is allowed), and
- don’t drive or stop in bike lanes.
Urban cyclists. Photo: 5chw4r7z / Flickr