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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

UBC Researchers to investigate cycling safety

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VANCOUVER: Today marks the beginning of Bike Month, an initiative designed to promote cycling and to encourage people to trade four wheels for two.  However, many would-be cyclists may be hesitant to take up cycling due to concerns about safety.  That’s why a research team based at the Universities of British Columbia and Toronto is launching a study to investigate which types of cycling routes are safest.

“When you ask people why they don’t cycle more often, the most common answer is safety, yet the best evidence for improving safety is for more people to cycle,” says Kay Teschke, Professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and lead investigator of the new study. Many northern European cities boast cycling levels many times higher than those of Canada or the United States and cyclists there are less likely to suffer serious injuries than in North America.  Cycling also provides many health benefits (increased physical fitness, decreased obesity and chronic diseases, reduced air and noise pollution), so it is a wonderful mode of transportation to use.

There are a number of theories for why cycling in Europe is both safer and more popular than in North America.  One theory relates to transportation infrastructure: European cities most often feature cycle paths separated from motorized traffic, while Canadian cyclists are more likely to be sharing the road with parked and moving cars.  “The relative safety of these two styles of infrastructure has been the subject of much debate among cycling researchers and advocates, but little research,” explains Teschke.

The new study will attempt to fill this knowledge gap by collecting extensive data about cycling injuries in Vancouver and Toronto.  The research team is working with hospitals in both cities to recruit patients who have visited emergency rooms due to a cycling injury.  They will interview injured cyclists, and then will conduct site observations to collect information on route characteristics.  The team will record information about the injury site and about two other randomly selected sites along the route.   This will allow the team to estimate the risks of different route types (for example, designated bike routes compared to mixed-use routes), and of distinct points on routes (for example, intersections compared to straight-aways).

Transportation planners from Vancouver and Toronto are involved in the study, contributing technical expertise and information about transportation networks to the project.  “We are always happy to obtain more data about potentially risky situations for cyclists, especially when the data is directly related to our local conditions” says Peter Stary, the Bicycle Program Coordinator for the City of Vancouver.  Stary says that the study results may be used to help develop countermeasures for route characteristics found to contribute to bicycle crashes.

More information about the study can be found on the ‘Cycling in Cities’ website at  The study is funded under a strategic Request for Applications in the area of the Built Environment, Obesity and Health launched by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and its partners the CIHR Institutes of Aging; of Circulatory and Respiratory Health; of Human Development, of Child and Youth Health; of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis; of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes; and of Population and Public Health.


The Centre for Health and Environment Research is a multidisciplinary research centre funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.  It provides infrastructure support for investigators who research and prevent diseases caused by hazards in outdoor and indoor environments.  For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Christie Hurrell
Executive Director
UBC Centre for Health and Environment Research
Tel: 604-827-5622
Fax: 604-822-9588

Kay Teschke
School of Population and Public Health, and
School of Environmental Health
Tel: 604-822-2041
Fax: 604-822-4994

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

5 Responses

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  1. “When you ask people why they don’t cycle more often, the most common answer is safety” – I’m sorry, but I’ll have to call BS on this one.

    A much more significant factor, at least in Vancouver, is our weather.

    Biking is a pleasure when it’s not rainy, windy and 5 degrees Celsius!

    Safety is a factor (i.e. I’d never try biking up the rightmost lane on Granville in Vancouver), but the weather here is horrible for biking 12 months a year. Maybe from June to September (and not a June day like today!), but off the sunny season you’ll only see the die-hards on bikes on the streets, no matter what the safety situation is.

    From their study: “Certain climatic characteristics of cities were associated with utilitarian cycling in the general population, even after adjusting for individual characteristics. Fewer people cycled in cities with more days of precipitation or freezing temperatures.”


    June 3, 2008 at 7:24 pm

  2. Luis Bernhardt wrote to trans-action on this press release, and has given me permission to repeat his commentary here.

    Finally, an update to the oft-quoted study upon which John Forester based his cycling philosophy back in the 1970’s (that showed bike paths were 2.6 times more dangerous than cycling on the roadway with cars). I am really looking forward to the results, and will gladly make myself available as a resource (35 years of bike racing/training in North & Central America & Europe, 30 years of daily all-weather bike commuting in all seasons, four years of riding to SFU on the hill on a fixed gear back in the 70’s, yada yada….).

    My anecdotal experience yields the following premises; let’s see if the injury data bears this out:

    – Separate bike paths give the appearance of being safer, so participation rates go up with construction of more kilometers of separated bike facilities.

    – Injury rates will increase on these facilities because good traffic practices are not taught, required, or enforced. Because of this, most cyclists will behave like bad motorists, showing little respect for other users, not using lights at night, riding faster than the designed speed of the facility, etc.

    – Injuries on these facilities will not be as severe because bikes are lighter and slower than cars.

    – Most of the injuries will be due to poor facility design. Traffic engineers have little understanding of and little respect for the bicycle’s performance envelope. An understanding of a bicycle’s performance characteristics and capabilities would truly surprise the vast majority of traffic engineers who have only been taught how cars and trucks behave.

    – For example, many injuries occur on blind turns, particularly at the bottom of steep descents.

    – Injuries from cars occur at driveways and at intersections with traffic, particularly where the path ends, dumping the cyclist into heavy traffic with no clear signage showing what the cyclist’s options are.

    – Some of the injuries will have occurred because the separate path was not properly maintained (cracks, potholes, gravel buildup, garbage, water, snow)

    – Some of the injuries will be due to squirrelly pedestrians making unexpected lateral movements, oblivious to the approaching cyclist, who fails to announce his presence with bell or by whistling.

    – Or by pedestrian’s dog, often off leash on the separate bike path, with the blessing of the irresponsible owner…

    – The vast majority of injuries will go unreported.

    Luis Bernhardt

    (my apologies if you are a traffic engineer. I have a very low opinion of engineers in general*, traffic engineers in particular, formulated by my experiences on the various separate bike paths I have ridden in various places in North America. I really wish this opinion could be changed, but I’m still waiting.)

    *For some reason, engineers seem to be particularly bad at creating usable, intuitive, and socially convivial user interfaces. Witness the typical Skytrain prepaid ticket (just how do you insert it into the punch machine?) or the way you stick your credit card into the reader on the gas pump (completely counterintuitive!) (And they have yet to design a standardized elevator control panel with a floor cancel button.)

    Stephen Rees

    June 4, 2008 at 8:01 am

  3. The City of Vancouver currently has a cycling survey that allows you to comment on safety and other issues. The link to the survey is at the bottom of the following page:


    June 4, 2008 at 11:22 am

  4. There are so many variables involved that I really wonder whether this will be an exercise in futility (in coming to conclusions).
    It strikes me that common sense (and cautious defensive behaviour) is the most prudent way to proceed (on a bike) – keep your eyes and ears open and if there’s a possible risk (like a blind corner or hidden driveway), approach it cautiously.
    Even for drivers, yeah, you may be a good driver (but you are only part of the equation) – the guy in the other car may not be a good driver – or worse, could be distracted, drunk or impaired.

    Ron C.

    June 4, 2008 at 12:11 pm

  5. […] UBC Researchers to investigate cycling safety […]

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