Stephen Rees's blog

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

It’s time we paid more attention to the troubling side of two-wheeling

with 17 comments

An opinion piece in the Province from Derek Moscato – a bike commuter himself, he says.

The piece is troubling in that he really does not come up with very much of substance.  For example

the stats show that cyclists here are seven to 70 times more likely to be injured, by trip or by distance travelled, than automobile occupants.

which you must admit is quite a wide range. It is also curious that ICBC refuses to contemplate insurance based on distance driven, saying for cars there is not as much correlation as with other factors, and it is those that set premiums based on risk. Less of course politically incorrect factors like age and sex.

Of course a car occupant is less at risk of injury than a cyclist. They are strapped in a crash tested steel cage, with air bags that deploy on impact. The vehicle body is design to absorb energy. The cyclist, like the pedestrian, is not protected at all. And that includes the helmet we are forced to wear here. Again the evidence in helmets is equivocal – and some studies show that drivers will treat cyclists worse if they wear a helmet!

[Politicians] don’t seem nearly as interested in following through with funding for safe-cycling infrastructure, such as separated bike lanes and stepped-up traffic law enforcement directed at both drivers and cyclists.

But there are some cycling advocates who are against segregated facilities, and insist on their right to be on the road. Indeed the whole Critical Mass movement is to get drivers to accept that cyclists are “traffic”.

Drivers in Vancouver have got worse since I arrived. They have faster cars and are more determined to use the power under the hood for acceleration and illegal speed wherever they drive. The abolition of photo radar was a positive encouragement of this trend.

Just as troubling are those who feel that riding a bicycle entitles them to run red lights or race through pedestrian crosswalks.

Except that the risk of injury in a collision is much less if one is hit by a bicycle than an SUV. But yes, there are cyclists who relish being as casual about compliance as drivers. Moscato does not mention the speeds being driven by cars on Vancouver’s posted cycle routes. Or the frequency of the wrong way round the traffic circle manoeuvre.

The reason cyclists are made to wear helmets is what happens when a bike is hit by a car – not the risk of a fall from a bike. And In North America in general cyclists are much more at risk because there are still very many fewer cyclists than drivers, and most bike injuries result from mountain biking and other recreational activities, not commuting. To the extent that the data is any use at all – as “accident” reports complied by police are notoriously poor as a data set. In Europe there are lots more bikes on the road, and governments in general are more pro-bike – in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark. Even Paris has calmed its traffic and there are advanced stop lines for cyclists at major intersections. London used some of the congestion charge money to improve cycling facilities.

I suspect that part of the problem (lack of attention from politicians) is driven by the statistics. We still do not see people as the essential unit of accounting. Most traffic engineers think in terms of vehicles – or “passenger car units”. This distorts decision making. We now need policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and local air pollution. We also need urban strategies to make our cities more people friendly and less auto oriented. We cannot afford to emit more pollution – it must be cut drastically – and we cannot afford any more sprawl. That means putting people before cars. And judging priorities not in terms of increasing “traffic flow” (i.e. cars) but the ability of people not just to move around but also to use the spaces between buildings for social interaction. Streets must be able to serve a wide variety of functions, and the ability of cars to zip through is not the most important.

We should not continue a debate about road safety that is based on a false dichotomy – “two wheels good, four wheel bad”. Obviously in this region compliance with the rules of the road must improve. And hard engineering is needed in many places to slow cars down. Direct routes for human powered movement are needed especially in suburbs designed to limit through car traffic, but absent any facilities for safe walking or cycling. Mostly we need to reallocate road space to improve efficiency. 1000 cars per hour per lane is not enough – which is why we need bus lanes (NOT HOV) on through routes and much better sidewalks and bike paths. I think it is very significant that even when there is a sidewalk and a bike lane, many people abandon the sidewalk. Maybe it is something to do with the number of driveway crossovers.

Moscato of course only has a short column – and the Province is not for people with long attention spans. But what he has identified is merely a symptom of a much bigger issue. We have a leadership that is still stuck in the 1950s. They talk about GHG and being green, but their actions show a different set of priorities. And they get much more excited about bogus bomb alerts – which threaten nobody – than the daily carnage on the streets which threatens us all every day.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 18, 2008 at 11:49 am

17 Responses

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  1. It’s telling that in the Netherlands and other European countries, the only people who take biking classes are children and immigrants.


    August 18, 2008 at 12:58 pm

  2. If the city wants to get serious about cycling they need to build cycling lanes that are separated from traffic (raised on otherwise physically separate). This inane pasting of cycling signs on asphalt and drawing of cycling lanes in between car lanes is a total waste of money. Who in the right mind wants to cycle sandwiched between the bus and cars downtown?

    Dejan K

    August 18, 2008 at 8:16 pm

  3. I cycle to work quite a bit, and I think the COV (can’t speak for the suburbs) is doing a great job. They’ve added Kms of cycling routes and more are coming on stream every year. There is obvious areas that need improvement still but this city is heading in the right direction. I don’t expect a traffic seperated lane everywhere I go. What peeves me is when you see cyclists taking up a whole lane out of spite, especially when I know there is a bike route one block over and they’re either choosing to ignore it or don’t know better.
    Just like the people that take it upon themselves to drive the speed limit in the fast lane thinking they are saving the world from speeders. *sigh*

    Joe Just Joe

    August 18, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  4. Hmm… In the Netherlands, the reports I read suggest that the immigrant population is less open to cycling, seeing that as the ‘poor man’s transport’. In Stuttgart it is Germans, and mostly middle class Germany who seem to be taking to bikes in big numbers. Schoolchildren are taught as part of the cirriculum.
    I’m a bit cautious about identifying ‘Immigrants’ from observation of skin or language, but I only know of two who cycle regularly in our village, and I’m one.

    Andy in Germany

    August 19, 2008 at 4:05 am

  5. Sorry, another question- Stephen, can you let me have some sources for the helmet studies you mentioned? Many thanks.

    Andy in Germany

    August 19, 2008 at 4:06 am

  6. Yes, but it will have to wait until the weekend – I am travelling at present

    Stephen Rees

    August 19, 2008 at 7:12 am

  7. I agree with Dejan – more separated bike lanes are badly needed. Some of the places that lines are painted are absolutely ridiculous. Take, for example, the new bike lane on Cambie heading from 49th to Marine. On the road, in between parking, buses and traffic, on a stretch of road where traffic speeds up on the hill. Then, at Marine, the lane disappears into a right turn lane for cars! Like what, cyclists are supposed to just disappear too?

    On the immigrant question (I have no data to support this other than my own observations and wife’s comments however) I would say that in general this is true. Most immigrants to western countries are from poorer areas where car ownership still says “I made it” and riding a bike is what the poor do. Take Richmond for example. I rarely see cyclists there, and never Chinese. On asking my (Chinese) wife about this, her response was that most newly immigrated Chinese would find it shameful to ride a bike, as it shows that you can’t afford a car. True or not, that’s what most people think within the newly immigrated Chinese community. Emphasis is placed on looking wealthy, and a car is the primary way to do that in public.


    August 19, 2008 at 8:28 am

  8. I agree with the need for separated bike lanes.

    I’m far too chicken to mix in traffic with cars. I’d love to bike more but I don’t have the guts to do it under those conditions. If the city is serious about getting a significant mode split of cyclists, they have to start catering to the chicken cyclists like myself. They’ve done a good job of making the streets bike-friendly for the hard core cyclists but that’s not where the bulk of the population is.

    (The lack of separated bike lane on Cambie St – which they were reconstructing from scratch anyway – is a HUGE missed opportunity. HUGE.)

    They say in Copenhagen that a bike lane is only successful if your grandmother and 6 year old kid feel safe using it.

    Great blog to check out here:

    Helmet debate here:


    August 19, 2008 at 10:19 am

  9. Once more!

    h h u u ggg eeee
    h h u u g g e
    hhhh u u g eee
    h h u u g gg e
    h h uuuu gggg eeee

    missed opportunity.


    August 19, 2008 at 10:36 am

  10. That did say “huge” in big letter when I typed it out by the way…


    August 19, 2008 at 10:37 am

  11. Separate cycling lanes would be nice but I think the priority right now should be to stop dangerous driving especially around bike routes. Almost every day I witness cars running stop lights, driving the wrong with through traffic circles, passing illegally and speeding on bike routes.

    A few weeks ago a driver passing illegally on a bike route hit a cyclist with a child in tow.

    re:”taking up a whole lane” – Often this is the safest way to ride and actually required. ICBC says that cyclists should be at least one metre from parked cars and should not weave back and forth. If you are riding this distance away from parked cars there is often not enough room for cars to safely pass in the lane. So, the best thing to do is to take the lane. Bicycles do have priority over cars in the City of Vancouver. Drivers need to learn to respect this and be patient.

    re: “a bike route one block over and they’re either choosing to ignore it ” – Today I road on Broadway even though there was a bike lane one block south. But, I was only going 3 blocks. Why should I cycle two blocks out of my way (and one of those blocks is a steep up hill)? Drivers aren’t expected to do this. Why should cyclists when they are supposed to have priority in this city?

    If I was going a longer distance I certainly would take the bike route but sometimes I think using an alternate route is the best choice.


    August 19, 2008 at 1:57 pm

  12. rob_

    I don’t mean to be harsh here, but wake up: trying to stop dangerous driving is like the war on drugs; sounds good but won’t make one iota of difference.

    We need options for people who don’t want to deal with cars.

    LRT, separated bike lanes, pedestrian trails, and streetcars are a good start.


    August 19, 2008 at 6:35 pm

  13. And if cyclists really did have priority in this city, the Burrard Bridge argument wouldn’t even have happened.

    The “cyclists and pedestrians first” claim is a farce.


    August 19, 2008 at 6:37 pm

  14. Rob I didn’t mean to say someone going a short distance should be forced to take the bike routes, but as you yourself said if going a long distance it makes sense to. The bike routes are better suited for bikes, less traffic, usually much less lights/stop signs.
    I’ll disagree with you that it’s okay for a bike to take up a whole lane though, call me hardcore but I find there is enough space when I ride to fit in between parked cars and the first lane.

    On a positive the City of Vancouver has set a mandate of having north-south bikelanes every km and east-west bikelanes every km or better. That will mean you’ll never be more then a minute from a bike route.

    Joe Just Joe

    August 19, 2008 at 7:59 pm

  15. On Sunday I cycled the 50km Slow Food Cycle Sunday trek in Pemberton, on a paved road that mostly services rural residents and farms. I rarely noticed the car traffic, and there was a fair bit of it, but I did notice when someone from out of town was driving: a nice car, e.g. a Corvette. I have my doubts that anybody living out there has a sparkling clean, new, high-end vehicle. Guess which ones sped by us? Exactly those… people who probably live in the city and have little regard for cyclists. Personally I’m a real chicken and as much as I’d love to cycle anywhere (gigantic hills be damned), I just don’t want to cycle on main roads. I live in an area of North Vancouver where there is rarely a direct alternative, and if I want to travel to Vancouver well, I’d rather take the bus!

    Erika Rathje

    August 19, 2008 at 11:17 pm

  16. I ride on Broadway and other major public thoroughfares so that in years to come others will be allowed to do so also. Streets, roads, lanes, highways and etc are “Public thoroughfares.” All members of society pay for them through our property taxes. We must not be forced to bear the additional expense of owning a car in order to be allowed to use a this common resource. If we stop riding and walking on all public thoroughfares we will eventually be restricted as to where we can engage in active transportation ie.walk or cycle. That must not happen.
    As for ‘taking a lane’: lane positioning is always situational it is affected by speed, intended direction e.g. right or left turn etc. and most importantly lane width. Some traffic lanes are only 10 feet wide. A truck with trailering mirrors is by law allowed to be 11 feet wide. There for the safest place to ride is in the middle of the lane so that they will not try to squeeze by you.
    The Law (MVA) states that “cyclist have all the rights and responsibilities of any other vehicle operator on the road, “except that they must ride over to the right as far as practicable.” Practicable means ‘safe and practical” The determining agent in each situation is the operator of the bicycle…NOT any other observer. As a cyclist I may be slow but I am ahead of the vehicle behind me. They MUST only pass me when it is ‘safe to do so” not try to squeeze by me with two vehciles to a lane (that is against the law); or they must wait until I find a safe place to pull over allowing them to pass. The vehicle operater in front determines when that is not the person on the horn behind them.
    Just the facts. Just the law.

    John Forester author of Effective Cycling: 6th Edition (Paperback) the text for CanBike II but it very clearly, “Cyclists fare best when they behave and are treated as any other vehicle operater”
    CanBike II accreditation is sort of like getting a drivers licence, it simply means that you are ready to learn how to safetly use the “public thoroughfares”

    “Chicken cyclists, 6 year olds and grandmothers” need to learn some actual cycling skills. 6 year olds definitely and grandpeople maybe, do not have the required judgment, speed assesment and physical skills to cycle safely on public thoroughfares; as such they should remain passengers. Just as everyone does not have the ‘right’ or ability to drive a car, so it should be with bicyles. Those who canot attain the requirements should remain passengers for everyone’s benifit.
    That’s the way I see the facts of our current situation.
    One final note regarding “riding over to the right as far as practicable, MVA Section 183(2)c check out:


    September 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

  17. Darwin

    Although I have “approved” your comment, I disagree with almost everything you write here. This thread has also been dormant for over a year. I suggest you look at my most recent post on this topic

    Stephen Rees

    September 3, 2009 at 11:58 am

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