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

Archive for February 9th, 2011

Bike path safety

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The “controversy” over segregated bike lanes in downtown Vancouver continues elsewhere. I have refrained from comment. Much of the controversy seems to ignore the simple fact that providing safer routes means that more people will cycle. Indeed for many years my former employer (the UK Department of Transport) did NOT encourage cycling because it was thought to increase risk of casualties. Instead it looked at existing routes used by cyclists and tried to find the best engineering practice to make those routes safer. Often the solution was to find a path where cars could not go – but often mixed cyclists and pedestrians. A pedestrian hit by a cyclist would usually not suffer anything like the severity of injury as a cyclist hit by a vehicle.

The following turned up in my email today. I did not know that engineers in north America had been saying that segregated bike paths were more dangerous than riding on the street – which seems to me to be counter-intuitive. The risk to pedestrians and cyclists alike is posed by people in vehicles. In any collision, someone wrapped in more than a ton of steel and other materials is much more likely to escape unharmed than the unfortunate person they collide with. The primary reason that people here do not use bicycles as transport (as opposed to recreation) is the feeling of vulnerability – and the seemingly impervious attitudes of drivers who believe that cyclists should not be allowed on “their” roads.   Not a few of whom are happy to try and scare off cyclists as they think they can get away with it.

a new study on the safety of bicycle tracks vs cycling on the street published today, Wednesday, Feb. 9, in the journal Injury Prevention. Bicycle tracks are physically separated bicycle-exclusive paths along roads, as found in The Netherlands.

The study was led by Anne Lusk, Ph.D., Research Associate in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH. The study was conducted in Montreal, which has a longstanding network of bicycle tracks. Researchers at the Université de Montréal,McGill University, Northeastern University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital collaborated on the study.

Title of article: “Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street.” Anne C. Lusk, Peter G. Furth, Patrick Morency, Luis F. Miranda-Moreno, Walter C. Willett, and Jack T. Dennerlein.

Link to the open-access article:


Most individuals prefer bicycling separated from motor traffic. However, cycle tracks (physically separated bicycle-exclusive paths along roads, as found in The Netherlands) are discouraged in the USA by engineering guidance that suggests that facilities such as cycle tracks are more dangerous than the street. The objective of this study conducted in Montreal (with a longstanding network of cycle tracks) was to compare bicyclist injury rates on cycle tracks versus in the street. For six cycle tracks and comparable reference streets, vehicle/bicycle crashes and health record injury counts were obtained and use counts conducted. The relative risk (RR) of injury on cycle tracks, compared with reference streets, was determined. Overall, 2.5 times as many cyclists rode on cycle tracks compared with reference streets and there were 8.5 injuries and 10.5 crashes per million bicycle-kilometres. The RR of injury on cycle tracks was 0.72 (95% CI 0.60 to 0.85) compared with bicycling in reference streets. These data suggest that the injury risk of bicycling on cycle tracks is less than bicycling in streets. The construction of cycle tracks should not be discouraged.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Posted in cycling