Stephen Rees's blog

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

Bike path safety

with 9 comments

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

9 Responses

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  1. Actual research numbers? Stephen you clearly don’t have the hang of this blogging thing – unshackle your opinion from facts!

    I’m kidding of course, and this is very welcome info to bring to discussions about bike lanes and transportation planning involving cycling.


    February 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raul Pacheco and Stephen Rees, Lorne Craig. Lorne Craig said: RT @hummingbird604: RT @stephen_rees: Bike paths safer than streets: study […]

  3. I’ve read elsewhere that the perceived safety problem with separated bike lanes/paths occurs when the separated lane comes to an intersection. At an intersection the bike lane is no longer physically separated by a barrier, so right and left-turning traffic can cross the path of the cyclists.

    Also, with bi-directional bike lanes on one-way streets (like Hornby here in Vancouver), bicycles are going against the flow of one-way auto traffic — a car making a turn might not check for this and hit a “surprise” bike coming the “wrong way”.

    The only 100% solution seems to be separate signalling for everything: a right-turn green arrow for cars (while bicycles are shown a red); a left-turn green arrow etc. This requires everyone to obey the signals, of course.

    That is still only 95% though, because a car turning right on green could still easily hit a bicycle that is going through the intersection on green.

    We’d be much better off if all roads were parallel to each other and never intersected. Or if every intersection were a complex system of overpasses.


    February 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm

  4. The issue of intersections is one of design. Here they are designed to be at right angles and controlled – if at all – by signals. In other places, the risk of collisions and the severity of collisions has been significantly reduced by making sure that vehicles are all moving in much the same direction. Of course, North Americans like to say that roundabouts are confusing or hard to understand – which is simply untrue. However, roundabouts do not work very well for pedestrians or cyclists, and need adaptation.

    Grade separation might seem like a good idea but leads to outcomes like freeways and Milton Keynes – both of which proved inimical to human existence.

    Stephen Rees

    February 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm

  5. Motorists are not usually divided into ‘recreational’ motorists and ‘transportation’ motorists, are they? [Although I used to hear of ‘Sunday drivers’ which I guess is kind of like recreational driver.] It seems unnecessary to me to keep making a big distinction of the two for cycling.


    February 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm

  6. I think the majour downside of roundabouts for N.A. motorists is that you cannot rip through them at 80km/h.


    February 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

  7. “I think the majour downside of roundabouts for N.A. motorists is that you cannot rip through them at 80km/h.”
    Unlike the famous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris..Every time I go there there are tourists cowering on a small island in the middle of the Champs Elysees (the avenue has 10 lanes..) with cars tearing out of the roundabout or entering what look like the speed of sound…

    Red frog

    February 10, 2011 at 10:12 pm

  8. WRT “recreational” and “transportation” – I think the distinction is drawn wrt cyclists because the separated bike lanes are meant to appeal to and atract cyclists that are not confident or skilled in riding in mixed traffic.
    For roads, “timid” drivers simply don’t drive on highways or freeways (nor are separate facilities built for timid drivers) – whereas for cyclists, that’s the raison d’etre for the separated lanes (i.e. the distinction is necessary for the justification of the existnece of the lanes, otherwise you you build bike lanes for the “average” cyclist (who may well be confident enough not to need the separated lane and that would not encourage new cyclists))


    February 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

  9. We already had separated bike lanes in France in some major towns in the mid-fifties (I think)definitely in the early 60s, on streets and bridges where the volume of cars, buses etc. made riding bikes too dangerous. Residential streets were OK without bike lanes, especially those streets going every which way at random, therefore never used by drivers trying to cut across the city as quickly as possible.

    Red frog

    February 11, 2011 at 11:51 pm

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