“Unsafe” Roads for Cyclists?

"unsafe" roadBefore anyone checks, I’ve probably used the same term before, but I think it’s time cyclists examine the term “unsafe” when we talk about roads… and quit using it.

A better term would be “risky,” but not for the reasons you might think. Risk is created by behavior. Some risk can come from the behavior of others. But  crash statistics support that the risk is often perpetuated by the behavior of the cyclists themselves. It’s about the people, not the roads.

A few weeks ago, Mighk Wilson surveyed a small group of vehicular cyclists about their mileage and number of crashes. In his post, he also calculated an estimate of how often a car might pass the cyclist.  His conclusion:  huge numbers of cars pass without incident or accident — your crash risk is quite low.  It’s valuable to note that most of the cyclists who responded feel comfortable and confident on their bikes, and have ridden many miles on roads that the average person might consider “unsafe” for cyclists. Other Internet research (for instance, here) concludes that, in general, riding a bike is much less risky than riding in a car. So overall, we could conclude that roads are not “unsafe” for bicycling.

Perhaps what some people call “unsafe” is really an issue of “unpleasant.”  Cycling down University Blvd. can be unpleasant, due to higher speeds and higher volumes of traffic.  But Keri has shown that it is not unsafe — quite the opposite.

Infrastructure can be held accountable for increasing risk — think of bike lanes painted next to street-parked cars (dooring), the abrupt ending of bike lanes at intersections,  high speed limits on roads with reduced sight lines, potholes in the road, steep-angled railroad tracks, etc.

But do these infrastructure faux pas alone raise the bar to declare a road as being “unsafe?”  Riskier — possibly yes, and maybe even riskier to inexperienced cyclists. But unsafe? I don’t think so.

OK, maybe I’ve climbed out too far on this “unsafe” limb to make a point.  But any discussion of  (road) cycling being “unsafe” brings up such negative connotations.  It discourages people from trying it, or worse, it may encourage them to ride in ways that increase their risk. It encourages some motorists to think we have a death wish (relieving them of responsibility to be courteous and careful). I think we should all try to de-emphasize the use of negative, scary words like “unsafe” and find ways to show that cyclists really have a lot of control over their own safety. And there are so many other positives that outweigh any cycling negatives.


48 replies
  1. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    There are three types of road safety:

    *Actual safety. What are the real dangers?
    *Subjective safety. Do I feel safe?
    *Social safety. Is there a mugger around the corner?

    People tend to make decisions based upon subjective safety. That’s just human nature.

    David Hembruff has excellent writing on the three types of road safety at:


    Regretfully, there is a great deal of actual safety issues in most roads in the USA. Which is one of the major reasons why the death and injury rate for cyclists is 17 times greater in the USA than in The Netherlands.

    Subjective safety is why my 71-year-old mother will not ride downtown in Naples, Fla. It may have actual safety, but all the statistics in the world are not going to convince her to use her 66 years of cycling experience to cycle on roads that do not feel safe.

  2. Eric
    Eric says:

    Kevin, if you don’t think that cyclists belong on a road, then you automatically meet all three types of your risks.

    Not only are you anti-car, you are anti-bicycle because I can guarantee you that if you got your way and pedestrians had to share paths with bicycles (as presented in the pics you post) bicycles would be the next thing to be banished since they are dangerous to pedestrians.

    And make no mistake, bicycles really are dangerous to pedestrians, in fact I would argue that they present a bigger danger to pedestrians than cars present to cyclists.

  3. Keri
    Keri says:

    It’s worth taking a look at the way our culture attributes and defines “safety.”

    We have several generations of adults who were brought up on a steady diet of safety-device marketing — passive safety. This has certainly affected our cultural thinking and it really permeates all aspects of our lives. Think about product safety and litigation issues.

    In the lexicon of traffic safety, we rarely hear about behavior and personal responsibility. We hear about seat-belts and airbags and reinforced side panels. We’ve accomplished this huge transference of responsibility for safety from people onto things.

  4. Eric
    Eric says:

    “steady diet of safety-device marketing — passive safety.”

    And when I was a youngster it was the exact opposite.

    “Drive Safely” was all over the TV, radio and newspaper advertising. One semester of Driver’s Ed was a required class to get a High School Diploma. It was all on the driver.

    There were:
    *No seatbelts and when they became required in 1967, and only lapbelts.
    * No collapsible steering column
    * Engines would come through the firewall and “sit in your lap” rather than drop down the way they do now
    * Auto glass was plate glass
    * Mufflers often leaked
    * No padded dashboards
    * No dual braking system (this is where the brakes are connected up diagonally, so that if one fails, the other can safely stop the car)
    * No head restraints
    * Fuel tanks often exploded

    There has been a lot of improvements since then, but all the “E” emphasis has been on engineering.

  5. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    Kevin said: People tend to make decisions based upon subjective safety. That’s just human nature.

    I agree. People base that decision on their own personal experiences, but also from the experiences they hear about from others. It’s the input from others that I’m addressing here — that we can be our own worst enemy when we decry the roads being “unsafe”. We send this message out to inexperienced and new cyclists, and they end up riding on sidewalks, or not riding at all.

    I did read David Hembrow’s article, and the one thing I came away was there was no mentional at all, anywhere, about education or training. But the article was full of, as Keri put it, passive-safety tips and engineering work-arounds on how to “feel safer”.

  6. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Eric wrote:

    “Kevin, if you don’t think that cyclists belong on a road”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I do think that cyclists belong on a road. Where do you get the opposite idea from?

    There are some exceptions, such as segregated car infrastructure from which cyclists are currently banned by law. I’m part of a group here in Toronto which is currently lobbying for the demolition of one such car-only road, The Gardiner Expressway. AKA “The mistake by the lake.”

  7. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:
    “We’ve accomplished this huge transference of responsibility for safety from people onto things.”

    Kevin’s comment”
    In some ways, that is not a bad thing. Why? Because even good people are inherently unreliable and far too many people are obnoxious jerks. There are limits to education. But concrete always works.

    Let’s take one example. Keri wrote about living in a residential area where non-local cut-thru traffic was speeding through the neighbourhood and seriously degrading the quality of life of the residents. Around here, we call that “rat-running.”

    Imagine that we were to round up each and every one of the rat-runners and incarcerate them in a Vietnamese-style re-education concentration camp for a month where they would be forced to chant all day “I will not speed through a residential neighbourhood because it makes life hell for the people who live there.”

    I venture to predict that upon release from the camp they will continue to make life hell for residents with their rat-running.

    Why? Because it is not about education. It is an issue of morality, not education. These people are immoral, obnoxious jerks who either don’t care or else get a secret thrill from terrorizing other people. Education will not change that. Education will not make the neighbourhood safe.

    What will change things is setting up barricades that prevent drivers from cutting through residential neighbourhoods. Barricades that allow bicycles to go everywhere, but that only allow cars to go straight out to the nearest major arterial road. Suddenly every residential street is a dead-end street for cars and there is no cut-through rat-running. 100% guaranteed. In this situation, concrete always works. Education does not.

  8. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Eric wrote:

    “…if you got your way and pedestrians had to share paths with bicycles (as presented in the pics you post)…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Very few, if any, of the photos and videos I’ve posted had pedestrians and cyclists sharing paths. I am, in principle, against it. The different speeds and behaviour patterns of cyclists and pedestrians make such sharing inappropriate. What photos or videos have I posted showing this?

    The only exception that I can think of is the “home zones” or woonerf. Here are two examples:



  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    It’s not about re-educating delinquent individuals. It’s about changing the normative social pressures. You start by transferring responsibility back to behavior.

    The majority of people who cut through neighborhoods and disrespect the residents are not immoral sociopaths. They’re simply typical self-absorbed members of a me-first culture. They’re not purposely ruining the quality of life for the people who’s homes they speed past. It’s not even occurring to them that they are speeding past people’s homes.

    The fact that we’ve tried to “solve” the problem with traffic calming infrastructure, instead of dealing with the root-cause social structure has actually made it worse. Barricading streets will not fix the social problem, it will simply transfer the problem to other streets — the ones where the people with no political clout live.

  10. Bruce Rosar
    Bruce Rosar says:

    Kevin wrote:
    “There are limits to education. But concrete always works.”

    There are limits to every thing that mortals create, including concrete. Actual results aren’t always consistent with ‘common sense’ expectations. An example:

    According to a large study, the gains in road safety resulting from cycle tracks did include “fewer accidents in which cars hit or ran over cyclists from the rear”. Overall though, “[t]hese gains were more than outweighed by new safety problems”. For example, same direction rider v. rider injuries increased by over 200% (see Table 1).

    BTW, one of the primary reasons why we have “traffic sewers” roads which tend to isolate neighborhoods is limited connectivity. Further connectivity restrictions will just result in those streets being made wider and faster, becoming even more of a barrier to non-motorists than they are now. Better connectivity (via a finer meshed network of smaller roads with shorter block lengths) reduces the pressure for more traffic sewers.

  11. Eric
    Eric says:

    “I do think that cyclists belong on a road. Where do you get the opposite idea from?”

    The opposite idea is from when you keep insisting that only segregated facilities are “safe.” I show you US studies that says cycle tracks are MORE dangerous, not good enough for you.

    I show you German studies (who have about 80 years on us when it comes to this sort of thing) that show that cycle tracks are MORE dangerous, something that was discovered 80 years ago and you ignore that, too.

    Keri brings back photos from St. Pete and how screwed up their cycle track is, but that’s not good enough, either.

    You spent a little time in a foreign country on some country lanes (something we don’t have and have never had here, and you ought to give some thought as to why that is) and you think you know it all because you quote anti-car Pucher.

    Being Anti-Car is not necessarily Pro-Bike and it doesn’t seem to bother you that your “solutions” are MORE dangerous than what you perceive as risky.

  12. Eric
    Eric says:

    Kevin Love said:
    “Because it is not about education. It is an issue of morality, not education. These people are immoral, obnoxious jerks who either don’t care or else get a secret thrill from terrorizing other people. Education will not change that. Education will not make the neighbourhood safe.”

    Funny. I live near a school zone. It is heavily policed. People of all sorts of morality drive through it. The police “educate” people that refuse to follow the rules when driving through it and when the police disappear, the “lessons” seem to stick.

    Even people that have no morals seem to learn when their wallet takes a big enough hit.

  13. Keri
    Keri says:

    Bruce brings up a really good point here.

    This was brought home to me in Dallas. Dallas has such a terrific grid — tons of street redundancy. As a result, the bike route system is able to follow mostly low-volume roads … and I mean really sweet, quiet, shady streets (with asphalt on them!). You can get a sample of it with this cool commute video shot by a CycleDallas reader. But a side-effect was that even the major thoroughfares in the inner ring did not have tons of traffic at rush hour. Motorists were either on the freeways or disbursed in the grid.

    OTOH, Orlando has a major traffic sewer problem precisely because of our lack of connectivity. In the ‘burbs that is a result of really crappy land use — developers carving up their little bits of broccoli with single-entrance subdivisions on 6-lane roads. But even in the urban core we have less connectivity than any other city I’ve visited because of the lakes. What little quiet street connectivity we do have is often made undesirable for both motorists and bicyclists by bricks. (some of it is original infrastructure, some of it is purposeful torture created by a snot-nosed city commissioner who should be hung by her toes).

    That all adds up to a terrible combination of lack of quiet street options and traffic jams of frustrated motorists on the traffic sewers we’re inevitably forced to use to get from point A to point B. Which leads me to my two favorite solutions — CIVILITY and connector trails.

    BTW, the Audubon Park/Colonial Town area is one of the few places with a fine mesh of asphalt streets. I’d venture a bet that this area has the highest bicycle mode share in town.

  14. Eric
    Eric says:

    “BTW, the Audubon Park/Colonial Town area is one of the few places with a fine mesh of asphalt streets.”

    Yet “traffic calming” speed tables have recently been added to Chelsea, to Virginia and to Plaza Terrace. It’s an attempt to force cars back to the arterials.

  15. Keri
    Keri says:

    Speed domes is what they are. They’re nasty for bicyclists, too. I have a problem with a traffic calming device that requires half the speed limit, too. The speed limit is 25, but 10 is about all you can do over those things. So people accelerate between them—more fuel, more emissions.

    But worst of all. I followed a fire truck — lights and sirens — up Plaza Terrace one evening. It could only do 10mph on the speed domes. Boy would I have been PISSED if my house was on fire!

    Yet another valuable lesson from “bike-unfriendly” Dallas — they cyclist-tested their speed hump design for maximum comfort AND tested them for max speed for emergency vehicles. But they hold cars to the speed limit.

    This doesn’t change the fact that speed humps are, as John Allen says, a hardware solution to a software problem… I’m just sayin…

  16. Eric
    Eric says:

    “Boy would I have been PISSED if my house was on fire!”

    How about riding in the back of an ambulance going over those things? That would really suck.

  17. Eric
    Eric says:

    BTW, I never saw any attempt at speed law enforcement before the humps were put in on Plaza Terrace. Not even one time was a trap set up. I did see one of those trailer signs that said “Your Speed Is:” but those are supposed to be followed up with action and they weren’t.

    Guess Orlando didn’t need the money because they sure could have collected some money along there. Guess that’s why they raised their taxes last year.

  18. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Dallas isn’t paradise, despite what Keri claims. There are lots of poor connectivity suburbs around here, too, especially the newer ones. It’s a shame since we don’t have lakes as an excuse.

    If you wanna talk about risk, consider that in N Texas, 75% of my falls have been on cycle facilities, the rest have been within 20 feet of a cycling facility, but that only about 3% of my mileage has been on cycling facilities. That looks like a possible trend to me…

  19. Bruce Rosar
    Bruce Rosar says:

    Keri wrote:
    “So people accelerate between them […]”

    Another side effect is increased distraction; the more engineering “stuff” people have to pay attention to, the less attention “bandwidth” they have available to look out for others.

    Keri wrote:
    “But they hold cars to the speed limit.”

    But just while going over that hardware, right? I expect that the drivers then accelerate up to the speed they perceive as being reasonable at that time and place.

  20. Bruce Rosar
    Bruce Rosar says:

    (repost, as the quote of what Kevin wrote didn’t display)

    In post #9, Kevin wrote:
    [ The only exception that I can think of is the “home zones” or woonerf ]

    FYI: the follow-on to those is “Shared Space”, a design approach for public spaces which can be shared by everyone in relative safety without increasing journey times. See the “New Urban News” article http://www.newurbannews.com/13.7/octnov08sharedspace.html
    and the Ashford Borough Council’s video

  21. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Eric wrote:

    “… you keep insisting that only segregated facilities are “safe.” I show you US studies that says cycle tracks are MORE dangerous, not good enough for you.”

    I don’t deny that a lot of the cycling infrastructure in the USA is badly designed, poorly implemented and winds up making things more dangerous. But, as the Latin proverb goes, abusus non tollit usum. Abuse does not preclude proper use.

    It is 17 times safer to cycle in The Netherlands than in the USA. Why? The experts in the Dutch Ministry of Transportation seem to believe that infrastructure is a key part of that.

    If you have ever spend any reasonable part of your life cycling to work on Dutch infrastructure, I venture to predict that you will never again be satisfied with crappy USA-style infrastructure.

    “You spent a little time in a foreign country on some country lanes…”

    The last time that I checked, The Netherlands and Denmark were two different countries. I am sure that the people in Amsterdam and Copenhagen would be amused to hear their roads described as “country lanes.”

    My source for the cycle safety information is:


    17 times safer to cycle in The Netherlands than in the USA. Maybe they are doing something right. Maybe the USA should benchmark best practices so that our roads would become as safe.

  22. Eric
    Eric says:

    “It is 17 times safer to cycle in The Netherlands than in the USA. Why? The experts in the Dutch Ministry of Transportation seem to believe that infrastructure is a key part of that.”

    Both of the countries you describe have a totally different way of life than we have here. I, too have been to both of them and not on vacation with a guide, so I know.

    A short list of differences is that even today, many people (usually younger ones) can’t afford to buy and maintain cars.

    In fact, while driving here at 16 is a rite of passage, there they must be older due to several factors, financial being only one of them. Imagine the kids of the ’50’s and ’60’s there, buying jalopies, hot rodding them up and racing them on country roads late at night. The whole idea is ludicrous. Cops would be all over them in two seconds.

    The kids here are still fiddling with their cars today, except now they are the small cars and they put “tuner” mufflers and illegal slicks on and they race in town. Sometimes they kill people doing that. You think the kids there could or would race through the streets there?

    The time I spent in Rotterdam and in Amsterdam in 1986 was as pedestrian and as a transit user. I once posted here asking “What was the big deal?” Apparently it was before all this “infrastructure” was created because I didn’t see much of it. There were bike lanes here and there, but it certainly wasn’t anything to “write home about.” In fact, the only remarkable thing was being a pedestrian was made more difficult with the bikes getting in the way.

    There were lots of bikes, but there were lots of bikes all over Germany, too. So what? As I said, licensing, parking, insurance, fuel prices and the culture encouraged cycling, so there was no reason to think it odd to see so many bicycles. A lot of older people rode bikes, too. Mostly because they grew up riding bikes during the war and after since the economy really didn’t pick up for most people until the late ’60’s, then the benzine prices shot through the roof in the early ’70’s so they kept at it.

    While I was in Germany, I did take a couple weeks vacation to visit some relatives. They lived near a cycle track and they lent me a bike since that street was the only way to the main part of town. The cycle track sucked. It was too slow and the cars could not see me, so I had several near misses. There was a stop sign at almost every block. It is like riding on a sidewalk here except there were large trees between the cycle track and the street. Unless you ride at walking speed (which is the way most Germans, Dutch and Danish people ride) it was unusable. I was surprised at that because when I first saw it, I like it. Finally I stopped using it because I thought it was too slow and dangerous and used the country lanes to get around. Those country lanes now have cycle signs on them, but they are still used to drive the cows out to the fields as they were used for centuries.

    Now, let’s talk about that bike I was lent. Do you think it was a mountain bike or a racing bike? Of course not. Those are not proper riding bikes, those are bikes for playing, not for getting to work everyday. Yet walk into any store in the US and what do you see? Do the bikes sold in the US come with bells and lights? Why bother to put bells and headlights on toys?

    Bikes in the US are built, sold and seen by the public as toys. People think it is dangerous to play with toys in the streets. Just like you, they think bikes belong in their own space, like a MUP and “stay out of our way” with your toys.

    While I do not disagree that it is safer to ride bicycles there, it certainly isn’t because of the infrastructure. It was safe before the cycling signs were posted on the country lanes and it was dangerous on the cycle track (as the studies from Germany prove and you still ignore.)

  23. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Eric wrote:

    “Unless you ride at walking speed (which is the way most Germans, Dutch and Danish people ride)”

    I don’t know about Germans, but can attest that Dutch and Danish people tend to ride at a lot faster than walking speed! The “Green Wave” in Copenhagen is set at 20 km/hr. Cycle that fast and you will hit the traffic lights green all the way.

    A witness in the Netherlands writes about bicycle speed here:


    My own experience is that some of the fastest cycle riders in NL are the elderly – I only pray that I’m in as good a shape when I’m that age. And some of the slowest are teenagers who want to ride “cool” rather than fast.

  24. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Eric wrote:
    “…as the studies from Germany prove and you still ignore.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I have extremely limited experience in Germany and do not feel myself qualified to pass judgement in this area. I suspect that the poor outcome is due to poor design of roads and cycle infrastructure. Certainly you have described a very poorly designed cycle path in Germany. And cycling rates are much lower in Germany than in NL and DK.

    There is, alas, a lot of very bad infrastructure out there. I’ve experienced a lot of crappy infrastructure in the USA, but am hearing good things about the recent improvements in New York. I’ll have to go there to check things out.

    What I do know is that when cycle infrastructure is well designed, it is fast, safe and convenient for cyclists. I’ve seen it, admired it and cycled it.

    My experience is mostly in the following countries:

    The United States of America (I was born in California!)
    The Dominion of Canada
    The Kingdom of the Netherlands
    The Kingdom of Denmark

    I see that three out of the four have the same form of government – and those three are the best to cycle in. Come to think of it, so does Japan. Coincidence?

  25. Keri
    Keri says:

    Here’s a nice letter in LAB’s American Bicyclist Magazine about the “recent improvements” in NYC. It’s a response to LAB’s shameless PnP propaganda.

    New Yorkers Liking the Lanes?
    I am an avid bicyclist and have been riding in New York City for decades. But the present and latest bicycle lanes in the city are a Frankenstein monster that is out of control. First, the bicycle lanes are not enforced and never will be, so they are useless on that count (nyc.mybikelane.com). Second, the commercial vehicles have no where to park, so they park in the bicycle lanes. Third, the new pedestrian mall/bicycle lane on Broadway in Manhattan is useless for bicyclists as the pedestrians congregate and walk all through the lane. Fourth, when you take lanes away from cars you create more traffic, hence more pollution. Residents of Kent Avenue in Brooklyn and Grand Street in Manhattan are rising up against the bicycle lanes. I am active with my community board and trying to rid my neighborhood of useless bicycle lanes and take my
    place among the cars.
    —Bruce Mansfield, New York, N.Y.

    John Allen has video of several of the “separated” bike lanes in NYC. I’ve seen it, it’s not pretty. It’s not edited yet, I’ll link to it when he makes it public. The reality turns out different from the propaganda.

  26. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:
    “…it’s not pretty.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    That is unfortunate. It is usually just as much effort to do things right as to do things wrong. I’ve seen so much re-inventing of the wheel in USA traffic engineering where they get it totally wrong. The whole “not invented here” syndrome was in full force.

    I used to work for a company that shamelessly benchmarked and stole the best practices of its competitors from around the world. Pity governments don’t do the same thing more often.

    I’m involved in the cycling committee for one of the Toronto wards and it is just amazing what city staff can come up with. They want to be creative, but we really don’t want them to be creative. Just use what has been of proven success.

    Here is my message to city staff: If you have some brilliant breakthough idea that you think will become the standard throughout the entire world, that is good. And I’m willing to run an experimental trial of your idea to see how it works. We’ll do this AFTER the cycle network is up and running using tried and proven methods.


  27. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Bruce wrote:
    “…the follow-on to those is “Shared Space”…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    A fascinating concept. It appears to work very well where there is a critical mass of pedestrians so that cars can’t go much faster than pedestrian speed without hitting a ped. So they don’t.

    If this critical mass is lacking, it doesn’t work so well. Car drivers tend to use their superior speed and mass to intimidate the few pedestrians left.

    I have seen this myself in the informal woonerf of the laneway behind the building where I live. During the day, there are enough pedestrians around that cars follow behind them at walking speed and everyone co-exists just fine.

    But when I’m walking the dog late at night, there are times when I’m the only ped on the laneway. And I’ve had car drivers try to intimidate me out of “taking the lane” by honking their horns or following too closely.

    I don’t tolerate this behaviour. I’ll simply ignore them, start walking even slower, or if they are really obnoxious, stop still in the lane way and just look at them until they back up and go around another way.

    But that’s just me. I’ve seen other peds who were successfully intimidated.

    The other problem is that heavy pedestrian traffic slows cyclists down.

  28. danc
    danc says:

    Mr Love wrote: “We’ll do this AFTER the cycle network is up and running using tried and proven methods.”

    “Judgments about whether safety can be promoted by means of vehicle and road engineering, or by altering road user behaviour, depend on the views taken about the possibilities for making roads and vehicles more “foolproof” on the one hand, and for making human beings less “foolish” on the other.”
    John Adams, “Risk and freedom”, page 10

    Is the visionary “cycle network”, cycletracks, bike lanes and bike paths an attempt to make the infrastructure for cyclists foolproof? Or would we be better off trying to educate the driver of vehicles (cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, bicycle …) so they are less foolish? OK lets not stop there, how about pedestrians, parents, planners, law enforcement and most of all bicycle advocates, eh?

  29. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    danc asked:

    “Or would we be better off…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I don’t see it as an “either/or” thing, but as a mutually reinforcing spiral. I’ve seen it here in practice in Toronto over the past few years. For example, installing the Wellesley/Harbord east-west bike lanes resulted in a lot more cyclists. Which in turn led to a “safety in numbers” effect – I’ve seen with my own two eyes the change in car driver behaviour after the lanes went in and the new cyclists hit the street.

    Which in turn led to a broadening of cycling demographics. Not just young men, but increasing numbers of women, older and child cyclists. Commuter demand went way up, leading to the opening of bike shops selling city bikes. Places like Curbside Cycle (where I bought my beloved Pashley). Take a look at the bikes sold in a bike shop where there is bike culture at:


    *–gotta go, to be continued–*

  30. Bruce Rosar
    Bruce Rosar says:

    Kevin wrote about Shared Space:
    “If this critical mass is lacking, it doesn’t work so well. […]
    I have seen this myself in the informal woonerf […]”

    Shared Space implementations typically have a relatively narrow area that motorists are limited to, with wide areas to each side that non-motorists can use. The video from Groningen shows an example:

    Kevin wrote:
    “The other problem is that heavy pedestrian traffic slows cyclists down.”

    While speeds may be lower in Shared Space for some, journey times usually improve for everyone. In general, intersections function better when slow speeds and lack of traffic control devices allow people to “filter-in-turn” (negotiating movement with each other as needed) instead of being stopped by traffic control devices regardless of whether or not there’s anyone that they actually need to yield to.

  31. danc
    danc says:

    Mr Love said:
    “.. resulted in a lot more cyclists.”
    Cyclist or “person on bike”?

    Mr Love continues:
    “Which in turn led to a “safety in numbers” effect …”
    I repeat it again the “safety in numbers” (SIN) assertion is suspect. Let’s talk about another related SIN. I went on Courteous Mass ride with basically 25 strangers. Riding a wide 5 lane, 30 MPH street a young woman (~mid 20’s) said she only felt safe riding on city streets with other folks or in a group and often rode sidewalks. Funny thing, I rode the same street by myself 30 minutes and felt much safer. Riding in a city, I’m thinking about crappy potholes, glass, debris and adding 24 folks who don’t know how to stay out of the door zone, signal obstacles or generally ride with low predicatively mad the ride less safe for me. This young woman’s SIN is about never having any basic bike safety trainings, not even a bike rodeo. Just a bunch of “authority figures” good advice and what she decided felt safer, sidewalks!

    Getting back to Keri original post, “Unsafe Roads for Cyclists”, Washington DC and Columbus, OH Bikeway Maps have quirky legend designations for roadways: Good, Moderate, Poor, here is the Poor description: “Roadways with high volume or traffic speeds. Extreme caution should be used on these roadways. Suitable for bicyclists with advanced skills”. What is bicyclist with advanced skills? How do one acquire this expertise or ability? I can understand “cautioning” but this legend goes beyond and dangerize cycling. Last April I rode entirely on DC “Poor” streets, no problem, watch for pedestrians, stay out of the door zone and bike lanes and ride on! I did not need 24 other nice, generally pleasant folks to ride around with, OKAY?

  32. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    Interesting conversation to follow. I like the distinction that has was highlighted early on between safety through technology (& infrastructure) verses safety through behavior. The present focus on built infrastructure is obviously an extension of that way of thinking. It drives me crazy to hear people ask, as they do all the time, “What roads are safe to ride on around here?” I always really want to say “All of them!”

    Usually I do say something like “Most of them are okay if you obey the laws and know what you’re doing.” (Maybe “control your space” would be better than “know what you’re doing”, since the former is more descriptive than the latter.)

    But that said, I’m forced to concede that some of the high speed arterials are definitely riskier for cyclists who don’t do those things, and I know that’s what people have in mind by “dangerous roads”. But I truly believe that safety has much more to do with one’s own behavior and attitude than about the physical environment or even about other peoples’ behavior.

  33. Keri
    Keri says:

    “Control your space” is exactly the phrase I use when someone asks me about riding a particular road that would seem intimidating to most people.

    Risk comes from behavior. If you ride like a gutterbunny on a fast road with narrow lanes, you are at a higher risk of being hit (sideswiped) than if you control the lane on such a road. If you ride 20mph and blow past commercial driveways on a sidewalk you are at higher risk of being hit than if you ride 5mph and stop and scan at every street and driveway.

    Andrew chastises me for saying riding on the sidewalk is dangerous. He’s right. It’s only as dangerous as the rider’s behavior. The problem is that most people think it’s safer and don’t have a clue what and where the dangers are. So then you hear their hit-by-a-car stories which begin “I was riding on the sidewalk when…”

  34. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Riding on the sidewalk IS dangerous, to the operator of the bicycle and to road users. Returning home yesterday, I observed a person on a bike, riding on the sidewalk, surprisingly, in the same direction as road traffic. I was traveling in the same direction, on the roadway, approaching an intersection at which I needed to turn right.

    I was delayed by traffic, (ironic, isn’t it) and arrived at my turn just after he crossed the intersection. He looked to his right for traffic approaching the stop sign, but did not look to his left for crossing, turning traffic, which would have been me had I been able to keep up my normal speed.

    He missed the bullet, literally and figuratively, but I’ve had closer calls from sidewalk riders.

  35. Bruce Rosar
    Bruce Rosar says:

    JohnB wrote:
    “[…] safety has much more to do with one’s own behavior and attitude than about the physical environment or even about other peoples’ behavior.”

    The safety and congestion improvements that occurred after Shared Space redesigns has been significant, regardless of which factor is more significant. Quoting [with clarifications] from “Improving traffic behaviour and safety through urban design”:

    —begin quote—
    Clarifying whether each part of the
    highway network lies in the traffic zone or
    the public realm underpins Hans
    Monderman’s work. The traffic zone is
    not a place for anything but the movement
    of traffic, and segregation [by mode type]
    is usually appropriate. But traffic can also coexist
    with other social activities within the public
    realm, so long as the cultural messages
    that govern human behaviour are made

    [In Shared Space] The driver becomes a citizen.
    Eye contact and human interaction replaces
    signs and rules. But for this to work, the
    transition between the two worlds needs
    to be made clear.
    –end quote—

  36. Keri
    Keri says:

    Fred said: “He looked to his right for traffic approaching the stop sign, but did not look to his left for crossing, turning traffic…”

    Like I said. It’s the behavior. If you’re going to ride on the sidewalk you have to stop and check carefully in ALL directions. If you do that, you can avoid getting hit. But it’s a tedious pain in the ass. Much EASIER to ride on the road.

  37. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    My sister-in-law is 63 years old, probably Asperger’s but never diagnosed, never learned to drive a car, so she rides a bike and takes the bus to get around her home in the Cleveland metro area. I mention the Asperger’s because I think it’s significant that she resists change and becomes easily flustered outside her comfort zone. It’s probably why she never learned to drive, and still rides her bike like she learned as a child: on the sidewalk, slowly, stopping and looking at all intersections, just as you said, Keri.

    As I’ve become more of a vehicular cyclist, I pause and remember her if I feel myself becoming too much of a zealot about it. She’s never been involved in a major collision in her decades of riding, so she must be doing it safely, although it can’t be what most of us would consider efficient. I guess it works for her, although it’s not what I would choose. So I guess I’d agree that, technically, sidewalk riding can be done safely (she seems to do it), but not at the efficiency that most of us would desire, including the efficiency that some other sidewalk riders seem to desire.

  38. Bruce Rosar
    Bruce Rosar says:

    JohnB wrote:
    “[…] sidewalk riding can be done safely (she seems to do it), but not at the efficiency that most of us would desire […]”

    The primary reason why using a path to the side is, on average, much more dangerous is the greater temptation to travel opposite the direction of traffic. Statistically, that’s many times more likely to result in a collision. When they’re sharing the road, folks tend to travel on the wrong side less often.

  39. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    *– previous post continued*–

    I’m back. I was writing about the virtuous spiral that I’ve been seeing here in Toronto.

    I stopped with describing the new bike shops that have opened. A bike shop around every corner has the effect of making it easy for ordinary people to get punctures repaired without getting their nice work clothing dirty. So that repairing one’s own punctures becomes like car drivers changing their own oil. A few enthusiasts do it, but most do not.

    And city bikes tend to be sold with puncture-resistant tires. Tires like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres which came as standard equipment on my beloved Pashley. They have never, ever got a flat.

    Then a substantial number of the new cyclists joined us veterans of the cycle wars and got involved in advocacy. There was a big enough critical mass to start the new Toronto Cyclists Union and conduct demonstrations for better cycling facilities. Demonstrations such as hundreds of people packing the public galleries of Toronto Council Chambers to watch the City Councillors debate and vote 28-16 in favour of taking a car lane on Jarvis Street and turn it into two bicycle lanes.

    This in turn put heat on Toronto City Council to complete the Bike Plan. The Toronto Bike Plan can be seen at:


    This was set up as a 10 year plan from 2001 to 2011, but implementation had fallen behind. So Council looked for items that could be quickly implemented (particularily before the municipal election next year). One such item was putting bike racks on all busses. So all Toronto busses now have bike racks on them.

    Another quick item was bike parking. So we now have a lot more bike parking, including a major bike station at the downtown train station, bike lockers at many locations in Toronto and thousands more of the ubiquitous post and ring bike stands.

    The effect of all this was to persuade even more people to bike, so the virtuous spiral continues.

    • Robert Cooper
      Robert Cooper says:

      Apologies for posting this comment exactly four years after Kevin Love’s comment of 14 June 2009:

      “ […] to watch the City Councillors debate and vote 28-16 in favour of taking a car lane on Jarvis Street and turn it into two bicycle lanes.”

      Mr. Love thus ignores the fact that, although there is a thing called a bike lane, apparently reserved for bikes, there are no “car lanes” reserved for cars. Unless he is talking about expressways.

  40. Eric
    Eric says:

    “If you do that, you can avoid getting hit.”

    Most mornings I take my dog out using one of these:

    My dog is not much a runner and I will never drag him, so I let him set the pace. We go pretty darn slowly with many stops.

    Only safe place to ride like this is on the sidewalk, but we go so slowly (most people walking pass us) that it can be done safely.

    But STILL, even though we stop and look all around at every intersection before crossing, sometimes while we are crossing, cars will zip up and start making a left turn from the major street into the minor street we are crossing.

    The driver sees no oncoming traffic, cuts the wheel and starts the turn only to THEN look at where they are going. At the last moment, the driver sees us and has to stop, usually in mid-turn.

    This is precisely what I saw happening in Germany on the cycle track I tried to use. The difference was that it happened much more frequently there and it seemed that they had a harder time stopping because they were turning across two lanes of traffic, not one, so they had more speed on before they saw the cyclist.

  41. Keri
    Keri says:

    That’s a big issue with commercial driveways on roads like Colonial and University. A left-turning motorist is concentrating on shooting a gap with all those lanes. They last place they’d think to look is the sidewalk. And ESPECIALLY for a rider going against traffic.

  42. Laura
    Laura says:

    A few thoughts after skimming the posts.

    As to safety improvements in cars, some of that has actually resulted in people taking greater chances – we have better brakes, better steering and traction control, better tires, etc and people actually drive faster and in a less attentive manner.

    As to the rude drivers cutting through neighborhoods and speeding, often times you’ll find that the cut through traffic IS your neighbor. We did a traffic study in a neighborhood one time in a little subdivision that had one way in and one way out. Drivers were often clocked at 60+ mph on the road leading to the subdivision, a relatively short distance btw. They were all people that LIVED in the neighborhood. Unbelievable.

    My Wadeview Park neighborhood has been inundated with speed humps partly due to the traffic around Boone High School – a truly neighborhood school in many ways, but with 3500 kids, it’s a lot of people – and the new SODO development. The rationale was that SODO would encourage more cut through traffic. Traffic that really hasn’t developed and would mostly be residents in the neighborhood ANYway. Not all the humps have been installed that were proposed, I’m hoping that it’s partly because the City couldn’t find enough willing residents to allow them in front of their property.

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