A compelling video is making the rounds of Facebook and cycling blogs on how helmet promotion feeds the fear of cycling. Mikael Colville-Anderson makes some very powerful arguments against the insistence that all cyclists wear helmets, and shows the real absurdity of that message. He blames a culture of fear – bolstered by marketing hacks – that sees danger at every turn.
Unfortunately, Mikael misses the strong evidence that bikeways such as sidepaths, cycle tracks, and bike lanes have the same effect of making people fear cycling – or more accurately, fear cycling outside of such facilities.
The party line in cycling planning and advocacy has long been that segregated bikeways increase cycling while improving safety. The evidence shows otherwise. First let’s look at usage:
In Germany in the 1970s and 80s there was a significant increase in cycling. It’s often been attributed to bikeways. But a closer look at the data shows otherwise:
- 1972 to 1982 — No bikeway planning or improvements; more than 30% increase in bicycle mode share
- 1982 to 1995 – bikeway planning and construction implemented; 10% increase in mode share
Reasons given for increased cycling:
- High cost of fuel caused by two subsequent energy crises
- Increased motorized travel times caused by traffic congestion
- Some destinations no longer accessible by walking
The Dutch, in their own report on their bicycle planning efforts, wrote:
- “Since 1990, the total length of cycle paths has increased to almost 19,000 km, … doubling the length in 1980.”
- “Results: In 1994, the total distance cycled was 12.9 billion km, compared with 12.8 billion in 1990. The number of km traveled by car was 125 billion in 1990 and 129 billion in 1994.”
- “Expansion and improvement of the infrastructure does not necessarily increase the use of bicycles.”
And in “The Economic Significance of Cycling,” from The Netherlands Interface for Cycling Expertise:
- “Experiences in Amsterdam show that the increase in bicycle use in the city centre in the last 10 years is mainly due to increased parking rates.”
- “The policy of reducing car traffic in city centres therefore often consists of reducing parking facilities, and this method is used to cut car use.”
It was much the same in Denmark:
- “Many cities have started to reclaim space from the car in the last 10 to 20 years. … A good example of this is Copenhagen where, between 1962 and 1996, the number of parking spaces was reduced from 3,100 to 2,000…”
- “Restrictions on car use such as gas taxes, parking charges and traffic calming in residential areas are necessary in order to promote cycling.”
“Collection of Cycle Concepts,” Danish Road Directorate, 1985
The safety of cycle tracks has also long been in question. In a Danish study of 105 street segments, 64 km (40 miles), for 3 years, (unidirectional paths only), there was:
- No change in the number of bicycle trips
- All cyclist crashes increased 32%
- Cyclist/motorist crashes increased 20%
- Cyclist/pedestrian crashes increased 192%
In a 1990 University of Sweden Study, the relative risk of cycling on a sidepath was compared to cycling straight on a roadway:
- Through travel on a sidepath was 3.4 times riskier than the adjacent roadway
- Making a left turn from the sidepath was 11.0 times riskier than for the roadway
- Traveling against the flow of traffic on a sidepath was 11.9 times riskier than straight, with-the-flow travel on the roadway
In Germany two cities of roughly the same size were compared. Compared to Göttingen, Osnabrück has:
- Approximately three times the length of sidepaths
- Less bicycle traffic
- More than three times as many bicycle crashes per trip
Studies by the Berlin Police and the German Cycling Federation found (from a 1986 study):
- Nearly half of the bicycle crashes occur on streets with sidepaths; only 18% of all streets
- Crashes on streets with sidepaths were more serious.
- 1981 to 1985 — number of crashes on sidepath segments increased by 114%, but decreased by 9% on other streets. The length of sidepaths increased by only 20% during this period; the number of bicyclists was essentially the same.
From newsletter of the Berlin chapter of the German Cycling Federation: 75% of serious and fatal bicycle crashes occur on sidepaths, only 10% of the streets in Berlin have sidepaths.
The Germans are now removing cycle tracks and bike lanes and promoting roadway sharing.
While cycle track proponents insist that these studies are old, and that newer designs are safety, right hooks and left cross crashes remain the most common cyclist/motorist crashes at intersections. Bear in mind that motorists are presumed by law to be at fault in crashes with bicyclists in these “cycling utopias;” unless it can be proved that the cyclist caused the crash. That is nowhere near the case in the U.S.
Colville-Anderson makes another interesting observation; that we tell pedestrians and bicyclists to “watch out for the cars,” when we should really be telling motorists to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. While this is certainly true – especially when it comes to pedestrians – he seems to misunderstand how good cycling training works. Effective bicycle driver training does not tell cyclists how to “watch out for the cars.” It trains cyclists in how to make the motorists see them and how to influence them to behave properly.
Now, if we can just get Mikael and his allies to understand that CyclingSavvy is a powerful tool in fighting the culture of fear of cycling…