Cycletopia now! Get the safe cycling infrastructure your city needs
Maybe it’s a dead end at an intersection, a winding stretch of road full of distracted drivers at rush hour, or a painted bike path that turns into a busy turning lane. Either way, it sounds sketchy, deters you from cycling, and certainly does not meet CleanBC’s mandate that active transportation is âsafe, easy and convenientâ.
Safe, easy and convenient is what you get with a modern and appropriate cycling infrastructure. Without it, âpeople are driving in places where they could normally easily walk or cycle. It tells you that the streets don’t feel safe, âsays Kay Teschke, professor emeritus at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. âPeople think they have to lock themselves in a metal box to walk ridiculously short distances. “
And with the COVID-19 pandemic prompting more and more people to choose pedaling over public transit and carpooling services, cycling infrastructure is more important than ever.
So which infrastructure is the safest for bicycles (and e-bikes and mobility scooters), and how do you get it?
Is it safe?
Unsurprisingly, cyclists generally choose to ride routes that are not shared with motor vehicles. Research co-authored by Teschke found that cyclists and would-be cyclists in Vancouver preferred to take off-street bike lanes or physically separate bike lanes, and avoided riding on main streets or rural roads alongside traffic.
A second study by Teschke and others confirms this wisdom. A survey of 690 adults injured in cycling crashes in Toronto and Vancouver found that the type of cycling infrastructure can affect the risk of cycling injury up to 10 times.
Off-street cycle lanes and dedicated, protected cycle lanes along streets provided the safest means of getting around. The least safe roads were main streets with no bike lanes and with parked cars, and main streets with âsharrowsâ – signs painted on the asphalt urging cars to share the road. Large streets with painted cycle lanes stuffed between moving cars and parked cars were also risky, as were roads with major intersections, construction sites, and rail tracks.
“People need to ask: would you like to ride [the route] with your child aged 5 to 15?
Speed, of course, was also an important factor. Intersections with traffic speeds above 30 km / h were more dangerous.
The risk perception by cyclists was generally correct, but the exception was multi-use paths – although the preferred routes, they are not particularly safe. However, according to Teschke, installing good nighttime lighting, reducing obstacles such as bollards and straightening unnecessarily curved tracks can go a long way in reducing the risk of injury.
The study found that just over three-quarters of trips resulting in injury were on weekdays, most were less than five kilometers in length, and nearly three-quarters were collisions with motor vehicles, elements of route, people or animals.
Remember: if a cycle route is not safe, it is often because it is not.
“People need to ask: would you like to ride [the route] with your child aged 5 to 15? Teschke said.
Another way to assess the safety of cycle lanes is to count the number of cyclists. Telltale signs of high risk routes indicate a high percentage of male cyclists or the absence of parents with children.
âIf you have a cycling infrastructure that no one uses, or if the predominant group that uses it is adult males, you know it’s not safe cycling infrastructure,â says Teschke.
A special case is âpaths to nowhereâ – routes that can be safe but are not very crowded because they do not connect to a larger cycling network that gets people where they need to go. This can be a problem for cities trying to gradually expand their constituency networks, Teschke says.
âIf the cycling infrastructure is not connected, every time there is a break in the large infrastructure, it is a refusal for a lot of people. “
Bikemaps.org is another tool for tracking cycling hot spots. The free website allows users to report and track collisions, near misses, hazards, bike thefts and new cycling infrastructure on a global map. Data from the Strava exercise tracking service is included, which helps identify routes that are risky or inconvenient enough to cause riders to take a detour. Bikemaps.org was founded by former UVic researcher Dr. Trisalyn Nelson and is managed by a team of Canadian and American academics.
According to a 2004 study by the Norwegian Institute for Transport Economics, every dollar spent on cycling infrastructure can generate a return of 400 to 500%.
For example, the bike ride to work or school, or trips to the grocery store could be safer. Now what?
A good start is to see if there is a cycling advocacy organization representing your community and join it, says Colin Stein, executive director of the BC Cycling Coalition, an organization that oversees nearly two dozen such groups. Cycling organizations, whether formal or informal, can speak with a broader voice to gain more attention from local elected officials and staff, says Stein.
âOne of the items on the agendas of the groups is often the problem areas – the gaps in the routes, the danger that needs to be addressed. People will tell stories and bring photos and correlate to ICBC data to show it’s a priorityâ¦. [Municipalities] rely on feedback from cycling groups because it represents some of the richest data they can get … they take it seriously. “
A phone call, email, or letter to a mayor, city councilor, or transportation planning staff should consist of three elements: a clear description of the problem, the change requested, and a request for information on next steps.
Even with strength in numbers, there is no magic formula for advocating for cycling infrastructure, but Teschke and Stein say it’s about convincing city politicians and staff in charge of cycling infrastructure. transport.
Elected officials and staff are generally sincere in their quest to expand active transportation, says Stein, and diplomacy and respect are the rule.
(Victoria is considered the undisputed leader in cycling infrastructure in British Columbia, with the highest percentage of bicycle trips in all of Canada. It is such a cycling utopia that Teschke urges transportation planners elsewhere in Columbia -British to visit in person and speak to the crack team at Victoria’s Transportation Planning Department.)
A phone call, email, or letter to a mayor, city councilor, or transportation planning staff should include three things, according to Stein: a clear description of the problem, the requested change, and an investigation of next steps.
âDespite the cynicism that many people may feel towards their local government, elected officials and staff are there to make things better,â said Stein.
And good cycling infrastructure improves things in many ways. Regular cyclists enjoy huge physical and mental health benefits, including a significant reduction in the likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes, saving the Canadian healthcare system millions of dollars every year.
Each bike ride also displaces car traffic, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and microplastic pollution from car tires.
Cycling infrastructure also has economic benefits, with people traveling by bike shopping more frequently and spending more at local businesses, while proximity to bike paths has been found to increase property values. According to a 2004 study by the Norwegian Institute for Transport Economics, every dollar spent on cycling infrastructure can generate a return of 400 to 500%.
The myriad of benefits can build a strong case that overcomes cost considerations, says Stein.
âStick with that argument – link it to equity issues, accessibility issues, environmental issues and even economic development issuesâ¦. Bring these issues to the fore and say that it is not enough to say “we don’t have enough money” because there are all these other factors that we have to take into account. This is what can kill the financial argument [against cycling infrastructure]. “
Cities and towns receive financial assistance from the province through the Active Transportation Infrastructure Grant program, which matches municipal spending on âout-of-the-boxâ cycling infrastructure projects. In 2020-2021, grants totaled $ 9 million for 23 projects across British Columbia.
That’s great, says Teschke, but at less than $ 2 per British Columbian, âthe province needs to step up and invest a lot more money.
Teschke suggests that, considering that 2.5% of trips in British Columbia are made by bicycle, 2.5% of the province’s transportation budget could be an appropriate baseline for cycling infrastructure spending.
Going forward, Stein says it’s up to the province to play a much bigger role. Planning and financing cycling infrastructure in a holistic manner would avoid a fragmented mosaic of safe cycling lanes separated by Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure roads that lack accommodation for cyclists.
âWhen you have municipalities with very limited funds, they can only build within their jurisdictions. That’s when the bike path leads nowhere, where there are big gaps, and that’s what deters people from cycling. So really, the leader has to be the province.
But Stein says that in many jurisdictions in British Columbia, politicians, planners and engineers now understand the changes that need to be made in favor of active transportation and are willing to plan and build accordingly.
âAfter decades of struggle, this is starting to become a more popular – dare I say populist – issue, especially with e-bikes being a game-changer for so many people,â Stein said. âSo don’t hold back – write these letters, make these phone calls, send these emails. It really makes a difference. “
For more information: BC Cycling Coalition www.bccc.bc.ca
This article appears in our December 2020 | January 2021 issue.