(January 2, 2018) With their false promise of safety, bike lanes lure the inexperienced onto dangerous roads.
This article, by Lawrence Solomon, first appeared in the National Post
Cyclists are at high risk when they’re on the road — accident rates per kilometer are 26 to 48 times higher for bikes than for automobiles, according to Ontario’s Share the Road Cycling Coalition. The culprits are many, but three in particular stand out: careless motorists who are oblivious to those with whom they share the road, inexperienced cyclists who have no business being on the road, and reckless politicians and planners who build bike lanes as vanity projects.
Politicians promote bike lanes largely because inexperienced cyclists feel safer on them. Feeling safer, they are likelier to attempt commuting by bike. But there’s a difference between feeling safer and being safer. Many if not most bike lanes increase the odds of an accident, particularly since inexperienced cyclists are ill-equipped to understand the hazards they face. Bike lanes, with their false promise of safety, lure the inexperienced onto roads, and some inevitably to their death.
With their false promise of safety, bike lanes lure the inexperienced onto dangerous roads
Over the decades, experienced cyclists and cycling advocacy organizations have often argued against dedicated cycling paths. In one study, the German Cyclists’ Union, ADFC, noted that cyclists in the Netherlands are involved in 40 per cent of all traffic accidents while accounting for only 27 per cent of travel, despite a proliferation of bicycle lanes; in Germany, which has far fewer bike lanes, the proportion of accidents was lower. The ADFC’s position — like that of many others — is that cyclists who know what they’re doing are safer in traffic among cars than in bike lanes alongside them.
That message is no longer a commonplace, however: Many cycling advocacy organizations are now captive to government funding and the cycling industry, which rightly understands that bicycle lanes benefit its bottom line. A case in point is the League of American Bicyclists, a venerable cycling NGO, which a decade ago purged its board of bike-lane dissenters and now more represents the interests of bicycle sellers and planners.
Unbundling the stats shows why — all else being equal — it is a no-brainer that cyclists should share the same lanes as motorized vehicles. Relatively few accidents occur when impatient motorists overtake slower-moving bicycles in their lane: just seven per cent of bike-car collisions occur this way.
In contrast, the overwhelming proportion of bike-car accidents — 89 per cent in one study — occur during turning or crossing, generally at intersections. If the bicycle is in its own lane, it faces additional threats from automobiles turning right across the bicycle lane.
An additional threat also occurs mid-block, at driveways, when autos pulling into traffic making left-hand turns must dart across the bike lane and the adjacent car lane to turn left into the far lane, requiring the driver to judge traffic coming from two directions in three lanes. Put another way, by some measures, bike lanes make cycling safer in seven per cent of car-bike situations but more dangerous in 89 per cent. Not a good ratio.
Yet, because bike paths are fashionable, municipal politicians compete with each other to remake their cities as “world-class cycling cities,” often at great expense, to serve a small segment of the population (typically just one or two per cent of commuters cycle) that for the most part lacks the ability to ride safely.
According to the Bicycle Federation of America, fewer than five per cent of cyclists would qualify as experienced or highly skilled bicyclists. In effect, municipal cycling policy is being driven by cycling incompetents, leading to increased risks and limited freedom for the road-worthy cyclist since many jurisdictions with bike lanes require cyclists to keep off car lanes.
Cycling is serious, life-and-death business, and is becoming more so as cycling ridership expands. It should be treated as such: by licensing cyclists after they’ve learned the rules of the road and demonstrated their on-road competence, just as other vehicle owners must; by requiring their vehicles to be insured and roadworthy through headlamps, reflectors and brakes; and by strictly policing their behaviour. “There is no substitute for cycling competence; competence reduces the cyclist accident rate by about 75 per cent,” states John Forester, a leading American authority on cycling safety.
Cyclists aren’t alone in needing discipline. For them to share the road, those they’re sharing it with — motorists — need discipline as well, to accept cyclists as equally entitled to the road. Police should crack down on unruly motorists, including those who display impatience at cyclists they perceive to be slowing them down.
Politicians and planners need discipline, too, to focus on real rather than perceived safety needs. Bike lane budgets should be redirected to safety at intersections, including through technology that identifies unfit motorists and enforcement that chastens them — 44 per cent of intersection accidents are caused by the driver’s carelessness.
Because cycling is inherently more dangerous than driving, anyone who decides to cycle rather than drive faces an elevated risk. Bike-lane propaganda by politicians and planners won’t reduce that risk. Education and enforcement, for cyclists and motorists alike, will.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute, a division of Energy Probe Research Foundation. Email: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.
Fourth in a series. For part one, see here. For part two, see here. For part three, see here. For part five, see here.
Cycling good and bad
The Antiplanner, December 14, 2017
Bike lanes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Sun, December 11, 2017
Here comes ‘bike-lash’
Roy Exum, December 6, 2017, Chattanoogan.com
Interview with Lawrence Solomon on cycling
Mark Towhey, Newstalk 1010, December 3, 2017
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I disagree with licensing for cyclists. A bicycle is considered a vehicle under the motor vehicle act. Therefore cyclists are already licensed if they have a drivers license. In my case I have both my class 5 and 6. That should be enough. If anything I would think that motorist should have to be retested every time they renew their license to test their knowledge of sharing the road and reminding them that others share the road with them; this covers all the bases for motorists who are also cyclists and for non-cyclists.
I review the legislation annually during bike to work week and educate friends and co-workers. Ask the next person you talk to what the rules of the road are regarding cycling for their respective province. Chances are they can’t give you the proper answer. In BC it is section 183 of the motor vehicle act.
I do agree with the last paragraph though. Education and enforcement. Problem is I see very little enforcement for cyclists and to a certain degree motorists. Enforcement costs money and is sparse at best.
I am an experienced biker and I disagree. The road is not just for “experienced” bikers and bike lanes are very useful. Does pedestrians that are hit by cars, most often at intersections, are also only inexperienced walkers? I agree that educating everyone is important… but everyone knows what people do once educated… motorists are the proof that a license is not sufficient to make our streets safer.
The problem is the behavior, and sometimes, the more you are experienced, the more you dare and forget to be prudent. I know personally some experienced bikers (biking for many years, even in winter) driving among other bikers like crazy, not doing their stop (or at least slowing down) at intersections, in front of cars!
Finally, maybe some experienced cyclists are mostly annoyed by bike lanes because they can’t use the streets anymore there, and the crowded lane forces them to slow down for a while… Looks reminescent of impatient car drivers in my opinion.
Unfortunately many bike lanes are created simply by slapping down some lines of paint. I proper bike lane needs to be elevated from street level so that motor vehicles have to slow down to cross the elevation and are made aware that they are crossing a bike route. Same goes for sidewalks.