(January 2, 2018) With their false promise of safety, bike lanes lure the inexperienced onto dangerous roads.
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.
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Interview with Lawrence Solomon on cycling
Mark Towhey, Newstalk 1010, December 3, 2017