Bike lanes and quiet streets make cycling safer, but the safest of all are cycle tracks: study finds

The Cycling in Cities program at the University of British Columbia has published the results of their ambitious study and revealed that bike lanes and quiet streets make cycling safer, but that separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) provide the most safety. In their study of 690 injured cyclists in Toronto and Vancouver who ended up in emergency rooms, they've found that bicycle infrastructure had a positive effect on cycling safety. Not surprisingly people prefer bike lanes, bike paths and quiet streets to just regular roads (as discovered their earlier study).

The researchers also found that major streets with on-street parking were the riskiest streets for cyclists, and particularly for Toronto cyclists, major streets with on-street parking and streetcar tracks.

We found that route infrastructure does affect the risk of cycling injuries. The most commonly observed route type was major streets with parked cars and no bike infrastructure. It had the highest risk. In comparison, the following route types had lower risks (starting with the safest route type):

  • cycle tracks (bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle traffic) alongside major streets (about 1/10 the risk)
  • residential street bike routes (about 1/2 the risk)
  • major streets with bike lanes and no parked cars (about 1/2 the risk)
  • off-street bike paths (about 6/10 the risk)

The following infrastructure features had increased risk:

  • streetcar or train tracks (about 3 times higher than no tracks)
  • downhill grades (about 2 times higher than flat routes)
  • construction (about 2 times higher than no construction)

The Toronto Star's story focused exclusively on the danger of streetcar tracks, but they missed the bigger story that it's not just the streetcar tracks but parked cars that make things particularly dangerous for cycling. Not only does Toronto have few alternatives to streetcar streets downtown, almost all of them allow car parking for most of the day, thus providing only a very narrow comfortable space between parked cars and streetcar tracks. Even though streetcar tracks are involved in a third of cycling injuries, half of those injuries were the result of parked cars:

Motor vehicles were involved in many injury events beyond direct crashes. For example, nearly half of crashes involving streetcar tracks involved maneuvers to avoid double-parked cars or cars moving in or out of parking spots.

It's highly possible that the danger of streetcar tracks can be mitigated in Toronto by removing on-street parking and providing bike lanes (or at the least sharrows). The researchers may have found much different results if that were the case.

The same researchers are applying their research to improving cycling education. For instance, no cycling courses currently cover route selection even though studies have shown that bicycle infrastructure make people safer. They also recommend that cycling education begin to cover the circumstances when motor vehicles are likely to pass closely. Their recommendations were to:

Include information about the relative safety of route types and route characteristics to help cyclists plan their routes, in particular:

  • decreased risk associated with bike-specific route types, including cycle tracks, bike lanes, and bike paths,
  • decreased risk associated with routes with low traffic volumes, including residential street bike routes,
  • increased risk associated with roundabouts or traffic circles at intersections, and
  • increased risk after dark on routes without streetlights.

Include information about motor vehicle passing distances, so cyclists understand circumstances when motor vehicles are likely to pass closer to them, in particular:

  • where motor vehicle speeds and traffic are high,
  • where there is motor vehicle traffic in the opposing direction, and
  • when the passing vehicle is a heavy vehicle such as a truck or bus

Comments

I stay off the streetcar streets as much as I can. That there is a bikelane on College, which has tracks and parking, shows how arbitrary route placement is in Toronto. A street like College with so much pedestrian and transit traffic to businesses, as well as cyclists, has no business having it ruined by parking. Well, we'd have to have someone other than the insane in charge of the asylum for anything like change.

Oh man, the hardcore VC (vehicular cycling) people are going to have a fit over this study. I'm fairly disinterested in these debates these days, opting to let others squabble online over such things. I will say, however, that streets with parking are far less dangerous to the cyclist who is willing to take the lane and stay out of the door zone. As for street car tracks, I just don't know how one might mitigate their dangers other than to (as others have said) just avoid them as much as possible.

Well, they can put flanges down in the tracks, but that's expensive. The right thing to do is have flanges in the tracks at intersections (ever gone through College and Spadina?!) and have the tracks inaccessible to other traffic everywhere else (St. Clair). Yeah, you'd do that in a society which put moving more people safely and efficiently ahead of parking cars...

Residential street bike routes should be safe, only if they actually go in the direction the rider wants to go to. Residential streets in the older parts of the city may do so, but residential streets in the newer parts don't. Cul-de-sacs (dead-end streets) and where the roadway turns one way then another, don't. Bicycles are then forced to attempt to use the arterial roads, where the speed limits are higher, just to go from A to B.

Accidents will always happen, if you haven't been hit you probably will be hit before Toronto gets off it's ass, drops the Ford rhetoric and does something.

Don't get down though. Accidents will always happen, but you can prepare yourself.

The positive news I speak of are two studies that finally wrapped up this past month. One concluding that a helmet laws have reduced heady injury down-under by almost 50% and the other that helmets can reduce the g-force on your brain by up to 87% in a crash and increase your skulls ability to resist crushing a force by 470lbs.

The third one was negative and from Ontario's death records. If you were not wearing a helmet in Ontario and a killed while riding you were three times more likely to have died of a head. Though that may not be the helmet, since IMO most of the moronic cyclists out there who behave like 'tards are without a helmet. So the 'tards may be over-representing the helmet-less. Which brings me back to the point of this piece - avoiding the accident in the first place.

I know lots of people don't want to wear a helmet, but until we get some sweet cycle-tracks like those outlined you can see the odds of being involved in an incident in Toronto are pretty high so maybe it's time to swallow your vanity and slap a dome on because what busy street around here doesn't have parked cars or street-car tracks ready to send you into traffic. Riding on those streets offers 3 or more times the risk to you.

Accidents happen, and so do falls and collisions. But, when riding a bicycle, these types of events should rarely result in injury so severe that wearing a helmet is necessary when on our streets. The point of the study is that our streets are currently not safe enough to ride on without a high risk of severe injury.

And that is the biggest reason why our rate of bicycle riding is so low.

What we actually see in many parts of Toronto is that we have prioritized the storage of people's junkers over people's safety. Our streets should exists for the safe movement of people and goods. Instead, but we've filled them with unused cars, ie parking. And in doing so, we have unnecessarily increased the risk to people who ride bicycles as a result.

When kids are bullied in school we don't ask what the victim was wearing. When a woman get's raped we don't ask what she was wearing. When someone get hits by a bullet on our streets we don't ask if the victim was wearing bullet proof armour. When someone is injured by a motor vehicle we only ask about helmet usage if the victim happened to be riding a bike. What we see is that violent acts against a people is generally not blamed on the victims -- unless that victim was riding a bike.

We also know that wearing a helmet acts as a major disincentive in getting people to ride bicycles -- no matter how effective it is a piece of personal armour in increasing the survive-ability of of severe injury. The real problem is that none of us want to be severely injured to begin with!

We also know that there's safety in numbers; the rate of injury falls faster than the increase of riders, which means that getting more people on bikes make it much safer for everyone who rides. And we also know that getting more people on bicycles reduces the overall rate of collisions and crashes, making our streets safer for both pedestrians and motorists.

So in the end we should realize that a bike helmet is not the answer to safer streets. However, getting more people riding bicycles is the better answer. And making our streets attractive and safe enough to encourage more people to ride is the best answer.

In what we can read for free of this report, they do say that controlling the statistics is a challenge. Distance, weather, and simple number-of-riders can skew results. A busy route will show more injuries than a lightly-travelled route, and in Toronto the busy routes are streets like Queen, with parked cars and streetcar tracks.

Does Toronto actually have any "cycle tracks"? If we don't have them, then all the stats must come from Vancouver. I'm totally unfamiliar with how Vancouver has implemented them.

Also, emergency-room visits will cover the more serious crashes. But even if I don't have to visit the emergency room, I'm not really interested in a not-so-serious crash. Last time I tangled with a car, on a fairly quiet street with a bike lane and no parking, after talking with the paramedics I rode on home. Still would rather have avoided the whole thing.

That helmet law study is misleading. It's one thing to say helmets reduce head injuries, it's another to suggest that mandatory helmets make us safer. The doctor who published that head injury study in Ontario, did next to no homework on the effects of helmet laws on our safety. He does himself disservice by pushing his personal bias as fact.

I've covered it before that a review of the evidence shows that almost all helmet laws discourage cycling and it's entirely unclear if they have a positive relationship with safety.

Since the ON cycling death study had quite narrow focus it's not a good basis on which to create laws. Helmet law proponents ignore:

  1. They ignore the possibility that some non-helmet wearers will cycle less or will refrain from taking up cycling in the first place rather than use a helmet or risk being cited for riding bareheaded.
  2. They ignore safety-in-numbers, or, in this case, its inverse, by which having fewer cyclists on the road tends to raise per-cyclist crash rates with motor vehicles, as cyclists’ diminished presence on the road leads drivers to treat them as aberrations rather than as part of traffic.
  3. They overstate helmets’ protective value in reducing injury severity in the event of crashes.

The point of the study is that our streets are currently not safe enough to ride on without a high risk of severe injury.

Good heavens! "High risk of severe injury"!

So what's the probabily of me being injured "severely" if I ride 1000km? 10,000km?

Of course there's risk of injury. But somehow, almost all people manage to muddle through a bicycle ride, or even a year's worth of bicycle rides, without being killed or severly injured.

I'd say statements like "you're gonna DIE if you go out riding your bicycle! we have no cycle tracks in Toronto" are as much of a disincentive to prospective riders as the idea of ought to buy a helmet.

Yes, they said controlling the variables is a challenge. Which is why they designed the study with case-crossover design features, which means they . It is the most reliable way to set up such a study since there are so many variables involved and it would be quite difficult to control for them otherwise.

It allows the focus to be on infrastructure features; the comparisons are within a person-trip, thus controlling for personal characteristics and trip-specific weather and bicycle characteristics.

So it's actually addressed in this study, contrary to what you implied Ed.

Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_study

I would agree, "high risk of severe injury" makes it sound like it's very dangerous. Cycling is a fairly safe activity. And the benefits far outweigh the risks (as noted by the authors of the study in the OP).

Still, while cycling and walking you face higher risks of death than while an occupant of a car (at least in the US). Pucher and Dijkstra:

On a per trip basis, walking and cycling are roughly three times as dangerous as riding in a car. In 1995, there were 29 pedestrian fatalities, 26 cyclist fatalities, but only 9 car occupant fatalities per 100 million person trips. Walking and cycling appear even more dangerous when these fatality rates are calculated on the basis of distance traveled. Per kilometer traveled, walking is 36 times more likely to result in fatal injury than riding in a car; cycling is 11 times more likely to result in death (see Exhibit 2). In short, the dangers of walking and cycling in America are not just perceived; they are real.

When using per distance travelled, cyclists and peds are noticibly higher than drivers/passengers, particularly injuries. Neither measure is the "correct" measure of risk, but both show that it is more dangerous for cycling and walking and that it is a health problem. People in North America already perceive cycling to be dangerous, whereas people in countries like Netherlands and Denmark perceive it to be quite safe. Making a statement like "you're gonna DIE" will have some negative effect but not as much as just looking at our streets.

In the Netherlands, which has some of the highest cycling rates in the world (almost 30% of all trips are by bicycle) the injury risk for cyclists is 1.1 cyclists injured per 10 million km cycled. In comparison, in the UK and the US only about 1% of trips are made by bicycle, and the risk is 3.6 and 37.5 cyclists injured per 10 million km cycled.

-- Reynolds et al

The risks are much higher for North American cyclists compared to Dutch. Even though there would need to be 4 million person trips before an American dies while cycling, it would be much better if it was brought down to the Dutch level.

Proof positive that we are capable of ruining our lives when common sense is removed from the equation.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/08/walking-helmet-is-goo...

They say they controlled for these variables, but of course the methodology is laid out in the paper which we'd have to pay to read.

I'm really interested in the details of these "bikeways" which they found to be the safest. We don't have them in Toronto, so the stats must be from Vancouver. How are they designed? Where are they located? Google is not too helpful.

I don't doubt that a well-designed bikeway would be very safe--safer than multi-use paths (such as the Martin Goodman) for sure. Too bad the sorry half-hearted, half-assed Sherbourne separated lanes aren't well-designed.

They laid out their methodology in a presentation and in an article (the presentation is free, but not the article).

Seymore Bikes, the separated bike lanes in Vancouver are mostly downtown.

The City of Vancouver has some information on them:
http://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/separated-bicycle-lanes.aspx

To save space, they've made them a single two-way lane instead of two one-way lanes. There are advance turning lights for the motor vehicle lanes which are at a different time than the cycling and walking signal.
In many areas there is still car parking but these are on the outside of the bike lane. The lane is at ground level but goes up to sidewalk level where people would be crossing it.
It works well overall now that people are used to it.

There is now a plan to put a few more in on busy streets. (On quiet streets, regular painted lanes are sufficient.) Commercial Drive in the eastern part of Vancouver is a big shopping district which already has many of it's customers arriving by bike, will likely get two one-way lanes on each side. It's wide enough for half of it to retain car parking.

Also on Cornwall and Point Grey road in the western part towards UBC, there is a plan to put in separated lanes there for part of it and traffic calming in another.
Another plan is for Kingsway, which cuts diagonally across the street grid and is very wide and is another major shopping strip as well as a more direct way to get across the grid. It's so wide that lanes on each side will probably not even be noticed.

Seems to be good idea but have they tested it out because the city councils won't allow to lay new tracks.

This is quite a serious topic .. i think their must be a separate lane for the bicycle riders ... so that they are less accident prone

City of Toronto Media Relations has issued the following:

News Release

December 18, 2012

Cycle tracks - separated bike lanes a safer way for cyclists to travel

The City of Toronto has completed construction of its first cycle track - a lane for bicycles that is separated from motorized vehicle traffic. The new lane is located on Sherbourne Street between Bloor Street and King Street.

Over the next few years, Toronto is creating a 14-kilometre network of cycle tracks in the downtown area.

The Sherbourne cycle track has new features that distinguish it from the City's painted bicycle lanes:
• Buses don't stop in the cycle track. It is raised to sidewalk level at bus stops to provide accessible passenger loading. Cyclists are required to stop for passengers getting on or off buses.
• Bike boxes have been provided to assist cyclists making left turns when connecting with east-west bicycle lanes on Shuter Street, Gerrard Street and Wellesley Street.
• Parking next to the bicycle lane has been removed and parking lay-bys have been provided at six key locations to facilitate pickup/dropoff activity and commercial deliveries

Toronto City Council has adopted a Cycle Track Bylaw setting out the rules of operation for cycle tracks. The bylaw provides for a $150 fine for drivers who stop or park their vehicle on a cycle track.

The only exemptions to the bylaw are the following three:
• emergency services or police vehicles actively responding to an emergency
• Hydro and utility vehicles in the lawful performance of their duties
• Wheel Trans vehicles actively loading or unloading passengers

Toronto Transportation staff are working with the Toronto Police Service and Parking Enforcement staff to ticket and tow vehicles that are illegally blocking the cycle track.

Frequently asked questions and other information about cycle tracks are available at http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/network/downtownupgrades/.

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.7 million people. Toronto's government is dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city. For information on non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can dial 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

From Councillor Grimes Newsletter. FYI

Cycle tracks - separated bike lanes a safer way for cyclists to travel
The City of Toronto has completed construction of its first cycle track - a lane for bicycles that is separated
from motorized vehicle traffic. The new lane is located on Sherbourne Street between Bloor Street and King
Street.
Over the next few years, Toronto is creating a 14-kilometre network of cycle tracks in the downtown area.
The Sherbourne cycle track has new features that distinguish it from the City's painted bicycle lanes:
• Buses do not stop in the cycle track. It is raised to sidewalk level at bus stops to provide accessible
passenger loading. Cyclists are required to stop for passengers getting on or off buses.
• Bike boxes are provided to assist cyclists making left turns when connecting with east-west bicycle lanes
on Shuter Street, Gerrard Street and Wellesley Street.
• Parking next to the bicycle lane is removed and parking lay-bys are provided at six key locations to
facilitate pickup/drop-off activity and commercial deliveries
Toronto City Council has adopted a Cycle Track Bylaw setting out the rules of operation for cycle tracks. The
bylaw provides for a $150 fine for drivers who stop or park their vehicle on a cycle track.
The only exemptions to the bylaw are the following three:
• emergency services or police vehicles actively responding to an emergency
• Hydro and utility vehicles in the lawful performance of their duties
• Wheel Trans vehicles actively loading or unloading passengers
Toronto Transportation staff is working with the Toronto Police Service and Parking Enforcement staff to ticket
and tow vehicles that are illegally blocking the cycle track.