cycle tracks

Why is Councillor Wong-Tam calling for a review of the protected bike lanes?

buckley-buffered bike lanes are blocked

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is calling for a "review" of the recently installed—and extensively consulted—cycle tracks of Wards 27 and 28. She is asking Transportation Services to investigate two contradictory concerns: "the improper parking of delivery and passenger vehicles in bike lanes; and access concerns raised by persons with medical issues, disabilities and the elderly who can no longer directly access their homes or medical services and facilities". (Photo by Ian Flett)

I'm suspicious of Councillor Wong-Tam's intentions given her previous interactions with cycling infrastructure. So what'll it be? Shall we make holes in the cycle tracks for legitimate concern X? And how shall we prevent everyone else from also stopping there?

It's telling that Wong-Tam is the only signatory on this letter. A constituent has told me that office of Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell provided feedback on the letter but for some unknown (to us) reason, she didn't sign it. This is interesting given that at least half of the cycle tracks are in McConnell's ward.

This isn't the first time Wong-Tam has written Transportation staff asking them to review cycle tracks. She wrote staff asking them to make the Sherbourne cycle tracks a "pilot" rather than permanent. McConnell didn't sign the letter that time either.

The timing of the letter is odd. Her letter is dated February, 2015 and requested a report back from staff for May. But she won't get a report for September of this year, which will likely be after the road work is completed on the lower half of Sherbourne. Too late to make any changes there.

The community, including the disabled, was extensively consulted prior to the installation. I recall staff telling me how they went building by building alerting residents, businesses and requested their feedback. They met extensively with BIAs and RAs. So why now?

Coincidence?

I heard something interesting from a city planner soon after I was alerted to Wong-Tam's letter. I don't have any proof that this is related to her letter but it might be a clue.

The planner mentioned that 24 Wellesley, a condo tower, has requested curb cuts into the cycle track curbs so that their residents can be dropped off at the front door. Planner said they wanted it for Wheel-Trans, but really, there's no way of stopping anyone from using it.

The funny thing is is that 24 Wellesley has minor streets on all three sides with plenty of places to stop! So it seems a bit greedy that they also want holes in the cycle track as well. And you'll notice that there are a number of businesses also in that building that presumably aren't happy with losing the stopping space in front of their stores.

And this isn't the only condo tower. Apparently there are others who also want to poke holes into the cycle track. Is Wong-Tam helping to push these requests?

Here's what Wong-Tam wants reviewed:

  1. Locations of frequent parking in bike lanes and separation conditions (bollards and their spacing or curb type)
  2. Locations where Wheel-Trans and accessibility taxis cannot serve persons living with disabilities and where the City may not be meeting the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
  3. Locations where parking obstructions force cyclists to merge unsafely with automotive traffic
  4. Locations where residents feel they are forced to park or be dropped off that are unsafe, due to traffic conditions or poor visibility
  5. Solutions and recommendations to remedy the conflicts to ensure safer street conditions for all bike lane and road users.

I hope Wong-Tam realizes that nothing is ever going to satisfy everyone. Her concerns contradict each other: if she identifies a problem with car drivers parking in the bike lanes, that is, there isn't enough physical separation, then why also call for a solution to residents and Wheel-Trans? If we increase the physical separation (which is what most cyclists want) then it's going to inevitably put some noses out of joint. That can't be fixed. And if they instead allow for gaps in the separation, we can't pretend that only Wheel-Trans or residents will use them. That gap is available to everyone.

So before we know it, the entire cycle track will be riddled with gaps where people can stop to pick up their coffee or wait with their engines idling because "it'll just be a minute". A route that is so easily blocked is no longer a safe or effective cycling route.

In whose interests is Councillor Wong-Tam fighting for? She also fought for off-hours on-street parking on Yonge and Bay, which increases the chances of injuries due to dooring for cyclists (and cancels out the benefit of bike lanes!) and makes public transit less efficient (by removing the priority lane for buses).

It makes me wary that Wong-Tam really has the best interests of cyclists at heart. If nothing else, we need to hear from her that she actually does support physically separated bike lanes. And that she will push for improvements to accessibility for the disabled that won't create gaps in the cycle tracks that will be used to make cycling more dangerous. That's the least she could do.

The best separation for the job: making the cycle tracks safer and beautiful

First off, a belated happy new year! As my first post of 2015 I'd like to talk about turning over a new leaf. It seems like my former nemesis, ex-Councillor Adam Vaughan and I can finally agree on something. In this case on beautiful, sturdy dividers for protected bike lanes. Here's what Vaughan had to say about an example in Vancouver:

What separated bike lane should look like. Try parking a truck here! Beauty should drive planning.

Vaughan has now left municipal politics for federal, but I reminisce of the days he and I had a spat about putting in protected bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. (Really I shouldn't be such a solipsist, the spat was with everyone who wanted protected bike lanes on those streets). Vaughan opposed the project claiming that it was building "bicycle highways" (those words must have sounded worse in his head than when I say them).

Vaughan had a romantic idea that if we just widened the sidewalks and put in some plants that we'd have a street for everyone and stop the speeding traffic. Funnily this was also former Mayor David Miller's approach as well.

So Vaughan even argued in my blog and cornered me at a public consultation meeting. Vaughan took the approach of talking about "complete streets", "two-way streets" and "beauty" on Richmond and Adelaide all of which seemed likely to preclude the possibility of protected bike lanes. But when Vaughan noticed that the project was going ahead, he shifted his focus on just making the "barriers" as beautiful as possible.

Vaughan now makes a good point about beauty though he does take it a bit far; it's not "beauty" itself that is stopping a truck from parking in the bike lane, it's the concrete. The beauty adds civility to the whole street and that's where I believe the cycling community and Vaughan can join forces on this one against those who think paint or flimsy flexiposts are enough.

When our Transportation chief, Stephen Buckley, former Philadelphia transpo chief of the city no one looks to for great examples of cycling infrastructure, pretends that "cycle track" actually means just more paint, it's good to have politicians like Vaughan supporting great infrastructure. The flexiposts have been a great success for the pilot, but didn't take long for them to look beaten up:

This might be fine for a pilot project but for the final cycle tracks we need something much more durable...and beautiful.

So MP Vaughan, I'm letting bygones be bygones and I hope you'll support cyclists in creating safe, beautiful protected bike lanes on our streets.

Fixing the Adelaide and Bathurst approach to the new cycle tracks

I'm digging into improvements for the new protected bike lanes on Richmond, Adelaide and Simcoe. These lanes, known as cycle tracks by the planners, are currently a pilot project and are part of an environmental assessment that still needs to be approved by City Council. Previously I looked at better protecting cyclists at intersections.

This is part 2: Doesn't help if it's hard to get to the cycle tracks

Coming from the west end Adelaide is a great street to take. It's quiet and direct to Bathurst. But we get stuck at Bathurst because there's no easy way to get to the cycle tracks on the other side. For those in the know they might go up to Richmond and then back down but that takes longer. Instead most people just end up riding on the sidewalk for a few metres and cross at the crosswalk. But we think the City has to do better. So we propose this:

The City doesn't need to do all of this, but it would be good if they serious considered how cyclists are supposed to cross Bathurst when going eastbound.

So maybe that means allowing cyclists to turn left from Adelaide which would likely require moving the southern traffic lights on Bathurst; or maybe it could be a contraflow lane around the north side of the Catholic church so that cyclists can end up on Bathurst where they can make a left turn. (It's easier to draw then describe). I think the default option for most cyclists will be former.

You can post your comments to a forum that City public consultation staff set up, which they've called IdeaSpaceTO. A bunch of my suggestions are already up there. Feel free to copy and expand on the following suggestions which I think are pretty important:

  1. Extend protection into the intersections by extending the barriers to the corners and installing refuge islands to reduce chances of drivers turning into cyclists.
  2. Allow eastbound cyclists on Adelaide, west of Bathurst, cross Bathurst safely and legally to the cycle tracks.
  3. Make the crossings on Simcoe at Richmond and Queen safer by installing traffic lights. And if that's not possible, ban right turns on red at University so that the gap in traffic is much longer.
  4. Fix the bus stops by keeping the barriers and implementing an island for bus passengers to disembark before crossing the cycle tracks.
  5. Eliminate the right-hand turning lanes on Simcoe and Richmond to improve the safety of cyclists at these intersections.
  6. Extend the pilot project so it goes all the way to Parliament.

In the next instalment I will be talking how former Councillor (now MP) Adam Vaughan can finally see eye to eye on these cycle tracks. It comes down to one word: beauty

Now that we are finally protecting bike lanes, we should make the intersections safer

I'm quite happy—like many cyclists—that we've got new protected bike lanes on Richmond, Adelaide and Simcoe. These lanes, known as cycle tracks by the planners, are currently a pilot project and are part of an environmental assessment that still needs to be approved by City Council.

But I think we can do even better. I'm going to do a few quick blog posts about various improvements I believe would make it a "world class" (who doesn't want to be world class?) protected bike lane. The first is intersections.

The majority of injuries happen at intersections. We need to fix the intersection, not just mid-block.

According to the City of Toronto's own study, the majority of injuries happen at intersections, driveways and laneways, and most of those involved motor vehicles turning. Yet, we can see from the following image of the cycle tracks on Adelaide and Richmond, they disappear as we approach the intersection and then it's just business as usual.


Disappearing Bike Lane. Photo: Iain Campbell

I would assume that we would see little reduction in intersection collisions (there might be some lowered risk of a collision because the hordes of cyclists on them raises the awareness of drivers).

As with most intersections in this city, a lack of infrastructure at the intersection creates confusion about the right of way. Is it the driver on the left who wants to turn right or the cyclist on the right? It's also difficult for drivers to move to the curb because there lots of blind spots while shoulder checking.

People are even more uncomfortable at intersections where there's a right-turning lane such as on Simcoe north of Front, and on Richmond east of Bathurst. At these spots the City is forcing cyclists and drivers to switch places on the fly and it all looks like chaos as drivers arrive at speed and some cyclists stick to the sharrows that show them where to cross and others stick to the curb where they feel safest.

There's got to be something better than the same old, same old. We need to start adding protection to the intersections. At the very least we could emulate Calgary with the barrier going all the way to the intersection, and with the barrier being made of something more solid than a flimsy flexipost:

This is how I imagine the City could make minimum changes to their current design:

I'll take mock planters over paint any day

The planters would provide a strong visual cue to the separation and will slow down car traffic by changing the character of the street from being a thoroughfare to a slower street.

How to do Protected Intersections excellently

But the City could take it even a step further and mimic what has been done in the Netherlands and a few other countries, which Nick Falbo of Alta Planning out of Portland, Oregon, is calling Protected Intersections. And this is how it could be applied to typical North American intersections:

This is how Nick describes the big benefit of this style of intersection:

A collection of design elements makes left turns simple and secure, right turns protected and fast, and provides straight through movements that minimize or eliminate conflicts from turning cars. With this design, riders will never feel stranded, exposed, or unsure of where to go and how to get there.

There are some challenges with the current regulatory framework and engineering standards, but we hope that the City can adapt the key elements to Toronto's situation: "refuge islands" at the corners, forward stop-bar, bicycle-friendly traffic signals, and setback crosswalks and bicycle crossing.

This will help better describe the various features:

If it can be done on the small streets in the Netherlands it can be done here with enough political will to reduce cycling injuries.

If you like this idea too, please send your comments to Jason Diceman, the guy in charge of public consultation for this project.

Next, I will talk about the poor connections to the protected bike lanes from the west.

Amazing Sherbourne cycling numbers should convince Buckley that painted lines are not enough

Stephen Buckley, Toronto's transportation chief, has been very reluctant thus far to install protection on the separated bike lanes approved by City Council. Numbers coming from his own City Cycling Department (@TO_Cycling) should convince him to give up that reluctance if he has any desire to increase the number and diversity of people cycling in Toronto. This tweet presented the bike counts on Sherbourne, before and after the installation of cycle tracks:

Bicycle traffic averages on Sherbourne were 955/day in 2011 bike lane, they are now 2,827/day in Cycle Track #biketo

That's almost a 300% increase!!

Even with all its warts (not enough protection from car incursion, bike lanes not wide enough), Sherbourne cycle tracks are demonstrably popular.

On Facebook, Christine Bouchard of the City compared this to the expectations around motor vehicle traffic and road capacity:

In order for a street to be classified as a "local" street by the City of Toronto, it must carry less than 2,500 motor vehicles/day.

Since the Sherbourne Cycle Tracks are carrying an average 2,827 cyclists a day, this means that in the summer months these lanes are actually carrying more traffic than the 3,291km of local roads, in Toronto's 5,359 km road network.

Bouchard demonstrates well how cycling infrastructure is way, way more efficient in moving people for local trips than moving big metal boxes on wide roads.

Some of the increase in bike traffic can be attributed to Jarvis no longer having bike lanes. But even during the brief period when there were bike lanes, the number of cyclists was relatively low compared to Sherbourne; in the range of 890 per day and 290 before the bike lanes (some of the increase was attributed to the bike share launch). Even if all the people (technically, trips) who started biking on Jarvis because of bike lanes (around 600 per day) started biking on Sherbourne (unlikely that they all would) it would still only account for 1/3 of the Sherbourne increase.

Another reason to be confident that the cycle tracks are working (even though the City still needs to improve the separation on the bottom section) is that this bicycle count nicely correlates with a recent study of protected bike lanes in US major cities which found that bicycle traffic jumped quite a bit in the first year after installation. Bike Portland summarizes the main points:

  • Over a quarter of riders indicated they are riding more in general because of the protected bike lanes.
  • In its first year alone, a protected bike lane increases bike traffic on a street by an average of 72%
  • 96% of people riding in protected bike lanes felt safer on the street because of the lanes
  • 76% of people living near protected bike lanes support the facilities in additional locations, whether they use them or not
  • Drivers thought traffic became more predictable after protected lanes were installed. Most drivers said congestion and drive time didn’t change.
  • Parking is a key issue when street space is reassigned and cities. The impact to parking was the most negative perception, with about 30-55% of residents indicating the impacts to parking were negative, even in cases where a minimal amount of parking was removed, or parking was increased.
  • In the 144 hours of video analyzed for safety, studying nearly 12,900 bicycles through the intersections, no collisions or near collisions were observed. This included both intersections with turn lanes and those with signals for bicycles.
  • Over half the residents surveyed (56%) felt that the street works better for “all people” due to the protected bike lanes, while only 26% felt the street works less well.
  • Nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighborhood, as opposed to a decrease in desirability (43% vs 14%).

Protected bike lanes are demonstrably popular and safer. This should be enough to convince Buckley that painted lines—including the double painted lines they like to pretend are "buffers"—are not enough. But will it be enough?

(In other news, while Toronto's cycle tracks project on Richmond and Adelaide drags on for years and years in an EA and can't even get proper protection during the pilot phase, Hamilton amazingly has almost completed the installation of a two-way protected bike lane on Cannon Street after approving it just this year! And they didn't even do an EA or a pilot, which isn't required by provincial law despite what Toronto might claim.)

Has Buckley brought over his "relaxed parking" bike lane philosophy over from Philadelphia?

Someone asked me last week why our Transportation Services chief, Stephen Buckley, doesn't want—or seems very reluctant—to install barriers on the Richmond and Adelaide "cycle tracks" (despite council voting for them 39-0 and despite Buckley signing up to NACTO's bike guide which defines cycle tracks as being physically separated). I replied that I don't know but I poked around and I think I have some clues.

I present Stephen Buckley, General Manager of Transportation Services.

Buckley comes from Philadelphia, a city which has done the bare minimum for their sizable, passionate cycling population. Philadelphia has done little to address the problems with painted bike lanes and Buckley appears to be doing the same here.

Philadelphia is a large city with a city-wide average 2% bike mode share (compared to Toronto's city-wide average of 1.7%). This is high for a large American city, though it's more useful to compare the downtowns: Toronto's mode share jumps to around 10% while Philly's is a more modest 5%.

Under Buckley's watch Philadelphia installed pilot bike lanes on Spruce and Pine streets which were seen as major additions to the cycling network (and a major victory of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia). Yes, bike lanes are great news, but Buckley and the City took a very loose view to motor vehicles stopping in the bike lanes.

Going to church or synagogue? God's on your side if you park in the bike lane. Need to stop for a latte? Stop with Buckley's blessing:

Buckley said the city would make sure there is a "relaxed parking situation" for churches, since the bicycle lane will take up parking spaces.

Under the plan, strict no-parking regulations will be enforced on the bike lanes. But taxis and residents' vehicles will be allowed to stand briefly on the curb sides of Spruce and Pine. Horse-drawn carriages will be allowed to use the bike lanes, Buckley said.

And this is the result:

Pine Street bike lane used for godly parking (Source: this old city). Note that the actual bike lane is under the line of parked cars; what you see is just the buffer.

And it gets even worse. The bike lane is too inviting for jerks as a quick way to pass a long line of traffic.

Source: this old city

And under Buckley's watch we've seen much the same with our completely permeable "cycle tracks":

Source: Ben Spur of Now Toronto who, in 45 minutes of walking the length of the Adelaide cycle track counted 27 vehicles in the cycle track, including 9 being driven in it.

(Ironic note: the Philly blogger posted a picture of a "bike lane" protected with planters in Toronto which turns out to be just the clusterfuck that is John Street.)

It's not surprising then that Buckley has carried this view over to Toronto. Buckley perhaps doesn't mind if cars end up stopped in the bike lane despite the fact that Toronto specifically created a new stricter by-law for cycle tracks that forbid all vehicles but emergency vehicles and utility trucks from stopping there.

You don't need barriers if you have no intention of preventing all vehicles from stopping in the bike lane. Buckley is working on improving enforcement, to his credit, but despite his naive quotes to the media he must surely know that it is quite impossible to promise a 100% car free bike lane with just a parking enforcement officer going back and forth.

The whole idea of a bike lane becomes untenable on really busy streets like Richmond and Adelaide where it doesn't matter if drivers are just stopped for a short time; multiply that by ten, twenty or thirty and the bike lane starts becoming completely useless as a safe commuter route.

And that's not even addressing the issue of couriers, cabs and tow trucks using the lanes constantly throughout the day. Enforcement won't work with them because these companies treat fines as just the cost of doing business. As Councillor Layton mentioned on Twitter: "earlier this term we doubled the cost of the ticket and made them so they could not be challenged in court. It still didn't deter."

Much the same happens in Philadelphia. A cyclist named Lucas described how a "stand briefly" policy becomes a solid line of parked cars:

I live on Pine, and when coming home tonight, I was forced out of the bike lane by a solid line of parked cars occupying it between about 19th and 16th (and not for the first time...). There are very clear signs posted saying "no parking at any time."

Enforcement didn't work in Phily, it's unclear how Buckley thinks it'll work in a city with a much busier downtown.

Buckley should be reminded that there is ample evidence that protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks) make for safer cycling. And he should be reminded that it's not just about writing tickets to cars that stop in the bike lanes; the barriers on cycle tracks encourage more people to take up cycling. It's not just about abstract numbers that people are relatively safe, but that they feel safe enough that they'll leave their car at home and take up cycling. The vast majority of people will only take up cycling if they can bike on quiet side streets, bike trails or cycle tracks with barriers that separate them from motor traffic. Anything less is a failure in trying to bring more people to cycling.

It seems that Toronto was trying to slowly catch up to cities like Montreal and NYC with their expanding networks of protected bike lanes, but our Transportation chief seems content with emulating Philadelphia; a city with no protected bike lanes (this example is technically a river-side trail). That's not what I'd call having high ambitions of growing the cycling mode share here.

Serious flaws in Copenhagen study that claims to show bike lanes are unsafe

We build bike lanes to make us safer and more comfortable while riding our bikes. Cities all over the world are building painted bike lanes and separated bike lanes. Knowing whether bike lanes are actually safer is important, to say the least. The science of the safety of bike lanes, however, is a bit behind.

The science doesn't have to be perfect in order for us to take some action, but it needs to be helpful. We need to understand how research was done and how the researcher came to their conclusions. When it comes to a Danish study by Danish researcher S. U. Jensen titled "Bicycle Tracks and Lanes: a Before-After Study" we probably should not trust its conclusions that bike lanes and separated bike lanes are unsafe. Or so argues Dr. Kay Teschke, with whom I corresponded by email last winter. (Photo of woman and girl cycling on Copenhagen street by Ian)

I'm looking at this study in particular because there are competing claims to what it actually proves. There are those who have argued that Jensen's study is proof that separated bike lanes (more commonly known as cycle tracks in Europe) are dangerous. But there are also those who have argued that when read properly the study actually shows that separated bike lanes are safe (see postscript below).

I decided to get to the bottom of this and contacted Dr. Kay Teschke of the University of British Columbia to find what an expert in epidemiological research--who also conducted a large research study on cycling safety--has to say about this study. I'm reaching out to Jensen as well and will post his response if I get one.

Jensen, in his Copenhagen study, came to the controversial conclusion that cycling on cycle tracks* is less safe than cycling on streets without any cycling infrastructure. Jensen concluded:

The safety effects of bicycle tracks in urban areas are an increase of about 10 percent in both crashes and injuries. The safety effects of bicycle lanes in urban areas are an increase of 5 percent in crashes and 15 percent in injuries. Bicyclists’ safety has worsened on roads, where bicycle facilities have been implemented.

Safety is worse with bike lanes? Jensen's conclusions are counter-intuitive and don't fit well with the results of a number of other studies, as was shown in a recent meta study of scientific studies of cycling and injuries. (Doing meta-analysis is common in epidemiology, where researchers compare different studies and look for patterns.) Given that Jensen's study comes to this irregular conclusion it would be easier to trust if we had a clear idea of how he arrived there. That, however, is one of the main problems with Jensen's paper: a lack of transparency.

Black box

The main issue with Jensen's study is that it's a black box; an algorithm that he never reveals. Jensen shows us the initial numbers that he measured, then puts them into his black box and out the other end comes the inverse.

Says Dr. Teschke:

Jensen did a very elaborate analysis with lots of adjustments. It is good to take into account factors that might bias unadjusted results, but usually the first analysis is the simple unadjusted one. Jensen does not present the unadjusted results, so I calculated them based on the data presented in his paper. On page 4, he indicates that the before and after periods studied were equally long. In Table 3 on page 9, he presents the observed before and after data on crashes and injuries. He also presents expected after data, based on all the adjustments. But let’s first look at the observed, before and after. In every row, except two (Crashes Property damage only and Intersections All crashes) the observed injuries or crashes after are lower than the observed before. On page 12, he indicates that there was a 20% increase in bicycle and moped traffic in the after period. So a calculation of crude relative risks (RR) for after vs. before:

  • Bicyclists and moped riders, all injuries total:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (406/1.2)/(574/1) = 0.59
  • Bicyclists and moped riders, intersection injuries:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (285/1.2)/(353/1) = 0.67
  • Bicyclists and moped riders, on links injuries:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (121/1.2)/(221/1) = 0.46

All three of the unadjusted results in the after vs. before comparison for bicyclists and moped riders show a reduction in risk (RR=1 means the same risk after and before, RR < 1 means lower risk after, RR > 1 means higher risk after). It is very strange not to report these results in the paper. They mean that over the period studied, the risk for cyclists and moped riders went down in the period after installation of the cycle tracks.

The question that should be answered with the adjustments is whether this reduction in risk is because of the cycle tracks or whether it is just a time trend - perhaps risk also went down on routes without new cycle tracks. If the comparison streets used for the adjustments were really comparable and if all the adjustment assumptions are unflawed, then the answer to that question would be “the reduction in risk is not from the cycle tracks”. But to take the conclusion further than that and say, after all these adjustments, cycle tracks are less safe (i.e., completely reversing the crude results)? This requires a level of trust in the adjustments that is very hard to justify in my view - especially given the difficult-to-follow description of the methodology and the many assumptions involved.

So can we trust Jensen's numbers? I don't think we can. Dr. Teschke's preliminary calculation of risk based on Jensen's numbers came to a Relative Risk of 0.59 compared to a higher risk of 1 for a street without bicycle facilities. In other words, Jensen's raw numbers support the conclusion that bicycle facilities reduce risk of injury. But it would be quite odd, Dr. Teschke explains, that the final, adjusted result would show the opposite of this. Yet when the final result comes out of Jensen's black box they are just that.

Science needs to be transparent and reproducible and this study falls short of that standard.

No one study can be the final word one way or the other. In the much more studied world of health and medicine, epidemiologists are looking for consensus among studies before coming to conclusions. The Copenhagen study has too many problems to serve as the final word on bike lane safety for policy makers.

Postscript

I wasn't the first blogger to question this study, I had also asked Dr. Teschke other questions about this study and how it related to what another statistician, Dr. Lon Roberts, had said about the study.

Another blogger from Texas, Jason Roberts, was also interested in understanding this controversial study better and had asked Dr. Lon Roberts for his opinion on the study. Jason linked to a simplified version of Jensen's study (called “Road safety and perceived risk of cycle facilities in Copenhagen”) that had even less information about Jensen's methodology and thus may have mislead Dr. Roberts. At least, that's my theory.

Dr. Roberts told Jason that "the Copenhagen study shows that the "likelihood an individual bicyclist will experience an accident goes down as the number of bicycle riders go up".

Furthermore Roberts says:

Using Soren’s percentages, here’s an example starting with the assumption that 10 bicyclists out of 10,000 will experience an accident over a certain period of time if there are no bike tracks:

On an individual basis, there’s a 10 out of 10,000 (or 0.1%) chance that an individual biker will experience an accident if there are no bike tracks
When the bike tracks were added, the accident rate increased by 9%. In other words, if there are 10 accidents without the tracks, the number of accidents increases 10.9 (or approximately 11). On the other hand, the number of bike riders increased by 18%, from 10,000 to 11,800. Therefore, on an individual basis the likelihood of an accident with the tracks added is now 11 out of 11,800, or 0.09%, as opposed to 0.1% without the lanes/tracks.

So Dr. Roberts is basically saying that Jensen had accounted for bicycle traffic volume when reporting the numbers (greater numbers of cyclists will always have some effect on increasing crashes/accidents). But Dr. Teschke seemed to be saying that Jensen had accounted for bike traffic. So I asked for more explanation.

I asked:

In your discussion paper you listed RR = 1.10 versus Jensen's estimates of expected injury rates. Does this mean that Jensen had taken into account bicycle traffic volume when he provides an estimate of injuries +10% (Table 3)? I'm assuming you added .10 to 1?

And if Jensen has already accounted for bicycle traffic in his estimate I'm confused about Roberts' calculation. Is Roberts' accounting for the denominator a second time?

Dr. Teschke responded:

Jensen’s formulas indicate that he did take bicycle and moped traffic into account - in more than one direction. He also took motor vehicle traffic into account. The reasoning for the latter is not clear to me. Perhaps he is saying that if MV traffic volumes went down after cycle tracks were installed, you would expect fewer crashes. But if lower MV traffic is one of the pathways to lower bike and moped crashes on cycle track routes, that is a good thing, not something to be adjusted out of the analysis.

You are right, I added .10 to 1.

Robert’s calculation is not very clear to me. It does seem to assume that Jensen did not take bicycle and moped traffic into account. The formulas in Jensen’s paper suggest he did.

But it is easy to be confused about what Jensen did. It is not clear what alpha and beta are, or how he chose the values for those parameters. He mentions “Danish crash prediction models” but does not provide a citation. Although he laid out the formulas for the traffic adjustments, he did not do the same for either the trend or regression-to-the-mean adjustments. When an adjustment method reverses the unadjusted result, it is important that the method be clear and highly defensible.

I also asked Dr. Teschke why Jensen's study wasn't included in their literature review.

Herb:

  1. Why was this one missed from the lit review? Did it not meet the criteria?

Dr. Teschke:

You are right, we didn’t include the Jensen study in our literature review, because it did not meet our criterion of being published in the peer-reviewed literature. It was published in conference proceedings not a peer-reviewed journal. After the review was published, many people noted that we did not include this study and, when we gave the reason, they argued that the reviews of the Transportation Research Board are more rigorous than those of many conferences, so it should be considered truly peer-reviewed.

We have referenced the Jensen study in subsequent publications, for example in the Discussion of our injury study.

I hope this is useful for some of you interested in connecting the dots between bike lanes, protected bike lanes and safety. It's not easy to dive into the data, but luckily scientists are taking subject matter more seriously.

Two-way cycle tracks are fine, just look to Montreal

Rue Berri cycle tracks

Are two-way (or bidirectional if you prefer) protected bike lanes "dangerous"? Some of the opposition to the Harbord proposal are fomenting fear and doubt by claiming as much. There's even a "No Danger Lanes" facebook page decrying the bidirectional for Harbord.

Let's put this question a different way. Has there been an uproar in Montreal about death and destruction because of their plentiful bidirectional bike lanes? Has there been a bloodbath that we've been ignoring?

I might have missed something but I think not. Montrealers seem to be plenty angry at their corrupt mayors but when it comes to their bidirectional cycle tracks (aka protected bike lanes), the overwhelming majority of people seem to be happy and there's been no outcry of cyclists getting injured on them in great numbers.

And Montreal isn't alone. Cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam also have bidirectional cycle tracks and the people seem to be happy with them, or at the very least accepted them.


A bi-directional path. Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen.

So let's use some common sense. Two-way cycle tracks are not dangerous. They are safe and people are comfortable with them.

Is this a bloodbath you were looking for?

You might say, "Well that's all well and good but what about this Montreal blogger who seems to have discovered the dangers of Montreal bidirectional?"

Let's take a look.

This Montreal blogger is David Beitel who made a claim that the cycle tracks in Montreal have an "elevated risk" of cycling accidents. He pointed out that two of the cycle tracks had the second and third highest number of accidents between cyclists and drivers in Montreal out of all streets.

You might exclaim: holy crap, why are all these cyclists getting injured on cycling infrastructure? Let's rip it all out!

But let's not get carried away. Beitel falls for a common error: he provides absolutely no context to the data; no denominator to put his data into proper perspective. The denominator we need here is the number of people cycling on each street.

Without a denominator of the cycling traffic volume, we might as well just conclude that riding on a highway like the Gardiner Expressway is the safest. Highways typically have very few cycling crashes. But they also usually have next to zero cyclists using them. Because it's illegal.

Beitel's approach cannot avoid absurd conclusions.

When we take into account cycling traffic volumes we would find that the cycle tracks in Montreal, such as De Maisonneuve and Berri, are actually not dangerous at all. When cycling traffic increases we will typically see some uptick in the number of car-bike collisions. And we realize that even though a highway may have zero cyclist colliding with drivers, it might be because there were no cyclists there.

So Beitel's conclusions are junk and anyone here in Toronto who references Beitel as "proof" of the danger of bidirectional is plain wrong. If you're curious you can read a bit more about this in the Evidence Training Guide created for cycling educators by the Cycling in Cities group at the University of British Columbia (particularly pages 2, 3 and 43 in the sidebar).

Bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer

Of the scientific evidence we do have, we could make a safe bet that 1) bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer than riding on the road and 2) cycle tracks in general are safer than bike lanes.

In a study headed up by Harvard's Dr. Lusk, it found that Montreal's two-way cycle tracks were shown to be "either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions".

Lusk found that Rue Berri (as pictured above) had a lower risk (0.48) than the reference street of Denis. Reference streets are always considered to be 1 for comparison purposes. Being below one means a street is safer than the reference.

Overall, the study found that the cycle tracks they studied (all of which were bidirectional) had a 28% lower injury rate. Lusk concluded that their "results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice."

Cycle tracks (one and two-way) are safer than the road

Cycle tracks in general are safer than both riding on the road or even riding in a painted bike lane. The following diagram from UBC's study of injuries and bike infrastructure describes it well:

Cycle tracks beat all the other options for on-road infrastructure by a mile.

Where possible, build unidirectional otherwise bidirectional works

This all being said, the cycling infrastructure guides are now usually recommending unidirectional over bidirectional. Vélo Québec's Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists, for instance, says (p. 80):

"On-road bike paths should preferably be unidirectional. Bi-directional paths offer effective safety between intersections but complicate traffic at intersections. In fact, they increase the number of conflict points between bicycles and turning vehicles."

"Preferable" but not always possible.

This is fine in an ideal world. But we live in a world with physical and political constraints. We don't have the political sway to force politicians to ignore merchants and take out all the parking on any of our major arterials. Bidirectional is seen as a compromise: cyclists get something safer, more comfortable and merchants get to keep some on-street parking. For instance, Councillor Vaughan has publicly stated that on Harbord it is bidirectional or nothing:

“The bi-directional protects the parking that is needed,” says Vaughan. When asked for specific numbers his assistant helps out: “Right now there are 48 parkings spots – and with the bi-directional plan, we are trying to salvage 95 to 98 per cent of parking.” The unidirectional plan would take out all of the on-street parking.

“If the choice is bi-directional or nothing then bi-directional is safer,” says Vaughan.

So we are fighting for bidirectional on Harbord and possibly on more streets in the future with similar constraints. And we will work with traffic planners and the community to make them as safe as possible. There are number of tools at the planners' disposal: separate light phases, improved sightlines, markings through the intersections, signage, bump-outs and so on.

References

Syndicate content
pennyfarthing ok frye