Tue 10 May 2011
This post has been hanging around in draft form for a while but I have decided to publish it in it current state so that I can get on with other posts…
There has been a lot of comment on the blogosphere about the merits of “vehicular cycling” verses separated infrastructure, it is a debate which is getting rather heated in some places. The problem is really one of political will. Bicycle lanes by them selves are not a solution, they need to be part of a package of measures, such as speed reduction, strict liability, giving priority to those going ahead over those turning major to minor i.e. left (or right if you are in one of those places which rides on the wrong side of the road), etc.
Mikael, will no doubt tell us that the separated cycle lanes came first in Copenhagen and all the rest came later. But that was over 40 years ago, there were far few cars about then. In the here and now, if the problems of modern cities are to be solved a package on measures is need so that people can see that it is safer and feel safer. Unless people feel safe they won’t use them.
The classic example of this is Milton Keynes, England. Built as a new town, which has separated cycle lanes which are not well used because the cyclist do not have priority where at minor road crosses the cycle lane. In Denmark and The Netherlands, cyclist on the cycle lane have priority over motor vehicle turning major to minor, and there is a law of strict liability to leave the motorist in no doubt who is to blame in the event of a collision! This is an important factor in making segregated infrastructure work.
Changes in priority and strict liability also act to protect pedestrians as well. Currently the UK has a good network of segregated infrastructure for pedestrians, often used by less confident (and child) cyclists. The UK can point to its record on road safety, however a closer look at this show that it has possibly the worst record in Europe for child pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. The most frequent cause of these deaths is a child crossing a minor road being hit by a motor vehicle turning from a major road. There are other causes but that is the most frequent, it should also be noted than even though there is good network of segregated infrastructure for pedestrians, in an average year, 80 pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles on the pavement (sidewalk if you reading this in N. America)!
So segregated infrastructure isn’t a guarantee of safety, but given the choice most people would rather walk on the pavement than on the road, and only become vehicular pedestrians where absolutely necessary. The same can be said for cyclist, there are those who enjoy the thrill of vehicular cycling, but most would be cyclists no more want to ride with motor vehicles than the average pedestrian would want to run with the bulls at Pamplona…