Safety is all in the mind

The perception of personal safety is very important for a cyclist. Many people will say that they do not cycle because they feel unsafe. Often authorities fall back to statistics, suggesting that it is not as bad as people think. However, if we want people to cycle they must first feel safe. A study in Berlin looks at cycle infrastructure that makes people feel safe.

Cycling is for everybody. In one study in Berlin, 21,000 people were asked what made them feel safe. “Berlin wants streets like this” paints a picture of how the city of Berlin would look for the cyclist. A more traditional approach are traffic studies, which provide a statistical measure of real safety but may do little to encourage people to ride. We need both: infrastructure that people think is safe, and infrastructure that has been proven to be safe. Lucky, the two have a lot in common. Another excellent report, “Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users” from Austroads (AP-R611-20, 2020), looks at cycling safety from the latter perspective. Austroads will be considered another day.

Building bike paths on the green field is great if you have space, however, in town centres and Civic, this is not likely. All big cities have the problem that there is often the least available space where people want to ride most. There are many options on how we could make cities bike-friendly. The below computer study generated random infrastructure changes for people to consider.

First the worst and the best.

The worst way to cycle. Berlin safe street survey
The worst way to cycle. Berlin safe street survey
The safest way to cycle. Berlin safe street survey
The safest way to cycle. Berlin safe street survey

People value being separate from cars, and roads need to be wide enough for that to be possible. Without a bike lane, it still will not feel safe. Paint on the road makes a big difference.

Without bike lanes. Berlin safe street survey
Without bike lanes. Berlin safe street survey
With bike lanes. Berlin safe street survey
With bike lanes. Berlin safe street survey

Better than a cycle lane is to separate the cyclist from traffic with bollards. It does not matter that much what sort of bollards are used.

Structural separation makes a big difference.Berlin safe street survey
Structural separation makes a big difference. Berlin safe street survey
Bollards make people feel safe. Berlin safe street survey
Bollards make people feel safe. Berlin safe street survey

Passing parked cars is a common cause of low-speed accidents. For this reason, bike lanes beside parking spaces are not recommended (see Austroads). The best option is to have the parked cars on one side of the bollards and the cyclists on the other.

Parking spaces are scary. Berlin safe street survey
Parking spaces are scary. Berlin safe street survey
Bike path next to parked cars. Berlin safe street survey
Bike path next to parked cars. Berlin safe street survey
Are parked cars the better bollards. Berlin safe street survey
Are parked cars the better bollards. Berlin safe street survey

Grade separation is where the cyclist is moved off the road onto the verge. The verge of many city roads (Northbourne Avenue in Civic) is a paved sidewalk in front of shops and offices. Pedestrians are common. Pedestrians can worry about fast-moving cyclists, and cyclists can worry about unpredictable pedestrians with their eyes glued to their smartphones. The pressures increase with outdoor seating as well on sidewalks. The answer is “think three” – keep the bike path separated and clearly delineated from the pedestrian area.

Wide bike path with grade separation. Berlin safe street survey
Wide bike path with grade separation. Berlin safe street survey

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