From the Globe & Mail: Cycling Injuries in Different Cities

If you ride a bike in Toronto, you’re most likely to be injured negotiating a slippery streetcar track. For cyclists in Vancouver, however, it’s a run-in with a car that’ll probably put you in the hospital.

“[In Toronto], roughly one-third [of the accidents] involve streetcar tracks.” In many cases, cyclists hit the tracks while avoiding double-parked cars or cars moving out of parking spaces, he said.

The other big Toronto cluster was “dooring” – cyclists hit by a car door opening as they pass a parked car.

In Vancouver, by contrast, the highest proportion of bike injuries resulted from collisions with cars. And on the West Coast, it is also much more common for cyclists to be hurt after running into pedestrians or other cyclists.

For [Arno Schortinghuis, president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition], one key to reducing injuries is to get more cyclists on the road. “Better cycling infrastructure gets more people riding bikes,” he said, “[and] there is an associated corollary, that the more people who are riding bikes, the safer it is for all cyclists.” That’s because when motorists expect to see more cyclists on the road, they tend to be more cautious and accommodating, he said.

Mr. Schortinghuis… said separated bike lanes or off-road paths are by far the best way to attract more cyclists, because they are assured of being safe.

Having spent much of my last year in Vancouver riding, I can attest to the danger of cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. In my most serious accident, I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian who stepped into my path and went over the handlebars. He didn’t even see me crash, and just kept on walking; by the time I was able to get up off the street and over to the sidewalk, he was half a block away, listening to his iPod and too oblivious to notice me. I ended up in the hospital that evening, having an ultrasound for potential internal bleeding. I still have a road rash scar on my elbow and my shoulder continues to suffer periodic pain from a soft tissue injury.

I was also doored once and nearly hit on several occasions by cars making turns at intersections, when the drivers either did not see me or thought they could get through before I got there.

I’ve never quite understood the logical connection between saying “when motorists expect to see more cyclists on the road, they tend to be more cautious and accommodating,” and then asking for “off-road paths.” Don’t off road paths tend to make cyclists less visible to motorists? What about the negative environmental and financial costs of building new infrastructure, rather than using existing roads for cheap, environmentally friendly transportation? Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to re-engineer existing roads to make them more friendly to cyclists and less convenient for motorists? Also, “off-road paths” tend to be multi-user: I often see cyclists, pedestrians, rollerbladers, skateboarders and scooters on the Goose on my way to UVic, and because we use the space in different ways, I often feel uncomfortable riding so near to other users. For instance, pedestrians tend to move in unpredictable ways, weaving around as they walk. Cyclists tend to move quickly, so need more time and space to react to the unexpected. Walking should encourage a different type of interaction with your environment than cycling does, but multi-user paths tend to make that kind of use unsafe.

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3 Responses to From the Globe & Mail: Cycling Injuries in Different Cities

  1. John Luton says:

    Multi-use trails like the Goose do have a certain anarchy, particularly, as you note, among pedestrians. Collision rates, the research indicates, are higher than on roadways, but tend to be less severe, for obvious reasons.

    Trails make cyclists more visible by growing participation, which in turn fuels demand for more on-road facilities. It’s not possible to provide an off-road path between your house and every destination.

    The return on investment in cycling facilities is very favourable, so the suggestion of negative financial impacts is not supportable. You’ll have to dig around at Sustrans in Britain to find the references, amongst other sources, but the return on investments are as high as 30:1 in their studies.

    The environmental impacts are also positive. If all of the cyclists on the Goose everyday were driving, you would need to build road capacity at the equivalent of, say, View St., in downtown Victoria, a much more expansive piece of asphalt than the trail presents. Shifting people to sustainable modes like cycling is very positive, particularly in a place like Victoria where 40% of C02 emissions are from mobile sources (mostly cars and trucks). That effect radiates out into the larger road transportation network and has helped support the growth in cycling to an impressive level. The 2006 Origin/Destination travel survey done by the CRD indicates that 40,000 trips a day are by bicycle, on average, in the region – 14.6 million a year. That’s the equivalent of taking about 4 or 5 cars off the road, every day, and the cumulative impact on reducing emissions is significant.

    The cycling population is not homogenous or one dimensional, however, and the on-road facilities are also necessary. There are many good examples of roads in the region that have been re-engineered to enhance the level of service for cycling while at least capping capacity for motor vehicles, Esquimalt Rd in Victoria being the latest project nearing completion.

    Both the infrastructure and the growing numbers of cyclists (840/hr on the Goose yesterday during morning rush hour, in the rain, for the start of Bike to Work Week), increase the visibility of cycling, but also create increasingly larger populations of cyclists who are also sometimes drivers, and they will be, likely, more cognizant of how better to safely share the road when they are driving.

    In summary, it’s all good.

  2. Pingback: Good Comments « Vincent's Victoria

  3. John Laidlaw says:

    Yes – pedestrians can be unpredictable – particularly so when they are plugged in, and tuned out. I realize why they do it – I’d like to do the same, when riding.
    My “cure” is a loud, clear, call-ahead: “Over Taking! On your Left!” If there’s a reaction from the walker – a wave, a turn, or a move to the right – I know I can steam right on past. Otherwise, I’ll slow down, and overtake with caution. Sure, it screws up the rhythm, but that’s quite secondary to screwing up at least two days – mine and the pedestrian’s.
    I also used to (forty years ago)ride in Vancouver – things HAVE improved. I also rode in Ottawa, before the demise of the streetcar – as a teen-age kid. To say the least, it took concentration on the job in hand – the “driving” of the bicycle, to do so without wiping out. This still applies today.

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