Thursday, 22 December 2011

Fear Kills Cyclists

Hi folks, welcome to the blog. I guess the first article is a bit of a downer to start off a blog, but what the hey.

Over the past few days, I've been reading a lot about cyclists dying on the road and about attempts to make cycling safer by implementing bike lanes and cycle paths. I've also been reading a lot of studies into the safety (or lack thereof) of such infrastructure.

Today I read about Deep Lee, a cyclist who was killed on 3 October 2011 at the junction of York Way and Gray’s Inn Road in the King's Cross area of London, England. Friends of Ms. Lee and cycling advocates have responded to her death by calling on the government to make the intersection where she died safer. Some of them are calling for a bike lane to be installed at the junction and on the roads leading from it.

The problem is, a cycle lane is not going to improve cycling safety. Studies show it's likely to make this road less safe. Bike lanes make cyclists feel safer, but the latest studies from Canada, the UK, the US, Copenhagen, Western Denmark and Belgium all note that such infrastructure increases the likelihood of collisions at intersections, making roads that feature bike lanes and so-called 'protected' bike tracks more dangerous than roads that don't.

The thing is, what killed Deep Lee (and what kills many cyclists) most likely had nothing to do with the road and everything to do with the fact that cyclists are encouraged to fear the road and stay out of the way of motorists. This culture of fear probably kills more cyclists than drunk drivers or anything else. From what can be gathered from the small amount of information available, Ms. Lee was riding in the gutter next to (or immediately in front of) the truck that killed her. If she had taken her place in the middle of the lane as a motorcyclist or any other vehicle driver would have done, the truck driver would have been more easily able to see her and she might be alive today.

The problem, in both the US and the UK, is that we have a culture that marginalizes cycling, encourages fearmongering and turns a blind eye to bullying on the road so that cyclists find it almost impossible to assert their right to the road or to ride safely. They are shunted off to the side of the road, and any who are brave enough to assert their right to the lane are honked at and treated to dangerously close passes, angry yells and obscenities by a tiny minority of drivers who think they have an innate right to travel at the speed limit, and that cyclists who 'get in their way' deserve to be scared or even 'nudged' off the road. Police are often part of the problem. Many cyclists prefer to avoid the hassle and stay out of motorists' way, even when they are warned that riding in the gutter and on poorly-planned cycling infrastructure places them at increased risk.

Cyclist deaths will not be meaningfully reduced until cyclists, one by one, decide to take back their rights and stand up to the bullies and the fearmongers by cycling legally and confidently integrated with traffic. No amount of cyclist infrastructure or transportation engineering can accomplish this. It can only be accomplished by cyclists deciding they've had enough.

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