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Synecdoche is a powerful, expressive linguistic device

The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Bike Lanes

Let’s be honest, to most people cycle lanes are a good thing. Depending on your viewpoint, they keep slow-moving targets and serial rule-breakers off your road or they keep you away from the oblivious drivers hell-bent on pointing their polluting battering rams in your direction. But do they work?

This topic is hotly debated. Most evidence relates that the accidents attributable to a cyclist’s being in a lane are due to their legal limbo state – are they roads? paths? can you drive on them? walk on them? when a cyclepath goes straight do left-turning drivers have right of way? However, the vast majority of evidence points to the fact that cycle lanes make everyone safer.

That said, the very idea of cycle lanes would in many ways controvene the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic which states that bicycles are not secondary road users and have as much right to be on the road as any other users. The cyclist is regarded as the driver of a vehicle. By this logic, if you cannot drive on the footpath or walk on a road then it should be clear where you should find bicyclists. In England this had, effectively, been over-ruled in a relatively recent court case. This enraged cycling advocacy groups who protested at cyclists being forced off the roads they have a right to use. Of course, the cyclist won his appeal.

In a very narrow survey, John Forster found that cyclists in Palo Alto in California were 1.8 times more likely to have an accident on a cycle lane than on the road. According to John Franklin of Cyclecraft, “In Sweden the University of Lund deduced a relative risk of 3.4 for roadside cycle paths compared with using the road, but rising to 11.9 under particular circumstances. Cycle lanes were better, but still 10 to 15 per cent more dangerous than nothing at all.”

As pointed out in the always bullishly correct Guardian newspaper (please bear in mind the linked article is very saddening) poor road design is the biggest enemy of cycling. Roads are seemingly designed to satisfy a pyramid scheme of road users in the order of cars and vans, then buses, then trucks then cyclists.

But of course, there are just as many people who maintain these measures make cyclists safer. In Transportation Quarterly John Pucher argues for single lane cycle lanes and has the statistics to back this up. He states the three (western) countries with the highest percentage of trips by bicycle are: Netherlands (28%), Denmark (20%), and Germany (12%). These also have the greatest cyling facilities. Furthermore they have really low fatalities per 100 million bikes trips with Netherlands at 1.6 and Germany at 2.4. The Inquisition would be wary of attributing this to cycle networks. Due to the high percentage of trips by bicycle there are naturally more cyclists out there. More cyclists are more visible. They create a presence, unlike those in countries like Ireland where they look more like stray sheep on the loose in the wolves enclosure in the zoo.

If cycle lanes are maintained and designed properly, taking into account rights of way, visibility, special consideration at intersections and other things then they may well be. However, if, as is usual, this is not the case, why is a thin strip of red gravel much safer than the road?

Anyway, there is good news. The gain of ‘life years’ through improved fitness among regular cyclists, and thus their increased longevity exceeds the loss of ‘life years’ in cycle fatalities. (British Medical Association, 1992). So there.

Cyclecraft statistical research
London-based cycling
Bicycle Safe
Wikipedia editors weigh in on the debate
BBC News
Gristmill article on responsible cycling
John Pucher, autumn 2001 issue of Transportation Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 4
Risk Factors, Bicycling Life
Bike Lanes
Daniel Cadden court case

This article was posted by on Friday, April 17th, 2009 at 17:13.
It is archived in Bicycles, Health, Ireland, Sport, Travel and tagged , , , , .

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