Serious about Safety

Every bike commuter knows is that safety is a complicated issue. They face it every day. However, some safety campaigns focus entirely on helmets. But that means there’s been a crash. What if it could have been prevented? Wouldn’t that be safer?


There’s many points along the way where an individual, a community, and a city, can prevent more tragedies from happening. Helmet or not, when you put a car against a vulnerable road user, you know who the victim will be. Cities need to get real about safety. No excuses.

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79 Comments on "Serious about Safety"

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Sheilia Scott

Right on !!!

Ian Brett Cooper
The notion that motorists and cyclists are in some sort of competition or ‘match’ on the road is false. The basis of traffic law is equal access and laws exist specifically to prevent the bigger vehicle competing against smaller vehicles. This is why rules of priority (sometimes called ‘right of way’) govern every aspect of road use. If everyone acts responsibly and obeys these rules, the road is perfectly safe for cyclists. It really makes me mad when motorists whine, “Cyclists’ right to the road doesn’t mean much if they’re hit by a truck”. But that’s true for every road… Read more »
Ira Kinro
Ian Brett Cooper
The Teschke study (which appears to be ‘Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study’ – published only as a ‘first look’ in the American Journal of Public Health) seems to potentially be yet another example (like the many so-called ‘studies’ done by John Pucher, Ralph Buehler, Anne Lusk, Conor Reynolds and other health and wellness advocates) of how cycling advocacy within the scientific community can create unscientific research that is marred by expectation bias. Dr. Teschke and her associates are involved in public health research and while cycling does have overwhelming health benefits, neither Dr.… Read more »
But Ian, isn’t this missing the forest for the trees? Using the unambiguous count-dead-bodies metric, the Dutch have the safest cycling on the planet, and we are far, far from it. All the allegedly reputable safety research done in this country and all the Effective Cycling movement (which has been going on since I was a kid) have amounted to zilch in terms of actual safety improvements and actual increases in ride share. No real change in ride share, cycling here is still less safe than in Northern Europe, and feels much less safe. What the effective cycling promoters have… Read more »
Ian Brett Cooper
The Dutch, generally speaking, use a pedestrian mode of cycling – they cycle at walking or jogging speeds. That’s probably why they are safer than anyone else (if indeed they are – Dutch cycling studies are virtually nonexistent. Effective cycling has had a huge impact on safety, for those who practice it. Unfortunately, the paint and path advocates have had a lot of success instilling fear of such practices. I wish the P&Pers had better success at making their preferred infrastructure safer – something they have failed abjectly to do, when they have tried at all (which is only rarely).… Read more »
Here’s a breezy presentation of some NY DOT numbers, before and after for Prospect Park West: It got better. And compare: “Effective cycling has had a huge impact on safety, for those who practice it.” with “Abstinence is an effective means of birth control, for those who practice it.” The problem is entirely a matter of “for those who practice it” — Effective Cycling is about as popular as abstinence (for all I know it might be less popular). The reason to focus on the Dutch experience is that we don’t really need “studies” when we see nation-level public… Read more »

Have you had a chance to cycle in the Netherlands?

John Riley

A lot of this seems to be focused on in-town riding. I am more interested in the rural situation. Not many intersections. Paved shoulders seem like a good idea on busy roads, but there are still a lot of cases of people getting hit while on the shoulder. This is how I end up in the path camp.


Actually, the main reason that the Dutch are safer cycling is because everyone is required to take a cycling educational program (much like our drivers Ed program) and then pass a cycling exam when they are 14. When you have users of the road understanding the way other users may use the road, it increases safety and reduces crashes because people can anticipate & subsequently avoid crashes.

Ian, We do have cycling studies. But mostly they’re reported in dutch. Would that hinder you? If not, visit and check the kennisbank (knowledge bank) And our national statistics agency has numbers of KSI reported for all modes of travel: more bike deaths in 2011, mainly because more people died in the over-65-ies group in december. How many people in the VS over 65 bike in december? I find the number people killed/ km cycled interesting. Do you know the VS stats? that might help. It might be not easy to compare the stats between the countries, because… Read more »

Your comments ignore perceived safety. That is just as important as actual safety. Vehicular cycling may be incredibly safe, but if 99% of the population thinks it’s scary to be riding alongside cars moving at 30+ mph, they’re not going to do it. And more cyclists equalling fewer deaths is a widely accepted trend.

In other words, getting more people cycling results in safer cycling for everyone. If it takes painting rainbows and unicorns on the streets for people to *feel* safe, so be it. So in that regard.. bring on the infrastructure!

Schrödinger's Cat
“The Dutch, generally speaking, use a pedestrian mode of cycling – they cycle at walking or jogging speeds. That’s probably why they are safer than anyone else (if indeed they are – Dutch cycling studies are virtually nonexistent.” I’ve seen some tripe, but this takes the biscuit. I’ve seen plenty of fast cyclists on the cyclepaths in Dutch cities, but only when traffic is light. Of course when it’s busy people are going to cycle more slowly, just as people drive must more slowly when the road is congested! Do you really think it’s appropriate to ride at high speeds… Read more »

“The Dutch, generally speaking, use a pedestrian mode of cycling – they cycle at walking or jogging speeds.”

Incorrect. Ever been there?

They are travelling at the same speed as any average commuting cyclist in north america would travel. ~20-30kph.

The roads are also basically flat, so their avg. speed is probably faster too.

Combine this with infrastructure and respectful drivers too.

I cannot quite see what it is you feel is useful in your quote from (Jensen 2007, Denmark). The numbers are completely meaningless. If cycle infrastructure improves and more people use it I would be extremely surprised if the total number of accidents involving bikes didn’t go up. That’s kind of how percentages work. Is this accident’s per mile travelled? accidents per 100 users? or just total number of accidents? Put simply if, say, 1 in 1000 people have an accident in every 100 miles on ‘normal’ roads would better infrastructure make this 2 in 1000 or 0.5 in 1000?… Read more »
Erik Griswold
dr2chase: Please try to ignore the “Cult of the Johns” (Franklin, Forester and to a lesser extent Allen) as they make their dying gasps about “Effective” or “Vehicular” cycling, something they have condmned us to now thanks in large part due to willing traffic engineers for whom their “solutions” cost nothing. Today the mode share for bicycles in the USA is just under 1% thanks to these aggressive, middle-aged-to-elderly, mostly white, mostly males. Even in Portland it is now just 6%. Copenhagen? 35% Groningen? Over 50%! In order to make cycling mainstream and give it political movement, you need participants… Read more »
Ian Brett Cooper

I see the anti-road-cycling cabal are suddenly out in force. I must have touched a nerve somewhere.

bostonperson whohasbike
bostonperson whohasbike
right – the goal is to get more people out on bikes – vehicular cycling is a lousy advocacy strategy because you can only convince maybe 1 or 2% of people who are even willing to ride bikes to get around (there was a study done by portland OR back in the 90s – I think of potential riders less than 1% felt that no additional infrastructure was needed) – while it may arguably be “safer” – especially if you reduce speed limits, create laws that place more liability on motorists, and through education, the vast majority of still people… Read more »
Erik Sandblom

I like bike paths but I don’t think the issue is so clear-cut.

Vehicular cycling might have been more successful if there had been more political will to slow and reduce car traffic.

This political will seems to be materializing now. There are congestion charges in London and Stockholm, and after New Years in Gothenburg too. There are 30 km/h speed limits going up everywhere. Young people are delaying taking drivers’ licenses and people are travelling on high-speed trains and low-fares airlines. Light rail is being built all over the USA.

bostonperson whohasbike
bostonperson whohasbike

@erik sandblom:

no – it is clear cut – the vast majority of people won’t ride bikes without separate infrastructure. lowering speed limits and more traffic controls won’t get enough people out on bikes – yeah, it can make things safer (and I’m not arguing against road cycling), but you simply cannot convince enough people to ride on the same road with large motor vehicles – no matter how slow they’re going.

Tricia Kovacs

I noticed recently that many of the masters of bicycling have the first name John – Allen, Brooking, Ciccarelli, Forester, LaPlant, Schubert, … probably more I’m forgetting.
I am one of the many cyclists who are grateful that these guys share this planet with us.

Tricia Kovacs

I knew I’d forget one.. Franklin.

@Tricia Kovacs – I think you misunderstand the complaint against “the Johns”. The tiny fraction of US residents who are bicycle commuters can indeed be thankful to the Johns for publicizing the safety tactics necessary to effectively cycle in current US conditions. The people who have been ill-served by the Johns are all potential cyclists who are not currently riding, because the Johns have mistaken the local, tactical safety maximum for the global, strategic safety maximum deployed in Northern Europe — better infrastructure (and other things, but mostly infrastructure done right, and that does not mean door lanes). Potential US… Read more »
Ian Brett Cooper

I’ve cycled extensively in the Netherlands – I spent 6 weeks there during my European tour.


Ian, It is clear to anyone but car drivers that the principal cause of automobile accidents are car drivers. Eliminate drivers and the problem goes away. this will happen, probably fairly soon, judging from the success Google and others have had with autonomous automobiles. In the meantime a universal decrease in speed limits by 10 km/hour would slow the slaughter, which extends far beyond auto/cyclist collisions.

Megan Ramey

Excellent, Ira, thanks!!

Schrödinger's Cat
Ian Brett Cooper says “I’ve cycled extensively in the Netherlands – I spent 6 weeks there during my European tour.” According to his website, this took place between 1984 and 1986, so if he hasn’t been back since then he’s not actually used the kind of infrastructure we’re talking about. That was early days for the Dutch cycle paths and very little from that time still remains. Nearly 30 years of development and refinement has happened since then. It’s a bit like saying you hate Blu-Ray because you tried out a LaserDisc in 1985 and found it too bulky. Maybe… Read more »
Ian Brett Cooper

My previous doubts about this study have proven justified. I have since found out that the bicycle infrastructure that was used for this study was on Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge. This bridge has no crossing or turning traffic to produce the conflicting traffic movements that make cycle tracks so dangerous. No wonder cycling injuries were reduced by half!

Tim K

Totally awesome. Will you be making posters (and maybe postcards)? I’d rather hand one of those out than all the all the well-meaning bikey advice!

Andy M-S

Well put. You may be right, but it’s hard to win when your opponent weighs 20 times as much as you do!

Ian Brett Cooper
Again, it’s not a competition. There are no ‘opponents’ on the road and no one ‘wins’ anything. All we’re trying to do is get to work/school etc. We are not in a competition, nor are we at war, and people who use such language are engaging in hyperbole and clouding the real issues. Motorists do not want to hit us. They are not using their vehicle’s weight against us. They just want to get to work the same as we do. Their major problem is that they believe cyclists don’t belong on ‘their’ roads. This is where the conflict lies.… Read more »

Motorists do not want to hit us. I agree. But many people drive as if they don’t not want to hit us. Which is why the focus on helmets and not infrastructure is misguided.


” They are not using their vehicle’s weight against us. They just want to get to work the same as we do. Their major problem is that they believe cyclists don’t belong on ‘their’ roads. This is where the conflict lies. ”

Great quote and I completely agree.
Cyclist argues bikes belong on those roads but it becomes ugly when the argument ends with, “well I’m bigger than you so I’m more right”.

John Riley

There are a lot of videos to the contrary.

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