Monday, 27 August 2012

Perception vs Reality: how to make cycling safer

Much has been made of figuring out what motivates people to ride a bike and to use a bike as a means of transportation. Studies conducted by UBC researchers identified the top 10 reasons for choosing not to ride.  Apart from weather (snow, rain) or street conditions (icy, wet, debris on the road), cycling can be encouraged or discouraged by the presence (or lack thereof) of route design and urban infrastructure. In other words, good cycling facilities are important, including good signage and biking networks. 

Environmental factors important to cyclists are cycling infrastructure and road connectivity. 

Cyclists perceive major streets with shared lanes and no parked cars as having the greatest risk. I am not surprised. Recently, while attending the BC Summer Games, I decided to go for a bike ride. Having scoped out the area in which we were staying, I saw that there was a bike lane. Unfortunately, it was part of a very busy major roadway. While someone in the engineering department may have seen that as an obvious route, to me it screamed "unpleasant, noisy, and hazardous". I chose a different route that was more residential and visually pleasing. 

Not surprisingly, cyclists perceive residential streets as far less risky. In fact, one UBC study noted one of the top three preferred routes for riders is residential streets that are part of a designated bike route and have traffic calming routes.  Are these just perceptions or are there real benefits? The study shows that perception and reality are "aligned"—i.e. such streets are indeed safer for cyclists. No wonder then that cyclists will go out of their way to use designated bicycle routes, so long as they are well marked in terms of signage and pavement markings and have bike activated signals. (See link.)

ATAC has drawn up a list of  potential priorities to take to Oak Bay Municipal Council in the fall. On my list is improved cycling networks and pathways—signage and access. Of particular interest is addressing the gap in east/west cycling routes between (north) Oak Bay and Victoria by creating an east-west bikeway that connects Willows Beach, Estevan Village and Haultain Road with the greenway priority route on Haultain Road in the City of Victoria. Two issues exist: lack of signage for this route and crossing safety at the intersection of Haultain & Foul Bay Roads due to lack of a controlled access option for cyclists. These are both issues that we hope to bring to Council's attention. 

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