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Misconceptions concerning separate bike paths


According to ADFC, the German Cyclists’ Union, people should cycle where they are safest: on the road among cars. Not on separate bike paths, as this would be more dangerous according to various studies. In the United States this news is eagerly distributed by opponents of bike paths. Dutch experts obviously refute this report.


The main argument in the German report is that cycling in the Netherlands is dangerous as 40% of all traffic accidents involve cyclists, whereas these only account for 27% of all travel. And this in spite of the number of bike paths. In Germany, on the other hand, there are fewer bike paths, as well as lower numbers of bicycle accidents in relation to the percentage of travel by bicycle. Conclusion: bike paths are dangerous. This conclusion about the (supposed) danger of separate bike paths in the Netherlands is however by no means well-founded or warranted.
As a matter of fact in the Netherlands cyclists are victims of traffic accidents in not 40% but even 50% of all cases, data provided by Fietsberaad demonstrate. But the percentages and statistics of CBS/Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Managements do not at first glance reveal that the overwhelming majority of these casualties are caused by unilateral accidents. A study by SWOV concluded that 80% of all bicycle accidents consists of unilateral accidents and accidents among cyclists. Moreover, this percentage is increasing. A mere 20% of all accidents involving cyclists concerns motorised vehicles, and numbers are falling steadily. The ADFC article emphasises accidents with motorised vehicles, whereas the main problem in the Netherlands consists of these unilateral accidents, instead of collisions with other vehicles, for example cyclists colliding with bollards.
Anyway, unilateral accidents cause in general only minor injuries. A study by Consument en Veiligheid into unilateral bicycle accidents (November 2008), commissioned by Rijkswaterstaat Dienst Verkeer en Scheepvaart (RWS DVS), revealed that the annual number of treatments at Emergency Departments (SEH) after unilateral bicycle accidents is approximately 46,000. Approximately 6,000 of these victims require hospitalisation. The estimated annual number of traffic fatalities caused by unilateral bicycle accidents is 50. In 2007 there were 189 traffic fatalities among cyclists in the Netherlands.
And finally, improved safety by separation of traffic has by now been conclusively proven in the Netherlands. See for instance the fact sheet ‘Kwetsbare verkeersdeelnemers’ by SWOV (July 2009). This argues in favour of a complete separation of traffic participants with large differences in mass and speed. After all, in serious bilateral conflicts between for instance a car and a cyclist the inequality ratio is huge: 126. This means that in these types of conflicts the number of cyclists injured is 126 times higher than the number of motorists, seeing as people are well-protected in their cars and run relatively little risk at low speeds. In accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians the inequality ratio is a mere 1.7. In accidents involving two cyclists the ratio is of course 1. For the safety of cyclists it is therefore better to separate them from motor vehicles by providing separate bike paths.

Daniel Sparing (IBM)
20-05-2010 @ 12:51

This is the single most difficult issue of designing cycling infrastructure and such conversation can very clearly turn into a war of beliefs if one is not careful.

I agree that the best possible cycling infrastructure is the one implemented in the Netherlands but nevertheless let me raise some issues coming up in places where political support for cycling is lower.

1. Security at intersections: no doubt that a segregated path is safer than an on-road lane between intersections, but at intersections, a crossing with segregated infra can be very dangerous if

a) the intersection is not properly designed (the bike lane is not raised onto a speed bump, the existence of the bike path or the cyclists are not visible, etc) or

b) drivers are not used to giving priority to bike paths. I do not say that this is a reason against segregated infra, but segregated infra is worth nothing without properly designed intersections -- and i have seen far too many of this combination, not in NL though.

2. Low-cost solutions. I agree that there should be political will for cycling and hence investment. But what if a city has a very limited money to improve cycling? Concrete example: the kerb line cannot be modified but the legal lanes can be rearranged. In this case, putting the cycle lane on the pavement (even if with proper physical separation from the remaining pedestrian area) causes conflicts with pedestrians (another green mobility), if not by sharing space then just by reducing it. While if the road is remodeled with a bicycle lane, car space is reduced instead; and while cars and bikes can be in conflict, they see each other.

My point is, the optimal infrastructure looks segregated to me, but when you have to accept compromises, a cycle lane shared with cars can be safer and more towards green modalities than one shared with pedestrians and with dangerous intersections. Happens all too often.

John Joseph Power
20-05-2010 @ 13:57

In Ireland we still have a very bad Infrastructure of very narrow Cycle Lanes and very few Segregated ones. When you do manage to Cycle on an off Road Path it is a great relief to not have to keep looking over your right Shoulder and also Shudder when you hear a Bus or Truck Roar behind you.

We have Shared Bus Lanes with Cyclists and really it does not work satisfactorily for the Cyclist. When a Bus comes into a Stop there is a strong Danger of running into the back of it,also they sometimes cut you off dangerousely. We have badly designed Bicycle Lanes that Parked Cars when opening their Doors can hit the Cyclists. Rather than be on the other side of the Cars with a Gap between them we are placed on the Road with a Hatched series of Lines to denote the Cycle Lanes which Cars can cross over. Cars sometimes drive and also Park on the Cycle Lanes. Car Drivers do not obey the Rules and cut you off when going around Corners.On a lot of these Cycle Paths that have a continuous White line meaning Cars are not suppose to cross over them ,Car Drivers just ignore it and Park their Cars anyway. These Cycle Paths mostly only Apply during the Rush Hour in Morning or Evening ,or sometimes between 7.30 am - 19.00.

So called Vehicular Cycling does not Work,it is a poor excuse for not providing Infrastructure. It has not worked in Ireland ,the UK, The US,or anywhere else it was tried.We prefer the System they have in the Netherlands it is best practice that is what Cycling Organisations in Ireland are Demanding but they are Reluctant to provide it for us stating the Roads are to narrow ,but we Retort back to them that in the Netherlands the Roads are just as narrow. They are afraid of the Car Lobby and big Business interests who want to see the Traffic keep Flowing through the Towns. Each piece of improvement is hard fought for like the New Bus Gate in Dublin and the 30km/h Limit in the City Centre.

We have to accept that the only compromise they will give us on some occasions is a Shared Path with Pedestrians where Lines are Demarkcated on the Pathway and hope we do not run into a Pedestrian.

In some areas we have a couple of Segregated Cycle Paths but they are in no way as good as the Netherlands.

On the other hand the amount of Cycling fatalities has gone down over the Years as well as Car Accidents. The Banning of HGV's going through the City of Dublin helped to cut down on Cycling Fatalities enormousely when they Built the Port Tunnel between the Docks and the M1 Motorway in Santry,but still we have some Heavy Trucks passing through with permission. Also a lot of them break the Law and pass through the City anyway.

I would say the worst time to Cycle in Dublin is in the Morning and Evening Rush Hours and it is almost very pleasant in between and also on Sunday.

Brent (N/A)
21-05-2010 @ 05:30

1) The Germain report (as translated) says this: "the Dutch bicycle program recently had to report to the ministry of traffic that 40% of victims of traffic crashes brought to hospitals were cyclists." Your article says "6,000 of these victims require hospitalisation." Can you comment how these two numbers resolve themselves? Does 40% figure mean just the 6,000 hospitalized or the 46,000 brought to the SEH? And, by the way, what is an SEH? 2) As a matter of course or culture, do Dutch cyclists ordinarily visit an SEH when dealing with small injuries (such as a bit of road rash)? 3) Are there any statistics concerning cause of death in crashes not involving autos? For instance, speed of travel, age of victim, location of injury?

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