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.