|Separate from the main road, a family cycles together, side-by-side. Straps on the front child seat are not done up. Slightly older children ride their own bikes. No-one wears safety equipment. The child in the rear is fiddling with something but the parents have no concerns concerned. This illustrates Subjective Safety.|
I used to do cycle promotion work in the UK, travelling from city to city and talking to a great number of people about cycling. They all already knew that cycling was healthy, good for the environment etc. Many people would like to be able to cycle. The number one reason that the average person in the street would give for not cycling was "it's too dangerous". So, what did they mean by this ?
|One of many four metre wide cycle-paths|
in Assen. School run cycling.
- Actual safety - How many km you can expect to travel before you're injured on your bike.
- Subjective safety (sometimes called "perceived" safety) - Are you near fast moving traffic ? Is it easy to make a turn across traffic ? Do you have to cycle "fast" in order to keep up ?
- Social safety - Is there a mugger around that blind corner ? Will I be attacked in the street if I cycle ?
When people make the decision about whether it is "safe to cycle", they generally mean the second and third of our three different types of safety: Subjective Safety and Social Safety.
Also, if they're making a decision for someone else - perhaps their child or their partner - these issues become even more important.
|Mother and children. Having several|
metres of separation from the road
is essential for a high level of
- Cyclists should never mix with high speed or high volume motor traffic. A third of all roads in the Netherlands have a speed limit of 30 km/h or lower, most 50 km/h (30 mph) roads provide cyclists with a segregated path, as do many 30 km/h roads with higher volumes of traffic.
- Bike lanes and cycle paths without sufficient separation from the road are not suitable so that there are with high speed or high volume motor traffic.
- Reductions in speed and volume of traffic always help. All residential streets and a third of the entire road network has a 30 km/h (18 mph) speed limit or lower.
- Fully segregated cycle paths provide a good degree of subjective safety but must be built to a suitable standard. In this area they have a minimum width of 2.5 metres if for single direction use and 4 m for bidirectional use. Paths for pedestrians are separate.
- Junctions should be designed to make sure that cyclists are not left out. Cyclists can be separated in both time and space from motorists to maximise both efficiency and safety.
- In many cases, cyclists avoid junctions altogether so they cause as little inconvenience as possible.
- In Assen, the new standards require that cycle paths which follow the line of roads are separated from them by 2.5 metres. Where this isn't possible you will find a metal barrier is used, to provide a feeling of subjective safety as well as actual safety from crashing vehicles.
- Where possible, cycle routes follow a completely different route to driving routes, which of course improves the feeling of safety further.
- Reducing the noise of motor vehicles by using quieter road surfaces and installing noise barriers between the road and cyclists helps.
|In the countryside away from all|
motorized traffic, our family, rides
- You should always be able to see out of any tunnel as you enter it.
- Blind corners on paths are not acceptable.
- Cycle paths should be wide to allow cyclists to move out of the way of other people who may be on the path.
- Good sight-lines are required and there should be no places to hide along a cycle route.
- A low crime rate and a good conviction rate are needed. Cyclists should not feel that the police do not take their complaints seriously.
- Areas that are clean, litter free, graffiti free, where grass is mowed and plants are not allowed to overhang the cycle path have a better feeling of social safety.
- Cycle paths should be lit at night so that you can see potential muggers, obstacles on the path etc.
To summarise... No-one will do anything that feels too dangerous to them. Everyone wants their child to be safe and their partner to be safe. That's why so many journeys which ought to be cycleable are made by car. There is no point in arguing with people's decisions, or ridiculing them. The person making the decision to use a car has made it for quite logical reasons. Their level of confidence about cycling in the conditions around you is not the same as your own.
What to do... If you want people who do not cycle to take up cycling, then the right thing to do is to campaign for or design in road conditions which make cycling into an appealing option. That is what the Dutch have done. Everywhere. It is the key to the high cycle usage and high cycle safety figures.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that subjective safety is a concern only for inexperienced cyclists. No-one suffers from cycling being pleasant. Steps to increase the subjective and social safety of cyclists lead to a better cycling experience for all. Experienced cyclists are less likely to give up cycling in a subjectively safe environment. It becomes a lifetime habit. People continuing to want to cycle on the road when there is a parallel cycle-path are a sign of failure due to low quality. Always set your sights high enough when campaigning or planning.
|A British child being trained. Wearing|
fluorescent clothes and a helmet to ride
in the gutter on a residential street
which is subject to rat-running
For more on the same theme, perhaps this post is most suitable. There are quite a few other posts tagged subjective safety which show different aspects of what makes cycling subjectively safe and the result of it. Amongst the other things needed to make cycling attractive is to make cycling more direct, so there are a lot of examples there to illustrate that concept too.
Big picture vs. small picture subjective safety
December 2011 update: I've realised since writing the text above that many people have slightly misinterpreted what I meant. There are two types of "subjective safety".
The most important, "big picture", type of subjective safety is that of society as a whole which causes everyone to cycle. This is what my article is about and this is what causes Dutch people of all ages and social positions to find cycling to be a safe activity, even wearing black clothes on an unlit bicycle at night. Cycling in the Netherlands always feels safe. This leads to a very high modal share for cycling.
The other, "small picture", type of subjective safety is that which involves people using safety equipment such as fluorescent clothes and helmets when they cycle. While this may make it possible for a few individuals who are already interested in cycling to cycle a bit more and to feel safer as they do so, it is debatable whether this does anything for the overall modal share for cycling.
Some people argue that it is detrimental to the modal share if cyclists take up visible safety equipment to improve their own "small picture" subjective safety. I suspect that "big picture" subjective safety is barely altered at all by this. The issues that people who don't cycle can see and which put them off cycling are with street design, not with the clothing of existing cyclists.
All the photos are of subjectively safe cyclists in the Netherlands, except the last which is of a British child being taught "safer cycling" in Cambridge. He is riding too close to the kerb on an unsuitable bike, but wearing fluorescent clothing and a helmet. The child in the fluorescent clothing will probably give up on cycling within a few years, while the Dutch cyclists will in all likelihood keep on cycling through their lives because high levels of subjective safety make it a pleasant thing to do.
The children in the photo at the top are all tired. Why ? Because this family is returning from the last day of a four day cycling event. They've cycled at least 40 km per day as part of the event, plus however far it is between their home and the startplace in Assen. The object which the child at the back is fiddling with as he cycles is a medal.
Per km travelled, Dutch cyclists are 3x less likely to die and 4x less likely to be injured than those in the UK, 5x less likely to be killed and 30x less likely to be injured than in the USA (statistics found here, page 506). Read more about the safety of cyclists in the Netherlands. However, this doesn't tell nearly the whole story, it's actually much safer than that for Dutch cyclists who fit the usual demographic for cycling in other countries. Two thirds of all cyclist deaths in the Netherlands are of people aged over 65. Most of their lethal injuries come from single vehicle collisions. i.e. when old people fall off their bikes, old age sadly can be enough to do the rest. This effect is virtually unknown in the UK and USA because so few older people cycle.