Putting cycling in the fast lane
23 February 2016
Author: Gerald Fogarty, assistant engineer, Road Design Office, Clare County Council
“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike” – John F Kennedy, 35th US president
“Cycling is not a single homogeneous activity but a number of different activities that have in common the use of a two-wheeled unpowered vehicle.
“The bicycle is distinct from all other modes of transportation by being the smallest and lightest vehicle. These characteristics have a direct bearing on the geometry of rights of-way intended to accommodate bicycle traffic. To ensure the safety and comfort of bicyclists, the size of the vehicle must be taken into account, along with the amount of lateral and vertical clearance needed by a moving bicyclist.” Minnesota Department of Transport (1996).
“A cyclist-only crash only provides a small amount of kinetic energy due to the relatively small masses and low speeds, whereas the kinetic energy of motor vehicles is much greater. The different amounts of kinetic energy when different types of road users use the same traffic area and collide, combined with the differences in protection, result in incompatibility.” Wegman et al (2012).
Ireland’s roads are predominantly designed to meet the needs of motorised vehicles. Road design office engineers design roads to meet the needs of motorised vehicles only and, in limited scenarios over very short lengths, cyclists were taken into account.
Over the period 1998-2008, 144 pedal cyclists were killed on Irish roads. This represents 3.5 per cent of all road fatalities between 1998 and 2008. In the same period 335 cyclists were seriously injured.
Of those killed or seriously injured:
- 51 per cent of cyclists killed were involved in a collision with a car;
- 33 per cent of cyclists killed were involved in a collision with a goods vehicle;
- 30 per cent of the cyclists were killed in Co Dublin;
- 22 per cent of the cyclists were killed in Dublin city;
- 30 per cent of the cyclists were killed during the evening rush hour (4pm -6pm);
- 34 per cent of the cyclists were killed during the months (July, August and September);
- 79 per cent of the cyclists killed were male;
- 22 per cent of the cyclists killed were aged 16 or under and;
- 65 per cent of the cyclists’ serious injuries occurred on rural roads (i.e. roads with a speed limit of more than 60km/h) Road Safety Authority (2010).
It is interesting to note that cyclist collisions by vehicles involved, 1998-2008 were cars: 66 fatalities, 2,690 injuries; and goods vehicles: 43 fatalities and 459 injuries. These figures are extremely high and show a significant interaction resulting in fatalities and injuries between cyclists and other roads users – Road Safety Authority (2010).
Admissions to acute hospitals for injuries as a result of road traffic collisions
In a study undertaken by the Department of Public Health in 2011 it examined the admissions to acute hospitals for injuries as a result of a road traffic collisions in Ireland 2005-2009. The survey shows that there were 14,861 discharges related to road traffic collisions. The percentage of persons discharged from hospital with a road traffic collision related injury to a pedal cyclist was 7.1 per cent.
In a strategy for the development of Irish cycle tourism commissioned by Failte Ireland in 2007, some salient findings included:
- Cycling on Irish roads is not perceived to be safe;
- Cyclists face dangerous bends, fast cars, intimidating HGVs, more trafﬁc and higher speeds.
CSO data from 2011 shows that between 1981 and 2011 the number of daily commuters grew from 1.75 to 2.7 million people, representing a phenomenal volume of traffic. Of the commuters cycling to work between 2006 and 2011 there was a 9.6 per cent jump, rising from 36,306 to 39,803.
However, this is close to 20,000 fewer persons who cycled to work in 2011 compared with 1986, when the number of cyclists was at its peak. The share of commuters cycling to work was 2.4 per cent at the census 2011, as opposed to 7.2 per cent in 1986. In the 2011 census, men accounted for the majority of those cycling, with 29,075 out of a total of 39,803, CSO (2011).
It is interesting that under Irish law all road users have equal right of way on a public road and all are expected to proceed with due care and consideration for other road users in all cases, irrespective of who has the right of way – National Cycle Manual (2011). However, the vulnerability based on the vehicle type varies significantly.
Engineers and provision of different classes of infrastructure to meet specific needs
Engineers have for decades evaluated that roads accommodate different classes of mechanically propelled vehicles and have gone to extensive lengths to understand the requirements of the journey demands by provision of different classes of infrastructure for those vehicles to meet those specific needs, which is appropriate.
Can one mode of transport be dominant in all cases in all areas in the current demand by society to improve population health, to limit the impact that the built environment places on the global environment and the necessity for society to provide a sustainable mode of transport at a low cost?
Research that I am undertaking in conjunction with TCD will seek to determine if different types of infrastructure are preferred by cyclists on road or off road for different environments, urban central core, urban rural and rural and is that flexibility been currently provided and taken into account be designers and planners of cycle schemes.
Currently governmental initiatives to affect change via pilot smarter travel schemes and cycle to work bike purchase scheme initiatives over the last few years is only having a marginal effect on the modal shift to cycling and will demand significant ongoing behavioural change funding.
Why do cyclists cycle? Where are they going? Can the current programme of off-road design principle achieve and place cycling as a sustainable method of transport going forward in the short and medium term? When cyclists are taken off-road by a small separation, or larger, through a greenway are they away from the majority of on-road vehicle users and affectively forgotten about?
Has this resulted in reinforcing the conflict culture that currently exists between motorists and cyclists when the latter are on-road? Remember, historically humans harnessed the use of animals to facilitate speed of commute similar to bicycles and mechanically propelled vehicles. This was done for convenience, directness and speed.
It would be great if we could redesign and construct our roads, have unlimited width and funding to provide the separation needed by cyclists for safety on all roads, while also meeting the needs of pedestrians and drivers.
Research being undertaken in conjunction with TCD
Research is currently being undertaken by Gerald Fogarty in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin. The research is examining the impact of cyclists on public road safety engineering and construction in Ireland.
The overall research aims to examine road design, construction, and practices in Ireland to facilitate increased development of cycling as a sustainable and safe means of transportation and allowing the safe interaction of all road users reducing accidents injuries and near misses.
Coupled with the primary aim the research will have a number of secondary objectives:
- To develop a comprehensive understanding of the engineering factors affecting road safety for cyclists.
- To examine the current practices of accommodating cyclists into the existing road infrastructure.
- To assess the hazards of cyclists interacting with other road users.
- To create awareness of the significant impact cyclists will have on road accidents and injuries.
- To demonstrate that a national engineering strategy for improving road infrastructure to allow the safe development of cycling as a sustainable means of transportation is required.
The research hypothesis that road infrastructure in Ireland requires significant redesign, construction and investment to accommodate the safe use of cyclists in harmony with other road users as a sustainable means of transportation and preventing accidents and injuries.
The study has, to date, undertaken extensive surveying of cyclists from all across Ireland – and the results are been collated and analysed. This survey is limited and focused while also encouraging a good response. It consists of 33 short questions some with attached images of existing cycle infrastructure with simple and straightforward click-type answers.
The survey questionnaire link attached below is an excellent opportunity for all engineers and engineering related professions to have their say and I strongly encourage you to complete the survey. The research is envisaged to provide a platform to stimulate debate and change at a national level. If you want to have an input it is recommend completing the short survey by clicking the attached survey web link. It is estimated to take no longer than five to 10 minutes.
Survey web link
The survey questionnaire is completely anonymous. Please feel free to distribute this survey to fellow engineering colleagues for completion. A sincere thank you for your consideration and hopeful participation.
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