The Paths to Peace

Reducing Conflicts Between People Walking and Cycling

Our cities are quieter, healthier and more livable when we travel under our own power by walking or cycling. And, in general, are safer places for everyone as well. Still, with more people doing both, conflicts occur that can lead to injuries and in rare circumstances, death.Burrard Bridge

Sidewalk cycling is not allowed in most cases and can be dangerous for both those walking and cycling. Riding on the sidewalk opposite the flow of traffic is particularly unsafe due to left turning traffic. In Vancouver last year, it proved to be more dangerous for cyclists than pedestrians with both cycling fatalities last year involving sidewalk cycling. In the case of the tragedy on the Lions Gate Causeway, cyclists are required to use the sidewalk as cycling on the road is prohibited.

The two cycling related fatalities in the last decade have occurred when the pedestrian was crossing a road. In both cases, the causality was an older man. As is the case with motor vehicle crashes, we fare worse as we age. In the one on Main Street a few years ago, there was no indication that the cyclist was at fault. Still, a tragic incident reminding us all we need to slow down a bit and be careful on the road.

Unlike collisions involving motor vehicles, injuries crashes between cyclists and pedestrians and cyclists with other cyclists are not tracked in a systematic way making it difficult to know the extent of the problem. The Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment study which examined hundreds of injuries to cyclists in Vancouver and Toronto found that around 4% of cycling collisions involved pedestrians. By comparison, almost 70% involved motor vehicles.

The Provincial Government, TransLink and municipalities continue to make improvements that governments that reduce conflicts and make cycling and walking safer. Still, its a big province. There is a lot of work still to be done.

Many of the older bridges in the region have sidewalks and approaches that are simply too narrow for cyclists and pedestrians to share without conflicts happening. Fortunately, the Province is widening the sidewalks on Ironworkers Memorial Bridge as we speak. Improvements are still needed on the south approaches. The City of Vancouver is planning on improve Granville Bridge. One option is to build cycling and walking paths in the middle of the Bridge by reallocating a couple of lanes of traffic.

Separated bike lanes significantly reduce sidewalk cycling. On Dunsmuir and Hornby, they decreased by 80% following the completion of the bike lanes. Similar reductions have occurred in other cities following the introduction of separated bike lane. The Burrard Bridge separated bike lanes and the Burrard Cornwall intersection improvements make cycling and walking much nicer.

Shared paths have higher injury rates than separated paths. However, they can work fine when there are not that many people using them. When volumes are higher, over 200 people hour or so, conflicts increase due to cyclists passing pedestrians and slower cyclists. The best solution is to create separate walking and biking paths like those along newer sections of the Seaside Greenway in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the badly needed separated bike path in Kits Beach Park, which would have greatly reduced conflicts, was rejected.

Smooth paths are best for heels and wheels. Walking paths should be surfaced with smooth asphalt, saw-cut concrete or machine cut granite. People don’t like walking on bumpy surfaces and often will use the paved bike path next door. People also like to walk side by side. If the walking path is narrow or interrupted with obstacles like poles or benches, people will walk in the bike path. A perfect example of this is the path by the new convention centre where many people stroll in the bike path.

Paths should have clear sightlines giving cyclists plenty of time to react to people walking or cycling across the path. A parallel street with bike lanes or low levels of traffic can provide faster cyclists with another option.

There is an election coming up. A good idea to support candidates that campaign positive solutions that reduce conflicts and make our communities safer for everyone. Check out HUB’s Vote to Bike initiative!

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