The study was carried out in Australia for the Journal of Transport & Health and was commissioned by The Conversation. It was based on a survey of more than 4,000 people in and around the capital Melbourne, 57 per cent of whom owned a bike but only one in five rode a bike once a week. Of the people interviewed, more than three-quarters wanted to ride more but only in infrastructure that separates cyclists from the traffic, such as off-road paths or protected bike lanes.
The authors of the study used ‘Geller types’ that separate people into four categories of cyclists: ‘Strong and Fearless’, ‘Enthused and Confident’, ‘Interested but Concerned’, and ‘No Way No How’. A whopping 78 per cent of the study respondents put themselves in the group ‘Interested but Concerned’, which reveals, the authors say, “a high latent demand for bike riding if protected bicycling infrastructure were provided.” They go on to elaborate: “The provision of separated bicycling infrastructure is important for both the safety and support of low-risk bicycling environments to maintain and encourage participation. Most people in this study were interested in riding a bike if infrastructure were provided that physically separated them from motor vehicle traffic.”
Unfortunately, in Melbourne (similar to many large cities around the world) 99 per cent of existing bike infrastructure is made up of painted bike lanes. In fact, as more people have taken to cycling because of the Covid epidemic, serious accidents have increased, not only in Australia but in other large cities, such as Berlin.
To combat the problem, Berlin authorities had built more than 14 miles (22.5 km) of pop-up bike lanes. This initiative was intended to help cyclists maintain physical distancing during the epidemic but it was clearly also supposed to make cycling safer. However, it failed because it did not address the locations where most cycling accidents occur. Siegfried Brockmann, an accident researcher for the German Insurance Association, told the newspaper: “Two-thirds of accidents involving but not caused by cyclists occur at crossings, turnings or on property driveways – and so far, authorities have failed to come up with solutions to reduce the risk.”
Berlin’s senator for transport, Regine Günther, told the local newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that her government would equip junctions with separate traffic-light sequences for cyclists and automobiles. But she admitted the changes would not happen overnight. “Secure infrastructure needs time,” Günther said.
Providing safer cycling conditions would also help local authorities working to reduce pollution by getting more people to commute by bike. As the authors of the Melbourne study concluded, “Removing interactions with motor vehicles through a physically separated bicycle lane could substantially increase participation in bike riding in Melbourne, while maintaining the safety of vulnerable road users.”
Clearly, authorities are aware of the situation but it may not become a pressing priority until the pandemic ends – despite the fact that more people are now cycling than ever before because of the pandemic. So, until cycling road safety is given the attention it deserves, we can only tell cyclists braving city streets to be careful out there.