December 2018 / Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

Road Safety: Cyclists Abound

By Derek Pinder
Of the various types of road user, there is probably none that gets more encouragement than cyclists and it is cyclists that we are going to take a look at in this third article on road safety in the bluffs.  Encouragement to use a bike to get around the city is coming from many organisations, from advocacy groups to the City of Toronto, and the three reasons that are usually cited are reducing traffic congestion, contributing to a better environment and health benefits.
Has this encouragement been successful?  Statistics show that the use of cycles to get to work has increased city-wide, dramatically in some areas, but mainly in the downtown core.  There has been little change in the Bluffs, although West Hill has shown an increase of 7% between 2006 and 2016.  City-wide, the overall percentage of commuters using cycles was 1.4% in 2016.  In London, England, where cycling has always been commonplace and where the climate is more conducive, efforts to get more people cycling to work has led to just 2% of journeys being by bike and the conclusion that bike commuting appeals to few.
So, it seems likely that cycling in Toronto is, and always will be of appeal to a small minority of road users.  That doesn’t mean that their safety is unimportant and in fact in Toronto there has been an upward trend in the number of accidents involving cyclists over the period 2008 to 2018, but a downward trend if measured by injuries and fatalities per one million trips.  It is notable that injuries and fatalities are much higher on arterial roads than on minor and local roads.
Toronto’s “Vision Zero Road Safety Plan” identifies eight cyclist safety measures.  The first is the provision of more cycle tracks that separate cyclists from vehicular traffic.  We estimate that a total of 17 km of cycle tracks have been installed since 2016.  The other seven measures encompass changes at signalised crossings, improved road markings, increased enforcement and education.
A City study entitled “A Report on Cycling Fatalities in Toronto 1986-1996” concluded that the actions most likely to reduce cyclist injuries and deaths are giving cyclists the right of way over cars, creating on-street bike lanes and off-street trails, and side-guards on large trucks.  Certainly, there is an overwhelming opinion that we need to separate bicycles from cars and Kay Teschke, Professor Emeritus at UBC, observed that “It just makes no sense for vehicles with such different masses and velocities to be put together”.  This opinion is supported by a European Union study which reported that moving from cars to cycles would increase road accident injuries and deaths with little change to the environmental impact.
This article is about road safety, not the benefits of cycling.  Moreover, the aim of the Vision Zero plan is to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries.  It seems that the only way to achieve this, without bringing the City to a halt, is to discourage cycling except and until cycles can be separated from motorised vehicles.
In the previous article of this series, we asked readers to submit ideas for traffic safety from other parts of the world.  Reader Lock Hughes observed that in many countries, and even in parts of Canada, there are financial incentives to purchase electric bikes with the result that many more are sold than in Toronto.  We acknowledge that incentives may make riding bikes more popular but they do not necessarily lead to a reduction in accidents.  Another reader suggests a practice that is used in Portugal and Spain where permanent speed sensors at strategic locations are linked to traffic signals that bring cars to a halt if they are speeding.  Motorists quickly learn the futility of exceeding speed limits if it brings them, and other road users, to a stop.  Of course, there are no revenues from fines but safety, not money is what this is all about . . .isn’t it?
Our next article on road safety in the Bluffs will address the topic of motorcyclists.
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