Fishman, Washington & Haworth (2012) look at the topic “fear of riding a bicycle” which they say is the most common reason stated for not riding a bicycle. Interestingly the Cycling and Women Survey found, that speed/volume of traffic, whilst a concern to women was only on the minds of 8.2% of the respondents as a reason not to ride. So is this belief, this fear a valid one? Lets take a look at what the authors found.
First the abstract from the paper with my links.
Rates of bicycle commuting currently hover around 1 – 2% in most Australian capital cities, although 17.8% of Australians report riding at least once per week. The most commonly stated reason for choosing not to ride a bicycle is fear of motorised vehicles. This paper sets out to examine the literature and offer a commentary regarding the role fear plays as a barrier to bicycle riding. The paper also provides an estimate of the relative risk of driving and riding, on a per trip basis. An analysis of the existing literature finds fear of motorised traffic to be disproportionate to actual levels of risk to bicycle riders. Moreover, the health benefits of bicycling outweigh the risks of collision. Rather than actual collisions forming the basis of people’s fear, it appears plausible that near collisions (which occur far more frequently) may be a significant cause for the exaggerated levels of fear associated with bicycle riding. In order to achieve the Australian Government’s goal of doubling bike riding participation, this review suggests it will be necessary to counter fear through the creation of a low risk traffic environment (both perceived and real), involving marketing/promotional campaigns and the development of a comprehensive bicycle infrastructure network and lower speed limits.
From the paper there is evidence that we have a perception of risk, not necessarily borne out by reality, but that perception is strong and is reinforced not necessarily been hit but by the behaviour of motorists and attitudes shown by motorists towards cyclists.
In my experience on the road this is so often demonstrated in close passes, tailgating, cutting me off, yelling at abuse at me, the “sorry mate I didn’t see you” (SMIDY) syndrome and the “must get in front” (MGIF) attitude. Is there prizes for being first at the red light? Thankfully none of this has translated in a serious crash or injury for me yet but without a doubt it has frightened me at times and it has made me re-think some of my riding. There is only some much anger one can tolerate.
This anger towards cyclists, often called “hatred” can also been seen in social media such as Twitter (search on “cyclists” and see what comes up over a day or so) and in the likes of the some newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and then there are blog postings by “celebrities”, now becoming known as “click-bait” which are posted to generate a response for the website irrespective of how it maybe played out on the roads and often lacking anything resembling an intelligence analysis.
Back to the paper. The authors focus on three aspects considered to contributors to this perception of risk:
- volume, speed and type of traffic
- number of parked vehicles on the side of the road (car-door opening risk)
- type of intersections
and recommend the following …
- Separated bicycle lanes – “On major arterial roads (at least two general traffic lanes in each direction), which often have the most suitable gradient for bicycling, separated bicycle infrastructure has been shown to increase actual and perceived levels of safety.”
- Bicycle lanes – On minor arterial roads, bicycle lanes are required to form a coherent, integrated network.
- Awareness campaigns. “Raising awareness of the increased presence of bicycle riders on roads may assist in reducing the ‘looked but did not see’ collisions and near collisions that typically occur when motorists do not expect bicyclists to be on the road.”
- Speed limit reductions – “By reducing the general speed limit in cities to 30 km/h, consistent with many European countries, the perceived and actual risk of collision, near collision and severity of injury for actual collisions will be reduced.”
In conclusion the authors’ comment …
In order to significantly increase rates of bicycling, safety must be prioritised; at the same time, fear and common perceptions of road traffic crash likelihood that prevent people from cycling will need to be addressed. To adequately address community concerns, the road traffic environment will need to be made to feel safe.
This can be achieved through measures such as the targeted reallocation of road space and the lowering of speed limits, along with awareness and education campaigns. Current evidence suggests that these measures will help to provide a road environment that is safer – and, importantly, one that is perceived to be safer – for bicycle riders.
Without a doubt this paper has some serious food for thought but I would suggest that we must start putting people first, motor vehicles second. Until we start thinking like that, not much is going to change.
The paper can be download from my Dropbox. The full reference for the paper is:
Fishman, E., Washington, S. & Haworth, N. (2012). Understanding the fear of bicycle riding in Australia. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 23(3), 19-27.