Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, December 08, 2017

Bicycle Commuting in Europe

"I didn't intentionally set out to visit the world's No. 1 and 2 best bike cities, although cycling was certainly on the agenda when I booked my tickets. And I had no way of anticipating what it would look like when an entire city is designed to prioritize two-wheeled transportation. I had thought that I'd lived in bike cities before. I spent a year in D.C., where I zipped past cars and around traffic circles to arrive at work each morning. Or rather, as I now realize, where I squeezed myself past and around bumper-to-bumper traffic and narrowly avoided death on a daily basis, helmet tightly fastened, entire body on alert to oncoming hazards, trips torturously [sic] rerouted to include, for as much of them as possible, the semblance of a bike lane. Back in New York, I gave up the commute, clinging instead to the strip of paths that will get me around Central Park or up and down the waterfront on the Brooklyn and Manhattan sides of the East River, but rarely to practical destinations like a supermarket, or my midtown office."
"'The Dutch all bike in the rain,' an Amsterdam local assured me as we dined side by side at a neighborhood Moroccan restaurant. 'They bike in snowstorms. It's just our culture: it's easy, it's affordable, it's healthy'. I didn't quite believe that last part, given the tendency I'd observed for the Dutch to steer their bikes with one hand while holding lit cigarettes in the other. But some quick Googling confirmed that the Dutch and the Danish aren't intimidated by the elements. And my new friend's explanation for why this was so left me at once envious, and dismayed. Because if what it takes to get people out on bikes is some deep, engrained attitude that it's just what you do, then I couldn't imagine bicycling ever truly taking off the U.S. the way it has there."                                                     Lindsay Abrams, Salon magazine
Bike traffic at Copenhagen road shows European bike-transit integration
Fifty percent of people in Copenhagen bike to work or school: Bike traffic at Copenhagen road shows European bike-transit integration; Copenhagen cyclists on a dedicated bicycle path. Reliance Foundry
Mayors of European cities are increasingly vying with one another in the creation of cycling cities through a view of the future they call "cycling visions". And possibly the most famous bicycling city in the world, Copenhagen, is seen as a blueprint for all other cities anxious to compete for the approving environmentalist title of 'cycling city' extraordinaire. Both Paris and London are hoping to compete in this cycling revolution to be acknowledged "the cycling capital of the world".

Now that the recognition of the benefits of cycling to cities hoping to diminish vehicle traffic and convince residents of the safety, efficiency and health effects of cycling has been well established, new European Union statistics may place those ambitions in question, because according to statistics, across the EU cycling deaths have latterly seen a steady rise, accounting for eight percent of all traffic fatalities, an increase of a third in the last decade. In urban areas, cyclists account for a surprising 2 percent of all road fatalities.

Cyclists are seen to be responsible for 30 percent of fatalities in the Netherlands, recognized as a top cycling nation, held as a model to be emulated everywhere. Unbelievably, bicycle fatalities now are five to ten times that of automobiles per kilometre travelled, a complete reversal of a decade earlier when motor vehicle deaths were falling dramatically, along with bicycle deaths in the European Union. Progress in diminishing vehicle deaths has come to a standstill.

And some regard the initiative to make cycling safer, allowing the bicycle a larger share of the road has managed to backfire on all kinds of vehicles. Of all those seriously injured in road accidents in the Netherlands, 63 percent are represented by cyclists, increased from 51 percent ten years ago. Soberingly, in 80 percent of these injuries there were no motor vehicles involved. What is now acknowledged is that that cycling accidents are mostly caused either by poor road conditions or cyclist negligence.

The addiction to checking smart phones, cycling while intoxicated, racing, using handlebars to carry baggage or having poor brakes or tires are all being identified as contributing factors to cycling accidents. And when collisions occur, it is more frequently with another bicycle than with a car, and even when a motor vehicle is involved, the fault can often be attributed to the cyclist having run a red light, swerved into the motorist's path, or being in a state of intoxication; alcohol or recreational drugs.

In two Dutch city centres, surveys of evening bicycle excursions discovered that 42 percent of cyclists registered blood alcohol levels exceeding the legal limit, and that number of impaired rose to 68 percent by the time one a.m. rolled around. In North America, cycling is represented by road deaths at a two percent rate, with U.S. Department of Transportation reporting cycling accidents have gone up six percent over the last decade; intoxication a frequent factor. Some 19 percent of cyclists who died had blood alcohol concentrations consistent with the phenomenon of binge drinking.
Cyclists wait at traffic lights in London.  Photograph: Carl Court/Getty

As in Europe, in the United States 29 percent of bicycle fatalities were linked to collisions with motor vehicles. In the remaining 71 percent of such cases falls, collisions with other bicycles or with stationary objects, the appearance of potholes and distracted riding were all cited as causatives. Authorities in cities in Europe are contemplating banning mopeds from bicycle lanes, persuading cyclists that quieter residential roads should be used, and thinking of measures such as redesigning buses so cyclists cannot slide beneath them.

Seniors, to date the cause of the highest rate of cycling accidents, might be encouraged to make use of tricycles, while planners think of re-designing bike paths in hopes of reducing intersection accident rates where half of cycling accidents take place, in high-cycling cities. The overwhelming majority of cycling accidents might be reduced by additional measures  such as apprehending negligent cyclists, by fixing potholes and by recognizing that cycling infrastructure has an opposite effect to what is intended; increasing accidents particularly at intersections.

So, it would then appear that the belief that cars result in city streets being dangerous to cyclists which has led cities to investing in expanding bike lanes and allied bicycle programs, might be wrongheaded. Where cycling deaths had previously been diminishing in incidents, they have, in concert with greater expenditures on municipal cycling infrastructure, been rising. No word whether the proliferation of cycling lanes and infrastructure has influenced greater numbers of people to venture out on bicycles for commuting and recreation, possibly accounting for the rise in accidents and fatalities.

Man and woman on bicycles reveals Amsterdam’s bike culture in historical center
Cycling is the cultural norm in many European cities.  Reliance Foundry

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