bike month graphic A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Graphic: Anežka Gočová

Bicycles conjure images of freedom and whimsy but also of fear, creating a dichotomy in how cycling is represented in the media. Many cycling safety campaigns have capitalized on this fear to illicit emotional responses to encourage a given change in behaviour (See Transport for London’s Do the Test for use of pro-cycling messaging). Fear-based campaigns perpetuate the view that cycling is very dangerous and deters people from cycling. Perceived safety is one of the most prominent barriers to getting people on their bikes in cities that are just starting to develop a cycling culture that protects cyclists’ safety and rights.

The reality is that people feel safer cycling when there are more cyclists on the road and it also becomes safer as other road users are on the lookout for cyclists. In the Netherlands (≈16,788,973 in 2012), half the population rides their bike at least once per day, while in Canada, only 1.4 per cent of people living in metropolitan areas (≈23,573,773) cycled to work on a regular basis in 2010. On average, there are 70 cycling deaths in Canada and 190 deaths in the Netherlands per year. While there are more fatalities in the Netherlands, the likelihood of death or injury is much lower given the sheer number of bike trips – and this is without widespread helmet use.

“As we increase the modal share and get more people on bikes, we anticipate that crash rates will actually decrease. It’s been shown in Portland, Oregon that there’s safety in numbers,” explains Colleen Cooper, a representative of CAN-Bike at the Region of Waterloo. She adds, “whether you’re a pedestrian, cyclist or motorist, if we understand our own rights and responsibilities and the perspectives of other road users, it makes for a safer ride.” Cooper also recommends wearing a helmet and being an MVP (an acronym often used in cycling education) to stay safe when cycling.

How to be an MVP

Maneuverable

Ride about one foot from the mirror of any vehicle you are passing. This gives you enough space to avoid obstacles, such as gravel and glass. This gives you leeway if another road user encroaches on your space. You can also take the lane if you’re passing a row of cars. This decreases your chances of getting “doored”, that is, hit by a driver opening the door of their vehicle.

Visible

Wear bright colours and use adequate lighting (headlights, tail lights and more) in low-lighting conditions. Maintain a distance of at least one metre beside passing cars to help make you more visible.

Predictable and Communicative

Follow the rules of the road and ride in a straight line. Use bike hand signals to communicate your intentions, including turning and stopping. Make eye contact and use your voice and/or bell when appropriate, such as passing another cyclist or pedestrian.

In addition to education and training, cycling infrastructure also plays an important role in promoting safety, says Cooper. “The facility that encourages use amongst the most people is separated bike lanes,” she explains. They are also the safest. A recent study by the University of British Columbia found thatthe risk of injury on streets with bike lanes was 90 per cent lower than wide streets with parked cars and no bike infrastructure, while separated bike lanes recorded 50 per cent fewer injuries than streets with no bike lanes.

While waiting for a separated bike lane network in your city (stay tuned for our How to be a Bike Advocate post coming Thursday June 27th), it’s always a good idea to take a cycling course, such as one of the CAN-Bike courses (offered at beginner and advanced levels), to enhance your skills and confidence (find one near you).

Next week we’ll share tips on cycling etiquette and feature an interview with Toronto bike advocate Yvonne Bambrick.

To be entered to win a copy of Chainbreaker and other great bike books, tell us your favourite place to bike in the comments or via Facebook or Twitter throughout Bike Month (May 27 – June 30). Visit our cycling page for more bike-related content.

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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