With increasing numbers of commuters cycling on our roads, what needs to change and why?
Stripped to its raw elements, motor vehicles and bicycles in any conceivable altercation, produces only one victim.
Logically, separate travel routes for each mode would, in theory be safer, by reducing relative speed, and inequalities of risk (i.e. if two cyclists crash head on, they both get injured, whereas a bicycle hit by a car, is not equal.)
But that is a highly academic argument, because it could be said that lorries are an unequal threat to cars, so separate them on the roads? It doesn’t stand, because Lories & cars mix fine on the roads. Why is this?
Introducing The Dominant Threat
Is it because the transport mode which poses the greater capacity to endanger others (The Lorry as the “Dominant Threat”) is legislated for and treated with, the additional responsibility which goes hand in hand with driving a vehicle capable of more damage and casualty if not driven correctly. I.e. Lorry driving is treated as a profession, and is regularly monitored (e.g. tachographs, working hours regulations, etc.)
Try a different example where the car is not the dominant threat; Level crossings. The car is the potential victim, and the train is the dominant threat. On which side are all the checks, monitoring, and fail-safes? - The barriers, the warning signs, overseen by the railway staff, are responsible policies on the train side, to expose the potential victims (car drivers) to as minimal risk as possible, from the dominant threat.
They Don't Mean To, But...
Now come back to cycling, and the issue becomes clear – Cyclists share the road with vehicles, primarily cars, which are in this comparison; the dominant threat. What is patently clear from on-road experience, is that drivers (specifically – average, non-advanced-drivers) do not have enough pressures exerted on them, encouraging them to exercise high driving skill (consistently safe driving) at all times.
Average car drivers don’t intend to endanger cyclists, but they do. Average drivers simply have too many options to commit unintentional, dangerous acts. Even a driver’s minor oversight is magnified in outcome, by the weight and speed of the car.
I once saw someone drive her car straight in to the back of a bus. A big-red-takes-up-all-the-road-how-on-earth-can-you-miss-it BUS!!!! Cyclists have car-doors flung in their path, cars overtake and two seconds later turn left across them, the inflicted hazards are daily. Every road-user can most likely recall examples of other’s human fallibility like this. Humans are rubbish.
In that context, could the analogy be made that a population obsessed by cars, is akin to a population obsessed by guns? – Both nouns perform a task, but somehow the fatal reality of the obsession is ignored. Is the veil of glamour, in both cases, enough to cover-up the large negative consequences?
Focus On Whom?
Previously when town planning and road design concerned itself with a) stopping cars hitting cars, and b) stopping cars killing pedestrians, cyclists received only some leftover white paint to tot-up the end of year council budgets. (OK ;-) but you know what I mean…)
With the rising population of bicycles on the road, it increases the role of the average car, as a widespread Dominant Threat to cyclists.
As discussed in the Lorry Vs. Car, and Train Vs. Car examples above, the best way to lower the number of (cyclist) casualties is go after the Dominant Threat, legislate for it and monitor it closely. There needs to be significant pressure constantly on the shoulder of average drivers, to forcefully remind them to drive to a high standard, and not accidentally create victims out of their drive to the shops / school / work.
There is no such thing as an accident – just human error.For further reading on the last point:
Paolo Bacigalupi: "The myth that accidents happen. There are none. There are only gun consequences."
Accident Investigator, Graham Greatrix - Real life consequences - not pretty.