Big decisions needed to make 'fundamentally unsafe' road system safe for cyclists: expert

Post date: Aug 17, 2015 1:53:05 AM

Jason Dowling, The Age, 17 Aug 2015

Melbourne's roads are fundamentally unsafe for bike riders and we need to make big decisions on the value of on-street parking if we want to save lives, according to new res

earch from a traffic engineer. Dr Cameron

Munro analysed VicRoads and Victoria Police crash data involving cyclists in Victoria from 2002 to 2012 to determine the most common causes of bike accidents. The research has been published on the Bicycle Network's Ride On website.

"Our road system is fundamentally unsafe, and we implicitly trade off serious injury and death to allow us to drive fast and park in the most convenient locations," Dr Munro said.

He said that in urban areas the greatest risk is usually in front of the bike rider - not behind.

"Usually a crash occurs because a car turns across the path of an oncoming rider, or opens their door in front of a rider."

Data showed the top three accident causes were cars cutting in front of riders, a driver hitting a rider side-on and vehicle doors opened into the path of riders.

Moreland City Council is grappling with how to improve bike safety on Sydney Roads after a cyclist was killed earlier this year.

There have been six cyclists killed on Victoria's roads in 2015 with 10 killed last year. Hundreds more are badly injured.

The crash data shows recurring areas for cycling accidents. Here's how six common scenarios typically play out:

Mind the gap

Polite drivers leave a gap for through traffic from side streets. The bike rider continues unimpeded on the left of the traffic and a car heading in the other direction turns right through the gap. The view is obstructed and neither bike or car have time to react.

Cross traffic

A similar crash cause is "cross traffic": a rider heading straight ahead is hit side on by a car.

Left turning cars

Intersections are a big danger spot with crashes involving left turning vehicles.

While bike riders can pass vehicles on the left, they are not allowed to do it when the vehicle is indicating and performing a left turn at an intersection. Riders should never assume a left-turning vehicle has seen them or will stop.

The side swipe

Anyone who has ridden down Collins Street recently will be familiar with this cause of accident - "lane side swipe", bikes and cars too close. Sometimes it is careless drivers in many other cases it is poor road design.

Mind your back

Almost as common as the lane side swipe is the rear end - a rider struck from behind.

This is more common in country areas and can be deadly with vehicles moving at greater speeds.

Wearing bright clothes, good rear light and sticking to the left as much as possible helps.

Backing out of driveways

And then there is the accident all parents are forever mindful of, cars backing out of driveways.

This is particularly pertinent for kids on bikes heading to and from school.

Dr Munro said one reason drivers don't see bike riders is a natural inclination to be cautious of things that can harm you - a car is a bigger personal threat than a bike.

He said motorists also found it more difficult to judge the speed a bike is travelling compared with a car.

Our roads are a complex environment.

"Sydney Road is a classic example of this. There are all sorts of things going on. There is no way we as humans can completely comprehend all of those visual signals we are getting in that space so we have to simplify it so we implicitly look for those things that are most likely to hurt us," he said.

Our roads can be safer, he said. Some suggestions include reducing speed limits, providing physical separation between bike riders and fast moving traffic and changing traffic signals to separate the movement of bikes and cars.

And Dr Munro's advice for cyclists is to ride to the conditions, try to make eye contact with drivers, and assume drivers have not seen them.

Chris Carpenter from Bicycle Network said all road users should slow down around intersections and the level of mobile phone use by drivers was too high.

He also called on governments to develop better infrastructure like separated bike lanes along Melbourne's dooring hotspots, such as St Kilda Road, Chapel Street and Sydney Road.


Roads are a complex environment for cyclists