>Road Safety, Bike Lanes and Benefits

The decision by Saint John common council this week to invest in improved cycle route infrastructure must be welcomed by all who live in and around our city. While some councilors might ask “Will anyone use the new routes? Is it worth the money? Is it really any safer?” researchers have gone a long way to answering such questions. These questions are often asked when any change to infrastructure is proposed. Yet, if we were to design our roadways, cycle-ways and sidewalks from scratch, surely we would not build them the way they have evolved currently?

How should we resolve the tension between encouraging individuals and families to get more exercise (cycling or walking to and from work, uptown, or school would seem to provide an ideal opportunity), and the need to prevent injuries on our streets?

A generally accepted road safety principle is to separate pedestrians, cyclists and opposing vehicles from each other as much as is practically feasible. In Canada, over 15,000 people are hospitalized due to major traumatic injuries each year, of these cases over 10% will die in hospital. Nationally, injury accounts for over 900 potential years of life lost per 100,000 residents. In New Brunswick, nearly half of individuals admitted to a major trauma centre due to injury have been involved in a transportation-related event.

There are safety advantages with the provision of pedestrian sidewalks with clearly marked crosswalks, preferably with clear traffic signaling; with bike lanes or better still dedicated cycle paths that provide clearly marked routes for cyclists of all ages; and with division of roads and highways to provide safe passing zones and to separate oncoming vehicles with a central barrier or clearly marked wide median (a single yellow line is wholly inadequate in high speed zones).

Bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue

Bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue

With respect to bike lanes and cycle paths, there are a number of proven benefits:

More cyclists – the assumption, when no cycle paths are present, that no one wants to cycle, is a circular argument. Research has shown that North American cities have seen increases of over 50% in cyclist numbers within a few months of the introduction of bike lanes.

Economic stimulation – Again, reducing car lanes and increasing bike lanes has been shown to increase customer traffic in stores along cycle routes, in medium and large cities.

Safety – Bike lanes, especially protected paths, reduce the rate of cyclist injury by between 50 and 90%! This will result in decreased cost to the healthcare system and society. They also improve safety for drivers, who in the presence of a cyclist in their lane often overcorrect and drift into the adjacent lane.

The Environment – encouraging short journeys in the city to be made by bike will decrease the inefficient use of cars for local trips. This can reduce local pollution levels as well as decreasing a city’s carbon footprint.

While provision of cycle lanes and separation of traffic lanes in urban low speed zones has been shown to improve safety, that effect pales in comparison to the benefits of physically separating high-speed traffic lanes. New Brunswick has great examples of both single and twinned limited access highways (where on and off ramps minimize traffic crossing the road at intersections). In the current economic climate, it is unlikely that the province can afford further twinning of major highways, or providing dedicated cycle paths. However, continued development of regional and national trails, addition of marked smooth shoulders, safe passing lanes and widening the yellow centre line to a shaded zone, or replacing it with a physical median barrier, may be affordable improvements, which have been shown to reduce road collisions in the order of 70%.

These examples of engineering, alongside continued improvements in legislation and public awareness campaigns to prevent speeding, distracted and impaired driving, provision of protected corridors for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as ongoing improvements in trauma care would help to provide a healthier, safer environment for all New Brunswickers, of all ages, whether they are driving, cycling, or walking, to school or work, or just for the betterment of their health. PA.

 

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