Thursday, 8 August 2013
Bicycling - a public health intervention in active transportation and the need to balance safety.
There was a great Tweet the other day - One way to increase bike safety? Increase the number of bikers. With a link to a NYTimes article on bike sharing. Seems that the more people biking on the road, the safer it is for all cyclists.
The Times article is a nice little review of what we are learning about making biking safer. With cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver beginning to invest considerably in bike infrastructure with separated lanes, bike sharing programs and traffic reduction activities that increase the affability of biking, Canada is on its way to at least finally making the bike a viable form of active transportation.
According to the CAA, some 7500 bikers are seriously injured each year in Canada. There were about 50 deaths each year in the mid-2000s.
Back in the 80’s the focus was on what should the cyclist do to be safer, and in typical fashion we mandated helmets since 2/3rds of deaths were secondary to head injuries. Talk about victim blaming by public health. Now, this writer would not give up their helmet, having been run off the road by a cement mixer and crashing into post. But only now are we asking why would cement mixers and bikes be sharing the same road space? A 2004 Canadian study looking at comparative rates of pedestrian and cyclists deaths concluded that helmet use had no protective effect Vehicular cyclist a group opposing helmet legislation , a finding apparently mirrored in US and Australia. More recently a case-control study looking at cycling fatalities and severe accidents found a protective effect however the study while referenced in Globe and Mail is not accessible on-line.
While one can debate the relative merits or not of helmets, the effect is limited. The solution is to prevent cyclist and motorists from colliding, and just as with vehicles, the solution is often in the engineering. In this case the engineering is in road design. Sociological engineering in making motorists more aware of cyclists, in increasing numbers of cyclists travelling together in volume, and in imbedding the needs of safer cycling into road designers will have the longer lasting sustainable changes that are starting to show in the major cycling areas like Victoria (5.6% of workers, Saskatoon at 2.8% and Ottawa 2.2%).
One final aside on cyclists, in cities with poor air quality, it is still unclear what the added health risk is for cyclists that are inhaling the worst air which is immediately adjacent to roadways, while exerting their bodies.
Kudos to the dedicated cyclists that are literally clearing the roads to make for safer active transport.