Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Fear of Cycling

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  • David Hood, in reply to linger,

    In the NZ case, historically, the answer would have to be “not much”, because cyclists and pedestrians weren’t supposed to be sharing paths.

    For pedestrians, I think hospital stats show it a pretty major thing at intersections or road crossing- pedestrian risk is very low on the footpath then skyrockets to massive when they have to leave them (basically once a block) and share space with anyone else.

    Shared cycle/pedestrian pathways may increase cyclist-pedestrian collisions, but overall are a positive development because they help isolate cyclists – and pedestrians – from motorists

    It is not an even impact- older pedestrians (and there is a very big difference in the age profiles between cyclists and pedestrians) are fragile with respect to being struck by cycles in a way that younger people are less so.

    I am in the early stages of sounding out getting some data in this area.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1441 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to David Hood,

    The cyclist profile changes as the numbers drop too, in ways that may affect risk to pedestrians, e.g. average cycling speed rises; and a single cyclist is less visible to a pedestrian than a group of cyclists. On the other hand it may be that fewer less experienced cyclists (e,g, young children) may pose less risk to pedestrians. It'll be interesting to see what the data shows.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R,

    One of the reasons that reducing the number of cyclists is said to increase the risk to them on the road is that car drivers need to see cyclists reasonably often to remember to leave room for them on the road.

    More cyclists == more reminders == more considerate driving.

    I wonder if the same is true for shared footpaths/cycle ways? Frequently encountering cyclists reminds the pedestrians not to wander quite as randomly...

    On shared pedestrian/cycle paths, I'm always twitchy around small children, who can change direction really quickly and don't always look. That requires keeping my speed slow enough (and leaving enough room to dodge) that I can stop if I have to. That speed is considerably below what most cyclists can manage without trying too hard, so I'm not sure shared pedestrian/cycleways are without drawbacks for bike-commutes.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Stephen R,

    so I’m not sure shared pedestrian/cycleways are without drawbacks for bike-commutes.

    The pedestrian cyclist issues in a shared carriageway do seem to mirror the cyclist car issues when they share space. As I understand it, in Japan the less vulnerable party in an accident is normally held responsible, so in general cars are held responsible for accidents with cycles, and cycles are held responsible for accidents with pedestrians. A couple of articles:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/06/29/reference/law-gets-serious-cycling-safety/#.WM8EtRhh3UI

    https://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/driver-who-killed-cyclist-in-crosswalk-accident-found-not-guilty

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1441 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin McCready, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Unless you assume helmets completely eliminate head injuries
    AND
    the law causes a 100% uptake of helmets (from 0 to 100%)
    AND
    there is no effect on cycling numbers from the law

    then in all cases the model shows a negative health outcome from the helmet law

    Bart, no one has emailed me the whole paper (please do on: kevin 1 mccready at gmail dot com). So let me comment on the assumptions you posit for the model to work.

    1. Helmets end all head injuries? I agree - it's mad to assume that.
    2. Helmet uptake goes from 0 to 100%. I agree that's a crazy assumption.
    3. Law has no effect on cycling numbers. Doesn't that raise a self-referential problem in the model?

    BTW I'm happy to be lectured and happy to learn, but if you are serious about relying on the model in this discussion and serious about having other people test your assumptions, then I think you should email it to me.

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 111 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    Try this link Kevin. It works fine for me.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 807 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    The problem is, the article itself is paywalled, unless you belong to an institution that is recognised as subscribing to Wiley Online. (For me at least, the link redirects to Wiley, which charges USD38 to download the PDF.)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    Sorry, please excuse my unconscious privilege! I'll email Kevin the article.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 807 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to David Hood,

    As I understand it, in Japan the less vulnerable party in an accident is normally held responsible, so in general cars are held responsible for accidents with cycles, and cycles are held responsible for accidents with pedestrians.

    When I visited Kyoto/Osaka last year, there were shared pedestrian/cycle/car ways down malls and side-streets with no defined footpaths or lanes. The general attitude seemed to match your understanding, in so far as cyclists gave way to pedestrians, and cars gave way to cyclists, while at the same time a general politeness meant that pedestrians would leave room for cyclists to get past when the pavement allowed it, and both pedestrians and cycles would let cars past.

    The cyclists were in general going only slightly faster than the pedestrians (There were lots of cycles on pavement, but I don't remember seeing any doing faster than 1.5 times average walking speed) and the cars were likewise ambling along at walking speed in the shared zones.

    Because the relative speeds were so close, it was relatively easy to make eye contact and negotiate right-of-way; I don't know how much it works because people are just polite about the whole thing, and would be embarrassed to be seen as blocking the way unnecessarily.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Stephen R,

    Tokyo residents would be amused to hear Osakans described as polite, but otherwise, yes. Where it can get a little riskier is out in the countryside, especially just after sunset (when cyclists who don’t have lights are racing to get home before nightfall, and street lighting is irregular to nonexistent). Walking home last night, I got buzzed by two cyclists coming up from behind me without lights, and without any auditory warning. The first one I didn’t see at all, and just managed to pull my arm back as he went past. The second one I glimpsed the approaching shadow of just in time to step to the side and stop as she went by. Closest calls I’ve had so far this year; quite unnerving to have them in the same journey. (Though, to be scrupulously fair, I wouldn't have been that visible to them either, and the presence of any pedestrian on that path at that time would be unexpected.)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin McCready,

    Thanks Carol for emailing me the paper.

    I've reviewed the de Jong article (I've spent my whole bloody afternoon on this issue, grrrrr). I don't find de Jong persuasive. In particular his discussion of the exercise substitution possibility is brief and possibly problematic. His Equation 8 is said to deal with that plus environmental costs (perhaps we can discount them further given better public transport) in one.

    BTW his paper says re Sydney hospital data "2/3 of patients have minor bumps and scratches, and go home after a dressing or patch" Jeez, what of concussion?

    Alarm bells rang for me when de Jong said three studies show that legislation reduces participation. In checking the footnotes I see they are all by Dorothy Robinson who I have dealt with before. Dorothy is passionate and likes to make the point that her numerous academic credentials are enough to win an argument.

    Further googling, and an email from de Jong, who gets points for sharing, found the work of Jake Olivier. His injurystats blog is worth a look. His 2014 paper "Anti-helmet arguments: lies, damned lies and flawed statistics" covered additional problems in the de Jong/Robinson papers.

    So if the Robinson stuff fails, so does de Jong.

    Of interest also was Olivier's information about the links to the anti-helmet brigade. He comes to the same conclusion that I did in an earlier post above about the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation aka cyclehelmets.org

    Some of the anti-helmet brigade are unhinged, which is not a clincher in the argument, but certainly doesn't help their case.
    http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4259939.htm

    My conclusion is still that we should all wear helmets and that legislation should back that up.

    Bart, have you got anything after Jake's 2014 paper that you think clinches the argument?

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 111 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Kevin McCready,

    My conclusion is still that we should all wear helmets and that legislation should back that up.

    Speaking of unhinged, that is frankly improbable. Normally "everyone must wear helmets" is brought up it's as a strawman, but then here you are saying it with a straight face. I think you're right that it would save lives, but I have this vision of a bus full of commuters all wearing their safety helmets and writing angry letters to their MP. And the idea of forcing people to wear helmets in the shower is ludicrous. I mean, yes, it would save lives, more lives than almost any other requirement, but it's ridiculously intrusive to legislate that requirement.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1032 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Kevin McCready,

    Also, you continue, as does Media Watch, to mis-read the arguments being made. There's a big gap between Todd "if you have a serious accident the helmet won't help much" and Cochrane's very careful leap from "Head injuries are responsible for around three-quarters of deaths among bicyclists involved in crashes" to the unrelated "reduced the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two-thirds". Either talk about deaths, or injuries, but switching from one to the other mid-sentence is unfortunate. I expect you'd say "the definitive authority is being deliberately misleading" and conclude that they are therefore cranks, if they weren't agreeing with you.

    I think you're doing the traditional "balanced media" thing of finding two sets of experts who disagree and siding with the one your gut says is right.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1032 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Moz,

    Yeah, and it should be required by law that men all wear condoms at all times too... You know that's not what Kevin meant.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to linger,

    Kevin has been vociferous in picking apart the wording of the "cranks" he disagrees with. If that's not what he meant, he shouldn't have said it.

    Also, what I've siad is true: mandatory helmets would save lives. I expect he agrees. So far he's been vigorously arguing that, anyway, and I agree, and the stats I've seen back it up. So if you or him are willing to let people choose death and serious injury except when they ride a bike, I want to know why.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1032 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    Looking at the Olivier et al paper, there are some substantive claims to address concerning the evidence for or against a causal relationship between helmet laws and cycling uptake.
    (i) Time series evidence from before the introduction of helmet laws is patchy, so we can’t conclusively say that numbers of cyclists weren’t declining anyway around the time the laws were introduced. (Olivier et al suggest that numbers of cyclists were in fact steadily declining in both Australia and NZ, though they rely on data from NSW rather than NZ throughout.) This is an argument from ignorance, though it does indicate that the case for a direct causal effect is weaker than claimed by its proponents. (My extrapolation of this is that in the NZ case, it could still be argued that there was an effect from the campaign introducing the law, but it would be much harder to demonstrate any further ongoing effect from the law’s subsequent continued existence.)
    (ii) Surveys of cyclists place helmet wearing well down the list of concerns (typically cited by only 5%) compared to inadequate infrastructure. This is relevant to the NZ case, because infrastructure was not developed (or in some cases, notably the Wellington Motorway cyclepath, even properly maintained) in the decade following the introduction of the law; hence this could be a viable alternative explanation for continued decline. So the ideological purity that makes the NZ data seem a controlled comparison, may also make it an outlier as far as other factors are concerned.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    I mean, yes, it would save lives, more lives than almost any other requirement, but it’s ridiculously intrusive to legislate that requirement.

    This is not really a question of facts, but one of values, and you can't really convince people on those if they've made up their minds. Quite the opposite, in fact. You'll convince them that wearing helmets in cars would be a good idea, which should come next.

    It works in the same way as when you point out the ridiculousness of the illegality of cannabis when alcohol and tobacco are much more harmful. To some it's a no-brainer that cannabis should be legalized. But to others such inconsistencies just lead them to thinking more controls on alcohol and tobacco are a better idea. They don't find the individual liberty argument compelling whatsoever, and the presence of any harm whatsoever from cannabis (which there certainly is) is never offset in their minds by any of the harms of criminalization, and they don't even see the restriction of the liberty as a harm in itself.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10504 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to BenWilson,

    Actually, treating it as an all-or-nothing "restriction of liberty" harm rapidly becomes a slippery-slope argument whichever direction along the dimension of degree of risk you go. Even if you're happy to allow cyclists to choose to ride without helmets, you might still justifiably believe that a helmet should be required as part of motorcycling, or of taking part in high-speed sports; or that safety equipment such as helmets, goggles, gloves, or boots be mandated in workplace environments where corresponding injury risks exist. At some point (but we can reasonably disagree about exactly where), the individual right to take risks has to be balanced against government responsibility for public safety and maintaining some level of healthcare.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to linger,

    the individual right to take risks has to be balanced against government responsibility for public safety and maintaining some level of healthcare.

    My impression was that this point is set more preventatively in NZ than elsewhere because of the implied social contract with our ACC cover. In other words, the system will mend us with minimal cost to us but we have added responsibility to take extra care.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 807 posts Report Reply

  • Jon Briggs, in reply to Stephen R,

    On shared pedestrian/cycle paths, I’m always twitchy around small children, who can change direction really quickly and don’t always look. That requires keeping my speed slow enough (and leaving enough room to dodge) that I can stop if I have to. That speed is considerably below what most cyclists can manage without trying too hard, so I’m not sure shared pedestrian/cycleways are without drawbacks for bike-commutes.

    And dogs! Even more unpredictable than kids plus they have a lead that blocks off the space on one side of them. I am always ready to step dead around dogs.

    After reading an earlier post on this thread drawing the analogy between fast bikes - peds & fast cars - bikes I have slowed down around people on shared paths. I used to go by quickish, which felt totally safe to me, but might not have felt that way to them.

    Since Dec 2008 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    My impression was that this point is set more preventatively in NZ than elsewhere because of the implied social contract with our ACC cover. In other words, the system will mend us with minimal cost to us but we have added responsibility to take extra care.

    That’s a point. I sometimes wonder if the emphasis on public safety can have an adverse effect on public health. ACC functions as an insurance corporation. It’s only interested in its financial risk. Acc is in the business of reducing its exposure to accidental related claims, not health problems related to inactivity. ACC don’t have any reason to be concerned about cigarettes being dangerous, because apart from causing fires, thay mainly lead to health problems. ACC is only concerned about accidental health problems. Health problems that arise from inactivity – sitting around anxios about being injured, don’t happen by accident. But inactivity is one of the leading suckers of the public health purse, quality of life, and cause of death.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3865 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to linger,

    At some point (but we can reasonably disagree about exactly where), the individual right to take risks has to be balanced against government responsibility for public safety and maintaining some level of healthcare.

    Yup, although I'm yet to see the model that actually attempts to quantify the individual right to take risks, so I'm not sure how the reasonable disagreement can find a resolution. Perhaps something to work out in reverse by leaving it as a free variable and working out an approximate value by comparing regulation in many risky activities. Not a simple exercise, of course. I expect we'd find a total lack of consistency about this, so the "reasonable disagreement" would turn out to be very much arbitrary. We probably believe extremely strongly in our right to risky sexual activity, and risky sporting activity (and just make an arbitrary exception for the sport of cycling). You pretty much could not have the sport of boxing at all if you held it to the brain damage standards of pushbike usage. There's clearly no limit whatsoever on how much cigarette smoking you're allowed to do, or booze you're allowed to drink.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10504 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7480 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Heh wouldn't it be funny if the helmet law got repealed to allow a bike sharing company to start up
    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/22/bike-wars-dockless-china-millions-bicycles-hangzhou

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4366 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    If "ridesharing" in cars is anything to go on, helmet laws would be no impediment. They would simply put into the terms and conditions of the service that it was the responsibility of the cyclist to obey the laws, and the company could neither be sued by the riders, nor pursued by the government, because it would not even be operating in NZ. In order to be consistent with their inaction in ridesharing enforcement, the government would have to let the company off scot free, and just issue fines to the riders when they catch them. This would then be called the will of the market, and heralded as a brilliant success, even more so if it bankrupts itself by running at a loss right up until it collapses. At all times it would be held up as incredibly innovative because the rotten corrupt empire of helmet wearing cyclists and their ridiculous regulations needs smashing, and because it paves the way for self-riding bikes, and ultimately to flying bikes. In practice, the actual spinoff would be bicycle based pizza delivery at well below minimum wages as a job for people who would otherwise not be allowed to work. ACC would pick up the tab for all the people injured delivering pizzas, and the net health effect would be a lot more lazy people getting their pizzas delivered, and all the awesome health benefits associated with that. All Hail the Gig Economy!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10504 posts Report Reply

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