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Wobbly Bicyclists Calm Traffic 40

WobbyCyclist2

Bixi Montreal – Photo by Xander / RateMyVelo.com

I was a passenger in a friend’s car a couple months ago while she was driving approximately 55km/h in a 40km/h zone in downtown Toronto – a speed deemed acceptable by our car-centric society.

A cyclist who was riding in the bike lane was swerving somewhat erratically (he was probably swerving to avoid a pothole or a sewer on this particular street). She slowed her car down immediately to about 35km/h and moved a bit over to the left to safely pass the “erratic” cyclist. She then cursed at cyclists for their bad riding skills (presumably targeted at me as well given my reputation as a you know, bicycle activist).

It got me thinking – that erratic, unpredictable cyclists have a calming effect on traffic. Cars are more cautious, they immediately slow down and as a result – increase the safety of everyone on the street (including cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers).

It’s no coincidence that drivers are more aware and cautious on streets that have more cyclists as opposed to streets where there are very few cyclists. Furthermore, wobbly cyclists are traveling slow and have more time to react to car doors and other objects they may encounter while riding in the city.

Thus, I propose that wobbly cyclists are good for improving safety in a city.

This is an unintentional perk to having a bike share program in our city too – one that mixes inexperienced riders with motor vehicle traffic.

Bike share scheme statistics seem to support this theory as well:

A recent article on Streetsblog digs into the safety record of bike sharing schemes around the world. It found that Paris’ Vélib system – which has 20,000 bikes in rotation – has a lower accident collision rate than normal bikes:

“The accident collision rate is lower on a Vélib’ than on ‘normal’ bikes,” a spokesperson for the office of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë told Streetsblog. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, Vélib’ riders were responsible for one-third of all bike trips in Paris but were involved in only one-fourth of all traffic crashes involving a bicycle.”

Similar statistics can be found while looking at London’s Barclays Cycle Hire system:

“So far, after 4.5 million trips, no bike-sharing user in London has been seriously injured or killed in a traffic crash, according to Transport for London. Only 10 bike-sharing users were injured at all in the first 1.6 million trips on the system, a statistic that was compiled earlier. A spokesperson also told Streetsblog that they estimate that half a million bike trips take place across London each day, 20,000 of which are on Boris Bikes. Finally, during 2010, 10 people were killed, 457 seriously injured and 3,540 non-seriously injured while cycling in London.

Crunching those numbers, no people were seriously injured or killed on the first 4.5 million trips on Boris Bikes, while about 12 people are injured for every 4.5 million trips on personal bikes. And over 1.6 million trips, ten bike-sharing users received non-serious injuries, compared to an average of 35 such injuries for the same number of trips on personal bikes.”

Montreal has a similar story. In its first year it logged 3.5 million kilometres and reports just five collisions – all of them minor.

One of the arguments against bike sharing schemes is that they will flood our streets with inexperienced cyclists causing collisions with automobiles and wreaking havoc on our streets.

In reality, the effect is the opposite. More bicycles = more cautious drivers. Inexperienced cyclists create a calming effect on our drivers. And if that’s what it takes to slow down automobiles in our city, then great – because road engineers aren’t doing much to slow down traffic at the moment.

I say bring on the havoc. Bring on the wobbly cyclists.

Thank you wobbly cyclists all around the world for helping to tame the beasts on our streets from endangering us.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • Jesse

    You’re probably right, but even as a bicyclist I am irritated by riders don’t seem to actually be going much of anywhere but just slowly weaving unpredictably left and right.

    One could make an argument that riders on the sidewalk or on the wrong side of the street help slow traffic and make drivers more cautious, but I don’t think we should be encouraging those unsafe and inconsiderate practices.

  • Jesse

    You’re probably right, but even as a bicyclist I am irritated by riders don’t seem to actually be going much of anywhere but just slowly weaving unpredictably left and right.

    One could make an argument that riders on the sidewalk or on the wrong side of the street help slow traffic and make drivers more cautious, but I don’t think we should be encouraging those unsafe and inconsiderate practices.

  • Jeff

    This won’t work long term, even if it’s a good idea. The only reason it “works” now is because it’s unusual. Drivers are unused to seeing wobbly bicyclists, so it momentarily breaks them out of their trance and causes them to slow down. Similar to emergency flashing lights on the side of the road, a pedestrian walking along the shoulder of an interstate, etc. A few weeks/months/years after you start implementing the “wobbly bicycle traffic calming initiative,” drivers will grow accustomed to seeing them all the time, and stop slowing down. At that point, it will be time to implement the “predictable path bicyclist traffic calming initiative.”

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Jeff, in the long term the hope is that we have better space carved out for cyclists on our streets. In order to achieve that though it helps to have more people out there pushing for better infrastructure, so bike sharing helps in the short term to get more people out there.

      • Jeff

        I agree that improving infrastructure and encouraging bike sharing programs is an important goal. I’m just questioning whether the “wobbly” effect on calming traffic is really a desirable situation, as opposed to a side-effect of expanding bike sharing programs.

  • Jeff

    This won’t work long term, even if it’s a good idea. The only reason it “works” now is because it’s unusual. Drivers are unused to seeing wobbly bicyclists, so it momentarily breaks them out of their trance and causes them to slow down. Similar to emergency flashing lights on the side of the road, a pedestrian walking along the shoulder of an interstate, etc. A few weeks/months/years after you start implementing the “wobbly bicycle traffic calming initiative,” drivers will grow accustomed to seeing them all the time, and stop slowing down. At that point, it will be time to implement the “predictable path bicyclist traffic calming initiative.”

  • http://twitter.com/allderblob Allderblob

    This has got to be related to the evidence that shows cars give a safer passing margin to cyclists without helmets, as well as to cyclists in blonde wigs…

  • http://twitter.com/allderblob Allderblob

    This has got to be related to the evidence that shows cars give a safer passing margin to cyclists without helmets, as well as to cyclists in blonde wigs…

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Jeff, in the long term the hope is that we have better space carved out for cyclists on our streets. In order to achieve that though it helps to have more people out there pushing for better infrastructure, so bike sharing helps in the short term to get more people out there.

  • http://802bikeguy.com 802BIKEGUY

    This is the second or third time I’ve read something like this. I’m fairly comfortable with vehicular cycling being an LCI and all, but I do intentionally “wobble” on certain roads.

    As Allderblob says, another noted phenomena is that motorists give more courtesy to plain-clothes/ordinary cyclists as opposed to those in kit. The psychology being that motorists identify more with bicyclists in plain clothes.

  • http://802bikeguy.com/ 802BIKEGUY

    This is the second or third time I’ve read something like this. I’m fairly comfortable with vehicular cycling being an LCI and all, but I do intentionally “wobble” on certain roads.

    As Allderblob says, another noted phenomena is that motorists give more courtesy to plain-clothes/ordinary cyclists as opposed to those in kit. The psychology being that motorists identify more with bicyclists in plain clothes.

  • Montrealize

    James, your analysis is spot on as usual.
    Contrary to what Jeff thinks, in the long term it gets even safer. Why? Because seeing that motorists slow down and give space to cyclists, you get even more cyclists to join the party! Those sitting on the fence, who used to be scared, seeing the wooblers coming and going unarmed, end up thinking “well, why not me?”.
    Then the streets get packed with cyclists and then the second “law” of bike share positive impact kicks in: safety in numbers.
    Right now in Montreal, there are soooooo many cyclists everywhere, getting more daring everyday that most motorists have adjusted their behaviour permanently. Heck, cyclists get annoyed at cyclists now because we are just so many, the city has to deal with bike path traffic jams.
    It ain’t no cycling paradise yet, but conditions have increase dramatically.

  • Montrealize

    James, your analysis is spot on as usual.
    Contrary to what Jeff thinks, in the long term it gets even safer. Why? Because seeing that motorists slow down and give space to cyclists, you get even more cyclists to join the party! Those sitting on the fence, who used to be scared, seeing the wooblers coming and going unarmed, end up thinking “well, why not me?”.
    Then the streets get packed with cyclists and then the second “law” of bike share positive impact kicks in: safety in numbers.
    Right now in Montreal, there are soooooo many cyclists everywhere, getting more daring everyday that most motorists have adjusted their behaviour permanently. Heck, cyclists get annoyed at cyclists now because we are just so many, the city has to deal with bike path traffic jams.
    It ain’t no cycling paradise yet, but conditions have increase dramatically.

  • Montrealize

    Another point I forgot to mention: motorists usually do not care if they hit you, but they are not interested in killing you.
    Killing a cyclist may get them in criminal court. They have to defend themselves. It’s a hassle. Hitting with no great damage and they can be off the hook easily.
    With regular cyclists, they assume these know what they are doing so they can toy with them (squeezing, brushing etc.). With wobblers, you don’t know their skill level. You do not want take the risk. You never know what could make them fall.
    Plus, regular cyclists are usually a certain type of people. Bixi folks can really be anyone, your friend, a coworker, your neighbour’s cousin.
    People really do pay more attention.

    What I don’t like is the lack of courage from authorities. It is akin to waging a war (on motorists) while using human shields (the wobblers). Of course, in that war, nothing happens to the shields but it is mean and coward.

    • Gclarke

      From USA Today July 22 – “The Los Angeles City Council made it a crime to threaten cyclists physically and verbally. Yes, that means you can’t even yell at them. If you do, cyclists can sue drivers in civil court — even before the city files criminal charges, according to the Los Angeles Times.

      The state could go further: It’s considering a law that could get motorists ticketed if they venture within a 3-foot safety zone for bicyclists.”

      http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2011/07/los-angeles-bikers-bicyclists-bicycle-rights-law/1

      • Montrealize

        Yeah, saw that. Isn’t awsome?

      • Melissatheragamuffin

        It just upsets me that they had to pass a law about that. Seriously, WTF. There is a sign in a nearby crosswalk advising motorists that pedestrians have the right of way and cars must stop for pedestrians. I thought that was common sense? How about pedestrians and cyclists are human beings, and it is just wrong to run them down just because they’re in your way or because you don’t approve of their chosen form of transportation? I don’t approve of SUVs but I don’t go around trying to hurt people who drive them.

  • Montrealize

    Another point I forgot to mention: motorists usually do not care if they hit you, but they are not interested in killing you.
    Killing a cyclist may get them in criminal court. They have to defend themselves. It’s a hassle. Hitting with no great damage and they can be off the hook easily.
    With regular cyclists, they assume these know what they are doing so they can toy with them (squeezing, brushing etc.). With wobblers, you don’t know their skill level. You do not want take the risk. You never know what could make them fall.
    Plus, regular cyclists are usually a certain type of people. Bixi folks can really be anyone, your friend, a coworker, your neighbour’s cousin.
    People really do pay more attention.

    What I don’t like is the lack of courage from authorities. It is akin to waging a war (on motorists) while using human shields (the wobblers). Of course, in that war, nothing happens to the shields but it is mean and coward.

  • Gclarke

    This is supported by the study; “Do Bike Lane Strips Calm Motor Traffic”. This study would advocate that strip bike lanes or share the road markers have no effect on claming traffic but operating bikes in standard traffic lanes does have a “cautionary” effect on drivers.

    http://bicyclingmatters.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/stripe_calm.pdf

    “When a bicycle driver is using a standard lane, whether it is narrow, normal, or wide, his presence results in a considerable measure of caution — slowing and/or moving over — in motorists. The degree of caution is a function of several variables. It is self evident that when bicycle users are removed from the standard travel lane and placed into exclusive bicycle space, motorists are enabled to operate with reduced bicyclist-induced caution. This effect further makes the claim that bike lanes calm motor traffic simply not true.”

    The question becomes what traffic speed reduction is significant enough to increase safety. As this study indicates after bike lane installation, speed at three of the four study sites was reported to further decrease by 2 mph, and at 1 site by 5 mph, an average of 2.75 mph. It is doubtful that these decreases in speed are statistically significant.

    If a wobbly cyclist slows traffic by 5mph in a 25 mph zone that is good but a 5mph reduction in a 55mph zone is insignificant.

    The conclusion then is separate bikes lanes should be supported in areas where the speed limit is above lets say 40mph and wobbly bike rides will do the job in areas under 40mph. Therefore bike lanes on most city streets are unnecessary and funding for bike lanes should be dedicated to high speed / high traffic areas.

    • Montrealize

      I have to disagree. This is not what I observe. Shering lanes with cars might work in cycling environments were streets have a gazillion lanes like in the US. In places with two way streets, one lane each way, this simpling does not work. Cars will squeeze, brush you etc. because there no other lane for them to switch to; they have to pass you. And it is not a speed issue either: most normal cyclists do not pedal at 30 km/h and that’s a very low speed for a car. And they don’t even respect that limit where it exists. In two way streets with one lane each way, you do need to carve out a full lane for bikes.

      • Melissatheragamuffin

        Within city limits most streets are only two lanes – one in each direction. I also disagree with the speed issue. On a flat surface a road bike can easily get up over 20mph. Going down a hill a bike can get some serious speed. I, personally, have hit 38 mph riding my bike down a hill. I know others who have gotten much higher, but I don’t like going that fast and will start dragging my brakes around 35mph. I ride my bike in the downtown of the city I live in all the time, and I don’t usually have any trouble keeping up with the flow of traffic.

        My problem with bike lanes and bike paths is that it gives motorists the idea that we’re not supposed to be anywhere else. I was recently hit by an SUV driver who ran a stop sign, and the insurance company is trying to make a big deal about the fact that I wasn’t riding in the bike path. Almost none of the regular bike commuters ride in that bike path because it puts cyclists into the blind spot of motorists on two different streets. Also, since part of the bike path is fenced, I’d have to go 1/4 mile out of my way to get into it. Finally, the bike path doesn’t go where I need to go. It goes to the park. I was riding to work. Since I don’t work in the park… Plus, at the end of the bike path, if you go straight instead of following the bike path the pavement is actually busted up, so if you hit it riding a non-mountain bike you run the risk of a flat or messing up your wheels.

        • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

          The issues that you speak of regarding bike lanes/paths are simply a matter of bad design. People aren’t going to use something that is badly designed or inconvenient.

          There are plenty of great examples around the world of *good* design, so don’t knock all bike lanes/paths just because the ones in your city are badly implemented :)

          • Melissatheragamuffin

            I’m not knocking bike paths and lanes, I’m just saying they give motorists and their insurance company the impression that we’re not allowed to be anywhere else.

          • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

            Agreed, that is one of the downsides of bike infrastructure. Drivers think that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road. I’d be happy to resign my right to the roads if we had bike paths and bike lanes on every street, but that simply isn’t going to happen in the short term, so we need to make it clear that we have a right to the roads as well.

        • http://pjakma.wordpress.com/ Paul Jakma

          Sustaining 32km/h or greater is hard, even for quite fit cyclists. The vast majority of town cyclists do not cycle at this speed. 20km/h is however well within the capabilities of most adult cyclists.

  • Gclarke

    This is supported by the study; “Do Bike Lane Strips Calm Motor Traffic”. This study would advocate that strip bike lanes or share the road markers have no effect on claming traffic but operating bikes in standard traffic lanes does have a “cautionary” effect on drivers.

    http://bicyclingmatters.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/stripe_calm.pdf

    “When a bicycle driver is using a standard lane, whether it is narrow, normal, or wide, his presence results in a considerable measure of caution — slowing and/or moving over — in motorists. The degree of caution is a function of several variables. It is self evident that when bicycle users are removed from the standard travel lane and placed into exclusive bicycle space, motorists are enabled to operate with reduced bicyclist-induced caution. This effect further makes the claim that bike lanes calm motor traffic simply not true.”

    The question becomes what traffic speed reduction is significant enough to increase safety. As this study indicates after bike lane installation, speed at three of the four study sites was reported to further decrease by 2 mph, and at 1 site by 5 mph, an average of 2.75 mph. It is doubtful that these decreases in speed are statistically significant.

    If a wobbly cyclist slows traffic by 5mph in a 25 mph zone that is good but a 5mph reduction in a 55mph zone is insignificant.

    The conclusion then is separate bikes lanes should be supported in areas where the speed limit is above lets say 40mph and wobbly bike rides will do the job in areas under 40mph. Therefore bike lanes on most city streets are unnecessary and funding for bike lanes should be dedicated to high speed / high traffic areas.

  • Gclarke

    From USA Today July 22 – “The Los Angeles City Council made it a crime to threaten cyclists physically and verbally. Yes, that means you can’t even yell at them. If you do, cyclists can sue drivers in civil court — even before the city files criminal charges, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    The state could go further: It’s considering a law that could get motorists ticketed if they venture within a 3-foot safety zone for bicyclists.”

    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2011/07/los-angeles-bikers-bicyclists-bicycle-rights-law/1

  • Montrealize

    Yeah, saw that. Isn’t awsome?

  • Montrealize

    I have to disagree. This is not what I observe. Shering lanes with cars might work in cycling environments were streets have a gazillion lanes like in the US. In places with two way streets, one lane each way, this simpling does not work. Cars will squeeze, brush you etc. because there no other lane for them to switch to; they have to pass you. And it is not a speed issue either: most normal cyclists do not pedal at 30 km/h and that’s a very low speed for a car. And they don’t even respect that limit where it exists. In two way streets with one lane each way, you do need to carve out a full lane for bikes.

  • Green Investor

    “I say bring on the havoc. Bring on the wobbly cyclists.

    Thank you wobbly cyclists all around the world for helping to tame the beasts on our streets from endangering us.”

    AGREE!

  • Green Investor

    “I say bring on the havoc. Bring on the wobbly cyclists.

    Thank you wobbly cyclists all around the world for helping to tame the beasts on our streets from endangering us.”

    AGREE!

  • Melissatheragamuffin

    Within city limits most streets are only two lanes – one in each direction. I also disagree with the speed issue. On a flat surface a road bike can easily get up over 20mph. Going down a hill a bike can get some serious speed. I, personally, have hit 38 mph riding my bike down a hill. I know others who have gotten much higher, but I don’t like going that fast and will start dragging my brakes around 35mph. I ride my bike in the downtown of the city I live in all the time, and I don’t usually have any trouble keeping up with the flow of traffic.

    My problem with bike lanes and bike paths is that it gives motorists the idea that we’re not supposed to be anywhere else. I was recently hit by an SUV driver who ran a stop sign, and the insurance company is trying to make a big deal about the fact that I wasn’t riding in the bike path. Almost none of the regular bike commuters ride in that bike path because it puts cyclists into the blind spot of motorists on two different streets. Also, since part of the bike path is fenced, I’d have to go 1/4 mile out of my way to get into it. Finally, the bike path doesn’t go where I need to go. It goes to the park. I was riding to work. Since I don’t work in the park… Plus, at the end of the bike path, if you go straight instead of following the bike path the pavement is actually busted up, so if you hit it riding a non-mountain bike you run the risk of a flat or messing up your wheels.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    The issues that you speak of regarding bike lanes/paths are simply a matter of bad design. People aren’t going to use something that is badly designed or inconvenient.

    There are plenty of great examples around the world of *good* design, so don’t knock all bike lanes/paths just because the ones in your city are badly implemented :)

  • Melissatheragamuffin

    It just upsets me that they had to pass a law about that. Seriously, WTF. There is a sign in a nearby crosswalk advising motorists that pedestrians have the right of way and cars must stop for pedestrians. I thought that was common sense? How about pedestrians and cyclists are human beings, and it is just wrong to run them down just because they’re in your way or because you don’t approve of their chosen form of transportation? I don’t approve of SUVs but I don’t go around trying to hurt people who drive them.

  • Melissatheragamuffin

    I’m not knocking bike paths and lanes, I’m just saying they give motorists and their insurance company the impression that we’re not allowed to be anywhere else.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Agreed, that is one of the downsides of bike infrastructure. Drivers think that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road. I’d be happy to resign my right to the roads if we had bike paths and bike lanes on every street, but that simply isn’t going to happen in the short term, so we need to make it clear that we have a right to the roads as well.

  • http://pjakma.wordpress.com/ Paul Jakma

    Sustaining 32km/h or greater is hard, even for quite fit cyclists. The vast majority of town cyclists do not cycle at this speed. 20km/h is however well within the capabilities of most adult cyclists.

  • Jeff

    I agree that improving infrastructure and encouraging bike sharing programs is an important goal. I’m just questioning whether the “wobbly” effect on calming traffic is really a desirable situation, as opposed to a side-effect of expanding bike sharing programs.

  • Alexandre Bastien

    I am from Montreal and I gotta to admit that it is true that bike sharing make drivers be more cautious but in some area of the city.The problem is that those Bixi are still missing in poor neighbourhood and that it is concentraded in touristic or fancy neighbourhood.Then, the traffic calming effect could be seen in Parc avenue, Mont-Royal street but not in St-Denis or St-Catherine.Other area such as Cotes-des-Neiges street are still really dangerous for bike and you better be relaxed when you bike there.So, I am not against Bixi but I want to say that it is clearly not enought.Maybe some speed cushions could help in really critical spot.If you want to learn more about this speed calming device take a look at this website
    http://www.sinoconcept.com/traffic-safety/traffic-calming/

  • Ryanunderson

    Driving responsibly also applies to bicyclists. They need to drive safely in majoy roads to prevent accidents.

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