mercredi 11 novembre 2015

Is cycle infrastructure the new helment?

from the new-Fordist-distractions department

The open access arm of the BMJ has just published the results of an ecological study from Canada, where legislators have created an interesting natural experiment by requiring cyclists to wear helmets in some provinces, but not others. The authors claim surprise that they found no effect in either the overall injury rate or the head injury rate between the provinces, though those of us who have followed what BikeSnobNYC calls the helment (non-)issue are perhaps less surprised. Forced by their negative results to admit helmet legislation has no effect on the substantive issue--reducing danger for cyclists--the authors then proceed to claim that "more cycle infrastructure" is the solution. Although they review the literature, they themselves have no data to add, and as the issue of road design and behaviour is fraught with complication, conflicting interests, and perverse effects, I thought they weren't entitled to a free pass at their sweeping and not altogether well-founded discussion.
As ever when someone is wrong on the internet, I freely composed a comment for the delectation of both the authors and the public. This the BMJ have failed to publish, so, in the best traditions of this blog, it appears here:
These are valuable results and the authors are to be congratulated on their clear presentation.
Given the health and well-being effects of regular cycling, the overall risk of hospitalisation of 622/100 million trips is worthy of wide attention: a chance of ~1 in 160,000 that your trip will end in hospital rather than your intended destination is really rather low, even in the present motor-dominated environment.
However, the recommendation by the authors that more "bicycling infrastructure" is the answer to increasing modal share, thereby augmenting the "safety in numbers" effect is controversial, and is neither justified nor refuted by the evidence presented here. (Cyclists were asked about whether they used their bicycles, not about the routes they took).
My own view is that developed countries already have a highly developed infrastructure that is ideal for cycling called the roads, and that the real problem is negligent driving. Some design features that privilege more direct routes for cyclists and exclude excessive motor traffic (cycle contraflows, modal filters, bicycle boulevards) may be useful, but the real enemies remain excessive speed and drunk driving, and the newer menace of distraction by mobile devices.
Effective measures to reduce these, including stricter policing, driver education, strict civil liability for drivers who collide with cyclists, and proper accident investigation to ensure lessons are learnt, are more important elements for those who would emulate (and surpass) best European practice.
I shall footnote this comment with two more:
1) I am surprised and disappointed at the BMJ's failure to publish the comment in situ, though I suspect this reflects organisational failure to monitor the relevant disqus account rather than any conspiracy to silence me.
2) I suppose it is not surprising that people deluded into a focus on the victim-blaming issue that is cycle helmet promotion and compulsion, will, brought to their senses by the lack of supporting data, switch their allegiance to the unicorn of "cycle infrastructure," instead of the elephant in the room of much-needed motor traffic reduction, better driving-related laws, enforcement thereof, and driver education. These present real challenges of course: but addressing them is what's needed, not demands for a parallel reality of "cycle infrastructure" before cycling can be widely adopted.
And given that such infrastructure is often second-rate while delegitimizing existing cyclists' right to the road, they may be assured that this cyclist at least, will keep calling them out, until his dying breath has been finally drawn.