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Safe Roads are the Key to EnsuringFewer Accidents for Two-Wheeled Vehicles

Nov 2020

Infrastructure

Experience has shown us time and time again that infrastructure plays a major role in accidents. While it is true that the overwhelming majority of accidents can be traced back to human error, in many cases defects in the infrastructure have a negative impact on the root of the accident, the resulting accident risk, and the severity of the accident when it occurs.

Bicycles between cars

Alongside active and passive safety systems, adherence to traffic regulations, and correct conherence to traffic regulations, and correct conduct and alertness among road users, infrastructure also plays a key role in road safety. There are a whole range of measures that offer potential for improvement in this area – such as making danger areas safer, maintenance of road equipment and ensuring that road surfaces are safe for traffic, speed monitoring at accident hot spots, installing suitable traffic barriers, extending bicyclepaths, and much more. Generally speaking, however, sustainable infrastructure and traffic route planning is only possible with a long-term approach.

This can be seen very clearly when it comes to bicycle traffic. In general terms, the funding and support afforded to bicycle traffic in many European cities and municipalities is a positive approach that enables us to gain better control over the problems that arise in conjunction with increased volumes of traffic, such as traffic jams and pollution – that much is indisputable. However, since there is often no overall concept in place for the expansion of a safe bicycle path infrastructure, it is not uncommon for such measures to result in the opposite of the desired effect in terms of both making cycling more attractive and, ultimately, improving road safety. The speed at which the mobility landscape can shift is another factor that makes this process more difficult. Whether the boom is in wide cargo bicycles, fast pedelecs, or one of the many different types of personal light electric vehicle, long-term construction plans often lose their effectiveness before the concept, planning, and approval procedure can even be completed.

CYCLISTS ARE KILLEDMOST FREQUENTLY IN BUILT-UP AREAS.

OPTIMIZING BICYCLE PATHSIN URBAN AREAS

Especially in town and city centers – data published by the EU Commission indicates that, for years now, an average of almost 60 percent of all cyclists who have lost their lives on the road have been killed in built-up areas in the EU – bicycle path maintenance and the road-safe expansion of the bicycle path network are undoubtedly key to reducing the risk of accidents for cyclists. While more bicycle paths are in fact being built, not all traffic lanes provide their users with the level of protection required. Especially in built-up areas, where there is rarely space for a separate bicycle path between buildings, cyclists often have to share road space with busy traffic, separated from it – if at all – only by a line painted on the road surface, which they cannot even see easily if it is old and worn. As on roads with no bicycle lane, this puts riders of two-wheeled vehicles at great risk of being caught by motor vehicles especially trucks – or even being forced off the road or run over if the motor vehicle is turning right. On roads where cyclists have their own bicycle path, the main problems are ensuring sufficient separation of this path from the sidewalk, and poor markings around exits. It is also common for bicycle paths to come to an end suddenly without any prior warning.

When bicycle paths are in poor condition, cyclists will usually ride on the road instead, in spite of the higher risk involved. This applies especially to those who cycle fast. For example, cyclists in Germany are legally required to use a bicycle path if it is marked as such. However, the bicycle path in question also needs to run alongside the road, and be in reasonable and usable condition. Among other things, the constructional requirements for an acceptable bicycle path include sufficient width, clear and consistent markings, and safe routing at junctions. It is a general matter of urgency for our cities, towns, and communities to focus even more strongly on the principle of “seeing and being seen” when planning, building, and maintaining bicycle paths. At the same time, however, we must ap-peal to cyclists to use bicycle paths wherever they are available. It is becoming increasingly common for “faster” cyclists who are very confident in their abilities to prefer riding with the faster traffic on the road even on routes where there are well-developed bicycle paths in place – and to weave dangerously in and out of traffic when there are hold-ups. Those who do this are either unaware of or deliberately ignore the increased risk of accidents involved with such activity – until they eventually “draw the short straw” or their behavior clashes with what other road users expect of them, thus increasing the potential for aggression.

IT IS OFTEN DIFFICULTOR IMPOSSIBLE FOR TRUCK DRIVERS TO SPOT CYCLISTSWHEN TURNING RIGHT.

Bicycle boulevards
More and more traffic zones in Germany are being explicitly marked as bicycle boulevards.

BICYCLE BOULEVARDS AND OTHER REGULATIONS IN GERMANY

In accordance with the German Road Traffic Act (StVO), the building of “bicycle boulevards” – roads on which bicycles have right of way – has been permitted in Germany since October 1, 1997. Vehicles other than cyclists are only permitted to use these roads if this is indicated by an additional sign. A speed limit of 30 km/h applies to all vehicles on these roads – including cyclists. In some cases, motorists are required to reduce their speed even further. Cyclists are permitted to ride side by side.

However, one problem with such roads is that car drivers often show a general lack of acceptance for cyclists on them. In addition to this, drivers often cyclists on them. In addition to this, drivers often fail to observe the speed limit on bicycle boulevards because there are no signs explicitly stating it. It is also common for cyclists to be permitted to ride both ways on one-way streets in town and city centers. However, this can represent a potential accident risk for motorists and cyclists alike, as many driversare not familiar with the associated signs, or simply do not notice the small additional sign that indicates this rule. Likewise, pedestrians crossing such streets may not always be on the lookout for quiet vehicles coming from the “wrong” direction. Recurring markings on the surface of the road itself can help with this problem. Additional conflicts are especially inevitable in situations where road users do not observe the requirement to drive on the right – even on oneway streets – and reduce their speed. Nevertheless, the option of making suitable one-way streets available for bicycle traffic to use in both directions should be welcomed, as it plays a significant role in making cycling more attractive. The more one-way streets that are opened up to cyclists in this way, the more normal – and thus safer – this situation will become.

In Germany, the amendment to the Road Traffic Act that came into effect in April 2020 passed a number of new regulations, including some specifically designed to promote bicycle use. For example, motor vehicles overtaking bicycles are now required to maintain a minimum distance of 1.5 meters in built-up areas and two meters in non-built-up areas. A general no stopping restriction also now applies to designated bicycle lanes. Under the amendment, authorities are now also permitted to introduce separate bicycle zones and green arrow signs that apply exclusively to cyclists. Furthermore, two cyclists are now permitted to ride alongside one another providing they do not obstruct other road users by doing so, and cyclists aged 16 and over are permitted to carry passengers providing their bicycles are designed to do so and equipped accordingly. A new road sign that bans the overtaking of two-wheeled vehicles has also been introduced; this is designed especially for use on narrow stretches of road. In addition to this, motor vehicles weighing 3.5 metric tons or more must now reduce their speed to walking speed when turning right.

Speaking of turning right: The high potential for conflict between trucks and cyclists here is due in part to the fact that both types of road user are often traveling at very similar speeds in this situation. This means that if a cyclist is in an area next to the truck where the driver cannot see them easily – or at all – they will remain in this area for an extended period of time. This is one of the main reasons why it can be diffcult or impossible for truck drivers to spot cyclists when turning right. We have already discussed this in the section of this report on accident statistics. The requirement for trucks to maintain walking speed when turning right may very well reduce the number of such conflicts that occur. However, DEKRA believes that there is a risk that this measure will put pedestrians at risk instead, as they are more likely to end up in the critical area of this type of vehicle if it is traveling at walking speed.

Bicycle boulevards
Copenhagen is one of many cities that already enjoy a very well-designed cycling infrastructure.

USING THE NETHERLANDSAS A ROLE MODEL

Neglect of existing bicycle path infrastructure has been a problem in many countries around the world for years. Having created this infrastructure to keep cyclists safe or prevent hold-ups in the flow of motor vehicles, the responsible authorities have subsequently often failed to prioritize the maintenance required in order to keep it in good working order. Cleaning and winter road maintenance have not been carried out, the needs of cyclists have not been taken into account when implementing new construction measures, and those who have misused bicycle paths to park their cars have escaped with either a meager punishment or no consequences at all.

As bicycle and pedelec use has increased dramatically in recent years for a variety of reasons and calls for good bicycle path infrastructure have grown louder, politicians have also started to respond to this issue. However, many of the politicians in charge of such matters seem to prefer focusing on the distance covered by the infrastructure rather than its quality when attempting to put themselves on good footing for their next election campaign. Alternatively, perhaps they simply lack the courage to take space away from motor vehicles in order to improve the cycling infrastructure. This is the only possible explanation for the way that the bicycle paths marked out by the authorities continue to be too narrow, new markings on the road continue to confuse all road users instead of helping to improve road safety, and maintenance continues to be neglected.

Separating fast motor vehicles from unprotected road users is a concept that has been proven to be effective in improving the safety of all involved. One country that adopts this approach consistently is the Netherlands. There, the speed limit on all roads that are used by both cyclists and motorized traffic is 30 km/h. On routes with a speed limit of 50 or 70 km/h, separate bicycle paths or bicycle lanes are required. On routes with a speed limit of 100 or 120 km/h, cycling is prohibited. The bicycle path infrastructure in the Nether-lands now covers a total distance of approx. 35,000 kilometers, plus around 55,000 kilometers of mixed-use roads. Bicycle paths are planned according to clear parameters, while there is also political support for cycling, and research is conducted on associated topics. This is a system that could be used as a role model. There are also other countries, regions, and cities with clear concepts for the design of safe bicycle path infrastructure. However, since these are often not enshrined in law and their implementation is not binding, they are often used only as a guide – if at all. When these concepts are finally implemented, they are thus often not observed, which leads to the problems mentioned above.

WE NEED CLEAR REQUIREMENTS FOR PLANNING BICYCLE PATHS.

Bicycle boulevard
Many cities in the USA already have “protected bike lanes” to make cycling safer.

CHANGES IN MOBILITY BEHAVIOR MEAN WE NEED MORE SPACE FOR BICYCLE TRAFFIC

If they want to create an effective and safe cycling in-frastructure, many towns and cities have no choice but to repurpose at least part of their existing infra-structure for use by bicycles. However, this results in less space (and parking space) being available to individual motorized vehicles. As such, approaches like this are often a difficult sell politically in regions that have a high volume of traffic and ascribe great value to the concept of privately owned cars. However, in some municipalities, there can be big problems with even keeping the existing bicycle path in-frastructure clear. Drivers of motor vehicles often use the marked areas for parking or waiting – behavior that is enabled by a lack of sufficiently tight monitoring.

When it comes to approaches for creating more space for bicycles and setting up areas that are clearly separated from car traffic, there are already plenty of examples from around the world that can be used as role models. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, for example, safe bicycle lanes have been the standard for years, providing cyclists with wide paths covering huge distances, which are usually marked in a different color to the rest of the road. In addition to this, many of the bicycle paths in Copenhagen are separated from motorized traffic and the sidewalk by means of elevated curbs. The USA has also come relatively far in this regard, with special “protect-ed bike lanes” in cities such as Chicago, New York, Portland, Seattle, and Washington D.C. that combine separate lanes with physical barriers such as bollards, concrete sleepers, flower boxes, and parking lanes.

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