Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fear of the Street

Its been more than 30 years since I learned to ride a bike. The only space available to me as young child learning to ride were quiet residential streets. At five years old I was riding my bike to school along those same quiet residential streets. I was not a brave child, so for me to have felt safe doing this there must have been very few cars driving those roads at low speeds.

Today, most parents seem to have a much different attitude towards where they let their children ride. It seems that there is no parent that would let their child ride on even the most residential of roads. What has changed in the last 30 years where parents don't feel safe letting their young children ride their bikes on the streets where they live? Are there more vehicles, bigger vehicles driving at faster speeds? Is it that parents have generally become more protective?
Kelowna: shared-use-path parallel to road

In the community where I live there is a strong push to build more and more shared-use-paths on what are quiet residential roads. Cycle tracks on arterial streets are excellent and result in a safer cycling environment. However, the desire to build shared-use-paths is confusing since the evidence seems to suggest that such facilities parallel to the road right-of-way increase the risk to cyclists.

Instead of building expensive shared-use-paths that are of questionable value we should be working to reclaim the street. Why should we let the cars dominate our streets? Parents and children need not let automobiles bully them off the streets where they live. Civilizations have had streets long before we had the car. Before the automobile the street was more than a transportation corridor. Before the car the street were sports arenas, temples and civic centres. The streets had multiple uses and provided great value to the community.
Barcelona, calmed street: people feel comfortable sharing the road with cars.

Through history streets have been the centre of social life, but we don't need to look to antiquity to find examples. In the centre of Barcelona the street is the most common social gathering spot. Closer to home we can find examples in Vancouver, Victoria, Eugene and Portland where local streets more closely resemble neighbourhood parks than an urban carriageway. Citing these example there is little doubt that the street can be a safe and comfortable place for cyclists of all ages and skill levels to enjoy.
Traffic Calmed Street Victoria

Streets that offer friendly cycling environments have other benefits as well. Traffic calmed streets increase social connectivity resulting in happier residents and closer relationships with neighbours. An added benefit to this is that we often see a decrease in local crime rates as well. Having local streets that facilitates activities other then automobile use offers local taxpayers better value for their money. We can build spaces that are more economically efficient because they are being used more hours of the day by more people.
Calmed street Amsterdam

In most of our quiet residential neighbourhoods we do not need to build expensive segregated facilities for cyclists that fail to provide for the safety needs of cyclists. We know from example that the street can provide a safe and friendly environment. Quiet traffic calmed streets can create excellent civic spaces with an efficient cost benefit to local governments.

1 comment:

  1. What has changed in the last 30 years where parents don't feel safe letting their young children ride their bikes on the streets where they live? The rise of the car is a part of it.

    Also we have fear of traffic marketed to us in the name of "Road Safety", which is more about preventing cyclist and pedestrians inconveniencing the motorist by getting in their way. Ryan your photo at the top of this page speaks of that fear. Will that polystyrene hat really make you safer, or is it something the marketers of fear have sold you, on the basis of one 20 year old study which has since much been discredited. "There are more things that frighten us, than injure us; we suffer more in imagination than in reality" Seneca.

    Yes we need traffic calming, but also need to end the marketing of fear, every time I see a child on a balance bike wearing a helmet I despair.