Tony H. Reinhardt-Rutland, Reader in Psychology,
March 14, 2011

Lusk et al's paper (1) indicates an important subtext regarding travel. Governments wish to make personal mobility as widely available as possible; this inevitably entails promotion of the private automobile, which can provide convenient and comfortable travel for the widest range of individuals, including those for whom disability would otherwise pose severe limitations in participating in society. However, there is a competing agenda concerning congestion, sustainability, pollution and health, along with the risk posed by automobiles for vulnerable road-users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Authorities must strike a balance. In the case of the US, the balance generally favours the automobile: the insistence that cyclists be treated as "operators of vehicles" (2) underlines that assertion. Canada may be more bicycle-orientated. Lusk et al demonstrate that in Montreal segregated cycle tracks can entail fewer casualties than matched common- user roads: the consequent reduction in perceived and objective risk can sussessfully act to promote cycling.

0However, poorly designed and policed facilities may render the situation for cyclists worse than if the US model is followed. This is arguably the case in Northern Ireland. Cycle lanes at the side of roads are provided. Despite official prohibition, motor-vehicles frequently park or straddle cycle lanes before undertaking manoeuvres: junctions are particularly problematic regarding rights-of-way. Finally, cycle lanes are often well short of any meaningful journey. The official stance is that: "Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills" (3). So cyclists are free to use other traffic lanes - but motorists seem unaware of this and often evince hostility towards cyclists exercising this freedom. The cyclist is uncomfortable on any part of the road - hardly a recipe for the development of mass cycle-commuting.

Segregated paths are also provided. These are in fact shared with pedestrians. Pedestrians no doubt provide better fellow travellers for cyclists than do automobiles, but the two groups are nevertheless incompatible regarding speed: cycling through groups of pedestrians or walking through streams of cyclists is not comfortable. Curiously, this is recognised regarding sidewalks, which are solely for pedestrians: cycling and driving are officially outlawed (3).

The above issues may reflect anomalous conceptualisations of risk. Northern Ireland again provides a useful example. The political conflict ("the Troubles") was always perceived to be particularly dangerous - for more so than the roads - as reflected in provision of manpower and resources. In fact, Northern Irish roads were objectively much riskier. Throughout the worst of the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s, the objective risks of politically-motivated death and injury were about 50% and 12% respectively those for the roads (4). It is perhaps not surprising that strategies for promoting cycling are often ineffectual. With obvious exceptions such as the Netherlands, Denmark and - perhaps - Montreal, this unfortunately may apply in many jurisdictions.

Perhaps the seemingly inexorable increases in fuel cost may achieve real change: personal economics may win where conceptualisations of risk have failed.


1. Lusk A C, Furth P G, Morency P, et al. Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. Inj Prev doi: 10.1136/ip.2010.028696.

2. Forrester J. Effective cycling. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984.

3. The Highway Code: AA Publishing, 2008.

4. Reinhardt-Rutland A H. Roadside speed-cameras: arguments for covert siting. Police J 2001; 74: 312-315.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Conflict of Interest

None declared