The death of a cyclist on January 2, 2023, on Wellington Road just south of the London Ontario city limit provides an indication of the importance of understanding how cyclist injuries and deaths occur. Unfortunately essentially nothing is transferred from those investigating such collisions to the general cycling public who are the victims of the collisions.
It is left to independent agencies such as Gorski Consulting to step up and inform the public about cycling safety issues. For example, in 2022 Gorski Consulting made a total of 1083 observations of cyclists travelling on, or adjacent to roadways in London, Ontario. A variety of information was obtained from these observations which can be used to understand more about the safety issues involved.
The 2022 Cyclist Observation Data
With respect to cyclist gender Gorski Consulting was unable to establish whether a rider was male or female in 53 of those observations. Thus this resulted in a study of the remaining 1030 observations. Of those 1030 cyclists where gender could be determined there was a vastly higher number of male cyclists than female. For example, of the 1030 observations, 895 were males and only 135 were females. This results in a percentage of females of only 13.11 %. An unbiased observer would question why there is such a disproportionate number of males versus females.
A curious finding is that in the summer of 2021 we also conducted gender studies on the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) in London. A total of 457 cyclists were observed at three sites on the Parkway: St Julian Park, Banana Kingdom and Greenway Park. It was found that there were 330 males and 122 females observed over a period of six hours. This meant that 27 percent of the observations were females. This percentage is more than double the percentage of female cyclists riding on or adjacent to the City’s roadways. Why is that?
An obvious difference between these studies is that the observations made on or adjacent to the City roads were made where cyclists were in the presence of automobiles, heavy trucks and buses. Conversely the Thames Valley Parkway is a pathway that is separated from these automotive transport units. Is that relevant? Is it possible that females may not wish to ride in areas of greater danger? Does this data say something about the relative danger posed to cyclists travelling on or adjacent to City roads versus the TVP?
We also looked at where cyclists travelled with respect to the road right-of-way. We looked at whether cyclists rode within a traffic lane or whether they rode on a sidewalk. It was found that 584 of the 895 males were observed on a sidewalk and 98 of the 135 females were observed on a sidewalk. With respect to percentage, 65.3 % of males were observed on a sidewalk versus 72.6% females. One might be tempted to conclude that females appear to be on a sidewalk more than males however the number of observations is simply too small to draw that conclusion.
A conclusion that is better supported by the data is that, overall, there appear to be more cyclists located on a sidewalk than within the roadway. This may be puzzling when we consider that there are laws, both in London and in the Province of Ontario that make it illegal for cyclists to ride on a sidewalk. So why would two-thirds of males and three-quarters of observed females involve themselves in these illegal activities? Does this say something about cyclists or does it say more about the law? Why are cyclists refusing to ride on an urban road in London, Ontario? And why is this question not receiving more attention?
Another issue that has been explored in the 2022 observational data is the issue of helmet use. In our view cycling helmets are like seatbelts for motor vehicle occupants. They cannot prevent very injury and they cannot prevent every head injury, but they are much more effective in preventing head injury than no helmet at all. Yet our data provides some startling results.
For cyclists observed on or adjacent to an urban roadway, we were able to detect 566 male riders out of 895 who were not wearing cycling helmets, or a percentage of 63.2 % were non-users. With respect to females 76 out of 135 were observed with no helmets, or a percentage of 56.3% non-users. So what we can say is that, overall, there appear to be more cyclists not wearing helmets than those who wear helmets on or adjacent to city roads. If these observations were with respect to motor vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts we would view them as alarming. So why is it different when cyclists are involved.
Furthermore we can compare the helmet results from 2022 to the results we observed along the TVP in 2021. From the three sites on the TVP we found that 99 of the 330 males were observed not wearing a helmet, or a percentage of 30.0% non users. For females 24 of the 124 were observed not wearing a helmet, or a percentage of 19.7 % non users. But surely these are stark differences from the observations on city streets. Why are there so many more cyclists riding on the TVP with helmets yet, on city roadways, where the dangers of being struck by motor vehicles is so much higher, there is a much lower incidence of helmet use?
The cycling public is not provided with basic information about how collisions occur and what is important in preventing their injuries. This is part of the reason why unsafe actions, such as a refusal to wear cycling helmets, develop.
Our 2022 data also demonstrate the contradictions that exist between what cyclists are told is safe and what they sense in the real world. Being told that riding on a sidewalk is less safe than riding on the road with motor vehicle traffic does not appear to agree with the minds of most cyclists. Despite that they could face fines cyclists continue to ride on sidewalks and this likely demonstrates their belief that they are safer riding on that sidewalk.
The two photos below demonstrate the paradox in official instructions provided to cyclists about their safety. In the first photo is a demonstration of what the Province of Ontario deems to be an unsafe act of a cyclist riding on a sidewalk. The cyclist is instructed that it is safer to ride on the road, seemingly as demonstrated in the second photo.
If the volume of cyclists is to rise exponentially in the next few years it is doubtful that safer roadways can be built fast enough to keep up. Thus there may be more cyclists riding on roads that are unsafe for cyclists. It is important during this time to conduct observations of cyclists to establish an objective understanding of the safety problems that may be developing in the near future.