Downslopes on cycling paths create high cyclist speeds and these result in safety problems. While this would appear to be simple to recognize, some municipalities and courts in Ontario find this relationship difficult to accept.
Previous testing by Gorski Consulting along several slopes in the City of London has shown that downslopes lead to heightened cyclist speeds and that the greater the steepness and length of a slope the higher the resultant cyclist speed. Further testing has been done recently that supports this research finding.
Previous testing in 2018 was conducted northward from a newly constructed overpass cross the Canadian National Railway (CNR) line. The Googlemaps views below show the area of the testing.
Using the CNR overpass as a starting point, cycle coasting tests were performed up to the bottom of the slope. Also observations were made of the northbound travel speed of independent cyclists. The photos below provide views along the 150 metre distance northward from the CNR overpass.
The table below shows the measured downslope northward from the CNR overpass over a distance of 300 metres to the Pottersburg Creek bridge.
The two tables below show the average coasting speed of a Trek Hybrid cycle from testing on August 24 and 25, 2018.
The observations of actual cyclists clearly demonstrated the large difference in speed of cyclists whether they travelled up the slope or down. The above tables confirm that northbound cyclists reached a heightened speed of over 35 km/h near the base of the downslope, in the vicinity of 100 to 150 metres north of the CNR overpass. This finding was confirmed in the coasting tests which showed even higher average speeds of about 39 km/h. In contrast the cyclists travelling up the slope barely reached a speed over 17 km/h at the bottom of the slope and that speed was reduced to below 10 km/h near the top of the slope.
In June of 2020, further cyclist observations were conducted along the section of the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) in London, commencing at the 150-metre marker, near the base of the downslope, and continuing northward to the intersection of Trafalgar Street at 345 metres. This additional testing was to examine how much further those heightened speeds existed north of the slope. The photos below show this area of testing from 150 metres up to the Pottersburg Creek bridge at approximately 300 metres.
The table below shows the results of 29 of the observations of northbound cyclists.
The above observations show that, even at a distance over 300 metres from the CNR overpass, heightened average speeds of about 25 km/h were documented. Five cyclists were observed travelling over 30 km/h in the 30-metre distance between the 295 and 325-metre markers. This occurred even though there was a sharp left turn required, with poor visibility, just north of the 325-metre marker.
Further observations of cyclists were conducted again on June 2 and 6, 2021, within the zone of 295 to 325 metres. The photo below was taken on June 2, 2021 and shows a view looking southward from the Trafalgar Street bridge. Northbound cyclists approached a T-intersection where they had to make a sharp left turn in order to continue into the underpass of the Trafalgar Street bridge. Thus the speed of these cyclists would need to be reduced while crossing the Pottersburg Creek bridge in preparation for the sharp turn.
The sharpness of the turn is appreciated when examining the photo below which is a view looking northward from the Pottersburg Creek bridge toward Trafalgar Street. The “325-metre” marker can be seen as an orange line painted on the pavement near the yellow centre-line of the path. Note how the visibility to the left is blocked by bushes thus a view of what exists within the underpass of the Trafalgar Street bridge is limited.
The two tables below provide the results from June 2, separated into northbound and southbound cyclists.
In the June 2, 2021 observations, four of the 37 northbound cyclists were observed to be travelling at over 30 km/h. The average speed of the northbound cyclists (21.4 km/h) was reduced because of observations 7,8 and 9. In these three observations a mother was riding slowly to accompany two young boys, approximately 6-7 years of age. All three cyclists were travelling at a slow speed of just over 10 km/h.
The next two tables provide the data from June 6, 2021. Again the observations are separated into northbound and southbound cyclists.
In the June 6, 2021 data 8 of the 30 cyclists were observed to be travelling at 30 km/h or more. The average speed of all 30 northbound cyclists was 25.84 km/h. This would have been higher except for observation 17 which involved a small toddler, approximately 3 years of age, who rode her small cycle with training wheels at an average speed of 3.49 km/h.
The problems associated with heightened speeds of northbound cyclists can be seen in the following photos which were taken on June 2, 2021. These photos are looking northward commencing from approximately from the 325-metre marker. They show the limited visibility of what exists within the underpass. As can be seen a couple is within the underpass along with a baby carriage.
If a collision were to occur within the underpass various legal entities would suggests it was the fault of the persons within the underpass or the fault of the northbound cyclist travelling at high speed where there is limited visibility. Yet this portion of the Thames Valley Parkway was completed in 2018 and thus standards of proper path design should have been applied. Part of the fault must lie with the designers of the path who should have recognized that cyclists would naturally increase their speed along the downslope from the CNR overpass.
Now that the construction is completed there is no simple solution to correcting the safety problems. Yet, even now, a new playground is being constructed in the zone near the 250-metre marker which will exacerbate the problems. As shown below the playground is positioned close to the path and it is designed for use by small children. Yet this is at a location where northbound cyclists have been observed to be travelling at high speeds while descending the downslope of the CNR overpass.
There is a poor recognition by municipalities and the courts in Ontario that slopes on cycling trails and on urban and rural roadways affect the speed of cyclists. Collisions involving cyclists are rarely documented in official police reports unless they involve a motor vehicle or cause serious injury or death. Even when collisions are documented the focus is placed on blaming the persons involved rather than considering whether the design of a path or roadway led to safety problems such as increased cyclist speeds on downslopes.