Why is it irrational to see a pedestrian walking within a travel lane with their back to traffic? Let us consider the photo below which shows a pedestrian walking on a cycling lane.
Is this dangerous? Not only is his back to traffic but the next photo shows that he is wearing headphones. Is there anything wrong with that?
If we understand current beliefs toward cycling safety there is apparently nothing dangerous about pedestrians walking in this manner. Even though, through our childhood years, we were told exactly the opposite: walking on the road with your back to traffic is dangerous.
So why is it also just as dangerous for cyclists to ride on the edge of a road with their backs to traffic? If an impact occurs with a motor vehicle do we seriously believe that the cyclist will be better protected than the pedestrian?
The cyclist shown below has difficulty seeing vehicles approaching from behind. While a mirror would help, in many cases typical commuter cyclists do not ride with mirrors.
As demonstrated in the photo below the cyclist below must turn his head over his shoulder and this is not ideal for observing dangers behind or new dangers that might develop in front.
Let us consider a further example. What if a mother was pushing a baby carriage in the same location where we showed the pedestrian above. Would that be dangerous? Consider the view below. Would we consider that the mother and baby in the carriage would safe walking in a cycling lane with their backs to traffic?
What about the child next to the mother walking with the small cycle? Do we seriously believe that this child would be safe riding on their small cycle at the edge of lane of motor vehicle traffic, or in a painted cycling lane? What is the safety difference when we exchange these pedestrians with an adult cyclist?
Some adults who ride in cycling lanes will transport their children in flimsy mini-trailers towed behind the cycle such as the example below. Little do the realized is that, if they were struck from behind the first thing to be struck would be the mini-trailer.
It is important to recognize that these mini-trailers are low to the ground. This means that they are more difficult for drivers to detect. In congested areas drivers may be able to see the taller cyclist but may not be able to see the mini-trailer. And because these mini-trailers are not frequently used drivers do not expect them to exist behind a cycle. Thus drivers may believe they have enough time and distance to avoid striking the cyclist only to discover at the last moment that there is a mini-trailer attached behind the cyclist.
The stiffest portion of motor vehicle is at a low level: the bumper level. And the most vulnerable portion of a child’s body is at the head level. While seated in a flimsy mini-trailer the head of a child is exactly where the stiffest portion of a motor vehicle would make contact. Why is this so wise?
Why has our society continued to create these dangerous conditions for cyclists? In many instances cyclists would be better off riding facing traffic if they are to ride on a roadway or in a painted cycling lane. At least there would be a greater opportunity to attempt an evasive motion should a motor vehicle stray into the cyclist’s path. But this is not a solution. The solution must be to change our understanding of cyclist safety and remove cyclists from such dangerous conditions.