The Road Less Cycled

Cyclists injuries occur more often on busier and less accommodating routes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cyclists should take the path of least resistance. The chance of getting injured while traveling ought to go down.

Some road types are more suitable for cyclists and lowers the risk of injury, a new study has found.

Along major streets lacking bike lanes and those shared with parked cars is where cyclists have the greatest chance of getting injured, researchers found. Cyclists most often used these routes.

"Share the road - be careful."

The study, led by Kay Teschke, a professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, looked at the chance of getting injured along 14 different cycling routes.

Researchers recruited 690 adult cyclists injured while riding in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and hospitalized between May 2008 and November 2009.

Between the two cities respectively, bikes are used as transportation among 1.7 and 3.7 percent of the more than 200,000 people in their population combined.

Participants were well-educated and regular cyclists, most who wore helmets on their trip. More than half the cyclists in the study were male.

Participants were interviewed about their chosen bike route and where their injury happened.

Half the interviews occurred a little more than a month after the accident, and 75 percent were done within two months to ensure they could fully remember the accident.

Those who were contacted three months after their injury were not included in the study.

Researchers measured the distance cyclists traveled, the time of day the injury occurred, the kind of street or path, average vehicle speed, total traffic (both pedestrian and vehicle) through that area and what markers such as lights and train tracks lined the road.

They examined how the route was constructed at each point where a cyclist was injured. They also compared it to a random point along the same path.

Seventy-two percent of the injuries occurred during a collision; almost a third involved a motor vehicle. And 14 percent involved a motor vehicle indirectly.

And the risk of injury increases with the presence of moving cars, streetcars, train tracks, downhill grades, and construction. And the opening of car doors also pose another possible cause or injury.

"There is renewed interest in streetcars for urban transportation, and the associated tracks were found to be particularly hazardous for cyclists," Dr. Teschke said in a press release.

"There is also higher risk when construction impacts road traffic. Safe detours for cyclists need to be provided."

Streets that are designed to accommodate cyclists with bike lanes, both on major streets and residential areas, and off-street bike paths have half the risk of injury.

Cycling paths that are completely separate from the main street has the lowest risk.

"Cycle tracks and other bike-specific infrastructure are prevalent in the cycling cities of Northern Europe, but have been slow to catch on in North America," Dr. Teschke said.

"Adoption of safer route infrastructure would prevent crashes from occurring in the first place, while encouraging cycling. Since cycling offers major health benefits, this is a win-win."

The authors received various awards to help fund their study, which was published online October 18 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research also funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 24, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012