Researchers highlight need for better bike safety

Although Vancouver has become known as a cycling hotspot, cycling around the city is not without its risks.

According to Meghan Winters, associate professor of health sciences, cycling is a great way to get around, but when incidents and injuries do occur, they need to be better documented.

She emphasized the need to collect and understand data in order to keep people as safe as possible, given that cycling is becoming increasingly popular. Currently, only 30 to 40 per cent of serious cycling incidents are reported.

Despite the health benefits of cycling, road safety continues to be a concern for governments and decision makers. Winters recently led a study on the need for planning for active transportation as part of Healthy Canada by Design — a Coalitions Linking Action and Science Prevention Project — and found that more comprehensive data is needed.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) only records cycling crashes when they involve a motor vehicle and when an insurance claim is made, but near misses and other incidents — such as swerving to avoid a vehicle, road obstacle, or pedestrian — typically go unreported.

As such, the ICBC data currently used by municipalities to highlight safe or unsafe intersections and address cycling safety is based on an incomplete picture. This insufficient data could lead to some areas being overlooked, said Winters.

“One of the big, active transportation data needs expressed by municipalities was for more complete data on cycling and pedestrian injuries, and easier access to it,” explained Winters.

A potential solution to this data gap was launched this fall through the website Bikemaps. The site, built by Trisalyn Nelson’s Spatial Pattern Analysis & Research (SPAR) lab at the University of Victoria, displays ICBC and police-reported data, but, most importantly, allows cyclists to add information about incidents that typically go unreported. This includes near misses, thefts, and hazards, all of which can be uploaded in real time.

Given that major crashes are far more rare than near misses, having information on these near miss incidents can contribute to developing a more comprehensive picture of road conditions and safety for cyclists in Vancouver.

The data contributed to Bikemaps will be used to produce maps and analyses, which will be shared with decision makers and advocates. The website is also a great tool for cyclists to check in and be aware of any possible high or low risk zones near their local areas, according to Winters.

Winters said that she hopes SFU students will engage with the project as well: “My hope is that SFU students contribute data to this citizen-mapping project, whether they are regular cyclists, or whether it is just a trip around the seawall on a sunny day in the summer.”

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