The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

Tal-Balal cycle lane safety: Get on a bike and try it out yourself, cyclists tell Ian Borg

Albert Galea Saturday, 20 July 2019, 11:58 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Bicycle Advocacy Group (BAG) has invited Transport Minister Ian Borg to “get on a bike” and try using the controversial cycle lanes painted onto a roundabout at Tal-Balal himself before speaking about their safety.

Reacting to comments that the minister gave to The Malta Independent earlier this week, where Borg – confronted with criticism from cyclists over the cycle lane – said that no matter what the government does, someone always complains, BAG told this newsroom that they only complain when “things are not done properly, and indeed, when they are done in a way which put its members’ lives in danger.”

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“We have been told we were ‘keyboard warriors’, by this Minister, in the past. We use our bicycles every day, we experience these dangers. It’s easy to say: Proġett tajjeb, Tal-Balal’ from the comfort of a chauffeur driven car”, the group said.

“We thus invite the Minister to get on a bike and try using the roundabout himself. If it is safe for him, and for the architects who designed it, then their claims can become more credible”, they told this newsroom.

The group said that, contrary to the minister’s claims, they had never asked for segregated cycle lanes everywhere, and noted that they understand that cycle lanes cannot be placed everywhere.

“However, when space is mentioned, it is also a question of priorities; if you make 4 lanes for cars, the ‘excuse’ that there isn’t any space is no longer valid”, BAG said.

The onus is on the authorities to make cycling safe, the group said before noting that if  by widening roads cycling is rendered less safe, then the authorities are obliged to make amends; amends which are not made by asking people to wear a helmet.

“This is a way of belittling the risk and undermining the real dangers at play. If we want to speak about helmets, we can, but the real crux of the matter is unsafe infrastructure, and if a cyclist is hit by a vehicle while going round that roundabout, no helmet will prevent that”, the group said.

 

Studies point out significantly increased risk to cyclists on multi-lane roundabouts such as that of Tal-Balal - BAG

BAG President Michelle Attard Tonna cited various research papers to substantiate the group’s arguments in favour of a safe infrastructure.

A 2009 review by Reynolds et al titled ‘The impact of transportation infrastructure on bicycling injuries and crashes: a review of the literature’ brought together evidence from 23 papers, eight of which examined intersections and 15 of which examined straightaways, and found that infrastructure does indeed influence injury and crash risk.

The studies particularly focusing on intersections, roundabouts in particular, found “that multi-lane roundabouts can significantly increase risk to bicyclists unless a separated cycle track is included in the design.”

"The evidence to date suggests that purpose-built bicycle only facilities (e.g. bike routes, bike lanes, bike paths, cycle tracks at roundabouts) reduce the risk of crashes and injuries compared to cycling on-road with traffic or offroad with pedestrians”, the study reads.

“Street lighting, paved surfaces, and low-angled grades are additional factors that appear to improve cyclist safety. The major advantage of infrastructure modifications, compared to helmet use, is that they provide population-wide prevention of injury events without requiring action by the users or repeated reinforcement."

Another study cited by Attard Tonna is from 2008 by Pucher & Buehler, which delves into cycling policy in The Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, which says that Dutch cycling experts and planners interviewed opposed laws to require the use of helmets, claiming that “helmets discourage cycling by making it less convenient, less comfortable and less fashionable.”

They also mention the possibility that helmets would make cycling more dangerous by giving cyclists a false sense of safety and thus encouraging riskier riding behavior and maybe reducing the consideration motorists give cyclists.

The study found that the most important approach to make cycling safe and convenient in Dutch, Danish, and German cities is “the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with extensive traffic calming of residential neighborhoods."

Other studies cited, such as one by LaPlante and McCann from 2008, note that a pedestrian hit by a car travelling at 20 miles per hour – which equates to 32 kilometres per hour – has an 85% survivability rate, but that same collision with a car going twice as fact lowers the survivability to 15%.  A 2018 study by Mutze from the European Road Safety Council also notes that at 30 km/h, the fatality risk in a collision is five times lower than at 50 km/h.

 

Part of Tal-Balal roundabout is illegal – Attard Tonna

Attard Tonna continues by saying that part of the cycle lane at the roundabout in question is illegal.

A part of the cycle lane goes against regulation 11(2) of S.L. 65.26 which provides that “When riding a pedal cycle or a power-assisted pedal cycle, including a pedelec on a road, a person shall keep to the nearside left of the road as possible in the direction of traffic except on the approach to an intersection or a roundabout or when overtaking other traffic”, she said.

Therefore, “the general rule is that cyclists must keep to the left, unless they are approaching a roundabout. In that case, a cyclist should change lanes”, Attard Tonna said.

Moreover, Regulation 12 then states that “any person who rides any pedal cycle or a power assisted pedal cycle, including a pedelec, on a road shall observe and abide by all traffic regulations”, she noted.

“Now, vehicles are bound to take the right lane if they would want to take the third exit. Hence, as per regulation 12, so must cyclists”, she explained.

“Therefore, that part of the cycle path that forces the cyclist to keep the left, and then force cyclists to turn after the roundabout is in direct breach of Regulation 11(2) and 12 of this regulation”, she said.

As a way forward, Attard Tonna invited the Malta Road Safety Council to assess this situation and the dangers of this street, and invited Transport Malta, which had flagged 37 issues over the roadworks, including points such as that different stretches of the road had different provisions for cyclists ranging from cycle lanes to shared line marking to nothing at all, to take action.

She noted that BAG was never consulted about the works, but had already informed authorities that such a design was dangerous in a multi-lane roundabout when the Zebbug roundabout was still at design stage, where there is even a judicial letter to this effect.

Let us not play with people’s lives. I appeal to the relevant authorities to be humble enough to acknowledge they have failed, and that they collaborate with us for a safe solution”, Attard Tonna concluded.

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