An urban road is one with a speed limit of 70 km/h or less. From 2008–12 there were 19 cycling deaths and 748 serious injuries on urban roads reported by the New Zealand Police.
Intersections and driveways present by far the greatest urban risk, accounting for three-quarters of crashes resulting in death or serious injury. Where one party was required to give way, five times out of six it was the driver of the motor vehicle who failed to do so. Almost every time the driver claimed that they did not see the cyclist they were required to give way to. This phenomenon, referred to as ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’, was by far the dominant factor for urban cycling injuries, present in 312 of the crashes in this sample. Fortunately, in most of these crashes the motor vehicle speed was below the 30 km/h threshold above which death or serious injury is most probable. However, where heavy vehicles are involved, consequences are more severe. 39% of urban cyclist deaths involved a heavy vehicle.
Priority-controlled (ie give way or stop) ‘T’ and ‘X’ junctions are by far the most common on the network so not surprisingly these intersections have the highest number of cyclist collisions (309 serious and four deaths). They typically involve motor vehicles emerging from a side road, or turning right across a cyclist’s path from the opposite direction. Often the cyclist has been riding past stationary traffic and the driver has turned through a gap. Research indicates that the lowest risk to people cycling through intersections is when they are positioned near the centre of the main traffic lane (where they will be in the central vision of a driver looking for another vehicle). The same principle applies at driveways and roundabouts.
Roundabouts have the highest risk per cyclist, because drivers who are required to give way before entering roundabouts travel faster on the approach than at other intersection types. Drivers tend to check for conflicting traffic further away on the approach, and thus look past cyclists who are often positioned in the periphery of their vision. Larger and multi-lane roundabouts are the worst. Roundabouts are the safest form of intersection for motor traffic, because they reduce impact speeds to below the safe system thresholds for serious injury; however the operating speeds on roundabouts are typically too high for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists under safe system principles, so a high proportion of injuries at roundabouts involve cyclists. Roundabouts were involved in 68 serious injuries and four deaths in the urban cycling crash sample; three of the deaths involved trucks.
Sixty-five serious injury crashes and two deaths in the urban cycling crash sample occurred at intersections controlled by traffic signals. At signalised intersections the risk from side road traffic is well controlled but cyclists are still at risk from traffic turning left or right. For left-turning traffic, research shows that where the left lane is marked for both through and left turning traffic, the risk is about four times that where there is a left turn only lane marked. Layouts with multiple through lanes where it is permitted to pick a gap to turn on a full green signal pose the greatest risk from right turning traffic.
Driveways were the location of 109 deaths and serious injuries in the urban cycling crash sample; 31 of these (including three deaths) involved people cycling on the footpath. Recurring factors include reversing from the driveway, children riding out from the driveway and drivers failing to see a cyclist when turning into or leaving a driveway.
Riding on the footpath was identified as a crash cause for 51 crashes in the total urban sample. Most studies show that riding on the footpath involves a greater risk than riding on the road. The main risk is from riding from the footpath to cross a road. However, there are a number of situations where the risk on road is higher due to fast and busy traffic; if there are few busy driveways or side roads it may be safer to cycle on adjacent footpaths in these locations. Such footpaths could be designated as shared paths on a case-by-case basis.
Parked cars create a number of hazards for people cycling. It is acknowledged that some crashes (16 crashes in the sample considered) involving parked cars are due to people cycling inattentively with their heads down and thus running into to the back of a parked car. Others are due to the car drivers or occupants: eg opening car doors into the path of someone cycling (48 crashes in the sample, including two deaths); drivers failing to notice cyclists while manoeuvring into or out of a parking space (58 crashes in the sample) and cyclists moving into the path of overtaking traffic whilst trying to avoid collision with parked cars or similar obstacles (21 crashes in the sample, including one death, which involved a passing truck).
Unlike on rural roads, deaths and serious injuries on urban roads due to being struck from behind are rare (18 in this sample). However this crash type is important because the proximity of overtaking traffic is an important contributor to cyclists perceptions of risk on urban roads, and hence the need for increased separation from traffic to overcome the bravery barrier to increase cycling participation.