Thursday, June 18, 2015

Personal safety

A while back I visited a friend who teaches underprivileged children in Phnom-Pehn, Cambodia. If you have visited Cambodia you will know the chaos on the roads. Pedestrians, vendor carts, bicycles, motorbikes galore and motor cars, buses and trucks compete for space in a seemingly lawless free-for-all on the road and footpath.

When our friend first moved to Cambodia several years ago she got around by bicycle because she could not afford a car. I asked her about how safe she felt cycling in the chaos. Interestingly she didn't talk about road safety, she spoke of her fears for her personal safety when cycling at night.

As soon as she could scrape together enough money she got herself a car so that she could feel safe leaving home after dark.  Having a car made life far more expensive and difficult. Finding parking on the street she lived in was impossible and caused huge conflict with her neighbours. Traffic jams are a continual frustration and her commute by car often takes longer and is less reliable than cycling was. The cost of running a car is more than she can really afford. But the peace of mind afforded to her of being cocooned in her little car, protected from predators made the pain and frustration of driving a car worthwhile. 

This got me thinking about how perceptions of personal safety/security can influence ones choice of mode. Here in Brisbane the threat of muggers, rapists and human traffickers is comparatively zero, yet for a large portion of the population (as much as 50%?) it can have a major influence on their choice of mode or route. 

A few years back Gayle (my wife) was working a late shift at a business in the Valley. Because of the issues of finding parking she decided to try cycling to work. Although the cycle network into the Valley is not great she found the afternoon cycle into work quite pleasant. However at around 10pm I got a rather concerned phone call from Gayle. She had successfully cycled out of the city on the bikeway but now found herself just south of Buranda where the bikeway goes along the creek corridor. This was before lights were installed on this section and she did not feel safe cycling through deserted parklands. She felt far safer cycling on road the rest of the way because the perceived threat to her personal safety of cycling through a dark and deserted park was greater than the road safety risk of sharing a road with no cycle lanes. 

A friend cycles to work at the PA hospital. Despite having access to a bikeway just down the road she cycles the first section on road because she does not feel safe riding through Tooheys forest on her own at any time of the day. 

Because of this it is always important to remember to consider personal safety/security when planning and designing cycle networks. The CPTED guidelines are useful as a tool for informing route option assessment and design. However it can also sometimes be a hindrance to delivering some excellent network outcomes due to concerns about sending cyclists down hidden corridors behind noise barriers and back fences of properties, or through woodland areas. Even with lighting these places can seem very threatening at night, particularly in certain areas or on parts of the network where there are few users. 

I think however that CPTED issues should rarely be a reason not to deliver an off-road cycle link that has clear network benefit. A route identified through a CPTED assessment as having a risk to personal security should have appropriate design treatments to reduce the perceived and actual risk. And if possible it would also be good to provide a on-road alternative to allow for greater route choice. That way cyclists can make a choice of route based on the perceived risk. By having an integrated network of on-road and off-road cycle routes we can serve a larger cross section of user needs, and hence make cycling a more attractive proposition for a greater proportion of the population. 

1 comment:

Glen Warner said...

An excellent article Athol. I think that cultural change and urban scales also play some role in addressing this. Unfortunately I think that there is quite a long way to go to overcome the fear factor. This was evidenced to me the other day when a friend made a comment that she would be not allowing her children to walk to school because of reports of someone dodgy cruising around two suburbs over.