Perception of safety is a fragile thing. If for just one block or one intersection it dips down, that may be the difference from someone choosing to leave the bike at home. To avoid this, streets in all neighbourhoods and all contexts must feel safe while cycling. The four typologies addressed above go a long way in ensuring safety. But look to the intersections to see how design can make cycling safer. Intersections small and large are vulnerable places for cyclists, as they come to a cross with faster, heavier vehicles.
Walk or cycle along one of the city’s high streets, and you may notice that the crossings at intersecting quieter residential streets are different. Or you may not notice, and that’s the point. In these cases, intersections are designed to prioritize the more vulnerable road users, pedestrians and cyclists, over cars and trucks. By continuing sidewalks and cycle tracks at a consistent level, the design requires cars to slow down before entering the intersection, rather than having pedestrians look both ways, yield, and step down into the street at every block. And in doing so these intersections act almost as a line of defence for residential neighbourhoods, forcing cars to slow.
At busier intersections a different set of design details make cycling safer. One of the most dangerous situations is the so-called right hook, where right turning cars, and especially trucks, collide with bicycle riders in their blind spot. A couple of features can help reduce these. You may notice that at many intersections, bicycle riders, like cars and pedestrians, have their own dedicated traffic signals shining red, yellow (or amber, for those traffic nerds), and green. While the bicycle signals generally run in sync with the others, they are often afforded a couple seconds head start before the cars. This simple detail gets bicycle riders into the intersection first and out of the blind spots of cars and trucks. To further protect bicycle riders from a right-hook collision, many busier intersections feature a set back stop-line for cars. The set back stop-line design has bicycle riders stopped a full five metres ahead of car drivers. And just as with the advance green signal, this design puts cyclists ahead, out of the blind spot of cars.
And one additional detail seen at busier intersections is the bicycle railing. This simple piece of street furniture is a clever way of both showing bicycle riders that they are appreciated while also making for more predictable interactions. With these railings placed at red lights, one can stay sitting comfortably on their bike seat while waiting for the signal to change. And once green, the railing serves as a starting block, allowing bicycle riders to push off with a boost of momentum. But it’s about more than just treating the users, there’s a valuable behavioural aspect of these railings too. The logic goes that when sitting comfortably at a red signal, a cyclist is less likely to become impatient and run a red light. And being positioned at the front of the queue, it’s even less likely that those behind them will opt to break the rules in front of someone patiently waiting. In doing so, the bicycle railings brilliantly treats the bicycle riders while making simultaneously intersections more predictable.