Cars and the Creation of Safer Cycling Environments

You might know that Stockholm is not the most bicycle friendly city, especially when compared to places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. However, Stockholm is trying to get more people on the environmentally friendly two wheeler, using a variety of tricks. One of them is the “Tack för att du cyklar” (Thank you for cycling) campaign, that took place on the 17th of September this year. Little bags with bicycle goodies were handed out to thank those who chose the bicycle to go from A to B.

Car bicycle interaction in Stockholm. Picture by Jeroen Wolfers, licensed under Creative Commons

Car bicycle interaction in Stockholm. Picture by Jeroen Wolfers, licensed under Creative Commons

On Stockholm’s website one can read more about the development of this form of green transportation. It says that during 2013, fourteen ‘bicycle projects’ were implemented, and five more were being ‘investigated’. Of course, this fuzzy language tells us nothing about what is being done. However, they also have some clearer statements. For example, in the same year they have built 500 bicycle parking places in town, and in the western part of town better signs were set up.

The city’s transportation office has created a cycling plan, which forms a strategic plan to the development of the cycling infrastructure. This plan aims at the creation of more and diverse bicycle paths, becoming better at maintaining this infrastructure, and building even more bicycle parking spaces.

In addition to this plan there is the ‘accessibility strategy’ which builds upon four major points. It aims to provide more place for buses and bicycles, make public transport more reliable (in terms of travel time), increase walkability (i.e. better lighting and snow clearance), and decrease the negative effects that traffic can have on big city life (e.g. divert more car traffic around the city instead of leading it through).

The policies mentioned by Stockholm are either focussing on hard “bricks and mortar” aspects of cycling or on strategies aime to the promotion of cycling, like the ‘thank you for cycling’ campaign. But cars won’t die out, at least not in the foreseeable future.

All these strategies seem really relevant. However, when reading all the plans the city has, I can’t help but feeling that something is missing. When I compare Stockholm to Amsterdam, or any Dutch town, there is one fundamental difference: the dynamic between cyclists and drivers.

Drivers in Stockholm do not know how to deal with cyclists. They open the door while the car is parked next to a bicycle lane, they take right of way, and while driving they seem less considerate of the cyclists. This of course does not apply to all drivers, but coming from a cycling friendly environment, I know it could be so much better.

In the Netherlands the cycling culture is so integrated in its transportation system, resulting in drivers who are much better adapted to cyclists. When an accident occurs between a bicycle and a car in the Netherlands, the driver will always carry a larger share of the responsibility. If the cyclist is younger than 14, even if he or she was reckless, the driver is completely responsible for the damages to the car, bicycle and cyclist. If the cyclist is older than fourteen the driver is responsible for 50% of the damages. Only in case of complete recklessness by a  cyclist aged fifteen or more, the cyclist can be held completely responsible for the accident and its damages. I guess this law makes drivers more careful and considerate when cyclists are around.

Parked on Bicycle lane, of course this also happens in the Netherlands, and it's annoying no matter where you are. Picture by Jeroen Wolfers, licensed under Creative Commons

Parked on Bicycle lane, of course this also happens in the Netherlands, and it's annoying no matter where you are. Picture by Jeroen Wolfers, licensed under Creative Commons

In Sweden I could not find a comparable law. If it currently exists drivers do not seem to act on it. Therefore I argue that we should, in addition to pro-cycling projects and campaigns, focus on creating more awareness about, and tolerance for, cyclists among drivers. Because, no matter how good we make our bicycle infrastructure, cyclists and drivers will have to interact with each other. Divers can therefore play a key role in creating safer environments for cyclists.


Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .