Intersections are rightly considered the most dangerous area for cyclists (and indeed all road users). As past posts have demonstrated, road users (including cyclists and pedestrians) do not always consider that the provided controls on their road use offer the safest option. Therefore, some users sometimes decide to act contrary to the road rules. And sometimes we just all make mistakes or suffer some kind of mechanical or personal problem (a bee in your face!) that causes us to breach those rules.
The ideal situation is to create an environment that reduces the severity of the consequences of these decisions or circumstances as much as possible. Matt Lowry at the Transport Blog has addressed this in an excellent blog post. An example of this is straightening out curves on motorways so that all drivers – even drivers not following the requirement to drive at a speed that is safe in the conditions – can navigate the curve safely.
Cycling also requires these kinds of treatments – even though excessive speed is seldom a factor. Cyclists main risk is a dangerous interaction with a much larger vehicle, so the road environment should be adjusted to make these interactions as forgiving as possible. Cycling Christchurch has published an excellent article showing how some existing road design in Christchurch helps cyclists to avoid potentially dangerous interactions at intersections.
David Hembrow of the fantastic View From the Cycle Path blog has recently done a post analysing a minor crash his mother had in her village in England. He also discusses a similar crash a friend of his had in Assen. In both cases, the motorist made a mistake but the real blame lies with the fact that both intersections involved were badly designed. David makes the point that:
Bad infrastructure in the Netherlands is no more safe than is bad infrastructure in the UK. Where conflict is caused by road design, problems of safety also arise.
The best answer is a Dutch style intersection as is proposed for Christchurch. This ensures that cyclists have a lot of protection from heavier vehicles and can get ahead of traffic and into their sight lines – improving safety overall.