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Crowding Hurts Urban Cyclists’ Safety and Route Choices, Especially for Older Adults and Women

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A recent study published in Transportation Research Part A explores the effects of crowding on urban cyclists’ route preferences and perceived safety in the Netherlands. The research highlights how increasing bicycle use in cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, and The Hague impacts cyclists’ experiences, particularly among older adults and women.

Cycling is a prevalent mode of transport in the Netherlands, known for its extensive cycling infrastructure and high bicycle usage rates. However, the increasing number of cyclists has led to crowded cycling routes, raising concerns about safety and route preferences. Researchers from the University of Twente and the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research are conducting the study to better understand how crowding affects cyclists’ choices and perceptions of safety.

The study involved a survey that 1,329 cyclists from the four largest Dutch cities – Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, and The Hague – completed. Participants provided insights into their most frequent cycling routes, perceptions of crowding, and safety. The study utilised Mixed Logit models to analyse the effects of varying crowding levels on route preferences and perceived safety. Logistic regression was used to assess the consistency between route preferences and perceived safety.

The study revealed that crowding negatively influences both route preferences and perceived safety among cyclists. This impact is particularly significant for older cyclists and women, who reported higher levels of discomfort and perceived danger on crowded routes. The findings indicate a direct relationship between perceived safety and route preferences, with most cyclists preferring routes they also consider safe.

The negative impact of crowding on route preferences and perceived safety is more pronounced among older cyclists and women. Older cyclists are more safety-conscious, leading to higher disutility when encountering crowded routes. Similarly, women exhibit a stronger preference for less crowded routes and a higher perception of danger when cycling in crowded conditions.

Cyclists showed a strong preference for separated bicycle tracks over mixed traffic conditions. However, this preference diminishes when separated tracks are crowded. In terms of perceived safety, separated bicycle tracks are preferred, but their effectiveness decreases with high levels of crowding. Bicycle lanes also increase route utility and perceived safety, but their benefits reduce significantly under crowded conditions.

Routes with lower traffic volumes and fewer intersections are preferred and perceived as safer by cyclists. High traffic volumes and numerous intersections negatively affect route choices and safety perceptions. These findings align with existing literature, highlighting the importance of minimal motorised vehicle interaction for cyclist comfort and safety.

Cyclists, particularly those who commute to work, prefer shorter travel times. But the study shows significant heterogeneity in preferences, indicating that not all cyclists prioritise travel time over safety and comfort.

The study’s findings have important implications for urban planning and cycling infrastructure development. To enhance cyclist safety and satisfaction, urban policymakers should consider the following:

  • Expanding separated bicycle tracks. Increasing the number and width of separated bicycle tracks can mitigate the negative effects of crowding and improve perceived safety.
  • Optimising route distribution. Distributing cycling traffic across multiple routes can reduce crowding on popular paths, enhancing safety and comfort for all cyclists.
  • Implementing flexible infrastructure. Developing infrastructure that can adapt to varying cyclist volumes and provide ample space can address the challenges posed by crowding.
  • Targeted interventions for vulnerable groups. Special attention should be given to older cyclists and women, who are more affected by crowding. Designing safer, less crowded routes for these groups can significantly improve their cycling experience.

The study underscores the importance of considering crowding in the planning and design of urban cycling infrastructure. By addressing the issues highlighted, cities can enhance the safety and satisfaction of their cycling networks, encouraging more people to choose cycling as a sustainable and healthy mode of transport.

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