Anyone who gets on their bicycle is more vulnerable than motorized road users: While the bodywork of a car serves as protective capsule in a collision, cyclists might only be wearing a helmet. However, a helmet doesn’t help much when a truck turns right and doesn’t see cyclists. It is a fact that cyclists are the weaker road users. And so cyclists often feel like they are quite at the mercy of road traffic, in particular in places where they are brought together with motorized traffic.

This subjective safety varies from person to person and also indicates a gender effect. Various studies show that women generally feel a greater need for safety than men. This is also reflected in road traffic. We see that women have a subjective feeling of being unsafe here more frequently than men do.

Speed plays a role, among other things, in the perceived risk. If I am traveling at 20 km/h myself and a car overtakes at 30 km/h, then the difference isn’t that great anymore and straight away I feel more comfortable on the bicycle. Also, because I know that in the case of an accident, the severity of an injury is less than when the car is traveling at 50 km/h. The same is true for a mix of bicycling and walking in which the pedestrian represents the weaker road user.

In addition to the measurable risk, earlier experiences which have been made play a role in the feeling of safety: While accidents with cyclists are documented, near miss accidents do not find a way into the statistics. In particular when cycling, there is an incredibly high number of critical situations which cyclists report on in our field studies: ‘If I hadn’t been on my guard at that very moment, if I hadn’t braked or jumped off my bike, then there would have been an accident’. But what is it that moves people to cycling?

Small typology of cyclists

Traffic psychologist Lisa-Marie Schaefer from the Technical University of Dresden has developed a typology of cyclists and asked people about their motivation, preferences and safety needs.

The passionate type feels confident on two wheels: These cyclists use their bikes a lot – for example to commute to and from work. To get from A to B quickly, they like to ride on proper surfaces. They are not bothered by the traffic around them. However, they do feel more comfortable with a solid line separating them from motorized traffic than with a dashed line.

The pragmatic type is motivated by the actions of others: These cyclists pedal because the people in their environment do. To them, bicycles are a mode with a positive impact and they mostly travel by bike. Even so, they are quick to feel uncomfortable and unsafe in mixed traffic.

The ambitious type cherishes time on the bike. These cyclists love a sporting challenge. They scope out long distance routes and enjoy the exercise. Their subjective feeling of safety is similar to that of the passionate type, but is not quite as strong in all traffic situations.

The functional type is a fair weather rider: For these cyclists, the exercise aspect is part of the fun and they like to get on their bikes at the weekends or when on vacation. For a beautiful scenery, they will gladly take a detour. To them cycling has to be relaxing. That’s why they love routes with few cars and traffic lights. The more separate their lane is from the other traffic, the safer they feel.

Safer, faster, further – promoting cycleways to push cycling

Cycleways – the “bicycle highway” – extend the radius of movement, increase safety, and thus pave the way for an increasing number of cyclists. Is this the chosen path for a successful mobility transformation?

About the Author

Sonja focuses on mobility planning that creates new living spaces for people while protecting the environment. She is interested in how data can contribute to innovative concepts and how digitalization can bring sustainable mobility to the road faster.

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