Is London really the scariest place to ride?

A recent study showed that London is deemed to be the most frightening city to ride a bicycle.  The report highlighted the high speed of city centre traffic, air pollution, poorly designed blue cycle lanes and the break-neck speed of other cyclists negotiating the traffic.

For many citizens in Britain’s capital, this result seems unfair. Transport for London has a ‘safe streets for London’ plan and there is a total of £145 million which has been earmarked to be spent in 2015 to improve the already prolific cycle network around the city.  If London is not felt to be the dubious prize taker for the most frightening place to get on your bike, then where could be the real winner?

Many seasoned cyclists feel that New York is certainly amongst the top contenders. The mixture of taxis, buses, SUV’s and large trucks all make it a dangerous jungle to try to move through on two wheels.

Taxis are felt to be the largest culprit of possible accidents as the doors are wide and it is common for passengers to get out when the traffic lights are at red. This means that they often open the doors without looking as a cyclist is approaching. Cabs are also well known for suddenly pulling into open parking spaces. They give no warning as they let passengers out and this can be deadly if a cyclist is riding into a blind spot.
New York loves its large cars and the city has a higher than average ownership of SUV’s. Being hit by an SUV is dangerous because the point of impact is much higher than a standard vehicle.

Buses in New York are slow so it’s a little easier to judge their movements. However, they often squeeze tightly up against each other on neighbouring lanes or against a truck when the road narrows which means a scramble for safety for the cyclist who can see the gap they are entering suddenly disappear.

Trucks are large and heavy and the fatality statistics are frightening for New York. A study in the 1990s showed garbage trucks in New York were the most dangerous to be near when on a bike with 24 cycling fatalities per 100 million miles travelled.

The road surface itself in New York is a minefield of danger. Full of potholes, sink holes and sewer grates, some of the summer sink holes are so large cyclists have been known to completely fall in! There are areas of road where the River Hudson washes sand up – another unexpected hazard. Whilst the city has a well-publicised network of cycle lanes, other road users often ignore the green lanes and they are usually full of parked trucks unloading their goods, shoppers getting in and out of their cars and cabs waiting to find a fare. An average of 7 obstructions per kilometre of cycle lane means that joining the main traffic is mandatory every couple of hundred metres and each attempt is met by loud horns and the wind blast of a quickly moving truck.

Of course the argument from others using the roads is a different tale. Cyclists are accused of running red lights, weaving through traffic, not wearing protective clothing such as a helmet and displaying no lights. Not all near misses are due to the vehicle driver and it is important that those on a bicycle are as road aware as they can be without themselves endangering the lives of another.

Within New York, the most frightening area to cycle is almost universally agreed on to be Manhattan. At first, taking the Manhattan Bridge Bike Path sounds a gentile and scenic way to see this part of the city. The reality is that the subway runs directly next to the path as you travel along and the bridge has a deep and ominous sounding creak. It’s also uphill for the first half of the bridge so trying to breathe whilst hoping the cross winds of the subway don’t knock you off are just some of the things to contend with.

Trying to cycle through Manhattan at certain times of the day is deemed more a chaotic free for all fight rather than an organised traffic system. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are particularly scary even for those who are used to the streets of the area.

With even the prospect of taking a bicycle into the perceived calm of a green area of New York, Central Park is described as a ‘crazy’ place for the inexperienced cyclist to venture. Even city issued cycling guides about the area warn against trying to brush up on old skills at certain times of the day because of the number of hazards and possible injury possibilities due to the attitude of other drivers and the general state of the roads.

Whilst London may be seen as a daunting prospect for the uninitiated cyclist, New York certainly has far more issues and reasons to be frightened by the idea of a ride along its famous streets. For those who choose this method of transport, they need to be experienced riders, know the area and practise commuting routes at quiet times first before heading out for the first time at 8am on a Monday morning.

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