Are cycle tracks safe?
The question arises from a painful accident on our recent trip to Portugal (March 2012). We were staying in Monte Gordo and travelled to Vila Real to take the ferry boat to Ayemonte in Spain. We had a wonderful day, arriving back in Vila Real in time for a late lunch. Then we set off for the 3-4 kilometre trip back to Monte Gordo.
Vila Real and Monte Gordo are connected by a dead straight and nearly level road, bordered on either side by a purpose built cycle track, clearly marked for cycles and painted pink. Beyond the cycle path is a gravel footpath. The footpath is separated form the cycle track by a 45-100 mm kerb. The cycle track is separated from the road by a mini-kerbstone about 25 mm high and cut at 45 degrees. This implies to me that it is designed to allow bikes to skip on and off the cycle path as necessary. Why should this be necessary? Well, because Monte Gordo is a base for lots of runners in training and they seem to use the cycle track in preference to the footpath as their preferred running surface.
On Mothering Sunday last, my wife and I found to our cost just how dangerous a mix runners and cyclists can be. Travelling towards Monte Gordo we met a powerful runner running up the centre of the cycle track. We (I really as I was in front) took the decision to skip off the cycle track to leave him free to run. My wife followed my example. I slipped back on to the cycle way without difficulty: my wife tried and caught her wheel on a slightly raised section of the lowered kerb and fell from her bike. Worse still she fell directly on to the raised kerb on the footpath with her shoulder and badly broke the ball joint at the top of her arm.
Was this an avoidable accident? Yes. Did we contribute to our own accident. Yes. Did the design of the track contribute? I think so. The junction of road and cycle track encourages you to take on a dangerous manoeuvre. The high kerb between cycle track and footpath will make any fall more serious.
We always ride defensively on roads. This accident brought home to me the need to do so even on cycle tracks. Especially where cyclists and pedestrians or runners are expected to mix in one space. Talk about a lesson learned the hard way.