Cyclists run risks in Swedish cities
It's springtime and thousands of cyclists are hitting the streets of Swedish cities. And they're running risks. A recent report says that nearly half of all serious traffic-related injuries are suffered by cyclists. So how can their safety be ensured?
Some cyclists brave the winter, but most come out of hiding around this time of year. During the peak of the biking season, in June, it's estimated 375,000 people commute by bicycle every day in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.
The springtime influx of bicycles affects not only those riding on two wheels, but also pedestrians, Stockholm's bus services - and Taxi drivers.
"It affects me a lot, driving a taxi," says one Stockholm taxi driver.
"I think they take up too much space, they go too fast and break the rules. They go against red and around people at zebra crossings. I dislike it. They go too fast and take up too much space," says the taxi driver.
Drivers can have a hard time stopping, turning and taking extra precautions not to get in the way of cyclists, some of whom can be reckless in traffic. Yet the dangers of biking are real.
A report by the insurance company Folksam says that it's more dangerous to ride a bicycle than to drive a car.
The report states that of those seriously injured in traffic accidents in nine Swedish cities last year, nearly half were cyclists.
By comparison, car drivers were injured in 28 percent of the cases, and pedestrians in only seven percent. It's no wonder that many cyclists feel unsafe.
"I do not really feel safe biking in Stockholm, actually. The traffic is quite crowded, and taxis and big vans stop on the bike lanes. But also cyclists can ride at a high speed with no notice of who is beside them and not respecting the rules," says a cyclist in central Stockholm.
But vehicles may not be the cyclists' main foe.
The report by Folksam shows that 70 percent of the cycling accidents aren't crashes, but rather accidents involving a single cyclist, often due to slippery or badly kept roads.
To get at this problem, improvements to infrastructure may be needed. Bike lanes might need extra plowing during the winter to reduce accidents.
Stockholm's Traffic and Waste Management Committee is drafting a cycling plan for the city. The plan is likely to lead to the widening of bike lanes along bike lanes heavily used by commuters.
But Jeroen Wolfers, who writes for Cyklistbloggen.se, a website debating cycling politics, says that the cycling plan for Stockholm does not seem to give cyclists the same priority as pedestrians and motorists.
"We need better infrastructure, safer cycle lanes and intersections. This, of course, is something that cannot be fixed quickly. It needs planning from the beginning. It's all about the priority of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. They need to be prioritized equally," says Jeroen Wolfers.
"What we see in Denmark and in Holland in particular is that there are plans for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists to have equal priority in the cities and beyond," he continues.
But whether Stockholm is widening bike lanes – or, for that matter, separating and raising them from where cars drive, as in Denmark – is sure to affect car traffic. Taxi drivers may not be pleased.
"They cycle where they want, I don't know how we can help them," says the taxi driver.
Sven Hultberg Carlsson