Cycling on footpaths is dangerous... for cyclists

20 Aug 2015

Two Australian studies have confirmed international research, finding cyclists are safer riding on the road than on footpaths.  

An exposure based study of crash and injury rates for more than 2,000 adult cyclists in NSW found that 11% of crashes were on the footpath, even though adults cannot legally ride on the footpath unless accompanying a child.  The authors estimated that the crash rate for cyclists on the footpath was 5.6 times that of cyclists on the road and the injury rate was 4.5 times greater.

The other study looked at Bicycle Crashes in Different Riding Environments In the ACT, where cycling is allowed on footpaths.  It focused on 202 riders who had crashed, finding that 17% were on the footpath and 36% on shared paths. In comparing different contexts the authors concluded that cyclists would be safer riding on the road, particularly where cycle lanes were available.

These findings are consistent with overseas data. A comprehensive literature review of the impact of transportation infrastructure on bicycling injuries and crashes found “most studies that considered sidewalk-riding suggested that it is particularly hazardous for cyclists, with estimates of 1.8 to 16 times the risk of cycling on-road."

The relationship between cycling environments and injury severity is less clear, but it should not be assumed that footpath crashes are 'low impact.' The ACT study found crashes on shared paths and in traffic were more likely to result in serious injury and to require admission to hospital than those on cycle lanes or footpaths.  However a recent study from Canada looking at the severity of urban cycling injuries and the relationship with personal, trip route and crash characteristics found crashes on footpaths or multi-use paths had considerably higher odds of ambulance transport and hospital admission than other contexts.

Not to be forgotten in all of this, of course, is the fact that pedestrians are also safer and more comfortable without cyclists on the footpath.