The risks of cycling

Dr. Eero Pasanen
Publication date: 
July 2001

Document types:


In the City of Helsinki, the number of injury-causing bicycle accidents per km traveled is 5-times higher than for motorcar traffic and 10-times higher than for bus traffic.

A recent study in Helsinki showed that it is safer to cycle on streets amongst cars than on our two-way cycle paths along streets. It is hard to imagine that our present two-way cycling network could be rebuilt. But in those countries and cities which are just beginning to build their cycling facilities, two-way cycle paths should be avoided in urban street networks.

Even in more advanced cycling countries like Denmark and in the Netherlands, with a lot of cyclists and with their one-way lanes and paths, cycling is still much more dangerous than car driving or public transport.

Still, we want to increase cycling for environmental and health reasons. But are these reasons strong enough to compensate the serious safety problems of cycling, especially when cycling seems to compete mainly with the very safe public transport? The important question is: Does increased cycling weaken the level of public transport service?

Cycling is nice and healthy for cyclists, but public transport is essential for many and perhaps the most manageable way towards sustainable traffic.

It is clear that we must radically improve the safety of cycling. But how can this be done?

So far, most of the important successful steps in traffic safety work have been based on restrictions of the freedom of car driving. When trying to improve the safety of cycling, the starting point is different. Popular arguments for sustainable traffic and the freedom of cycling often seem to neglect safety problems.


This is the “Helskinki” or “Finnish” study, that is used by some to justify the assertion that segregated cycle lanes are dangerous. In fact, if you read the study, it says that all cycling is dangerous, and should be discouraged as it competes with the much-safer public modes of transport.