COMMENT: IrishCycle.com is a strong supportor of having decent lights on bicycles and using a torch when walking in rural areas in darkness, but is visibility just a matter of personal responsibility?
We could debate the pros and cons of high-visibility vests in urban as well as rural areas. The fact is, the level of use among pedestrians and cyclists remains overall low and nothing is going to achieve very high usage, not even unrealistic ideas about making high-visibility vests compulsory.
So, what about other kinds of visibility? What about the quality and type of street lights?
As my local council (Mayo County Council) are slowly upgrading its street light bulbs as old bulbs are replaced, I’ve had an unusual opportunity in the last while to compare and contrast the old orange street light to the new whiter light.
The following images were taken moments apart on the same street, same direction of travel, and the same distance from the two types of lights (a wider shot the the street is above). Compare and contrast, the old and new:
Hand with glove:
Better street lights also add to the feeling of safety.
Before moving away from light and visibility, we should also note that visibility is often used as an excuse for inattentional blindness or perceptual blindness, careless driving or other poor driving.
And while I’m not saying there’s no level of personal responsibility, it’s not the only issue.
Visibility by design is also important — sightlines can be affected by walls, signs, trees, bushes etc.
For example, behind this sign (which was at adult eye level) is a tram traveling at some speed — it’s not clear how it relates to a fatal bicycle/tram collision which happened at this spot, but the sign was removed when it was reported to the Railway Safety Commission;
Visibility at general junctions of roads or the junctions between cycle paths and roads is also of paramount importance. The rules of sightlines need to be strengthened and retrofit into existing designs.
There’s some stark examples on greenways. Below is a photo of where a section of the Castlebar greenway links to a side road.
The image is taken from the N5 and the timber fencing is where the walking and cycling greenway path ends and users are directed left onto the side road. The greenway exit is right inside the path of motorists heading towards the camera on the N5 but then turn left into the side road:
It can be said that the design is totally wrong in many ways, but the design and many others of different types are made worse by poor sightlines. Chopping some bushes or light trees down is a small price to pay for better safety.
Putting barriers up to slow cyclists down or thinking stop or dismount signs are a fix here is missing the point — the lack of visibility (and speed of turning motorists) means people walking can be as much of an issue as people cycling. When the view is blocked to look back at turning cars is blocked, it might not matter how careful greenway users are.
What’s clear is that visibility isn’t just an issue for road users — councils and government must also play their roll. They are failing to do so at the moment.