Segregated infrastructure: the key to micro-mobility safety and adoption
December 13, 2022
Segregated infrastructure: the key to micro-mobility safety and adoption
Within the last five years, the global micro-mobility industry has matured and expanded at an incredible rate, with cities across the world adopting e-scooters and e-bikes into their urban transport mix. This growth is set to continue, with McKinsey predicting micro-mobility passenger miles will more than treble by 2026. At TIER, we believe that the uptake of micro-mobility can play an important role in achieving Vision Zero through reducing the reliance on private cars. To ensure the success of micro-mobility we need to continue to deepen our understanding of how micro-mobility users themselves can be kept safe, as part of our preventative approach to safety. That’s why TIER has partnered with TRL (the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory) to better understand which interventions - such as the use of helmets and building micro-mobility infrastructure - keep micro-mobility users safe. The partnership involved a comprehensive study into the barriers to using shared micro-mobility, including a global literature review to provide evidence on which measures are most likely to improve safety outcomes, followed by a multi-regional study of users and non-users in the UK and in Germany to fill in the research gaps, with over 2,000 responses (comprising 993 micro-mobility users and 1,066 non-users).
It’s important to note that micro-mobility collision data, particularly in the case of e-scooters, is often underreported and poorly recorded, despite the significant increase in the usage of micro-mobility devices such as e-scooters. To combat this, in the absence of the ability to observe crash rates, we have taken perceptions of safety to be a proxy for actual safety. Whilst this approach has limitations, perceived safety is a helpful tool and an important prerequisite for encouraging micro-mobility usage.
Infrastructure has the greatest impact on rider safety
Infrastructure was reported as the number one factor influencing feelings of safety. Our findings showed that ‘micro-mobility infrastructure’ – which can be shared by both cyclists and e-scooter users – was the most important factor in determining how safe individuals felt when riding an e-bike or e-scooter. In fact, infrastructure which enables cyclists and micro-mobility users to be segregated from motorists was three times more likely to be chosen when compared to other safety measures, including driver education, rider training and wearing a helmet.
Physically separating cars from micro-mobility modes of transport should improve both ‘actual’ safety and perceptions of safety, boosting rider confidence and aligning with best practice guidance for cycling infrastructure design. For example, an analysis of pedal cycle travel and collisions before and after Boston’s expansion of cycling infrastructure showed an increase in total pedal cycle lane mileage from 0.034 miles to more than 92 miles. This was found to have a 140% increase in the population of pedal cycle commuters. Despite this significant increase in ridership, there was no significant change in the total number of recorded collisions. In fact, it was found that the likelihood of being injured in a pedal cycle collision on a main road was reduced by 37%, likely because of the addition of cycle lanes.
The impact of infrastructure was emphasised in the road user survey where we found that across both the UK and Germany, dedicated micro-mobility infrastructure was most frequently selected as the most popular initiative (44% of those surveyed) when asked what would improve their feelings of safety. Dedicated micro-mobility infrastructure was significantly more likely to improve perceptions of safety and likelihood to ride than education interventions. Helmet-centred initiatives would appear to have a minimal effect on improving safety perceptions among users when compared to the other initiatives presented in the survey.
The behaviour of other road users needs to be addressed
We also asked those who have not used micro-mobility options which initiatives would make them feel safer - with results showing that other road users’ behaviour is extremely important. The survey has shown how there is an underlying conflict between motorists and other road users. Negative attitudes (such as the perception that a road user is taking up space they shouldn’t be) exist between different transport modes. These negative attitudes and underlying conflicts are expressed through inappropriate and unsafe behaviours (e.g. close overtaking, tailgating etc). It was found that car drivers who also cycle are more likely to perceive cyclists as legitimate road users compared to drivers who do not cycle. This is further supported by learning from the cycling industry, where a study in Norway found that cyclists felt less safe, and more frustrated, during interactions with motor vehicles, particularly trucks and buses, (for example motorists overtaking and coming too close) compared with interactions with other road user groups. Therefore by implementing segregated infrastructure that gives micro-mobility the space it needs, we believe that these behaviours would be eradicated.
Education and training are of secondary importance
Though secondary to improvements to infrastructure, education and training interventions are considered important to both micro-mobility users and non-users in terms of their perceptions of safety and their likelihood to ride. For example, a study on e-bike rider safety in China found that the sample of riders appeared to lack safety knowledge, which was significantly associated with risky riding behaviours, including incorrect and aggressive riding. This is a finding consistently illustrated across research and demonstrates that education should continue to be provided for both users and non-users via suitable training organisations and providers.
We found that preferred content for an education intervention includes:
How to operate micro-mobility
How to behave appropriately while using micro-mobility
What rules apply to micro-mobility
Raising awareness of the benefits of helmets
- Specifically education can play a role in improving knowledge and awareness of these transport modes (and, in turn, reducing risk).
The evidence in support of mandating helmets is unclear
At the time of conducting this survey, neither the UK nor Germany had a helmet mandate in place for micro-mobility riders. Against this backdrop, our survey was limited in the extent to which data could be captured on actual behaviours and the impacts of helmet mandates on those behaviours. Nonetheless this work found that helmets can prevent the severity of head injuries from occurring, as shown by pre-existing literature, and wearing a helmet improves riders’ feelings of safety. Studies from countries that have enacted mandatory helmet laws suggest that mandatory laws do not necessarily lead to more helmet use, and can in fact frustrate the adoption of micro-mobility options. According to Chris Rissel, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, mandatory helmet laws in Australia actually corresponded with a 30-40% decrease in cycling after implementation. Likewise, 71% of respondents to a French survey stated that the prospect of mandatory use of helmets would put them off using e-scooters. Interesting user research conducted by TRL in Germany found some riders may be put off by a helmet mandate, citing not being in possession of a helmet or not wanting to carry one around as the main reasons. This highlights the relationship between helmet use and modal shift, and indicates that making helmets mandatory may act as a deterrent to e-scooter and e-bike uptake. Ultimately it was found that there is insufficient evidence to support the introduction of a helmet mandate. As such, it is recommended that voluntary helmet use is encouraged among micro-mobility riders.
Kate Barnes said: ‘With this study showing that infrastructure has the greatest impact, we now must investigate what type of infrastructure will have the greatest effect on safety. Cities and operators now need to future explore how infrastructure can be designed taking into account infrastructure quality, lighting and design. Crucially we need to urgently address the negative behaviours of motorists and other road users. It’s here that infrastructure could be a tool, as a way to help different modes interact safely with each other. We won't solve safety overnight, but answering these key questions will help us make much needed improvements and create steps towards modal shift.
‘Whilst our work on safety never stops, this research done with TLR and TIER can already play an important role in answering the question of how limited public resources can be best used to have the biggest return on investment when it comes to safety. Now we have strong evidence outlining how these resources can best be invested to make the biggest difference to micro-mobility riders.’
Dr George Beard, Head of New Mobility at TRL, said: ‘The micro-mobility landscape is rapidly growing and evolving and in many cases developments in new technologies have outpaced policy making. What is clear is that the future of mobility is becoming more complex, not less, and, indeed, we urgently need better choices in transport if we are to have any hope in combating climate change, reducing road traffic deaths, improving air quality and tackling inequality. To ensure we accelerate and harness the benefits of micro-mobility, evidence from research projects like this is critical to inform what investments and supporting policies should be prioritised as we transition our transport system. This work suggests that the most likely mechanism for improving micro-mobility uptake and safety is to build infrastructure which provides physical separation from motor vehicles. This is likely to improve both actual and perceived safety; reducing the number of interactions between modes of different speeds thereby reducing the likelihood and severity of collisions, and helping riders to feel safer, in turn making them more likely to choose micromobility. What is key moving forwards is understanding how best to design and optimise such infrastructure to cater for the growing mix of micro-mobility users (bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes, e-scooters and beyond) in a world where space in our urban areas is severely limited.’