We’ve all heard horror stories about planks spiked with nails and covered over by leaves, or of door nobs joined to live wires. Sometimes they’re just sociopathic, like the razor blade on the waterslide. Sometimes they’re put there by vigilantes, like the wire tied at neck height to deter riders of trail bikes. Either way, their illegal…
…unless you’re the government and your trap is set to harm cyclists. In that case you have been enjoying a long lasting exemption. My aim with this post is to put an end to this caper.
Before I describe two such man traps—one set by councils all over Australia, and the other set by the city of Amsterdam, believe it or not—let me define what I mean by a man trap.
Just making a road that is dangerous to ride on doesn’t make a government guilty of setting a man trap, not if they can argue they made cycling conditions as safe as they could, given their budget and all the competing demands. They need to have gone out of their way to set up a danger, to deter cyclists from using that road. Even then, the hazard could not be classified as a trap if it were made plain to the eye—otherwise security fences, with spikes on the top, would all be called traps.
They’re not, because the spikes are clearly to anyone before they start climbing. You could say the same of a sheer drop with no railing. Any cyclists with eyes would be able to see there was a danger and get off and walk if they wanted.
The first I want to mention is the 40mm high lip where driveways meet gutters. They’re standard all over the world. One study in my own city found they were responsible for more cyclists being admitted to hospital than accidents involving a car.
Is there something about concrete that it needs to be poured in this way? No. Look at the bottom of pram ramps. Is there some rationale concerning the flow of storm water? Again, look at the bottom of pram ramps!
The reason I have heard from officialdom for these 40mm lips is they are there to discourage cyclists from switching back and forth between the carriageway and the footpath.
Supposing we agreed that cyclists should be discouraged from switching to the footpath at driveways, would we really think the best way to do that was by setting trap? That’s what these are. 40mm curbs at the bottoms of driveways aren’t just a discomfort to cyclists. They’re one of the main causes of hospital admissions. They would also be the cause of some deaths.
When local governments first started to be sued for irregularities in footpaths causing people to trip, they began the routine task of grinding these smooth. With the bulk of that work now complete it is time to start grinding down driveways. Not doing so is like seeing a neck-high wire stretched over a trail and failing to take any action.
I’m not saying the old guideline for the shaping of driveways was originally written as an instruction on how to make man traps. I’m saying it became an instruction once the danger was made known (with the aforementioned study) and the argument for the status quo shifted. Any thought that a 40mm lip is necessary for hydraulics or ease of construction had long passed, with the proliferation of pram ramps. Now all that could be said was these 40mm lips were there to trap cyclists—like wires stretched at neck height across trails.
You may think it would only be in some frontier land like Australia, that authorities would keep a design guideline because it worked well as a man trap. But wait! One of the most egregious man traps I know is set by the Gemeente of Amsterdam.
To understand it you first you need know how streets are classified in that city. Some streets are pedestrian only—easy enough to comprehend. Some are for pedestrians and cyclists, on the understanding that cyclists are guests. Some (most streets of the canal district) have a separate footpath for pedestrians and a shared carriageway where cyclists are owners and drivers are guests.
Moving on down, you come to streets with bike paths separated from the carriageway, either by a curb or a row of parked push bikes or cars. These are the streets where motorists, cyclists and pedestrians all have their own defined space.
But then there is category of street where authorities would rather people didn’t ride bikes. Their main way of signalling that to them? The dreaded door zone. One street I often found myself on, wondering how the hell I had gotten myself on it again, is called Planciusstraat.
But there are worse. There are ones with marked bike lanes forcing you into the door zone. Take Nassaukade for example. Cycling Northward along it, you are either riding in bike lanes in door zones…
…or bike lanes on the carriageway side of angle-parked cars, a situation that is known to be equally dangerous.
If they were anywhere else but the Netherlands you could say these bike lanes were misguided attempts to encourage people to ride on these streets. But they’re not somewhere else. They’re in the Netherlands and are being used to discourage people to ride there. You’re not being stopped. You’re just likely to fall into the trap of being doored or being reversed on.
While neither example is quite as grisly as a wire stretched at neck height on a trail, both are the project of the same logic.
What’s going to change this? If we look at the example of stormwater grates, we would have to say law suits. My hope is this blog post will come to the attention of recent victims of government-set man traps, so they might go to a lawyer and sue.
As always, I welcome all comments. If there is a flaw in my logic, please tell me. Are there examples of man traps I haven’t considered? Let’s ruminate on them.
Roberto, if you’re reading, I haven’t blogged in a while for reasons you know. For the rest of you I will say, that reason is a new life I have embarked on, because I was getting tired of the travel required of me, as a bicycling “expert” of occasional worth. I have started a swim brand! More than that, I have built a small factory and gone and leaned clothing design and how to sew.
That’s four careers now. I’ve been architect, then an academic, then a travelling expert on cycling. Now I’m a women’s swimwear designer, for no reason really, except that I can. You will be pleased to know I’m running a small business in my city using cycle logistics while serving as an advisor to my city as it moves toward a future with fewer cars.