Council’s approach to road safety unfair and unbalanced

A campaign group is angry at the imbalanced, dangerous piecemeal approach that Newcastle City Council is taking. The group says that whilst council delivers free cycle training to adults and children, they also must educate drivers about their responsibilities, teach drivers what they can expect from cyclists and tell drivers that cyclists have been instructed by the council to cycle in certain ways. This latest safety call comes in the unfortunate absence of any safe and convenient cycle infrastructure that would enable cycling for all ages and abilities and make interactions and responsibilities between road users much clearer.

Newcastle has no safe sensible cycle network. This means that during cycle training people are taught to “ride assertively”. This is commonly described as “riding in the primary position” or “taking the lane”. The idea is that this would put cyclists out of the door zone of parking cars and make them more visible to the driver. But the riding style advocated by cycle training creates a conflict with drivers. Drivers feel the cyclist is in their way and is holding them up. Secondly, cyclists are asked to keep away from the inside of (moving and waiting) vehicles. Yet again this concept is flawed as that is the place where a cycle lane would be painted on the road – actually inviting cyclists to use it, for example leading into an advanced stop line (cycle box). Thirdly, the advanced stop line is often ignored by drivers and hence when the cyclist reaches it, they cannot make safe use of it. The current road system and cycle training is rigged against cycling.

The council must balance their books on road safety, and support cycling by sending a strong clear message to drivers as well as urgently build a safe cycle network.

Katja Leyendecker, chair of newcycling.org, says “The final answer is to build safe sensible infrastructure; that must be ultimate aim. In the short term, what the council are doing does not inspire any confidence. Mixed messages is all we get. It’s well known and clear to see that the current road system does not support cycling – if anything it’s uninviting and dangerous. Where is the council’s duty of care? Unless they take a more holistic approach, council’s cycle training does not support people who would want to cycle in safe and comfortable conditions. They say they want more people to cycle, but totally forget to target drivers at all – that must be absolutely central to any road safety initiative.

“What the council are doing is completely bonkers as it’s void of any fairness and balance. We cannot be surprised that current cyclist is angry, and the new cyclist totally baffled by such nonsensical confusing messages sent by the authority. We urge council to strike a true balance, and any road safety initiative to be aimed at the real danger: motorist.

“Drivers need to be told what cyclists have been instructed to do.

“The longer term solution, or course, is to redesign our roads, and create space for cycling so everybody, eight to eighty years old, all ages, and all abilities feel they are safe to cycle. That seems a very long way off. We have seen very little expertise to design for that sea change. We have pleaded with the council to employ a transport transition expert overseeing a special team to make this long overdue step change a reality. The people of Newcastle deserve a fairer transport system.”

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