Transport Committee – Cycling safety: follow up

To a call by the Transport Committee – Cycling safety: follow up Newcycling (Newcastle’s cycling campaign, 1,200 members, volunteer organisation, constituted, formed in 2010 ) would like to respond to your request about views on cycling safety. We will comment on cycle safety purely in the context of urban transport cycling.

Specifically you ask to answer three questions:

1) Whether cycling is safe, particularly in towns and cities
We believe that the current road environment makes cycling a transport option available only to the ‘brave and fit’ thereby leaving dormant the large majority of the population and the potential of mass cycling. Cycling for transport (to work, school, shops, visiting friends) in Newcastle and other UK cities is not pleasant and attractive, and feels intrinsically unsafe, unreal and ‘alien’ to the majority of the population. We therefore agree with the findings of “Understanding walking and cycling” by Pooley, Horton et al 2011 [ref.1]. Results of local survey carried out in 2010 [ref.2] termed Newcastle’s roads ‘dangerous, a nightmare’ etc. A recent survey 2013 also did not hold the local infrastructure in high regard [ref.3].

2) What central and local Government could do to improve cycling safety. (Ideas could include better training and advice for drivers and cyclists, better enforcement of the law applying to drivers and cyclists, and better vehicle and road infrastructure)
We think that only better and smarter road design can make cycling safer, and as importantly, feel safe. In addition to the research by Pooley, Horton et al, the importance of road design and infrastructure is also consistently stressed in the preliminary finding of the OECD ITF report on cycling safety [ref.4]. We would also make reference to NICE guidance January 2008 [ref.5], that puts urban environment on the list of things to change for a healthier and happier population and cross-departmental working is required to take place. This includes the law department of the government, DECC (for carbon emissions), health (for obvious reasons) and others. The Netherlands and other countries and cities in Europe have a wealth of expertise in designing and building excellent cycling infrastructure: making knowledge and practice transfer between Dutch and local engineers and planners essential. Better road infrastructure could be complemented by measures such as (and in no particular order) enforcement, educating drivers (changes to driving licence, test and re-test, including cycling as part of the test) and legal / court changes (strict liability), positive marketing of cycling and actively discouraging driving [refs 6 and 7], promotion of a high-spec cycle network or specific route (once built), and better engineering design standards making cycling provision what it needs to be: direct and convenient (example: giving cycle routes priority across junctions and side roads).

3) Whether it would be desirable and feasible to segregate cyclists from other road users, including, for example, by prohibiting HGVs from entering city centres at peak hours.
Protected space is vital on fast, heavy roads. The applied degree of separation of motor vehicle and bicycle traffic streams should simply be an equation of volume, speed and motor vehicle mix (cars, vans, buses, lorries). Naturally this works the other way round too, if a road can be calmed down sufficiently (speed, volume, vehicle mix) separation might no longer be required.

Also ask more generally:

Other ideas for improving cycling safety would also be welcomed.
The UK research by Pooley, Horton et al is very relevant here yet seems as yet largely underused and the important findings have not been given the attention in policy and action it deserves. The research is important in that it tells us why the majority does not cycle and what is required to make cycling happen. Maybe it is not so much about making cycling safe, but rather about making space for cycling, making cycling convenient and giving it priority so that it will feel normal. Any new sensible cycle space (coherent network of continuous cycleways) taken from the motor vehicle gives the fairness, practicality and normality on our roads for people on foot and bicycle, of all ages, ability and gender.

Hope this is of use.

Katja Leyendecker, chair

1.Understanding walking and cycling
2.Newcastle petition survey
3.Newcastle hire bike user survey
4.OECD ITF preliminary findings
5.NICE [html] / [pdf]
6.No ridiculous car journeys
7.Do the Right Mix