Road safety week – let’s stop the blame game

cyclistsdocount Newcastle City Council says it wants more people to cycle and travel more actively. And rightly so! Newcastle has an obesity crisis putting a crushing burden on health/wellbeing services. General inequalities are widening in the city too. Newcastle is becoming more divided. The construction of an inclusive transport system can level the playing field a great deal. So road safety should really not be allowed to drive people off the road. It should be about making the transport system inclusive and safe. Yet, many road and traffic schemes do not comply.

Schemes branded cycling schemes repeatedly turn out to be underservant of their label, when inspected by newcycling’s Infrastructure Team as the group’s numerous consultation replies show. Council engineers and planners are still designing for exclusion – the latest sign, and a stark and shocking one at that, is the Northern Access Corridor. Motor traffic will be catered for by simply predicting its increase, and then providing for it – yet people walking and cycling are not given the safe infrastructure they need and deserve. As a result Newcastle neighbourhoods in council’s latest road plans will be drowned in motor traffic. Newcycling keeps checking, but the real deal of catering for mode shift and making transformative plans for the transport transition has not been observed at the council yet.

Sally Watson, mother of two and Committee member of newcycling, addresses council: ‘Dangerous driving puts me and my children at risk so please can we tackle this major issue, rather than the ineffective and victim-blaming policy of wasting time telling cyclists that they need to keep themselves safe. It isn’t in our power to do this when we don’t have suitable cycle infrastructure.’

Over the years, newcycling has reported speeding and rat-running issues to the council including road sections near schools, and made suggestions about how to tackle these issues. However, action by the council is sorely lacking.

Katja Leyendecker, chair of newcycling says “You cannot call it road safety if all you did was slapping a hiviz vest on someone or promoted some cycle training or child pedestrian training. Primarily we need safe infrastructure as people, quite rightly, don’t really enjoy mixing with motor traffic when walking and cycling. It seems to me, Newcastle City Council finds it hard to wholly think this through though. For road safety it really means we must tackle the immediate dangers: driving and parking motor cars, rat running, lack of safe space to walk and cycle. It also means that in the longer term, we need plans and programmes: we are calling on council to enshrine the Strategic Cycle Routes in policy, so we see the construction of protected cycleways on main roads, and adopt the London Cycling Design Standards so engineers and planners have a common platform of safe designs.”

“We will condemn every road safety initiative unless clearly linked to a programme of building safe, comfortable, inclusive infrastructure for walking and cycling.”

Please Newcastle City Council take a decisive stand against the blame game of road safety. We ask Newcastle City Council to adopt our Charter for Sensible Road Safety.

Charter for Sensible Road Safety

We ask the road safety divisions in local authorities and road-safety bodies:

  1. To acknowledge the immense power differential (in kinetic energy) that exists between motorised and non-motorised traffic participants, ie people walking and cycling
  2. To act in accordance with simple physical principles and hence re-design roads and streets to manage all traffic interactions safely and sustainably
  3. Prioritise walking and cycling over driving movements to stimulate local economies and create healthy life choices and interactive communities

In the meantime, before safe, convenient and comfortable walking and cycling alternatives have been built into our city and towns, we ask:

  1. Any road safety initiative to be aimed squarely at drivers
  2. Telling drivers about what cyclists are expected to do on the road, such as
    1. Cyclists should cycle away from parked cars (as doors can open)
    2. Cyclists should position in mid-lane, at least 1 metre away from the kerb or parked cars, for better visibility (cyclists are NOT asked to cycle in the gutter)
  3. Above all we ask road-safety authorities to have a strong stance on bad driving and send clear messages about unacceptable driving behaviours: tackling impatience to reduce risks from close passes, left-hooking and dooring


Full references

Pooley, C. G., et al. (2013). Promoting Walking and Cycling : New Perspectives on Sustainable Travel. Bristol: Policy Press.
Pucher, J. R., & Buehler, R. (2012). City cycling: MIT Press.