The Times launched its safer cycling campaign, ‘Cities fit for Cyclists’, today. The campaign was inspired by an incident involving one of their colleagues who was injured whilst cycling and who still remains in hospital three months on. Whatever the inspiration, the Times’s ‘Cities fit for Cyclists’ campaign is an extremely welcome step in the right direction. By making our roads safer for those who currently cycle we are also able to address a fundamental barrier which prevents the overwhelming majority of cyclists from cycling; fear of motor traffic.
The Times’s ‘Cities fit for Cyclists’ manifesto demonstrates an understanding of the role of infrastructure in making cycling both objectively and subjectively safe, calling for money from the Highways Agency budget to be spent on cycle infrastructure which is ‘world class’. It is extremely pleasing to see this issue raised by a national newspaper; at present cyclists pay the taxes which pay for the building and maintenance of roads, but too often the designs of these roads take no account of cyclists needs. Support for building world-class cycle infrastructure will address the factors which currently prevent cycling being a viable means of transport for the average person, as it was in the UK’s recent past.
All cycle infrastructure is not created equal. The key to keeping the UK’s existing cyclists safe and getting the rest of us using bikes for transport is to ensure that cycle infrastructure is indeed world class. Such world-class cycle infrastructure already exists, just a short ferry ride away in the Netherlands. The Dutch approach to providing for cyclists has a proven track record of success, cycling in the Netherlands is safer than the UK and feels significantly so. The result is that across the whole country 25% of all journeys are made by bicycle.
The manifesto also states that 20 mph should be the default speed limit in residential areas. This is a core component of the Dutch approach to street design, coupled with measures such as eliminating through routes or ‘rat runs’ for motor traffic and designing residential streets as places for people, rather than for the fast movement of vehicles. The importance of the quality and design of cycle infrastructure cannot be overstated, the UK’s current approach to cycle infrastructure often leads to poorly designed, inconvenient and outright dangerous cycle routes. I think it is safe to say that no-one who cycles is asking for more of these.
The ‘Cities fit for Cyclists’ manifesto goes on to suggest that trucks entering city centres be fitted with sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, additional mirrors and safety bars to help prevent cyclists being crushed in the event of a collision. Whilst these are a welcome addition in the short-term, in the long-term, a commitment to world-class infrastructure would prevent cyclists and HGVs from being brought into conflict in the first place, ending the tragedies which are becoming an all too common occurrence on our roads.
The suggestion of greater training for cyclists and drivers is also welcome. However, most cycle training in the UK at the moment concentrates on a type of assertiveness development that puts many potential cyclists off and is not necessary for cyclists in a really cycle-friendly place like the Netherlands, because road designs that eliminate conflict with motor vehicles, particularly at junctions, mean that this assertive style of cycling is not required. Basic training in how to cycle on the roads and obey the Highway Code should be standard for all school children, however, here, as it is there. The addition of cycle safety as a core component of the driving test is an extremely welcome suggestion. It does not address the problem of existing drivers, but with better standards in infrastructure design, more might be tempted to hop on their bicycles from time to time.
On the possibility of commercial sponsorship of cycle infrastructure, companies could learn from the experience of the London Cycle Superhighways in general, and the tragedies at Bow Roundabout in particular. A corporate sponsor, in addition to providing a financial contribution towards a project, may also act as a failsafe to prevent the building of more cycle infrastructure that, like the Cycle Superhighways, is simply not fit for purpose. After all, it is in the commercial sector’s best interest not to be associated with infrastructure that puts its users in danger.
We feel there is much to support in The Times’ ‘Cities fit for Cyclists’ campaign. Whilst the amount of the Highways Agency Budget it suggests be allocated to world-class cycle infrastructure could be more ambitious (the 2% figure is less than 10% of what the Netherlands spends per capita on cycling infrastructure) it is important to recognise the enormous step in the right direction being made by The Times’s campaign. The importance of high-quality cycle infrastructure on busy roads and lower speed limits on residential streets is something that we feel everyone can agree on and making those who make the decisions on the design of our roads more accountable for the decisions they make is also laudable. It is our hope that this will provide a framework to ensure that we see the necessary changes to our roads which are needed to make them fit for cycling again.