Caroline Pidgeon writes: Making our roads safer for everyone

Yesterday was World Day of Remembrance of Road Traffic Victims.

After the events of recent weeks such a day has incredible significance this year. Just at the weekend a cyclist was killed in Bath in a hit and run accident. And now just minutes ago I have heard that yet another cyclist has died in a crash with a lorry in London.

In less than two weeks the capital has seen six cyclists killed – with today’s latest fatality the number of cyclists already killed matches the total figure for 2012. I desperately hope that this surge of cycle fatalities turns out to be a ‘statistical contraction’, but with six more weeks until New Year’s Eve I fear that there will be more cycling fatalities before the year is out.

There has also been some terrible news for pedestrians in the capital, with three deaths just on Friday. Indeed, despite all the coverage that cycle fatalities have been rightly attracting it is worth remembering that pedestrians account for 51% of all fatalities (pdf). In 2012, just on London’s roads, 69 pedestrians were killed and 1,054 people seriously injured. 14 cyclists were killed and 657 seriously injured.

Quoting such statistics makes for depressing reading, but if we want to stop being depressed the best thing is to start doing something. A small start would be to simply stop talking about these horrific incidents automatically as “accidents” – as if they were always just unfortunate random events that were never related to the design of our roads, or the actions of drivers.

The second point I would raise is that we should refrain from a simplistic blame culture, especially over cycle fatalities. If you listen to any radio phone-in on the issue of cycling it quickly becomes apparent that the intense divide between those who are pro-cycling and those that are anti-cycling makes some international disputes seem rather mild.

The reality is of course that some cyclists do cycle through red lights and take risks. However, equally, so do many motorists, van and lorry drivers. At any time of day there are hundreds of thousands of vehicles on our roads which are uninsured, or have bald tyres or faulty brakes – or being driven by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or on their mobile phone. All these offences are wrong – end of story. Pretending that only cyclists break the laws of the roads and get away with it is inaccurate. Indeed it is worth remembering that when a cyclist commits an offence it is normally visible to everyone. That isn’t always the case for other road users.

However, there is a much wider issue. We need to recognise that the design of some of our roads, especially junctions, almost builds in danger for vulnerable road users. Other cities in Europe have far safer roads, especially for cyclists. When it comes to finding fault for such fatalities The Times in its lead editorial last Friday rightly declared that: “the fault in most bicycle accidents lies with the behaviour of some drivers, with the design of some lorries, with the lay-out of some junctions.” The Times also added to the criticisms I have long made of the initial designs of the ‘Cycle Superhighways’ pushed forward by Boris Johnson.

If you want an insight from a cyclist’s perspective of the total inadequacies of the Cycle Superhighway 2 see this recent video where cyclists have been killed. Please do support the London Cycling Campaign petition to pressure the Mayor to sort this out. Our cities need real Dutch style segregated cycle facilities. We also need more roads covered by 20 mph speed limits and serious consideration given to getting HGVs off our roads in London at peak hours each day. To improve safety for pedestrians we also need measures to improve crossings as Living Streets will set out this coming Wednesday.

Before next year’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims let’s take steps to start making sure our roads are safer for everyone.

* Caroline Pidgeon is a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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  • Peter Davies 18th Nov '13 - 7:51pm

    Most cycle journeys do not need long-distance routes. We need a lot more local routes than we could afford to physically separate. In stead we need to concentrate on creating, signing and publicising routes through the quiet back-streets that the big trucks avoid and back them up with 20 mph zones and cycle-friendly traffic calming. This mainly needs to be done by local authorities sometimes in collaboration.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Nov '13 - 8:01pm

    When I was 30 years of age, and with two young children, my husband was killed by a drunk driver in the vehicle he was driving.

    I went on to suffer a serious illness, and I went blind for a while. The stress of an accident, and your husband losing his life, is incredible.

    I have lost my home, I live in Bath, in poor rented housing, cold and damp. Death, does not leave you in a strong position in life.

  • Robert Wootton 18th Nov '13 - 8:10pm

    I fully support the campaign for safe cycling routes in all our towns and cities. But when a council in Dorset is spending £40 000 pa to bus 25 children 800 metres to school because there is no footpath or pavement along the road to the school. Where is the money coming from? According to our scientists/cyberneticians, 52% of all government expenditure is wasted. Therefore the money is there. We just have to organise our affairs in such a way that wasteful expenditure is eliminated. We can then afford to build a country that enhances the safety and well being of all our citizens, including cyclists.

  • @Peter
    “In stead we need to concentrate on creating, signing and publicising routes through the quiet back-streets that the big trucks avoid and back them up with 20 mph zones and cycle-friendly traffic calming.”

    Whilst this sounds good, we shouldn’t forget that many cyclists do want to get from A to B is the shortest time and distance. Also we shouldn’t assume that cyclists are slow or even wish to travel at a sedate pace – certainly I prefer the main roads because they enabled me to cycle at speed without worrying too much about: parked cars, pedestrians, pot holes or junctions… It can also be very satisfying to ride up a line of slow moving cars and overtake the tractor etc. that is holding them up….

  • Also adding to my previous comment, I often ignore the cycleway; preferring the adjacent road because: the road has been maintained so isn’t uneven/breaking up or covered in rubbish or weeds and doesn’t require me to constantly avoid pedestrians etc. So providing safe cycling routes will require more than just putting up a few signs and painting a few lines…

  • Would I cycle in rush-hour traffic. NO. Just think of the physics !!!

  • jenny barnes 19th Nov '13 - 9:49am

    ” the intense divide between those who are pro-cycling and those that are anti-cycling ”
    The car and motorised transport has been privileged on our roads for a long time. What you hear on that side is the sound of people fearing that their privilege will be reduced. We’ve seen strategy after report after guideline… the latest being “Get Britain Cycling” this year. Action? not so much. Cycling infrastructure needs to be safe for children, not just for determined, assertive, experienced adult cyclists. And CS2 clearly is unsafe even for them!
    The video you link to is excellent, and shows just how nonsensical it is to call it a “cycle superhighway” If you had cars parked all over a motorway there would be an immediate police response – why not here?

  • peter tyzack 19th Nov '13 - 11:21am

    the source of many problems described above is that provision for cyclists and pedestrians is designed by car drivers. Car drivers always seem to get priority, even above consideration for trucks. It is also possible that a number of incidents or collisions occur because the pedestrian or cyclist hadn’t realised what space a vehicle takes to manoeuvre.
    What we should be doing is to draw more information from around the world, not just the stats on numbers of cyclists or the amount of money spent but on the nature of the driving culture and whether our fairly aggressive driving demeanour is what needs changing. Maybe it all stems from our selfish society that has evolved since Thatcher, whereas a ‘respect for others’ culture is what is needed.. eg. in a recent visit to China, where driving lessons seem to have been conducted on the fairground dodgems, I saw people walking in the roads, double parking, unmarked hazards and overloaded trucks, but not once did I witness any ‘road-rage’. .the attitude was totally different.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 19th Nov '13 - 11:21am

    The major problem is that our society is too much in favour of motorised transport and kowtows to the motoring lobby far too much. Any attempt to try to rein in motorised transport, or even to attempt to get motorists to obey current legislation, is seen as an attack on motorists and the cry goes up that the “war on motorists” is starting up again. We need to face up to this lobby and it would be a good idea for our supposed leaders to actually take a stand for once against this lobby instead of forever backing away.

    Our society is institutionally motorist and it needs to change.

  • Admittedly these figures relate to Northern Ireland – but they powerfully demonstrate that while some people might grumble about cyclists, in reality it is drivers who are committing the vast bulk of series traffic offences.

  • In response to Peter Tyzak : even sympathetic highways planners come under pressure
    1) To avoid doing anything that might impact on road capacity ( measured in flow of motor vehicles)
    2) To retain parking alongside the footway. ( this removes 2.5m from the road including the door zone that cyclists should avoid).
    In combination that makes providing decent cycle facilities practically impossible.
    We need national standards rather than relying on the easily swayed local authorities.

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