Ensuring the safety of cyclists on Britain’s roads is of paramount importance to promote active and sustainable transport. Any urban scenario with less cars and more bikes is more pleasant to be a part. Bikes are quieter, safer and pollute the air less than cars. In order to get more bikes and less cars into built up areas, Britain’s roads need to become safer for cyclists and it’s something our partners Cycling UK work tirelessly to campaign for. To achieve this, it is crucial to implement a holistic approach that addresses various factors contributing to the safety of people who choose to ride bikes.
In this blog, we look at a range of measures encompassing infrastructure development, policy change, educational initiatives, and awareness campaigns that all play a part in protecting cyclists. By combining these strategies, we can work to make Britain’s roads safer for cyclists, encouraging more people to embrace cycling as a mode of transport and fostering a healthier, greener, and more inclusive society.
Improving cycling infrastructure is vital to ensure the safety of cyclists on Britain’s roads. It is also considerably cheaper per mile than road infrastructure and lasts much longer. The following measures can easily be implemented:
Expanding Cycling Networks
Increase the provision of dedicated cycling lanes and create an interconnected network that covers major roads, residential areas, and business districts. This will offer cyclists safe and convenient routes, separate from motorised traffic. Linking different districts or sub-regions within cities is vital. In order to reduce motor vehicles heading from suburban areas into cities it’s vital that there’s a safe cycle route from out of town as this is where the majority of car traffic comes from.
In the past year, according to Cycling UK, 83-87% of adults in England rarely or never ride their bikes. The general trend from surveys done on this population is due to a perceived lack of safety. Short car journeys are also extremely common (those from suburban areas into city centres) and an expanded cycle network of segregated cycle lanes would encourage car drivers onto their bikes for these journeys.
Separated Cycle Lanes
This is a drum I bang regularly but fully segregated separated cycle lanes are absolutely vital. This means no floppy rubber poles and not just paint on the floor but a full concrete barrier as a minimum between the road and the cyclist. Construct physically separated cycle tracks, preferably raised or sunk from the road level, to provide an added layer of protection from vehicles. These tracks should have clear signage and priority at junctions.
One of the most dangerous places for a cyclist in an urban setting is a junction. Drivers simply don’t look as hard as they should. Enhance safety at junctions by introducing advanced stop lines, signal phases specific to cyclists, and dedicated turning lanes. Implementing cycling-friendly infrastructure, such as protected roundabouts (where cycle paths and pedestrians have a clearly prioritised route) can significantly reduce the risk of accidents.
A common problem seen in cycle lanes is cars or vans parking in them for quick stops. Photographic enforcement preventing this is vital for cyclist safety (thus uptake of cycling) as drivers parking in cycle lanes forces cyclists onto the main carriageway at a point where drivers do not expect them to appear.
Traffic Calming Measures
Implement traffic calming measures, including speed reduction zones, speed bumps, and traffic islands, to encourage motorists to drive at lower speeds and create a safer environment for cyclists. Having a reducing speed limit into roundabouts can also help, where the limit is dropped from 30 down to 10 in the 500m preceding the roundabout can also force drivers to look more carefully. Speed limits within city limits also need to be enforced by cameras.
Policy Changes and Legislation
Minimum Passing Distance
Introduce legislation mandating a minimum passing distance for motor vehicles overtaking cyclists. This would ensure a safe buffer zone and reduce the risk of dangerous close passes. This is a tricky issue however as cameras don’t show distances accurately thus proving a ‘close pass’ is tough – that said it is technically illegal currently and creating a specific law around this may improve driver attention. In my experience, most close passes are due to lack of driver understanding rather than being malicious.
Improve safety standards for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) by requiring mandatory blind-spot detection systems, side guards, and audible warning systems. Promote comprehensive driver training programs that emphasise the importance of sharing the road with vulnerable road users. New HGVs, especially those for use in urban areas such as bin lorries and buses, have a 180 degree windscreen which reduces blind spots and gives drivers a wider range of view. Making such features on commercial vehicles mandatory would go a long way to improving safety. HGV drivers, as part of the process of obtaining their HGV licence, should also be made to cycle through an urban setting on a predetermined route that takes them across junctions, roundabouts and at red lights whereby they can better understand the points where a cyclist may appear.
Consider implementing stricter liability laws, where motorists are presumed liable for accidents involving cyclists or pedestrians unless proven otherwise. This would encourage greater caution and responsibility among drivers in urban areas.
This is the case in many countries across mainland Europe – where the law forces an assumed priority onto pedestrians and cyclists and a higher uptake of cycling has been achieved.
Increase the enforcement of traffic laws, particularly those pertaining to cycling safety. This includes cracking down on offences such as speeding, illegal parking in cycling lanes, and failure to yield to cyclists. Illegal parking in cycle lanes can be particularly dangerous, I’ve seen cars parked on a shared path forcing parents with prams to walk onto a busy dual carriageway to pass. This type of behaviour should be cracked down upon.
Education and Awareness
Cycle Training Programs
This can be controversial but ultimately cyclists are still responsible for our own safety. Establish comprehensive cycle training programs in schools and for adults, teaching essential cycling skills, road safety rules, and hazard awareness. These must be free of charge and not mandatory. Encourage participation in programs like Bikeability, which equips children with the knowledge and confidence to cycle safely.
Incorporate cyclist safety modules into the driver’s education curriculum, emphasising the importance of sharing the road, understanding cyclist behaviour, and performing manoeuvres safely around cyclists. When I learned to drive, back in 2016, there was almost nothing on what to do if you encounter a cyclist other than what’s in the highway code – which nobody actually reads after their test.
Drivers should be encouraged to ride as part of their training and there needs to be a minimum of 10% of theory test questions around what to do when one encounters a person on a bike when driving.
Public Awareness Campaigns
Launch nationwide public awareness campaigns highlighting the benefits of cycling, promoting mutual respect between road users, and increasing awareness about specific cyclist safety issues. Most people when surveyed would cycle more and they cite safety as the primary reason that they don’t. This could be changed with an effective public communication campaign.
Town centre criteriums and velodromes:
Cycling as a sport and a mode of transport are not entirely separate. In countries where cycling is a popular sport – it’s a more popular mode of transport. Community hubs like velodromes and community lead events like town centre criteriums (and associated group/social rides that are easy to access) should be encouraged. Tax breaks for sports events organisers might be one means of doing this
Collaboration with Cycling Organisations
Local governments need to foster partnerships with cycling organisations, local communities, clubs and businesses to support initiatives that promote cyclist safety. This includes consulting groups such as Cycling UK on implementing infrastructure as this is often designed by non-local, non-cycling engineers and this can produce expensive infrastructure that’s not workable in real life.
Creating safer roads for cyclists in Britain requires a multi-dimensional approach encompassing infrastructure development, policy changes, educational initiatives, and public awareness campaigns. By expanding dedicated cycling infrastructure, implementing policy changes, educating both cyclists and motorists, and fostering a culture of respect on the roads, we can make significant progress in enhancing cyclist safety. These measures not only protect vulnerable road users but also promote cycling as a sustainable mode of transport, contributing to improved public health, reduced congestion, and a greener environment for all.
Amsterdam has not always been the cycling capital city it now is. The streets of cities should belong to its inhabitants, not cars. Safer cycling benefits everyone!
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