Coming out of a major hustings event on cycle safety hosted by the UK Cycling Alliance you could feel positive and negative in equal parts.
As can be expected at these sorts of meetings noises are positive but commitments are vague. Arguably the most important thing about the debate was that it was happening at all, being the first of its kind attended by such senior politicians from the three main political parties.
This can be explained by cycle safety continuing to be a hot topic in the media that refuses to lie down, and is becoming a serious vote winner.
Sustrans found that in Great Britain over a quarter (27%) of the public would think more positively of an electoral candidate who campaigned for cycling, indeed more than half of British adults (55%) support Government investment in cycling in general.
With these sorts of high profile events and news stories you could assume that the work has been done, but cycle safety is still an incredibly serious concern.
Nearly 60% of those killed or seriously injured on London’s roads are people out walking or on their bikes. Media coverage of these incidents and collision statistics from insurance companies like Aviva most recently are limited in their helpfulness, especially if sold with the usual recommendations that place the responsibility of safety largely with that of the person hit – the victim. The best way to reduce danger is to redesign our streets to accommodate cycling.
A new edition of the London Cycle Design Standards was recently released by Transport for London. This document successfully pushes forward integrated street design and I was pleased to see that one of the most positive changes was the inclusion of a new scoring system that takes people on bikes into account within designated levels of service provision (something that pedestrians and motorists have enjoyed for years – even if they’re not always used).
Treating cyclists as their own entity, requiring the consideration of traffic engineers, is a very important step. People on bikes now account for nearly 25% of all vehicular traffic in the morning peak in central London. This isn’t just about catering for those already cycling, but about enabling more of us to treat cycling as another realistic option just as we do the bus or tube.
Space for cycling on major roads and junctions, traffic calming on side roads and high quality and pleasant street environments will yield good scores. These scores can be used to justify where action is needed or that investment is made well or after completion, judge a scheme’s success. It’s a ratcheting mechanism that demonstrates just how poor a lot of streets are today and the need to raise the level of service to people on bikes.
As the city grows, encouraging greater levels of cycling in London is an easy choice as it’s the most space and energy efficient mode for short urban trips. More people out on the streets will create vibrancy, boost local business, reduce congestion and tackle air pollution.
Considering cycling in design manuals and political hustings is half the battle. But to aid this cycling culture change we must see physical change and design out the danger and conflict from our roads by creating high quality streets that are comfortable and attractive for cycling.
Matt Winfield is London deputy director of Sustrans.