Making Our Roads Safe Again

Imagine being able to safely cycle and walk to your nearest town or village, largely free of speeding vehicles thundering closely by, and the choking carbon dioxide emissions that they produce?

The UK government state in their Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy paper that they want “walking and cycling to be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choices for shorter journeys such as going to school, college or work, travelling to the station, and for simple enjoyment.” They also want this to be the case by the year 2040. But, can walking and cycle routes be made more attractive, and above all safe, so that the government can reach their declared goal by 2040?

This ambitious goal seems to have already hit a major bump in the road. Yesterday (23rd July 2019) the Active travel: increasing levels of walking and cycling in England┬áreport was published by the Commons Transport Select Committee and, in response to this report, Paul Tuohy, Chief Executive of Cycling UK, said, “the Government admitted its current policies will only deliver a third of what is needed to meet its 2025 cycling targets.” The referenced 2025 targets are to double the amount of people who cycle every year. The Walking and Cycling alliance, of which Tuohy is a member, believe that to achieve their goal the government need to urgently invest serious funds to improve the cycling and walking infrastructure in every UK community.

Cycling to work has obvious and well documented lifestyle benefits including physical and mental health well-being as well as being a cheaper form of travel. However, a 2018 survey of 7,600 adults in the UK revealed that, despite the £1.2 billion Government funding in cycling, there are still only a few people willing to cycle to work. The survey, published by Decathlon, declared that a mere 7% of people in the UK cycle to work and the reason more do not do so is because they do not feel safe on the roads. Around 1 in 4 said they were “too scared to cycle the roads to work” while 1 in 5 said they worked too far from home for cycling to work to be an option.

So what are the changes that need to be put in place to make roads an attractive and safe place to cycle?

The answer to that question appears to be on-going. Cycling UK produced a booklet titled Cycle Safety: Make it Simple in response to the government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Safety Review: Call for Evidence which itself was published with the aim of gathering ideas from organisations and individuals who are concerned about cycling and walking safety.

Cycling UK’s booklet suggested “tackling dangerous road conditions using the straightforward ‘Safe Systems’ approach” which is a system that believes in safe transport for all road users. Some of the focus areas suggested include:
  • roads and junctions designed to be pedestrian and cycle friendly
  • safety awareness campaigns
  • Highway Code revision
  • change the default speed limit for built-up areas to 20mph
  • improve lorry design and equipment with safety of cyclists and pedestrians in mind
  • set up targets to reduce road casualties
Attaining these aims for safer cycling and walking will require a continued effort by the Government with advice and collaboration from the Cycle Proofing Working Group whose members include the Department for Transport, Highways Agency, Institute of Highways Engineers, Local authority representatives, British Cycling, CTC, the national cycling charity, and Sustrans.

While these are all great initiatives that will, hopefully, produce some improvements in the safety of the road network for all road users, the longer term solution to a more active nation and a reduction in traffic on our roads is multi-faceted - more people working from home (or much closer to home), an Active Workplace and Active Design for our communities.

There are many Government (or otherwise) funded bodies doing splendid work driving these multiple initiatives forward but are we entirely dependent on their success to make our world better?

Hopefully not.

What can we do today to each improve the safety on our roads? Mobile phone use by drivers seems to have increased again recently. Not providing enough room when passing cyclists. Aggressive cyclists not obeying the rules of the road. When a former police officer describes the situation between cyclists and drivers at Box Hill in Surrey as “a war” then there is something we can all do today…

Just go out there and be nice. Keep a lid on the red mist and, at least one time, be nice to another road user. That would be a great start…