Thursday, 15 August 2013

Cycling safety... let's go Dutch....

You may have seen on TV, or read about, the recent 'Ride London' cycling event - billed as the London marathon on wheels - 50,000 cyclists riding around the closed roads of London, there is some latent irony in the situation that encourages more of us to take up cycling while cycling fatalities and serious injuries increased for the eighth year in a row. 122 cyclists were killed and 3,222 were seriously injured last year. It seems on the one hand we're being encouraged to cycle, but on the other, roads are a hostile environment for cyclists - there's an underlying conflict.

We should 'go Dutch' the experts say. If we want to take cycling seriously and encourage a cycling revolution then we need to invest in infrastructure and look at places like the Netherlands. We have a conflict between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians because of the way our roads are laid out. Conflict in Amsterdam is a rare sight because of the design and set up of the road system. Bikes expect cars and cars expect bikes - it's a forgiving place. Holland has 18,000 miles of cycle routes - most are segregated and wide enough for cyclists to ride two abreast - and there are bike-parking places in abundance. Roundabouts and junctions have special provision for cyclists, who take priority. Unlike Britain, Holland includes cycling as a mandatory component of its national school curriculum.

But Holland has not always been a cycling utopia. In 1971 more than 3000 cyclists were killed by motor vehicles - 40 of them children - and a mainstream protest movement swept the country as the oil crisis struck. The government invested heavily in cycling infrastructure - now 60% of all journeys in Amsterdam are made by bicycle and 27% nationwide. In Britain only a woeful 2% of trips are made by bike. This vast difference is mostly explained by state spending. In the Netherlands the authorities spend £30 a head per year on cycling. In the UK the figure is just £2.22.

But things may be about to change - the recent investment by the government in cycling is a start and many councils are already determined to make roads more cycle friendly. Cambridge claims to be the cycling capital of the UK with half of its residents cycling at least once a week and 23% of all journeys being made by bike. This year the council estimates it will spend £3m on cycling schemes, some of which will include altering junctions to improve safety and linking villages with business parks. The council is also aiming to emulate the Dutch by cutting speed limits to 20mph and creating segregated cycle lanes through new developments. In Bristol, 20mph limits have been introduced and it is now estimated that 10% of the city's population cycle more than three times a week. In London, a city with 1m cyclists, the biggest changes are still to come - Boris Johnson has outlined his plan to spend £1bn over the next decade on the capital's cycling infrastructure - his plans equate to a spend of £12.50 per head per year.

When might roads start to look and feel like those in Amsterdam - sadly no time soon. It took Amsterdam 40 years - and it is a much bigger job over here - it won't happen overnight.

What is needed for the cycling revolution is a rethink of our approach - in the UK cyclists are at the bootom of the hierarchy when it comes to road planning - its cars first then the rest follow. The Parliamentary cycling group has however acknowledged that there are 'huge economic benefits from increasing cycling - there is less damage to the roads, less congestion, more commerec and huge savings on health.

Next month there will be a Commons debate on proposals including more investment in cycle lanes, lower speed limits and improved training for cyclists and drivers - one of the key recommendations is to increase spending to at least £10 per person - but if Britain's road users are to co-exist in any kind of harmony the loathing that poisons relations between motorists and cyclists must be transformed into one of respect.

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