Safety first: unlocking the potential to increase cycling and walking

By Rachel White,
bike on protected cycle lane

64% of people surveyed in seven major UK cities said they would cycle more if on-road cycle routes were physically separated from motor traffic. Image credit: Jill Jennings/TFGM

The Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) safety review consultation closed on 1 June 2018. We set out below where we think the Government’s key priorities must lie to enable more people to walk and cycle.

The safety barrier

Safety or the perception of safety is the key reason why many people choose not to cycle and walk. The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey found that 59% of British people agreed with the statement "It is too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads", with women, the elderly, and non-cyclists most likely to agree.

This is a huge barrier to getting more people walking and cycling everyday journeys: activities that improve our health, decrease congestion, improve air quality and benefit the economy and the environment. However, there are many things that the UK Government can begin to change now to create safer environments for people to walk and cycle and realise the benefits that come with this.

In this blog, we outline what should be the UK Government's top priorities to enable safer walking and cycling.

Slower speeds

Lower default speed limits to 20mph for urban roads and 40mph for minor rural roads to make our roads and streets safer for everyone.

The risk of being killed is almost five times higher in collisions between a car and a pedestrian at 50km/h (31mph) compared to the same type of collisions at 30 km/h (18.6mph), reports the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Government should update its guidance to local authorities to make 20 mph the norm for residential urban roads and 40 mph the norm on minor rural roads. It is important to tackle rural roads because whilst a cyclist is more likely to be injured on an urban road they are more likely to be killed on a rural road because of increased speed.

A reduction in rural speed limits along minor roads will improve where the National Cycle Network (NCN) interacts with these roads increasing the safety of the people using it. Currently, 52% of trips are walked on the NCN and 48% are cycled so this benefits people walking and using a bike.

The right infrastructure

The Government should point local authorities to ‘best-in-class’ design guidance to prevent confusion over the many different design guides that already exist. The design guidance should help create protected direct cycle ways connected to quieter back streets in our towns and cities. Without protected cycleways on main roads, we are unlikely to see a big increase in cycling from women, families, the elderly and other vulnerable road users. It will also help maintain a network of traffic-free and traffic calm routes such as the National Cycle Network.

Several studies show the importance of physical separation of cycling facilities from motor vehicle traffic.

  • Physically separated bike lanes carry the lowest injury risk for cyclists, at about one-tenth the risk, according to the University of British Columbia, 2012.
  • Our Bike Life 2017 report backs these findings, with 64% of people surveyed in seven major UK cities saying they would cycle more if on-road cycle routes physically separated from motor traffic were available.

Prohibit pavement parking

It is currently not illegal to park on pavements outside of London. Pavement parking reduces access for all pedestrians but has a particularly negative effect on people with disabilities, pushchairs and the elderly as it can force them out into the main road.

Cycle training for school-age children

We should provide cycle training for all children during their primary and secondary school years and embed a culture of walking and cycling throughout the school curriculum. When cycle training is combined with good infrastructure it can lead to high levels of behaviour change and a shift to cycling and walking.

Cale Green Primary School in Stockport has had a dedicated Sustrans Schools Officer since 2011. They have worked to increase physical activity levels amongst the pupils through walking, cycling and scooting. When Sustrans first started working with the school, 26% of the children were driven. This has now reduced to 6%.

Revise the Highway Code

In other European countries, turning traffic must give way to pedestrians and cyclists travelling straight ahead. This principle applies at both traffic light controlled junctions and give-way junctions.

The Government should revise the Highway Code so that people travelling straight ahead have priority through a ‘universal duty to give way’ when turning. This should then be included in all road user education and enforcement

Public awareness campaign of vulnerable road users

The Government should run a Think! campaign on driver awareness of vulnerable road users. Currently, there is a Think! ‘Hang- Back’ campaign for cyclists at junctions but this puts all the onus on the vulnerable road user and not the driver. The campaign should be for all road users with a focus on the most dangerous – those in a motorised vehicle. It should emphasise the need to share road space, what this looks like and examples of good and bad practice.

If the Government works with local authorities and schools to implement these steps they will achieve their aims of increasing safety whilst also achieving the targets of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy to double cycling and increase walking.

See our full response to the CWIS safety consultation