Why I support The Times Bike Campaign

When one of my closest friends was involved in a serious cycling accident, I wrote this blog. Fortunately, she’s made a miraculous recovery. Even thinking about that phone call from our mutual friend,  and the visits to the hospital almost bring me to tears.

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This is why I am delighted to support The TimesCities fit for cycling campaign‘. I hope this gets all the support it can, and brings about the changes that will make it safer for those two wheeled folk who brave our roads every day.

I won’t repeat the whole blog here, but the main point I made was that we need to start prioritising pedestrians and cyclists in our transport policy. Until this happens, I think it is irresponsible to encourage cycling. And, we can learn a lot to learn from our European friends.

Demark, Germany and the Netherlands are all currently top of the OECD nations cycling safety league table. By unraveling the evolution of cycling in these nations it becomes clear that the conditions for safe cycling have, very simply, been achieved by putting the pedestrian and cyclist at the heart of transport policy.

In an excellent review published in Transport Reviews, two academics from Rutgers University in the US summarised key policies and initiatives that were used to promote cycling in Dutch, Danish and German cities. These included development of an extensive integrated network of well-maintained, separate cycle paths, intersection modifications and priority traffic signals, traffic calming, secure bike parking, coordination and integration with public transport, cyclist and motorist education and training and changes to traffic laws. These are hardly high-tech initiatives, but they work.

A combination of these cycling policies now means in a number of European cities, almost any trip can be taken on a completely separate path, lane or lightly travelled, traffic calmed residential street.

The good news is that our urban infrastructure is adaptable; it’s just a case of readjusting our perceptions of who the primary user should be (and taking on the car-interest groups). Cycling paths separated by a raised kerb (not thick blue lines painted in bus-lanes) especially around roundabouts which can be particularly hazardous, bicycle streets (where bikes have priority over cars) and advanced green lights of cyclists at most intersections are handful of the many creative modifications that could be made to our urban infrastructure.

Even more tantalising in the current age of austerity – it’s cheap too. Take for example Portland, Oregon. Their 300km of cycle networks cost the same as a single mile of urban freeway.  Plus the fall in chronic illness from physical inactivity and physical injury from road traffic accidents will save the NHS a few million too. The wins just keep coming.

For one day a year,  85,000 cyclists can enjoy a completely traffic-free city in London’s Skyride. This has been part of the Mayor of London’s attempt to promote cycling in London.

We’re going to need more than political gestures to transform us in to a cycle-friendly society, and I’m not necessarily declaring that all cities should be completely traffic-free, but putting cyclists and pedestrians first in transport policy would be a start. And then, perhaps with time, this could happen all by itself…

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