As a keen cyclist and local gov enthusiast I am always on the lookout for local authority initiatives to boost cycling numbers and make our streets safer. I recently had a fantastic experience at the Hampstead Heath ladies ponds where City of London Police registered our bikes and provided us with a plethora of free Corporation of London merchandise ranging from water bottles to reflective jackets. I love the police, and free presents so obviously I was delighted, but I do think there is a serious point around what is the best way to spend tax payer’s money to get more people on their bikes.
I had a similar reaction when I worked in a local authority press office. We were often tasked with promoting local cycling initiatives which mainly involved generating publicity for local organised rides put on by Sky ride and Breeze. I think these initiatives are brilliant in terms of getting people outdoors on the weekend and improving people’s confidence on the roads, but again, I wonder whether the amount of money required to fill every place on a Sky Ride is really the best way to spend limited local authority cycling budgets.
I believe that the main barrier towards increasing the number of cyclists is that people simply do not feel safe on the roads. It is a stark reality that UK cities are not designed for cycling and as the number of cyclists increase, the number of cycling related casualties rises proportionally. The number of cyclists killed on the roads rose from 107 in 2011 to 118 last year, with serious injuries rising to 3,222. Yesterday I was interested this article by John Whitelegg on the Guardian localgov website which argued that effective street planning is at the forefront of making our streets safer for cyclists.
Whitelegg outlines some simple steps that local authorities can undertake to ensure that our streets are designed to protect and encourage cyclists. Here is a quick recap of his main points:
- Carry out detailed reviews of all main roads, junctions and roundabouts to identify and improve areas that are unsafe for cyclists
- Make sure that every planning application promotes cycle use by including bike parking and segregated bike paths
- Set ambitious targets for increasing the number of cycle paths and networks
- Abolish confusing one-way streets which are unsafe for cyclists and increase the lengths of trips
- Ensure all large council vehicles (and council contracted vehicles) are equipped with mirrors and CCTV to eliminate blind spots
Clearly in an ideal world local authorities would provide free equipment, support the organisation of local events to get people on their bikes and make our streets physically safer by redesigning our roads. The reality is that budgets are scarce and money needs to go where it will have the biggest impact – so let’s target the real issue and make our junctions and streets safer and more cycle friendly.