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Safer cycling strategy has scared me off my bike

Mark Hansford

After 12 years, three bikes, five crashes, two sprained limbs and one emergency operation, I have decided that 2015 is the year I give up commuting by bicycle.

Why now? Well, there are a few reasons. For one, my work patterns have changed; I do go to more early meetings, late meetings and meetings that just aren’t right for turning up looking a bit dishevelled. And I am a bit older - I have to accept that I’m not as quick healing from those bumps and bangs as I used to be.

But mostly, I’ve recognised the simple truth - it’s just too dangerous.

Which is sad, as in the main I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed the freedom from the vagaries of public transport (and in London, there are plenty of those).

I’ve enjoyed the daily workout I got from the 40km round trip. And I’ve definitely enjoyed the saving on rail fares.

Segregated cycle lane

Safe cycling: Segregated cycle lanes are not the answer

But I’ve concluded it’s just not worth the risk. And contrary to popular belief that risk does not come in the form of cars, vans, lorries or buses, all manically trying to knock off the innocent cyclist No, that risk comes from other cyclists. There are now just too many of them, and there is simply not enough space.

And now we have the confirmation this week that London mayor Boris Johnson is spending multiple millions of pounds on a raft of segregated cycle “super highways”. And I’m sorry, but these are only going to make things worse.

I’ve made clear my views on segregation in this column before and I stand by them. It is a terrible, terrible mistake.

And this is not just me saying this. Other transportation professionals I have spoken with concur.

Johnson should be applauded for his determination to make cycling safer. But the feeling is he is being badly advised. I say that because he actually solved the problem last year when, under his instruction, police officers were dispatched to supervise behaviours at key accident black spots across the capital.

The impact was immediate. Accidents ceased.

OK, it still didn’t solve the problem of the massive shortage of road capacity in our space-constrained capital city, but lane segregation won’t either. That’s actually going to reduce the space available even more.

And what it is going to do in the process is make cyclists complacent about the hazards of cycling in the capital, making them all the more vulnerable when they eventually emerge from the protection of their segregated lanes - which will invariably be where the space is just too tight for segregation and actually the risk of conflict with cars is at its greatest.

I say again, it is a terrible mistake.

Making cycling safer is simple. You enforce the Highway Code - on all road users.

The way we are going is a terrible mistake. It’s dangerous. And that, frankly, is a danger I’ve decided I can do without.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (11)

  • Mark
    Your concerns over cycle safety as you state them are obviously well founded. The answer is not design or enforcement but both. Bad road discipline must be identified and punished where it could cause harm. Poor road layout must be improved so that it is safe for every user.

    Michael Woods, Edinburgh
    Walker, cyclist, driver & civil engineer

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  • Interesting perspective Mark. Can I ask whether it was your perception, or there is evidence that accidents ceased when police officers were deployed?

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  • You're right from the perspective of existing, experienced cyclists. But if you ever want to gain mass cycling (with the associated public health, congestion & pollution benefits) where the 8-80 age range can partake, as is often seen across the Netherlands and Denmark, then segregated space is a necessity.

    The proof I needed for this was when cycling with my girlfriend along streets at ~12mph - it was a terrifying and unpleasant experience. Cycling in the same situation at 15-20mph was fine.

    Compare that to cycling at 12mph on any segregated route and the experience again was fine (so long as it was actually segregated and not the dreaded shared space).

    Proper infrastructure that caters for all road users is the only answer. Cars consume too much road space, money and cause too many problems within cities and should be the first to get squeezed out.

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  • It was a real shame to see Sir John Armitt lay the blame at cyclists' doors recently "I would say the biggest danger to London cyclists on the roads in London are actually themselves." Yes, proper use of the prime position, etc. is very important when cycling, but poor road design and even poorer attitudes/awareness from other road users have a massive impact on motivating people to want to cycle to work.

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  • Again it never a simple answer but i agree that cycling in Holland is a much more pleasurable experience. We need more cycle lanes in the UK but we also need enforcement/education for cyclists - there are poor cyclists as there are poor drivers!

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  • Hugh Porter

    Yes, an interesting perspective. A few matters came to mind whilst reading including, but not the primary one, what does evidence say about:
    1) the root causes of serious accidents, involving pedestrians and cyclists in London today? is it the presence of too many pedestrians and cyclists and even the lack of enforcement of the Highway Code on all road users,
    2) the problem? – is there a massive shortage of quality, road capacity or is George Smart’s point about the choices to be made on space allocation also helpful, and then many other significant factors spring to mind,
    3) the best solutions? - my understanding is that restricting maximum road speeds and non-essential vehicle access whilst increasing porosity of routes for pedestrians and cyclists as well as sound education and enforcement provide for practical and proven safety benefits over the long-term.
    I resolved not to get worked up further by reading about the challenges faced by well documented engineers in our past - Joseph Bazalgette’s reported attention to detail and persistence in enabling London to rid itself of its repeated cholera outbreaks and thereby save the lives of Londoners came to mind as the most relevant.
    Making cycling and walking safer is simple. Take it seriously, invest appropriately with due account of the evidence to address the root causes of the problem(s). At least it can be said that transport professionals with a grip of detail, led by enlightened politicians across London, are doing good work to take the challenge seriously. Should we not have a magazine of the Institution of Civil Engineers that seriously promotes a better society and infrastructure?
    Did the Safer cycling strategy really scare you off your bike? We may never know, even anecdotally, what the evidence says were the root cause of the ‘five crashes, two sprained limbs and one emergency operation you have experienced in 12 years’ but I’m fairly certain that too many cyclists was not top of the list.

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  • David Williams

    Please don't give up on cycling. London may be bad but here in Weymouth the provision of separated routes has, in the main, been successful. We need this work to continue and to be extended out across Dorset. (Many main routes in Dorset are too narrow, too winding, too undulating and with high banks to permit cycling or even walking.)

    In a lighter vein, I am sure there will be some who will be delighted to know you are one less cyclist to encounter on their drive to work - until they discover you have taken their parking place.

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  • So, approximately one month after the opening of the east-west cycle superhighway, and with it already seeing around 1200 cyclists in the peak hour -despite the absence of a wider segregated network on which those cyclists can continue - it would be interesting to see if the Editor still stands by his assessment that it is, quote "...a terrible, terrible mistake".

    Does the sight of non-lycra-clad men, women and even children riding in complete safety along the embankment still fill him with dread or, perhaps, have the scales actually fallen from his eyes and he might just see a vision of what London (and every other city and town in the UK) might be like with some investment and political will?

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  • Mark Hansford

    Hi Andrew. It's a little too early to judge I'd say but thanks for mentioning it and I certainly intend to try it out.

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  • Mark, thank you for the response. Once you have tried it - and perhaps wish to revisit your comments with another article - could I also point you to the 'Cycling Fallacies' website (http://cyclingfallacies.com/en/) to help correct some misinformation and odd ideas which seem to attach themselves to the provision of cycling infrastructure?

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