Get Britain Cycling: UK leadership and cycling

Cycling injury solicitor Simon Edwards on first inquiry session

On 23 January 2013, the first session of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s inquiry into Get Britain Cycling took place, with the theme of UK leadership and cycling compared to other European countries. BikeRadar asked cycling injury solicitor Simon Edwards for his response to the meeting.

"Last week, a committee formed by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group heard representations from a number of cycling charities and individuals, essentially unanimous in the message that leadership needs to come from government if we're to bring about meaningful change and get more adults and children cycling. 

Only around two percent of us use a bike as our main method of getting around, one of the lowest levels in Europe. In the Netherlands, 20 times more journeys are made by bike by people under 17 than in the UK. Surveys show the main reason for this stark difference is a perceived lack of safety for cyclists on the UK's roads. 

The Netherlands spends €37 per person on cycling infrastructure. The figure in London, where cycling investment is far higher than elsewhere in the UK overall, is £10 per person. There is no doubt that a long-term central and local government commitment to improving cycling infrastructure is needed.  

Some interesting arguments were put forward alongside this central message. The point was made that cycling needs to be seen not as a specialist sporting activity for athletes, requiring training and special protective equipment, but as an everyday pastime for all. Just like walking, only faster and more fun. 

Phillip Darnton, one of the expert witnesses, made the point that the issue isn't cycling but what sort of streets, towns and communities we want to live in. As a seasoned cycling campaigner, he made the point several times that without political consensus the necessary investment will never be made, and cycling will remain more a sport than a way of getting from A to B.

In forthcoming sessions, the committee is likely to hear a number of suggestions on changes in the law that would improve cycle safety. I feel there are four specific, simple provisions that would dramatically improve safety at a reasonable cost:

  1. All lorries entering city centres should be required to fit sensors, audible turning alarms and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
  2. The Highways Agency should set aside five percent of its budget for next-generation cycle routes.
  3. Improved training for both cyclists and drivers should be introduced. Cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test, and more resources need to be devoted to the Think! Cycling campaign to improve awareness of basic safety measures in both drivers and cyclists.
  4. Compulsory provision of cycle safety lights on all new bikes sold in the UK.

It's almost universally agreed that cycling is a good thing – good for health and fitness, good for the environment, and a sport at which Britain excelled in the 2012 Olympics. Of course it should be encouraged. 

However as a regular cyclist, a personal injury lawyer who's acted for many cyclists who have suffered serious injuries, and someone who spent last weekend on Prolegal’s stand at the Excel London Bike Show, I am also very conscious of the dangers faced by cyclists on our roads. 

Cycling lanes are generally protected by no more than a white line, and motorists, and HGV drivers in particular navigate around as though everyone else on the road were encased, like themselves, in a metal box. Cycling should be a priority for transport planners. In particular, we need more segregated cycle lanes and safe routes for cyclists at junctions.  

A major factor in public health campaigns to tackle obesity, improve cardiovascular health and boost mental wellbeing is the drive to increase levels of physical activity. For local authorities, getting people cycling should therefore be a key objective; however, people won't take up cycling on a regular basis if they feel that it's more dangerous than their health problem.

Cycling is widely perceived as more fun and productive than going to the gym, but until central and local government address the issues of safety it's also far more dangerous. 

In its first session, the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry has made clear that safety must be improved for cyclists if it's to become a mainstream means of travel in the UK. In the next five meetings, the inquiry must find concrete proposals that lead to decisive action, the benefits of which will be felt for generations to come. 

Prolegal are a team of bike solicitors who specialise in representing victims of serious cycling injuries.

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