The Department for Transport is currently calling for evidence as part of a safety review on walking and cycling: closes 11:45pm on Friday 1st June. Reply here.
Here’s my thoughts: not covering everything, but some points primarily related to my own work.
Response to the Call for Evidence for the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy: safety review
I am responding to the Call for Evidence as a researcher specialising in cycling and also, increasingly, walking. I have conducted research into cycling and walking safety and published widely in these and other areas: for instance, on disparities in cycling uptake, and on the impact of active travel interventions. I focus below on areas where I have specific expertise and am happy to provide further information and documentation. Most research referred to below can be found in my published articles, available at http://rachelaldred.org/publications/ (which also contain discussion of, and references to relevant work by other authors).
People walking and people cycling are both primarily put at risk by people using motor vehicles. Police and hospital data confirm this, as does self-report data from the National Travel Survey (NTS), which largely covers unreported slight injuries and hence might have been expected to contain high numbers of cycle-pedestrian collisions. While walking and cycling have specific characteristics and needs, both will be supported by an agenda that seeks to rebalance planning and policy away from the car and towards healthier and more sustainable modes.
Although the risk to a pedestrian of being injured in collision with a cyclist (or vice versa), or to a cyclist of being injured in collision with another cyclist, is low, this may not always match individual pedestrian or cyclist beliefs about injury risk. This is perhaps because on our roads we often take motor traffic dominance for granted and so no longer notice the everyday risks that this creates. A cyclist-pedestrian or cyclist-cyclist collision resulting in death or serious injury is news partly because of its relative rarity. Meanwhile, the ongoing toll of personal injury and property damage due to motor vehicle use is invisible because ubiquitous.
Such impacts fall heaviest on the most vulnerable and those who contribute least to the problem. Per mile walked, non-car owners are three times more likely to be injured by a motor vehicle than are car owners. Other factors associated with risk of motor traffic injury for pedestrians include living in a low-income household and being disabled. We need more research on the reasons, but solutions are likely to incorporate both increased pedestrian protection and priority in general (e.g. longer crossing times to assist people with mobility impairments) and a specific focus on deprived areas where motor traffic is prioritised over needs of low income pedestrians (e.g. a lack of safe crossings on major roads).
Active travel growth generates, as the consultation notes, a wealth of benefits. More walking and/or cycling will improve population health, as substantial benefits will stem from increasing (currently low) levels of physical activity. Achieving our aspirations for active travel growth should reduce injury risk for pedestrians and/or cyclists, with sustained growth in active travel likely to be enabled by and associated with measures to make it safer and more comfortable. My research recently found evidence of growth in active travel associated with a package of interventions, including area-wide reduction of motor traffic in residential streets. This measure is likely to reduce injuries among children, as each mile driven along a residential street is over twice as likely to injure a child pedestrian or cyclist as a mile driven along a main road.
While many measures to support walking and cycling are ‘local’, DfT can do much to enable and incentivise their implementation. Fundamental to supporting both walking and cycling are the provision of safe infrastructure for each. Six years ago, separated cycle tracks were found in Kay Teschke et al’s Canadian study to have one ninth the injury odds of busy roads with car parking. Lack of safe cycle provision is regularly cited as a key barrier to cycling uptake, with women saying they are particularly affected by this. Yet few main roads in cities, towns, and rural areas have safe provision for cycling. While high-speed rail provision is seen as a national priority, providing safe cycle infrastructure along our busiest roads is left to local authorities, without long-term dedicated funding (good cycle infrastructure is good value, but not cheap) or up to date national guidance. It is hardly surprising that only a few better-resourced authorities have made much of a start.
The revision of LTN 2/08 (Cycle Infrastructure Design) is welcome and should highlight cycle tracks along main roads as crucial to increasing cycling safety both ‘objective’ and perceived, and to growing both cycling and cycling diversity. We need to move swiftly to seeing the absence of such tracks on busy roads as likely to indicate a problem needing resolution, not business as usual. Further opportunities to change assumptions about what is ‘normal’ on our roads relate to motor traffic speeds and volumes, with benefits for people walking and cycling. 20mph speed limits are associated with reduced injury risk for both and should be the default in urban areas, with 30mph limits requiring justification and limits of under 20mph easier to implement (as even 20mph can mean a substantial gap between car speeds and cycling speeds). In rural areas our default of 60mph is inappropriate and contributes to high injury severity on such roads for people walking or cycling.
At national level encouragement and practical guidance on the removal or reduction of through motor traffic in residential areas and shopping streets would be useful. This should include guidance on trialling, and on collecting and evaluating evidence. Motor traffic reduction policies are currently poorly covered in guidance. Yet they could help transform local walking and cycling environments while reducing injury risk, which is strongly associated with motor traffic volumes as well as with speeds. With much attention focused on urban areas, we should not neglect roads outside built-up areas which may link commute or other utility journeys, but which may form barriers to cycling or walking such trips. There may be scope for restricting through motor traffic on some such roads, for instance, as is done in the Netherlands in some rural areas. Guidance on motor traffic reduction should consider this.
I note and welcome the growth of ‘close pass’ policing and near miss data collection. This should form part of a move towards a proactive approach to road danger, rather than authorities acting in response to serious collisions. Too often road safety research or policy focuses only on where injuries happen. Being proactive entails measuring and reducing risk. That requires changes and improvements to data collection and analysis, potentially facilitated by increased availability of ‘big data’, as well as by changes to data collection (as I have mentioned in a response to the recent Stats19 consultation). Crucially, we need to identify high-risk locations (and types of location) for both walking and cycling. The danger at such locations will remain invisible without a pro-active, risk-focused approach, because if this danger suppresses walking and/or cycling levels, injuries will appear low, masking the extent of the problem. A national lead is important here, as we need harmonised and comparable data and analysis.
Finally, training and education: these are sometimes seen as easy solutions to problems of road danger, being less controversial than engineering or enforcement measures. However, badly planned training and education may at best be ineffective, and at worst may reinforce the marginalisation of vulnerable road users. My research on cycling has found it still widely viewed as an illegitimate mode of transport even in high-cycling English areas, with cyclists still subject to stigma and stereotyping. Road user training and education should not reinforce this, nor the belief held by some drivers that their convenience is more important than vulnerable road users’ safety. Instead, programmes and campaigns should normalise walking and cycling, also encouraging people to think about the impacts on others that their driving might have (e.g. risks to children caused by driving to or past schools in residential streets). Government could play a useful role in this regard, directly via the driving test and Highway Code, and indirectly through setting expectations for locally developed materials, including portraying a diverse range of all-age, all-ability cyclists in promotional and policy material.