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Can London’s streets be made safer for cyclists?

bike trafficThere has been concern and disquiet in London as six cyclists were killed in a ten-day period.  All of them were involved in collisions with heavy vehicles, and questions have been raised as to whether the two types of vehicle are compatible on the same roads.  The BBC’s news magazine has been among those looking at ways to reduce the level of injuries and fatalities.  Some of the ideas might help, others are plainly silly and impractical.

1. Bicycle licences and even number plates.  This is silly.  The idea is that if cyclists can be identified, they will ride more safely.  But the problem does not seem to lie with cycl;ists, since only 2-3% of cycle collisions are caused by cyclists breaking the law.

2. Ban vehicles from city centres.  This is impractical in a city like London that needs to work and be supplied.  But banning heavy goods vehicles during rush hours, as Paris does, would probably make a difference.   Most cycle trips are made between 7.0 – 9.0 am and 5.0 – 6.30 pm, so removing HGVs during those times would make it safer.  Alternatively, vehicles might be routed around cycle-dense areas instead of going through them.

3. Allow cyclists to jump red lights.  It might help if cyclists could turn left or even go straight ahead at red lights.  Paris allows it at some intersections and it’s standard in Belgium and the Netherlands.  But it would irritate and endanger pedestrians in London who find it hard enough to cross as it is without cyclists filling up the gaps between vehicles.

4. Cycle on pavements.  Some of them do this a little, especially to get around difficult intersections, but it is illegal.  It works in Cambridge when cyclists and pedestrians share largely vehicle-free areas.  The problem with London is that if you legalized it, lycra louts would start belting along pavements at 20mph as if they owned them, scattering pedestrians from their path.  Few London pavements are wide enough anyway.

5. Ban headphones.  It makes sense to hear what’s going on around you, but there’s no evidence that headphones have played a part in recent fatalities.

6. Body armour.  A Canadian study suggests that body armour might protect chest and abdomen from injury, as it does for many motorcyclists.  It’s difficult to imagine that people would cycle to work, though, if they had to wear heavy body armour.  And if a heavy truck runs over you, it’s not going to save you.

7. Elevated cycling routes.  If you can separate cyclists and pedestrians from vehicular traffic, it would obviously improve safety, but overhead cycle lanes are just too costly for the most part.  A few might be built, but there’s no way they could provide a measurable fraction of London’s cycling space.

8. Scrap traffic lights and road signs altogether.  This is not as silly as it sounds.  If you eliminate people’s sense of entitlement to certain parts of the road, they slow down and look out for other users.  I’ve seen it work in Amsterdam, and the pilot scheme in London near the Albert Memorial seems to work.

Summing up these ideas, my guess would be that banning HGVs from city centres at certain times, and altering street architecture to coax users into being more careful in shared space would make a difference.  I also think we could look at dedicated pedestrianized routes that allowed cycles but banned all motor vehicles.  Fundamentally, heavy vehicles going fast and bicycles are not safely compatible.


3 Responses

  1. The main lesson here is, if you are on a bicycle, don’t go anywhere near trucks or buses.

    “8. Scrap traffic lights and road signs altogether. This is not as silly as it sounds. If you eliminate people’s sense of entitlement to certain parts of the road, they slow down and look out for other users. I’ve seen it work in Amsterdam, and the pilot scheme in London near the Albert Memorial seems to work.”

    It might work in the Netherlands and in parts of England, but it depends on having a good population. http://www.isegoria.net/2013/07/why-does-the-lack-of-traffic-rules-work-in-england-but-not-in-haiti/

  2. It might be a good idea for all cyclists to learn the Highway Code and incorporate the knowledge in their cycling. Motorists and motorcyclists have to in order to pass their test but many cyclists do not have a clue. When I was at primary school we were taught the Highway Code and took notice of traffic lights and stop/give way signs etc. Today’s cyclists do not seem to have a clue and are a danger to themselves and other road users. I am not suprised that they get themselves killed.

  3. Most people would agree that it is a seriously bad idea for pedestrians to use roads and wander along among traffic, bobbing and weaving, around cars, trucks, buses.

    Why then is it not a bad idea for them to do so just because they sit on a metal bar suspended from two wheels?

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