Whilst in Oxford last week my stepdaughter had somewhat of an ‘epiphany’ with regards to bikes and cycling in general. She has refused to ride a bike for the last few years as apparently ‘she looks stupid’ and ‘it’s pointless’, this is not an issue as she currently gets ferried around by Nottingham City Transport and Dad’s taxi.
However, while walking and driving around Oxford she became aware of the fact that bikes were numerous and also appeared to be getting places much faster than we were in our car, or indeed the buses were. It was at this point that she made the memorable statement ‘”well I suppose if I do come here I will have to get a bike”.
Now this is an earth shattering statement, but it also highlights something – we are very poor at dealing with cycling access in this country. Oxford on the other hand as a city has embraced the bike – there are cycle paths everywhere and cyclists are protected from traffic wherever possible by extra curbs and similar devices. Consequently it is a much safer city to ride a bike in – something that is very rare in this country (but common on the continent).
So if a teenager who wouldn’t ‘be seen dead’ on a bike in Nottingham (and we have a fair number of cycle paths) would happily use one in Oxford, what does this tell us?
We are not working hard enough towards helping bike access in our cities, it is about time that we got them off the roads and onto a proper set of cycle routes (like in Holland) – it’s greener and it would also make us all healthier (saving money in the NHS?).
Time for some action by central government?
So we have all seen them when we are in our cars – cyclists who decide that they are allowed to cross junctions on red or generally flout the laws of the Highway Code. As a car driver it is annoying, particularly as there are certain cyclists who seem to make it their ‘reason for living’ to annoy drivers! My wife has a particular hatred of these cyclists – they give good law-abiding cyclists a bad name.
Now I would be the first to accept that cycling is dangerous in cities, and that drivers should give cyclists due consideration, but it is a ‘two way street’ and they need to play by the rules as well – that’s how it works on the road.
So I can see the reasoning behind the recent attempt to get ministers to look into allowing cyclists to go through red lights, as an attempt to cut fatalities and serious injuries. Making the case for the debate supporters have expressed concern at the rising number of cyclists killed on the road and the “disproportionate number” of accidents involving vans and lorries.
There has been a pilot scheme agreed in Paris recently following a campaign by cycling groups to allow cyclists to turn right (the equivalent of turning left in the UK) or go straight on at T-junctions, even when the lights are red.
They are also trying so-called “Trixi mirrors” – fitted to traffic lights to give lorry drivers a better view of cyclists on their left side at road junctions – the reasoning being that large vehicles turning left do have a degree of difficulty in seeing people. Of 16 cyclists killed in London in 2011, 12 involved a goods vehicle – seven of which were construction vehicles.
So yes, I can see the reasoning behind the arguments – but my concern is that if the law changes the cyclists will then have to comply with the law and stop behaving as if they own the road – and I can’t see them changing their spots if I am being honest.
As reported a couple of days ago , the widening of the A453 in Nottinghamshire is now set to happen – fabulous news for all in the area. But this will not only help with travel times and access, but should also reduce accidents and deaths on what is a very dangerous road.
As a nation we seem to avert our eyes from certain risks to our health – the classic one is smoking (known to kill but such a part of our tax system that it will never die), one of the others is deaths on our roads.
We take car use for granted, and consider it a right that no one should be able to take away from us. Because of this we have people on the road who perhaps should have given up driving years ago, and possibly some who should never have been given a licence in the first place! I believe this also makes policing the issues more difficult than perhaps it should be.
I am not sure there is an easy answer to the problems – but it is sobering to see a map of accidents over the last 10 years in the UK that have taken a life. This has been prepared using Stats 19, a police forensic database that sets out the location and severity of road accidents. It looks quite dramatic – each dot represents a life (and you can search it via this link), But the actual figures are even more horrific;
Between 2000 and 2010 32,955 people were killed on our roads
In the same time period 3,000,000 were seriously injured.
These are massive figures and something that we should be able to prevent – so why don’t we?
The current talk by the government appears to revolve around ‘popular’ changes to things – we have had the weekly bin emptying proposal, and now they are on about raising the speed limit on the motorways to 80 mph. This makes sense on the face of it, most people travel at over 70 anyway and there is a general ‘understanding’ that the boys in blue will normally ignore people up to 80 mph anyway.
But there is a bigger picture here in my view. Our roads are busier now than ever, our population is also getting older. This is a recipe for disaster in terms of road safety. No matter what anyone tells you the quality of driving goes down hill after a certain age (even Stirling Moss has stopped racing). I blogged recently about my own experiences while teaching my step daughter to drive.
So, let’s increase the speed on motorways (I would suggest with 3 lanes only, as lane discipline in the UK is appalling). But, we also need to address the poor enforcement of driving standards (or the lack of them) on all other roads.
It sounds harsh, but some people should not be on our roads, and particularly our motorways. My plan would be to limit access to the motorways by also having a minimum speed limit. Also rather than trying to line their coffers with ‘well placed’ speed cameras perhaps the local constabulary could work on stopping people driving dangerously while on their phones and speeding around schools or similar?
Fuel use and emissions also go up at higher speeds – the government appear to have ‘overlooked’ this issue.
There’s not a simple solution – but just raising the speed limit will only get you to the back of the next queue quicker! How about some ‘joined up thinking’ for once from the Government on transport issues – or is that just too much to ask?