Cycling in the city: A view from the saddle

Most cyclists are responsible road-users, argues Becky Reynolds

Most cyclists are responsible road-users, argues Becky Reynolds

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Brighton and Hove has made excellent progress in making the streets more cycle-friendly.

After Brighton and Hove Independent columnist Mike Holland criticised the city’s cyclists, we decided to ask a regular cyclist for an alternative view. Here, Becky Reynolds explains what it is like to cycle in the city.

The danger that cyclists pose to other road-users is often over-estimated

The danger that cyclists pose to other road-users is often over-estimated

Brighton and Hove has made excellent progress in making the streets more cycle-friendly, with lower speed limits, the Lewes Road scheme, the Seven Dials roundabout, and exemptions for cyclists from one-way streets. The Valley Gardens improvements will provide better access to the city and the coast, and hopefully a redesign of the off-putting Aquarium Roundabout.

Most journeys in the city and beyond, however, will at least for some part require road-users to get on together using the current road network.

Some 61% of people agree that “it is too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads". It is true, however, that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks. And the more people who cycle, the safer it gets.

There are incorrect assumptions about cycling that can encourage unsafe behaviour. For example, riding in the middle of the road is not wrong. It is recommended by the Department for Transport (DfT), which says you should “ride central on narrow roads” and “ride a door’s width from parked cars”.

Sticking too close to the kerb on narrow roads can encourage drivers to overtake when there is not enough room. Riding next to parked cars risks a collision with a car door inadvertently flung open into the rider’s path. Cyclists also need space to avoid potholes. If a rider is thrown off his/her bike in any of the above situations, there is the added risk of being hit by another vehicle.

The Highway Code states: “You must not cycle on a pavement”.

This year, however, Robert Goodwill, the transport minister  confirmed that pavement-cycling fines should not be aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement-users when doing so.

The original guidance from Paul Boateng in 1999 also said: “Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

The danger that cyclists pose to other road-users is often over-estimated. In 2012, 98% of serious or fatal pedestrian injuries in urban areas in Great Britain were due to collisions with motor vehicles.

Why then, is disapproval not directed more at motor vehicles?

Cyclists are often blamed for crashes, but this is not borne out by the police record of contributory factors. Drivers of vehicles were more than twice as likely as cyclists to be recorded as “failing to look properly” in collisions involving cycles and another vehicle in 2012.

Traffic junctions remain the most dangerous places for cycling. These days, I see a lot more cyclists stopping at red lights, but I am also aware that many cyclists have a mounting sense of vulnerability while waiting at a busy junction as traffic assembles behind them waiting to overtake (or undertake).

Riding off during the red-traffic phase offers an escape while the traffic is still restrained, but risks hitting a pedestrian or being hit oneself by a motor vehicle due to misjudgment.

The majority of cyclists do stay on the right side of the law. Contrary to assumption, cyclists disobeying traffic signals was not among the top 10 most commonly occurring factors contributing to fatal cycling incidents in 2012.

Although cyclists should behave responsibly and within the law, road-traffic rules should not make cyclists choose between acting legally and staying safe. Those responsible for making and enforcing the rules must take into account the reasons for offending behaviour, particularly while road conditions remain so inadequate.

Becky Reynolds is the campaign officer for Bricycles (Brighton and Hove Cycling Campaign). For more information, visit: www.bricycles.org.uk; @Bricycles.