UWE Bristol transport expert says we need to look to Copenhagen to improve safety for cyclists

Issue date: 21 November 2013

Professor John Parkin, a transport expert from the University of the West of England is available to discuss what he thinks needs to be done to improve cycling safety following wide media speculation and discussion during the past week. His ideas centre on law and suggestions for developments in road and vehicle design.

Professor Parkin said, “Firstly, there are issues in law. There are issues about strict liability. These apply equally well to cycle traffic as to motor traffic, after all a pedal cycle can and has, killed pedestrians in London.

“The highway is a 'drive on sight' system where we have a 'right to pass and re-pass', other than where traffic regulation orders exist. These limit and prescribe the way that we might use the road. Examples are: limits on speed and prohibitions on movements such as banned turns or one-way streets. The UK road system is highly regulated, and this is good to some extent.

“Much of our regulation is in favour of motor traffic movement at the expense of other users, which allows drivers to begin to think they 'own the road'. One example of a seemingly more 'lax' approach to regulation is the way that turning traffic at signals in many European countries has to give way to pedestrians crossing a side road. Arguably, such greater 'laxity', coupled with stricter liability, would engender a different set of behaviours amongst drivers and riders. They would have to 'drive on sight' again, rather than relying on the built in preference that regulations often give them.

“We need to review how we design our roads. We have been very successful in the UK in implementing area wide traffic management with a view to maximising the capacity and minimising the delay of motor traffic. This has been achieved largely with motor traffic in mind and the way that we have dealt with safety issues is to segregate pedestrians from moving traffic (for example, the traffic signal example above and guardrail).

“I would argue we have largely ignored cycle traffic, perhaps hoping it 'goes away'. We now have a situation where there is an increasing demand for using the bicycle in a number of our major cities. Equally, we see a situation where motor traffic flows have remained static, or, as in many cases, now begun to reduce. Some major roads in London have seen flows fall by as much as 20%. We need to begin comprehensively to re-apply our area wide traffic management tools to re-manage our highway assets in such a way that appropriate space is given for cycle traffic.

“This area wide approach to re-managing our traffic in order to create space and routes for cycle traffic needs to be accompanied by detailed designs which provide space within the carriageway for cycle traffic.

“My view is that the most appropriate model here is the Copenhagen model, with cycle lanes of adequate width to handle the capacity of cycle traffic being separated from the rest of the carriageway by a small kerb. We need to manage junctions in such a way that speeds of motor traffic are in line with speeds of cycle traffic. A case in point here are roundabouts with 'compact' geometry which intrinsically manage the speed of traffic as it passes through the junction. At signal controlled junctions we need to solve the left-hook problem and there are a number of possible mechanisms for this, including lane layouts which mix cycle traffic emerging from kerb separated lanes with left turning traffic, but which make it clear through the layout that the motorist is moving left to enter what is otherwise space which cycle traffic uses.

“Finally I suspect that if someone were to invent today a vehicle where the driving position was such that the driver could not see significant parts of the road around them by direct line of sight, then it would not be sanctioned to operate legally on the road.

“The situation we presently experience has arrived perhaps by accident, perhaps because we have been so focussed on the vehicle and its load carrying capabilities and not on its effect on the urban environment. Health and safety at work legislation has meant that bin lorries now have an appropriately low driving position to protect the workers around the vehicle. It is a shame that we are not in a position to dictate similar changes for a wider range of vehicles with poor all round visibility. Mirrors help, but they do not solve the problem.

“Significant demand for cycling will now hopefully translate into political action, which in turn will easily be translated into revised traffic engineering regimes in our urban areas.”

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