Bedtime Reading

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 24.

Every March the County Council’s Environment and Transport Department produces four very informative reports. Two of the reports look back over ‘accident’ and traffic levels for the previous year, and the other two look forward to the next year, setting out the department’s aims and objectives.

I should begin by saying that the very existence of these documents, and the fact they are publicly available, is to be welcomed. Last year’s reports were made available on the County’s web site, which was a great help. There are over 270 pages – too much to cover in detail here – but I thought a summary would be useful.

Traffic Monitoring Report 1998

This report details traffic levels throughout the county during the last year. The section perhaps of most interest to Cambridge cyclists is the so-called River Cam Screenline. This counts the number of movements across the river in the City, in a 12-hour period on a single day in March (in school term but not University term).

There were 118,700 vehicle movements, of which 20,746 (17%) were ‘pedal cycles’ and 24,682 (21%) were pedestrians. This represents approximately 150,000 people movements, based upon the County’s (perhaps slightly generous) assumption that there are between 7 and 11 people per bus, on average. This means that approximately 13% to 14% of people crossing the river in Cambridge do so by bike, and 16% to 17% do so by foot.

It’s hard to compare figures between years, as they depend on the weather on the day of the count.

Road Accidents 1998

This contains information distilled from police records. For example, in 1998 there were 2580 reported injury accidents in Cambridgeshire, resulting in 3563 casualties including 52 fatalities and 502 serious injuries. (As these are the numbers reported to the police, I would be interested to learn of any studies of hospital figures to find the local level of under-reporting.)

In 1998 one cyclist was killed in the county. This is the lowest since current records began over 20 years ago. (The worst year was 1990 when 13 cyclists were killed.)

We read in many places that the County Council is keen to promote cycling, and this is very welcome. However, there’s one headline statistic that is quoted frequently in council documents, and elsewhere, that serves only to discourage cycling:

The casualty rate per head of population for pedal cyclists is more than twice the national average.

Much better to say ‘Cycling in Cambridgeshire is at least twice as safe as cycling in the rest of Britain.’

This statistic is highly misleading, because levels of cycling in Cambridgeshire are many times the national average. There are no comparable figures (counting miles and journeys in the same way) for the amount of cycling locally and nationally. Depending on which survey results you look at, the casualty rate per cycle journey here may be anywhere between two and five times less than the national average. Much better to say ‘cycling in Cambridgeshire is at least twice as safe as cycling in the rest of Britain.’ I wish I understood the reason for the repeated emphasis of this statistic. It’s clear from text later on in the report that the authors are aware of the true picture. So is there some advantage to the Council in presenting cycling as hazardous? It’s certainly not consistent with the Council’s stated aim of encouraging cycling, however good the intention.

Cambridge Evening News, 16 March 1999. How many people have been put off cycling for good by this?

Network Management Plan 1999

This sets the Environment and Transport department’s objectives and targets for March 1999 to March 2000, and reviews progress for the previous year. There are two objectives which we particularly welcome:

  • Maximise the benefit of any investment in the highway to pedestrians, cyclists, bus users and the disabled.
  • Improve the quality of the facilities available to pedestrians, cyclists and bus and rail passengers to encourage the use of more sustainable modes of transport.

We look forward to seeing how these are put into practice.

Road Safety Plan Annual Review

This covers a much broader area than just the Road Safety Department.

There is a lot of good emphasis on the need to encourage ‘responsible road user behaviour’. (It’s a shame that this wasn’t joined-up with the recent Crime and Disorder Audit.) However, very loud alarm bells rung when I read:

Although in the long term promoting public transport, cycling and walking may have safety benefits, the Council must balance the environmental and other safety benefits of this with the possible risks to more vulnerable road users, who for the foreseeable future must share the roads with heavy levels of traffic.

This sentence conflicts directly with the Integrated Transport White Paper, Local Transport Plan Guidance, the National Cycling Strategy and continental experience. We would prefer to see a move towards reducing levels of danger on the roads, and measuring cycle and pedestrian injury rates, as promoted by the Road Danger Reduction Forum.

The Council will be investigating whether the risk of lorries killing or injuring cyclists and pedestrians can be reduced. The National Cycling Forum has already done some work on this, in conjunction with RoSPA and others, resulting in a leaflet entitled Cyclists and Lorries . I’ve also noticed some very impressive stickers on the backs of lorries, to discourage cyclists from moving alongside long vehicles. Hopefully the experience of these initiatives will prove useful locally.

There will also be research into contraflow-cycling on one-way streets, into the effect of red surfacing at T-junctions, and into the implications of Cycle Audit and Cycle Review – all very welcome.

Clare Macrae