Three Cambridge Cycling Campaign representatives met the Cambridgeshire County Council Road Safety team in May.
Campaign member Paul Jones has been routinely recording his cycling journeys around Cambridge using a handlebar-mounted camera. This was inspired by the videos made by another member as reported in Newsletter 69. Paul has uploaded around forty incidents he has recorded to the video-sharing website YouTube. Many of Paul’s videos last around half a minute and show the forward view from the handlebars of some of the typical conditions cyclists face daily.
In one of the videos, Paul is riding southbound on Hills Road towards its junction with Brooklands Avenue. The video shows a bus overtaking Paul and then cutting in to the left. The bus cuts across so far that Paul is forced against the pavement and has to brake sharply to avoid being thrown off his bike. Paul then rides past the bus, which has stopped at traffic lights, to remonstrate with the driver.
When Paul published this video on YouTube it created a lot of media interest and was featured on Anglia News. A member of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Road Safety team responded to the video during an interview on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The response given by the Road Safety officer can be summed up briefly by the following three points:
- Wear safety equipment
- Use cycle lanes
- Better facilities are put in as part of new developments.
I had listened to this interview live as it went out, and I realised just how irrelevant and blunt this advice was in light of the incident with the bus. If Road Safety were not going to challenge clearly dangerous driving then where did that leave us?
The representations I made led to a meeting between the head of Cambridgeshire Road Safety, three of her officers and with myself and two other members of the campaign’s committee.
I started the meeting with a presentation of some of Paul’s videos. We discussed the incident with the bus. Paul already routinely wears a helmet, high visibility clothing and even reflective arm bands and so the ‘wear safety equipment’ message was irrelevant. This type of incident is one of the most common complaints made by both members and the wider public contacting the campaign for advice. The advice that came from the National Forum of Cycling Instructors was that Paul could reduce close overtaking by riding further out in the traffic stream, and by ‘taking the lane’ at the traffic lights.
In the second video we showed, Paul is cut up by a car on a roundabout. Paul approaches the roundabout in the narrow cycle lane on Mowbray Road and wants to go straight on towards Addenbrooke’s Hospital. A car overtakes him and turns left on the roundabout, causing Paul to have to swerve and stop abruptly. This video makes very clear the danger of placing too much trust in cycle lanes. By keeping left as he joins the roundabout, Paul’s position could indicate to other road users that he’s leaving at the next exit. For going straight on, Paul should consider checking behind (which of course does not show up in such videos) and leaving the cycle lane in advance of the roundabout. At the roundabout he could remain in the middle of the traffic stream. This makes his position and intention clearer to other road users. This issue is hot at the moment because the current draft of the Highway Code would put us in the cycle lane ‘wherever possible’ – in direct conflict with the best advice in Cycle Training. I think what happens to Paul in this video is similar to what happened to the cyclist who was killed at Girton Corner.
Further videos we showed consolidated the point that if you don’t know the limitations of cycle lanes they can be the most dangerous place in the road to ride.
The final video showed how new developments do not always introduce better or safer cycling facilities. Buildouts have been added to Kings Hedges Road which are at a dangerous width and in violation of the advice given by the safety audits.
The videos and the context in which they were presented did have a profound effect on the Road Safety Team. We felt it added to their knowledge of some of the real conditions cyclists have to deal with on the roads.
Needless to say this was a potentially difficult meeting. As I prepared for it I was aware of the long history of trying to develop effective promotional messages for cycling, and the differences of opinion that the Campaign has had with Road Safety over these issues.
We again discussed the images of cyclists that are used in promotional materials. The County Council has long insisted that all cyclists must be shown wearing helmets. This position has come through in a series of partnership meetings called Think Cycling – a partnership that ultimately failed to achieve much largely because of this intransigent position. During the meeting we presented the ‘Cycling Campaign’s view on cyclists in publicity material’ – (an unpublished two-page document which might one day form part of a wider Policy Paper). It argues that all legal cyclists have a right to be represented in images – whether helmeted or not. Their argument was that because they are Road Safety they will always use helmeted cyclists, but that in other materials published by the county council this is not a requirement. They no longer overtly do ‘wear helmet’ campaigns, because research suggests this puts people off cycling. Cambridge it seems already has one of the highest helmet wearing rates in the country at 45%.
We also debated the government’s new Bikeability scheme. About half the country has already taken up the scheme, but it hasn’t happened in Cambridgeshire, yet. One of the main reasons for this is that Cambridgeshire has an extensive programme of child cycle training in place, which already reaches 54% of 10-year-olds, and has laudably been training young riders on-road for very many years. In its first phase Bikeability has effectively reached out to the places in Britain which have the worst cycling levels. But it also requires that the trainers are regular cyclists themselves. So the situation in Cambridgeshire is that an effective and low-cost scheme run by volunteers can’t win the Bikeability Badge because it doesn’t meet the standards of a new professional and expensive-to-run scheme.
We had a very useful and fairly wide ranging discussion taking into account cycle and driver training, enforcement and safety messages. We learnt of yet another new partnership structure within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough through which safety and enforcement messages are channelled.
By the end of the meeting, we’d had an informative exchange of views, and there is no doubt about how effective the videos had been in making our case. We were able to make the very clear points that:
- 1. Cyclists have the right to be on the road.
- 2. Burdening cyclists with well-intentioned advice can undermine our safety by removing a legal defence from those who choose not to wear ‘safety equipment’ or ride in cycle lanes ‘wherever possible.’
- 3. Cycle lanes have dangerous limitations.
We have agreed to work together on developing the vocabulary of cycling safety messages, particularly for cycle lanes. This will be in time for October when a new intake of students comes to the city. Beyond that there were no specific measures, but I think we all found the discussion useful, and a follow-up meeting was arranged for November.