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Research could help London become a haven for cyclists

Changing London’s cycling infrastructure will further improve safety and transform the city into a haven for cyclists, finds a study by researchers from Loughborough University and UCL.

The report, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL), could influence how London spends £913 million earmarked by Mayor Boris Johnson to improve cycle safety and increase the number of cyclists four-fold by 2026.

One of its major recommendations is for London to emulate the ‘best international practice in cycle infrastructure’ in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where up to 40 per cent of trips are made by bicycle. The research team believes this would cut collisions by reducing the direct conflict cyclists face with buses, construction vehicles and HGVs.

Other recommendations include reducing HGV movements during commuting hours, educating cyclists not to pass to the left of HGVs and retro-fitting side-guards and mirrors that remove blind spots to HGVs.

The research was commissioned to support the development of TfL’s updated Cycle Safety Action Plan. TfL is currently consulting on proposals for Europe’s longest substantially-segregated urban cycle superhighway, which includes innovative designs for major junctions and roads.

It was carried out against a backdrop of falling road casualties but increasing casualties among cyclists. The number of people killed or seriously injured (KSI) in Greater London between 2000 and 2012 fell by 51 per cent. However, cyclist KSI casualties increased by 59 per cent during a period when the numbers of cyclists increased threefold.

The researchers examined 53 of the 79 fatal and life threatening collisions involving cyclists in that period in an attempt to understand the factors which led to the accidents.

Most, 93 per cent, cyclist fatalities occurred on weekdays, and the number of crashes was highest, 25 per cent, in the morning rush hour. Most, 73 per cent, took place in the winter, between November and April.

Almost half, 47 per cent, involved HGVs, and 49 per cent involved a vehicle hitting a cyclist while turning left or running into the back of them. Most of the vehicles involved in crashes when turning left across cyclist were HGVs.

Professor Pete Thomas, Director of the Loughborough University Transport Safety Research Centre, based in the Design School, led the Loughborough team. He believes that the implementation of their recommendations will support London along the road to emulating Copenhagen for cyclists.

He said: “We have said that we ought to aim for the world’s best provision for cyclists – and that is Copenhagen.

“To achieve that would take decades, these things don’t happen overnight. But this, I think, is achievable for London and for other cities in the UK. It’s expensive but over the years you would get the money back in terms of fewer accidents, healthier people, and, therefore, less pressure on the NHS. It’s also part of a broader issue. What do we want our cities to be like?

“If you increase the percentage of cycle trips from four per cent to say 10 per cent you are taking a lot of vehicles off the road which reduces congestion, improves safety, and is better for the environment. There are benefits for London if they can move further towards being another Copenhagen. It keeps London up there as a world class city.”

Dr Nicola Christie, from the Centre for Transport Studies, UCL, said: “The way we conducted this investigation was unique in that we looked at all the evidence which would improve cyclist safety not just statistically but qualitatively. We know there are hotspots for collisions including junctions and four-lane roundabouts but we looked at all sites, at the numbers of cyclists using routes and the behaviours of all road users. Our recommendations rely on improved cyclist and driver behaviour, coupled with measures to remove direct cycle and vehicle conflict. We feel the best way to achieve a safer environment and encourage more people to cycle is to invest in best practice cyclist infrastructure.”

Ben Plowden, Director of Surface Strategy and Planning at TfL, said: “Our updated Cycle Safety Action Plan demonstrates our commitment to both safer roads for all users and to growing cycling in the capital.

“By using the expertise of British academic institutions, we are able to intelligently focus our efforts in the right places. From a Safer Lorries Scheme to additional training for cyclists and drivers, London is leading the way in cycle safety in the UK”.