Archive for December, 2009

More dangerous than Denmark.

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It’s cycling-safety study time again. This time, research from the University of Surrey has concluded that cycling is more dangerous than driving. All the studies conclude this, so I suppose it must be true.

This one just tots up the total hospital admissions for injuries sustained from cycling on the public road, so it has the merit of simplicity. There are some curiosities – many more injuries in summer (more people cycling), but a much smaller proportion of serious injuries. And, not unrelated I suspect, a smaller proportion of injuries resulting from collision with a car.

I’m guessing this is simply because a higher proportion of winter cyclists are commuters, who are probably using busier roads because, especially in London, trying to stick to the back streets means taking forever to get where you’re going. All the one-way systems designed to stop cars from making rapid progress that way stop cyclists just as effectively.

There is also some stuff about how injuries rates are vastly higher here than they are in the Netherlands or Denmark. This is more interesting, since the Danish model is the one that we keep hearing about. The problem, as far as I can see, is that Copenhagen (or Amsterdam) is very different from most British cities. It’s more compact, and the population is much more centralised. Most bike journeys are therefore short. In London especially, most trips are longer, so riders want to go much faster, which is why sales of fast commuting bikes are high, and why those crappy little shared bike-pedestrian paths are useless. They’re designed for pottering, not commuting.

I was originally booked to talk about this on Radio 4 last night, and got pulled at the last minute. But I got to hear the transport minister Paul Clarke explaining how much money they’re spending on bike lanes and the like.

You need to spend money wisely for it to help. I have only very rarely seen a bike facility that I thought was designed by a cyclist. Everyone who rides in London knows, or ought to know, that the one golden rule is never, never ride up the inside of stationary traffic coming up to lights. Never. Yet that’s exactly what the bike markings at most junctions require you to do. Obeying the current markings places you in danger. And that’s what they’re spending money on.

The other thing he said was that the government was spending money on training young cyclists – which is nice, but for the most part, injuries aren’t caused by bad cycling, but by bad driving. The dangers that cyclists are exposed to are not their fault – despite the efforts of the government to claim they are.

I’d rather they spent money on training drivers – like the ass who nearly flattened me yesterday, because apparently no on had ever told him not to overtake round a blind bend in a busy village. Improving the quality of driving would do more for cyclist safety than any number of bike lanes and ‘cyclists dismount’ signs. But I don’t suppose we’re going to see any such thing.