To cycle safely – the first step towards a genuine cycling revolution

Cycling safety campaigner, Nazan Fennell, writes for Bioregion Birmingham

bicycleBirmingham has long been an established car city. As it was once the world’s workshop, its subsequent industrialisation was inevitable. It required a particular set up for moving goods around – a set up where car traffic and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) dominated the roads. The law adjusted to give way to these vehicles; prioritising uninterrupted ‘traffic flow’.

But this came at a heavy cost.

People’s right to space and free movement has been jeopardised for a long time now; quality of air, public safety, and happiness of communities have been ignored. Birmingham is currently breaking EU law with its air pollution levels, and it is not expected to comply with legal limits for air quality until at least 2025. This is unacceptable when you consider that air pollution reduces life expectancy by an average of over eleven years.

I would argue that Birmingham is currently one of the worst places to inhabit in the UK when it comes to putting citizens first. Many other cities, like Manchester and Bristol have clearly performed better in a variety of matters involving citizens. Perhaps it’s because they realise that cities where people cycle the most produce happier children, more customers for local business, and higher standards of city living.

Towards cycling safety

For Birmingham to become a city ‘fit for cycling’ we need to respond to the evidence that HGVs and construction vehicles are responsible for most cycling casualties. These huge vehicles – machines which were originally built for motorways – are being driven through our urban roads by drivers who are unable to see what is around them. Surely this is unacceptable in an environment where children are encouraged to walk or cycle to school as way of commute.

It is almost satirical that in Birmingham people who cycle or walk, regardless of age or ability, are expected to know the blind-spots of these vehicles, which dominate our roads. Are we seriously expected to anticipate their unpredictable moves, cycle alongside them, and still go home in one piece?

This is an unrealistic and messy situation for a city in which the leaders claim to pursue a “cycling revolution” as their ambition. Despite receiving millions of pounds in government funds to deliver this revolution, the evidence indicates that the most vulnerable on our roads continue to be victims to heavy traffic.

Four people are injured on the region’s streets every day. In the last three years there have been more than 1,500 accidents involving cyclists, including 12 fatal and almost 300 with serious injuries.

It is unrealistic to think that a cycling revolution will genuinely happen when there is nothing in place to accommodate the idea. Those responsible for making policy decisions often fail to understand cycle safety rules and advanced stop line (ASL) lanes. For Birmingham traffic, the design of crossings must be adjusted accordingly. Currently, the ASL lane places riders directly in vehicle blindspots.

We must think about a completely cyclist friendly, protective infrastructure: a route where the person on the bike is comfortably separated from main ‘motor traffic’. In the light of the vulnerability man vs 44ton machine creates; commuter protection, convenience and safety are crucial.

Strict liability is another necessary component for Birmingham cycling to be successful. Someone who drives a lethal 18 ton truck on urban roads and near children’s schools MUST exercise extreme duty of care to the vulnerable. This must be enforced by traffic police.

Simple policies that work

I have been campaigning for improved cycle safety in Birmingham for some years now on behalf of Live in Hope. To protect all cyclists we are demanding the following things:

• A protective infrastructure: high quality cycling lanes, which are maintained and upgraded, with accident hotspots examined continuously.

• Complete A-B cycling routes, without any breaks, which are suitable for 6 year olds to commute to school and back alone. This is very important to encourage a new generation of cyclists, both for individual health and for the sustainability of the city.

• Junctions where bikes have priority over the rest of traffic. Danish and Dutch models have already demonstrated the feasibility of putting these in place.

• Lower speed limits: traffic calming measures that will help to adjust driver behaviour.

• A consistent and fair spending budget allocated to cycling infrastructure. Yes the council has again had to make cuts but it has been able to obtain funds specifically to improve cycling safety. We want to see this money used appropriately.

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Bioregion Birmingham is collaborating with Live in Hope to promote sensible cycling policies in the region. Please contact us by emailing andrew@bioregionbirmingham.org if you would like to know more or to get involved.

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2 Responses to “To cycle safely – the first step towards a genuine cycling revolution

  • Birmingham has to do more and faster to help protect vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians. Outside schools in particular children are being put at risk. Most parents do not risk letting children cycle to school because roads are too dangerous, despite children prefering to bike. There are simple, cheap solutions and projects, as well as larger infrastructure projects that could make us a lot safer and happier.

  • colin troth
    2 years ago

    Its all so depressing…when you see how much money and technology was put into our Olympics cycling teams….when it comes cycling on out streets we

    are sooo backward.

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