Saturday 3 December 2011

Cambridge family considers giving up cycling

The Cambridge Evening News reports that a family is considering giving up cycling in the city due to the danger, saying that it is 'worse than taking part in "dangerous sports" (a comparison which I made before).

I know the feeling. It was realising the level of danger which our children faced when they cycled on the streets of Cambridge, and comparing with the utterly different reality for children in the Netherlands, which caused us to give up not cycling, but Cambridge itself, and that's why we moved from that city four years ago.

The part of the article which struck me most was this: "There have been 43 accidents involving cyclists on the road from January, 2006 to September this year, according to figures from Cambridgeshire County Council. A spokesman said: 'These are average figures for similar roads in Cambridge.'"

To me, an average of eight cyclist accidents per year on an average road in a small city is not a very good record. By comparison, the most dangerous junction in the whole of the Netherlands has been the site of 14 incidents involving injury in three years. In the Dutch instance we're looking at something exceptional. There is nowhere worse. This location has 14000 cyclists per day riding through it (vastly more than the junction under discussion in Cambridge) and the under five injuries per year which it causes are not just for cyclists but for all road users.

i.e. a fairly normal junction in Cambridge is at least 70% more dangerous for cyclists than the very worst location in the whole of this country, even without taking into account the far lower number of people who cross that Cambridge junction by bike.

The huge improvements in safety for all cyclists in the Netherlands started with protests about the safety of children. Nowadays, the Netherlands has not only a staggering amount of cycling, by all sections of society, but also the safest cyclists in the world. Britain could take note from this, and transform conditions for all.

Cherry Hinton Road roundabout, where the incident occurred. A terrible roundabout design completely unsympathetic to the needs of cyclists. I've cycled here. It's very unpleasant. (Bigger map).

Roundabouts simply shouldn't look like this. The safest Dutch roundabouts are designed in a very different way, and cyclists are much safer using them.

Read more about the problems facing British children. Click here for The Truth About Cambridge or all posts about Cambridge. While the "everything is good" people and those whose reaction to this story could be summed up as I cycle so you could cycle too might try to convince you otherwise, the city has much to learn from Dutch practice.


John Romeo Alpha said...

I know how that Cambridge family feels. Cycling in auto traffic everyday in the United States as I do amounts to a long string of split-second life-or-death decisions, which, granted, become reflexes with practice, but which also make me feel fear about putting my family members into similar situations.

I don't know what the answer is here, honestly, but I know that solutions which do not support smooth travel flow for pedestrians and cyclists, or that require a long string of split-second life-or-death reflexes, are not it.

Velouria said...

I lived in Cambridge UK 2001-2005 and remember thinking how extremely safe it was for pedestrians and cyclists compared to American cities. It would be interesting to compare it to Boston today; even with the improvements here I still suspect that Cambridge UK is safer than Cambridge MA. Cannot even fathom living in the NL and enjoying that degree of safety and comfort as a cyclist. But would love to experience it some day.

Don said...

How typical that the local cycle campaign end the article with the usual statistical denial. Presumbly the family should just man-up and stop complaining.

Plus the usual rubbish in the comments placing the blame back on the cyclists.

I think we have a long, long way to go before any real change happens in the UK. Hopefully it'll happen before baby Tunstall is too old to cycle...

Anonymous said...

Wow, the negative comments on that article about the bakfiets are also quite disheartening.

Anonymous said...

I read the comments in the news-paper and there were many unfriendly words for cyclists in general and the bakfiets in particular. Glad I, and many others, can cycle in peace and safety. With the price of petrol going up, how long before people realise the bike can be an answer.

Har Davids

wuppidoc said...

It is a habit in Britain not to cycle but to value the car and its so called "rights" higher than those of any other mode of transport.
It needs strong political will in that country to change this.

I have not seen much of that political will, even not after people were killed on their bikes on a normal road because there is no space for bicycles but all space reserved for motorists - and car drivers are driving recklessly in "polite" Britain. For me there is no nimbus of politeness in that country any more.

I am cycling in Spain right now: what a difference in the behaviour of car drivers!

Jose Jimenez said...

Interesting post. I wonder what the criteria is for an incident being reported. Is it police involvement? I dont know Cambridge personally from a cycling point of view but I would imagine there are a few incidents/accidents which are unreported.

Martin said...

In the interests of not repeating selective commenting, and to inform better the likes of "Don", perhaps you could include in your article the full statement which Cambridge Cycling Campaign issued to the Cambridge News:

"Being shielded from the elements through a ton of metal, drivers have large front, limited surround view and their senses are drastically reduced as they can’t properly hear what is going on around them. Ever thicker pillars have reduced drivers viewing field. Cut off from much of the exterior and helped by powerful engines drivers speed through congested urban roads at speeds that can kill, many not aware that pretty much all danger to life on our roads derive from motor cars and lorries.

Cycling is a very safe activity, and safer in Cambridge than most places in the UK. Gardening is dangerous, yet people take the risk of gardening all the time without thinking about it. If a car collides with another car, wouldn’t the police prosecute that driver for driving without due-care and attention, yet when a car hits a bicycle they don’t. We need road junctions that make pedestrians and cyclists feel safe and are designed to be safe for everybody, not just those in big heavy vehicles."

David Hembrow said...

Martin: I'm sure Don feels honoured that the chair of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign has responded to him in such a condescending manner.

So the statement that you made to the press was edited. It was too long. Nearly the length of an article in that paper. You gave them too much of an opportunity to edit.

However, that editing by the press occurs shouldn't be too much of a surprise to you. In March you did the same to me.

The general point that you make is all very well, but it entirely misses the point. People don't look to statistics in order to decide whether or not an activity is "safe". I've covered this in one way or another, oh, dozens of times on this blog, starting with this article.

Even if the entire press release had been printed, it would have had little effect. The fear that the general population has about cycling is not tackled by assurances that it is safe. Comparing with gardening doesn't help. Complaining about drivers doesn't help. Saying that police don't take cyclists seriously also does not address the issues that prevent British people from cycling.

Cycling does not feel safe to the majority of the population because they don't like to share space with cars. They don't like their safety on a bike being controlled by people who drive no better than they do.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign could call for much better infrastructure in the city. It should ask for nothing less than Dutch standards of design. Sadly, in my experience, including when I was a committee member myself, the Cambridge rarely does this.