Commuters call for safer streets for cycling, to enable more to get on their bikes

Wednesday 2 May

Brake, the road safety charity
T: 01484 559909 E:

Calls for widespread 20mph limits and other measures to protect cyclists grew today, as two in three commuters (66%) said most roads were unfit for cycling in a survey by charity Brake and solicitors Bolt Burdon Kemp.

The survey of 1,550 commuters revealed many would be persuaded to cycle if roads were safer. A third (35%) said they would switch to cycling their commute if the route was less dangerous. A huge 46% would be persuaded to make other local journeys by bike given safer roads.

Nearly half said they cycle on roads already (47%), but two-thirds of these (64%) only do so occasionally. Only one in ten (10%) use their bike as their main form of transport to commute.

The majority of those surveyed said 20mph limits and other safe cycling measures were needed in their area. Only a minority already have widespread 20mph limits (15%) and other safe cycling measures like cycle paths (13%). Of those who don’t already have them, three-quarters (73%) would back widespread 20mph limits and 83% would back measures like cycle paths being introduced in their community.

Brake and Bolt Burdon Kemp are launching a Cycle for life campaign calling for:

  • Local authorities to implement widespread 20mph limits in communities to protect cyclists and pedestrians, and more traffic-free and segregated cycle paths on commuter routes and connecting homes and community facilities;
  • Government to encourage and fund more local authorities to take these steps;
  • Drivers to slow down to 20mph in communities and look out for cyclists, especially at junctions and on bends;
  • Employers to play their part in promoting safe cycling, raising awareness about safe driving to protect cyclists, and ensuring commercial vehicles have the latest blind spot devices. Organisations signing up to back the campaign will get guidance on promoting safe cycling.

Individuals and organisations can back the campaign at

Julie Townsend, Brake deputy chief executive, said: “It’s positive the government is working to encourage cycling to improve health and reduce pollution, but it must also ensure roads are safe for cyclists. Widespread 20mph limits and cycle paths where people live and work would encourage more people to cycle, without their lives being threatened by fast traffic. It would also, crucially, help prevent those already cycling from falling victim to devastating crashes. This survey shows the huge amount of public support for safe cycling. We’re calling on the authorities, employers, and the driving public to act upon this, to enable people to take to their bikes without fear.”

Cheryl Abrahams, Partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp, said: “These results show that more people would be encouraged to cycle if roads were perceived as being safer for cyclists. In view of the many positive benefits cycling can have on health, the environment and people’s finances, this has to be encouraged. Through our work with injured cyclists all over the Country, we understand the difficulties that cyclists on the road face. We have seen the devastation that road crashes can cause and that’s why we are working with Brake on the Cycle for life campaign and we call on the government to do more to ensure that roads are safer for cyclists”.

More survey results
The survey found that cycling to work is most common among men (13%, compared to 7% of women) and among those in their late 20s (18% compared to 10% across all ages). Women are also far more likely than men to never cycle on roads (64% compared to 43%). This may be partly to do with perceptions of risk. Men are much more likely than women to think roads in their area are mostly safe for cycling (39% compared to 29%) and those in their late 20s are more likely to think this than other age groups (40% compared to 34% across all ages).

Case study
Donal McNally, 46, Reader in Bioengineering at the University of Nottingham, was hit from behind while cycling home along the A60 near Bradmore at around 10.30pm on 21 May 2010. The driver drove off leaving Donal motionless at the roadside. He was later found still unconscious on a verge by passing driver.

Donal suffered three neck fractures, a lower back fracture and three cracked ribs. He spent more than two weeks in hospital and four months off work after the crash. Donal was told by his GP that he was lucky to be alive. He believes his helmet, which cracked in four places, absorbed enough of the impact to save his life.

Donal, who has spent more than two decades researching the impact of crashes on the spine, now uses his story in lectures to powerfully show to students how the spine fractures. With support from video journalist Brady Haran, Donal put his story on YouTube.

Donal said: “I was very lucky. I’ve spent a career researching spinal injuries and I know how easily I could have been killed. I owe my life to my helmet and I’d urge all cyclists to always wear a helmet and bright clothing and to fit front and back lights to help drivers see you easily. It’s also vital that drivers slow down to below 20mph around schools, shops and homes and keep a look out for cyclists at all times. Cyclists and drivers share the roads so it’s important we work together to make them safe.”

In 2010, 117 cyclists were killed on roads in Great Britain, an increase of 7% from 2009, while cycle traffic increased by 1%. The number of seriously injured cyclists also rose by 2% from 2,606 in 2009 to 2,660 in 2010 [1]. 65% of cycle casualties occurred Monday to Thursday during commuting hours [2].

20mph limits help protect cyclists and pedestrians because driving at 20mph gives drivers a far better chance of reacting to unexpected hazards and stopping in time in an emergency. Lower urban limits have been shown to reduce cyclist casualties by 17% in a study of 20mph zones in London [3]. Further studies have concluded that reducing the speed and volume of traffic would improve cycle safety more than narrow cycle lanes [4].

Calls for government action
Brake wants 20mph limits, plus safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians, to be the norm in our communities. Brake welcomes that some forward-thinking local authorities are investing in safe widespread 20mph limits, and other safe cycling measures, but wants the government to enable, encourage and fund far more work of this kind to take place.

The government recently announced £15 million in funding for cycle routes, storage facilities and repair centres on top of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which Brake welcomes. However, Brake calls on the government to ensure this funding is used primarily for making cycling safer, and to commit more funding for this purpose.

The government is also currently reviewing its guidance for local authorities on setting local speed limits. Brake is urging the Department for Transport to revise this guidance to encourage widespread 20mph limits, and remove red tape that often hinders implementation of these schemes, in line with evidence on the benefits 20mph limits deliver for communities.

Advice to drivers
Brake is calling on drivers to commit to slowing down to 20mph or below in communities to protect people on bikes and on foot, and to slow right down for bends or whenever visibility is poor on country roads. Drivers should take particular care to look out for cyclists at junctions, on busy commuter routes, and whenever is hard to see the road ahead, and slow down and give cyclists a wide berth when passing.

Commercial vehicle operators should ensure drivers are well trained in this, and have the latest devices fitted to vehicles to reduce blindspots.

Advice to cyclists
Brake also urges cyclists to do everything they can to reduce risks they face, including wearing a helmet and high vis gear, choosing the safest routes possible, and not pulling up alongside or close to large vehicles.

End notes:
[1] Reported road casualties Great Britain 2010, Department for Transport, 2011
[2] ibid. 65% of cycle casualties occurred during the hours of 7am – 10am and 4pm – 7pm Monday – Thursday. 
[3] Effect of 20 mph traffic speed zones on road injuries in London, 1986-2006: controlled interrupted time series analysis, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2009
[4] The effect of cycle lanes on the proximity between motor traffic and cycle traffic, University of Leeds, 2010