Susan is a keen, confident cyclist and regularly takes part in amateur racing competitions. She cycles to and from work every day, clad in Lycra, and feels satisfied that the 15-mile daily round trip helps her keep fit for her weekend racing events.

Student Steven used to love cycling when he was a teenager but now his bike is mostly gathering dust in his shed. Steven usually drives to university; it is only a 5-mile trip but he is put off from cycling because part of the journey involves a busy stretch of 40mph road and he doesn’t feel safe sharing the road with motor vehicles.

Siddiq would like to use his hand cycle more, but often finds it a challenge finding a safe and secure place to park. After a bad experience with his cycle getting vandalised, he now tends to drive for most journeys, even short ones.

Sinead can’t afford her own cycle and also lives in a flat with no shed or garage or other suitable place to store one. Sinead sometimes hires a shared bike or e-scooter in her city – she loves the fresh air and flexibility – but doesn’t enjoy navigating the busy streets which puts her off during rush hours.

Susan, Steven, Siddiq and Sinead are fictional. I made them up – but I’d be willing to bet some readers of this blog can relate to at least part of their stories. These personas illustrate a diverse set of circumstances, experiences and perceptions – a diversity which exists in the real world too and which greatly impacts our transport system.

To achieve ‘Safe Roads for All’ – the theme of this year’s Road Safety Week – it is essential to understand and cater for diversity. This applies to every single one of our transport modes, but active travel in particular warrants special attention. We’re battling an escalating climate emergency and we, as a society, urgently need to decarbonise transport. Switching as many of our trips to walking or cycling as possible can bring a multitude of benefits – it’s zero emission, highly efficient, good for the economy and good for our physical and mental health [1]. Indeed, the UK government recognises this need and has set a specific goal in their ‘Gear Change’ policy for half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030. A diverse set of issues must be addressed to accomplish this goal.

First, safety. Pedestrians and cyclists are objectively one of the most vulnerable types of road user. The latest version of the ‘Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report’ [2] was published on 29 September 2022; this provides data on personal injury road traffic casualties in 2021. Against a baseline of 2019, avoiding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel behaviour, the data show an overall reduction in road deaths (11%). For pedal cyclists, however, there was an 11% increase in fatalities in 2021 compared with 2019. These numbers only tell part of the story though. Considering exposure allows calculation of casualty rates – these are more useful when comparing between different modes since the distances travelled on different modes varies hugely. Here the headlines for 2021 are 26 pedestrian and 26 cyclist fatalities per billion miles travelled, compared with 3 car occupant fatalities. That represents an almost nine-fold increase in relative road fatality risk for those who choose active travel over car travel. Risk of serious or slight injury is also greatly inflated for pedestrians and cyclists; 1,210 and 3,920 casualties per billion miles travelled, respectively, versus 320 car occupant casualties.

Second, perceptions. As well as actual safety, we must consider the impact of perceived safety on likelihood to walk and cycle. Irrespective of what the statistics suggest about collision and injury risk, people need to feel safe and secure. This is multi-faceted. First, pedestrians and cyclists want to feel protected from the risk of collision or injury with motor vehicles that are bigger, faster and heavier than them. Second, personal safety and security is key – people need to feel comfortable walking or cycling around their environment without fear of abuse, bullying or attack by other road users, and they need to feel comfortable they can securely park their cycle without risk of theft or vandalism. Negative perceptions in this regard represent a significant barrier to walking and cycling participation, irrespective of whether the concerns are founded in reality. Diversity is important because different people have different perceptions and experiences and that contributes to inequality. For example, concerns about personal safety and security (rather than risk of collision or injury) tend to impact women’s likelihood to cycle more than men [3].

As well as actual safety, we must consider the impact of perceived safety on likelihood to walk and cycle. Irrespective of what the statistics suggest about collision and injury risk, people need to feel safe and secure.

Third, recent and continuing developments in micromobility are introducing further diversity. E-bikes, e-cargo bikes, e-scooters, one-wheels, electric skateboards and balance boards are just some of the innovations which have emerged and are in various states of market maturity and legality. These new forms of active and semi-active modes are (or will be) competing for space on our roads, cycle lanes and tracks. While many technologies are still emerging and the optimal mix of future mobility services is not yet known, what is clear is that our roads and spaces will need to cater for a far greater variety of road user types in future than they do today.

Infrastructure is key for achieving both our safety and sustainability goals. For example, for vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and – more recently – e-scooter riders, physical separation from faster, heavier, more powerful motor vehicles can substantially reduce risks. The experience for these users is also key for encouraging sustainable travel; we must ensure that our streets and public spaces are fit for purpose for all types of people, so that they feel safe when taking these modes and feel attracted to do so rather than opt for the car.

But our urban spaces are limited and constricted, and so innovative and data-led designs are needed to ensure success. It is not sufficient to assume that current design standards (e.g. for walking or cycling infrastructure) will be fit for purpose for new mobility vehicles and services which are inherently different in terms of vehicle design and operation. Indeed, even with the mix of vehicle designs and users we have today, our infrastructure is insufficient [4]. As such, there is a need to gather data on the diverse requirements of users, and the interactions between different types of users, to understand how to optimise our urban spaces in future.

For Susan – better cycling infrastructure is likely to improve her commute but is unlikely to greatly impact her behaviour; she is a committed cyclist regardless. For Sinead and Steven however, good quality cycling infrastructure which can reduce actual and perceived risk will have a material impact on their propensity to cycle. Likewise, Siddiq may be encouraged to travel on his hand cycle more if he can be assured secure cycle parking is available. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. ‘Safe Roads for All’ means an inclusive system, and that means a system which recognises diversity, whether it’s diversity in people, diversity in use cases or diversity in vehicle types.

About the Author

George is Head of New Mobility at TRL. He is a Chartered Psychologist with a background in research methods, statistics, human factors and psychology. George has 10 years’ experience conducting social and behavioural research in the transport sector across a variety of areas including studies of active travel safety (e.g. large-scale off- and on-street evaluation of the impact of cycling infrastructure on road user safety), electric vehicles (e.g. attitudinal and behavioural research into the use and future adoption of EVs) and new mobility devices (e.g. investigations into the safety of e-scooters and other forms of micromobility). George is a member of the International EV Policy Council.

About TRL

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