Yesterday in parliament, MPs discussed cycling safety, spurred on by the recent spate of cyclist deaths in the capital. A number of MPs – including the road safety minister – stressed their cycling credentials (ownership of a Brompton is now de rigeur in Westminster, it seems). The debate stressed the overall health benefits of cycling, despite the risks, and the roads minister revealed some possible new thinking from the Department for Transport, a transcipt can be found below.
Robert Goodwill, the roads safety minister who is in charge of cycling said: "I am determined to make cycling even safer…as the number of cyclists on our roads continues to rise. I will be on my Brompton again on Friday morning as I cycle from King’s Cross station to Westminster. My officials have devised a route for me that will allow me to experience both the worst and the best of cycling roads in London."
He added: "If we are going to improve cycling safety in London significantly, we will have to reduce the threat of trucks where full segregation is not possible."
Goodwill also said the Department for Transport will be looking keenly at early start signals at traffic lights (he said he saw a cyclist blowing a red yesterday) and "we should also examine some other ideas" including looking at increasing the number of HGVs which should be compulsorily fitted with side guards.
ALSO: the transport select committee will be examining witnesses in a fact-finding session on 2nd December. Witnesses will include David Davies, Executive Director, PACTS; Val Shawcross Chair, London Assembly Transport Committee; Ashok Sinha, Chief Executive, London Cycling Campaign; Jack Semple, Director of Policy, Road Haulage Association; Jerry McLaughlin, Director of Economics, Mineral Products Association; and Marcus Jones of TRL.
Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): This timely debate on safe cycling in London is about saving lives. Just recently, there were six deaths in just two weeks in London, which forced attention on the issue. Two collisions occurred on the same day, which was particularly poignant. Our thoughts are with those who have died on London streets, and with their families. Most recently, Brian Holt, Francis Golding, Roger William De Klerk, Venera Minakhmetova, Khalid al-Hashimi and Richard Muzira have died on the streets of London on their bikes.
As well as highlighting the whole issue of safety for cyclists in London, the recent spate of fatal accidents has raised serious concerns about roundabouts such as Bow, where Hounslow resident Brian Dorling died in 2011. I have a personal interest in the matter because I, too, sometimes cycle into work and around my constituency. Every time I do, I feel as though I am taking a risk, even though I abide by the rules of the road. Even cycling around Parliament square, which is right outside, it feels as though I am taking my life in my hands.
I want to encourage cycling, because it is good for health, well-being and the environment, but we need to find a way to make it safer for everyone on the roads.
The number of journeys made by bike more than doubled between 2000 and 2012 to more than 540,000 a day in London. The central London cycling census conducted by Transport for London in April this year calculated that bicycles accounted for up to 64% of vehicles on some main roads during the peak morning period, a time of day that recent incidents have shown to be particularly dangerous. More bicycles than cars travel across London, Waterloo, Blackfriars and Southwark bridges during that time, a setting that presents enhanced safety hazards to cyclists. In pure numbers, however, there were fewer cycling fatalities in the past six years than in the previous six.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that in this important debate we should stress that someone is more likely to be killed walking a mile than cycling a mile, and also stress the health benefits? Our overall life expectancy is increased if we cycle and lead an active, healthy life. We should ensure that we stress the benefits of cycling for well-being, as well as the dangers, and make it safe for those who cycle.
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I am pleased that she has secured this important debate. My constituency has thousands of cyclists, who are fortunate to benefit from an integrated cycle network, so they feel safe cycling. My constituency is close to London, and over the past few months, as these unfortunate deaths have occurred, we have seen a huge increase in the number of cycles left in the cycle racks at Stevenage station, because those cyclists are now scared of cycling in London.
Mary Macleod: [Here are] some of the things that must be considered as a matter of urgency. The first is a cycle safety summit, for want of a better term, to get all the London stakeholders around a table to discuss the vision, strategy and plan of action going forward. That would include, of course, the Department for Transport, the Mayor’s office, Transport for London, the Metropolitan police and each of the London boroughs, which all have roads for which they are responsible. It would also involve the cycling safety campaign groups, and maybe even the all-party group on cycling. It would be a conversation around a table about a joint approach and a plan of action to get things moving.
The second issue that we need to consider is continuing to improve the safety of road junctions, whether with Trixi mirrors or safe cycling routes. Transport for London has increased its budget for safer junctions from £19 million to £100 million, but how far will that stretch across the key London junctions that need to be sorted out? Can TfL also address some of the other junctions that might not be its responsibility?
The third issue is better safety equipment on lorries. I feel strongly about that issue, given the scale of deaths from HGVs; nine out of the 14 deaths so far this year have been linked to HGVs. Side guards are critical to prevent people from being dragged underneath, as are close proximity sensors to let drivers know whether someone is around and side cameras to help with blind spots. Maybe we will have to prevent HGVs from entering central London unless they have safety features. If they do not, maybe the Mayor could impose a levy or fine.
The fourth issue to consider is the importance of clamping down on all road users who break the law, with on-the-spot fines for dangerous driving or cycling. Those who use the roads must respect each other; I say that as both a driver and a cyclist. I think that being a cyclist has helped me be a better driver, and I encourage everyone to try it. We might consider a fixed penalty for going into the cycles-only box at junctions. I would also like those cycle boxes and the advance stop lines extended a bit. At the moment, they are about 5 metres out, which is very close to traffic queues, especially during the morning rush hour. Maybe that could be extended to 7.5 metres.
My fifth point concerns further training for children and adults. London boroughs and the police have been reasonably good at giving support on cycling safety, and there are also videos about how HGV drivers have blind spots. Adults returning to cycling after many years, in particular, may need a refresher. Another option is changing the driving test for drivers of all vehicles, including taxis, HGVs and cars, and including cyclist awareness and safety. I have mentioned considering a rush-hour HGV ban or a levy on HGVs not fitted with safety equipment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Such incidents are a sobering reminder of the dangers that road users can experience on our busy urban streets, but equally, they should not discourage people from getting on their bikes. Cycling is still generally a safe activity. Indeed, the number of fatalities in London dropped from 21 in 2003 to 14 last year. Sadly, we have already reached 14 so far in 2013, including six in the past couple of weeks.
As the Minister with responsibility for cycling and road safety, I am determined to make cycling even safer. Since February last year, we have made an additional £159 million available to support cycling and boost safety, including £20 million to improve the design and layout of road junctions at 78 locations around the country. A further £15 million is being targeted specifically at dangerous junctions in London. More recently, we have announced £77 million to help eight cities across England realise their ambitious 10-year plans to increase cycling and make it safer.
Those investments are crucial as the number of cyclists on our roads continues to rise. After the heroics of Team GB in the Olympics and Paralympics and the success of our riders in the Tour de France, thousands of people are catching the cycling bug. Although I got the habit nearly a decade ago, I am also a Brompton rider.
Dr Wollaston: The Minister is another Brompton rider in the Commons. I am grateful to him for pointing out the welcome boost to funding, but is he aware of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling report, which recommended that long-term stable funding is what makes the difference? At least £10 a head for the whole population, rather than for the seven cities, is what is needed if we are to make the great strides that we have seen on the continent and allow for infrastructure improvements, particularly separation at junctions and on our most dangerous roads.
Mr Goodwill: The Government have certainly announced long-term funding pledges for transport infrastructure that will, with reforms to the Highways Agency, enable planning year by year, unlike the stop-go investment that we have had.
I will be on my Brompton again on Friday morning as I cycle from King’s Cross station to Westminster. My officials have devised a route for me that will allow me to experience both the worst and the best of cycling roads in London.
The trend back to cycling is particularly noticeable among young people. British Cycling, the national governing body, has seen membership of under-18s soar by 42% in just a year. However, money is only part of the answer. We are also working in other ways to improve cyclist safety. For instance, we have made it simpler for councils to put in place 20 mph-limit zones, and we have encouraged local authorities to implement such limits in areas where cyclists and pedestrians are most vulnerable. Reducing traffic speeds can make roads safer and improve the local environment.
As we have heard, a high proportion of cyclist fatalities involve large vehicles, so we have given English councils the power to install Trixi mirrors at junctions. We have also made it easier for councils to install contra-flow cycling and signs saying “No entry except cycles”. Awareness of other road users is paramount, particularly in big cities, so we welcome initiatives such as TfL’s “Exchanging Places”, in which cyclists can sit in a lorry cab and watch for a police cyclist riding up on the left side of the vehicle.
One of the most effective ways to make our roads safer is to change people’s driving habits through hard-hitting marketing and advertising. That is why we continue to develop new campaigns through our award-winning Think! brand. In October, I launched a new Think! cyclist campaign, targeting Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge, on top of the activity already launched in London. That built on a similar campaign last year that was based around the message, “Let’s Look Out For Each Other”.
Clearly, however, if we are going to improve cycling safety in London significantly, we will have to reduce the threat of trucks where full segregation is not possible. Cyclists are no more likely to be involved in a collision with a lorry than with any other type of vehicle, but when it does happen the outcome is all too often a tragedy. In September, we set up a taskforce with Transport for London to raise awareness of safety among HGV drivers and to take targeted enforcement action against the small minority of potentially dangerous operators, drivers and vehicles.
I understand that last Monday, on the first day of the Metropolitan police’s new road safety enforcement campaign, 70 lorries were stopped and 15 penalty notices were issued, for offences such as vehicles not being fit for the road. In addition, about 100 cyclists were advised of a range of road safety measures that they can take, such as wearing hi-vis jackets or helmets, or fitting their bike with lights. A number of cyclists were also stopped for riding on the pavement. Indeed, only this morning I witnessed a cyclist dangerously running a red light in this part of London.
In August, the Prime Minister also announced that we will be publishing a cross-Government cycling delivery plan. We will work with stakeholders, including TfL, on drafting the plan, which will set out how we will deliver on our vision of more people cycling more safely and more often. It will be supported by Departments across Whitehall and will include a commitment to work together to deliver a cycling infrastructure that will make Britain a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth suggested that there should be a cycling summit. That is a very good idea, but I have to say that I am ahead of the curve, because even before the most recent tragedies on our roads I met Chris Boardman, British Cycling, the Cyclists’ Touring Club and the charity Sustrans to discuss the issue. Indeed, I have a meeting in the diary for tomorrow with TfL to discuss some cycling issues, and on 4 December the Mayor is coming to the DFT to discuss cycling and other issues. It is important that we work together with all the stakeholders involved, including the cycling campaign groups and the all-party group on cycling, of which I used to be a member.
We can also look at other areas where we can make improvements. Mention was made of advanced stop lines, but a contribution could also be made by having early start signals, to allow cyclists to get away first before the lorries set off.
We should also examine some other ideas, such as those that my hon. Friend mentioned today. However, I have reservations about proximity sensors down the side of vehicles. They can often be set off by roadside furniture or other obstacles, and could actually distract a driver on some occasions. But it is absolutely imperative that we see what we can do about side guards. There are a number of vehicles that are currently exempt from having to have them, such as skip wagons, refuse wagons and some tippers, and it is important that we consider what we can do to improve the design of those vehicles, and to ensure that more and more vehicles are fitted with side guards.