Thursday, 22 December 2011

Reflections on a presentation made in 2005

Whilst tidying up my office I came across the transcript of the presentation I made in 2005.  Much of this is still relevant today. But rather than in my presentation only being able to say that Kingston-upon-Hull was a 20mph town, we can now inlcude Portsmouth, Oxford, Liverpool, Warrington, Lancashire, Sheffield, York, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Edinburgh, Bath & North East Somerset and Middlesbrough as being places that either have or are implementing 20mph limits for all residential roads.

Moving Cycling into the Mainstream

Rod King’s address to the Streets Ahead CTC/CCN Conference in Warrington, November 2005

I would like you to meet Jane, Fred, Peter, Mary and Nigel. None of them cycle. Jane has just started at University and is home for the weekend, Fred works in a call centre, Peter runs his own advertising agency, Mary is very active with her grandchildren, especially Nigel whom she takes to the nursery each day.

They all started today variously Christmas shopping, visiting friends, taking the children swimming - without even a thought of doing these activities by bicycle. Is it our job to encourage them to cycle? How can we make it safe and enjoyable for them? If they were to cycle would it reduce congestion on our roads? Would they have a healthier lifestyle and be more independent?

None of them will become cyclists or contribute to modal shift. In statistical terms they are the five people who died on UK roads today. They all met very violent deaths - and none of them were cyclists. Some were drivers, some passengers, others pedestrians

Jane, Fred, Peter, Mary and Nigel are not the only victims. By the end of today Jill, Frank, Amanda, David and Collette will also have been killed on our roads. A hundred more will be seriously injured and disabled.

Tomorrow there will be a similar number of fatalities - and one will be a cyclist. Between now and the end of the month 180 will die and 1,800 be seriously injured on our roads. This total for 18 days exceeds the number of rail deaths in the last ten years. Only 4 per cent will be cyclists but together with pedestrians they make up over a quarter of road deaths.

As campaigners we believe that cycling is not dangerous and proclaim its many benefits to the community - less congestion, healthier lifestyle, better mobility for children, reduced air pollution. We arm ourselves with a copy of Cyclecraft, display our cycle maps highlighting the quieter routes. We take advantage of cycle lanes and specially treated junctions. We devise Safe Routes to Schools and Travel Plans, we encourage employers to install showers, we work with councils to produce cycle friendly Local Transport Plans (LTPs), we organise cycle rides for novices, we implement training schemes. Yet despite all our good work cycling declined from 4.5 billion kilometres in 2003 to 3.9 in 2004. And car use rose inexorably.

Why has there been no modal shift to cycling? The answer is that the British public is too frightened to cycle on our roads. We can argue that such fear is perceived rather than real but we must not make the mistake of denying its impact. We compound this error by our contradictory actions. It is illogical to deny the dangers of cycling while at the same time campaigning to reduce them.

Over the last 10 years much has been achieved campaigning for better highway engineering and establishing cycling within LTPs. However, to make a real and lasting difference we must address the fears of non-cyclists rather than the needs of current cyclists.

Much that we do in life involves risk and danger but is balanced by expected gain. As parents we celebrate the day when our child takes their first steps, we cheer when they ride a bike. For our children the pain of occasionally falling off is offset by the gain of independent travel.

We adults then curtail our children's rights and freedoms to ride, walk, play, run and jump in their streets. Enthusiasm wanes and anxiety increases as we (over) stress the risks. “Watch you don't get killed,” “Wear a helmet, “Wear bright clothing”, “Pull over, stop, dismount”, and “Walk across when turning right.” These dire warnings inculcate a terror of roads in our children, deflecting responsibility from the source of the danger - the motorist - onto pedestrians and cyclists.

Safe Routes to Schools seek to encourage walking and cycling by identifying preferred routes. This initiative ignores the right of pedestrians and cyclists to expect respect from drivers - wherever they are. Instead we marshal children along routes providing the minimal inconvenience to motorists. All routes are safe routes to school - it is only motorists that take away the safety. We should be asking not “What can children do to avoid motorists?” but “What can motorists do to avoid children?”

Millions of pounds are spent on cycle lanes and tracks. Yet this very visible public expenditure has not resulted in more cycling. Segregation is only useful if continuous and without intersection conflict which quickly discourages new cyclists. High urban speeds in the UK make it particularly expensive to engineer the same degree of safety for pedestrians and cyclists compared to countries with lower speeds. It costs 25 times more to make a junction safe for cyclists where a 30 mph limit operates compared to 20 mph. Why bother with £50,000 of highway engineering when £50 spent on a few 20 mph repeater signs achieves the same result, that is - more and safer cycling?

Focussing on the engineering of roads, rather than the behaviour of motorists, aids and abets the marginalisation of cycling. It supports the idea that the problem is the cyclist on our roads rather than the inequitable sharing of road space. At junctions and roundabouts cyclists and pedestrians are diverted via a circuitous route so as not to delay the motor traffic. Too often the fast, hard car gets priority over the slow and vulnerable highway user.

Motor manufacturers emphasise the safety aspects of their products. This marketing is directed at the car’s occupants rather than any other highway users the car may encounter -reinforcing the view that it is dangerous to be without a protective steel shell. Every advert that extols the safety of a motor vehicle sub-consciously highlights the dangers for cyclists and pedestrians.

This neurosis is nurtured by thousands of road safety campaigners, teachers, and millions of pounds of vehicle manufacturer advertising. Cycle campaigners are also guilty. Instead of striving in vain to reduce the risks of cycling we should boldly declare, “Walking and Cycling are safe – Driving is dangerous.”

Speed cameras save lives yet people still complain when they are caught breaking the law.
Lack of speed enforcement continues to favour the seat belt-protected motorist against the comatosed cyclist or pedestrian.

Fear of traffic has created a society where young people are denied independent mobility, the opportunity to expand their geographical boundaries in preparation for adulthood. Levels of independent youth travel in the UK are 20 per cent those in Europe. Our youth are frightened of riding on our roads, so have little empathy for cyclists when, as adults they acquire their own motorised transport.

Warrington is twinned with Hilden, a German city midway between Düsseldorf and Köln
where car ownership is higher than the national average. Over the last 15 years the council has implemented a systematic programme of traffic calming with the co-operation of residents. Now 75 per cent of the urban area has a speed limit of 30 kph (20 mph) and in Home Zones it is as low as 5 mph. In 1989 cycling accounted for 9 per cent of all journeys and 14 per cent of town centre traffic, in 2004 the figures rose to 14 and 23 per cent respectively. Lutz Groll, a Hilden planner concludes, “Traffic calming is a fundamental element in successful bicycle promotion.”

There are similar success stories throughout northern Europe. In Britain only Kingston upon Hull has pioneered a comprehensive 20 mph speed limit. This bold experiment has reduced crashes causing deaths or serious injuries by 90 per cent and child pedestrian casualties by 74 per cent.

We must follow the example of Hilden and Hull and avoid the car-dependent culture of America. We should strive to emulate our European neighbours where citizens use the streets to play, gossip, shop, walk, run, cycle, gather and linger without fear of being killed.

Maximum vehicle speeds must be reduced in all our urban and residential areas to 20 mph. The viability, convenience, safety, directness and simple right to walk or cycle on our roads cannot be compromised in order to maintain high traffic speeds in our towns, cities and villages. We must champion the rights of all to choose their mode of transport without fear. We must stop giving disproportionate mobility rights to car owners and motorists when one quarter of all households has no access to a car.

A default speed limit of 20 mph will have only a marginal impact on journey time, on average adding one minute to a 15 minute journey - but will significantly increase safety and reduce fear for pedestrians and cyclists. It will benefit all: streets will become more peaceful, traffic will flow more smoothly, air pollution will decrease as will road maintenance costs. There will be fewer deaths and injuries for pedestrian, cyclists - and motorists. Children will reclaim the right to walk and cycle independently to school, parents will be freed from the slavery of the school run - and all at minimal cost to cash-strapped councils.

There will be several desirable side effects to a rise in cycling: more exercise, slimmer children, social inclusion, community cohesion, better air quality, less congestion. Elsewhere cycling is not perceived in such complex terms. In Europe bicycles are not expected to deliver key government policies but just get you from A to B.

In Britain those that cycle tend to be fit, brave and very assertive. Such clearly independent creatures seldom evoke sympathy. To achieve slower speeds it is vital to collaborate with a larger force, walkers. After all, we are all pedestrians – even a motorist when he steps out of his car. As pedestrians we represent the majority rather than the minority. It is better to campaign for every child in a school, everyone who walks rather than the 5 per cent who cycle. We can better promote safe cycling not as cyclists but as pedestrians who also cycle.

We must stimulate a wide public debate on the moral issues of excessive speed and the rights of individuals to enjoy their streets as pedestrians or cyclists without fear. Our stance must be pro-safer motoring not anti-motorist.

Lower blanket speeds must become the priority for pedestrian, cycle, road safety and civic campaigners. Implementation will be more beneficial than all the cycle schemes, facilities and routes installed to date. We must think very carefully whether to assist the development of segregated facilities.

We must use the media to pursue our cause through letters, articles and press releases. Remember we are not campaigning for cyclists but mainly for pedestrians who outnumber cyclist deaths by four to one. The Warrington Guardian now refers to me as Rod King, Speed Campaigner rather than Rod King, Cycle Campaigner.

We must work locally and nationally to campaign for speed reduction. We should join political parties and influence from the inside. Active support for the Twenty's Plenty campaign will move cycling into the mainstream. TWENTY'S PLENTY must become our rallying cry.

Our responsibility is to lead and influence our society towards a better future in which
everyone has the right to ride, the right to walk, the right to life. Let us not forget Jane, Fred, Peter, Mary, Nigel, Jill, Frank, Amanda, David and Collette.