New York’s new bike safety campaign raises an interesting question. How do you target drivers to improve cycling safety whilst also making sure you are not turning people away from cycling?
Studies have shown that an increase in the number of cyclists is generally related to an increase in the safety of those cyclists but for those pedalling the streets on a daily basis it is clear that drivers (and cyclists) need to be more aware of other road users and the core message of the New York campaign is definitely one that rings true with me. In fact I could distil every near miss that I have had cycling to work down to one driver error; use of the left hand (offside) wing mirror.
All too often it seems drivers fail to use their offside mirror to check before turning left or alternatively stopping in traffic to allow someone to turn right across them, with the general rule of thumb for where you ride in traffic and the placement of cycle lanes in the UK being on the left hand side of the lane this is clearly going to cause issues.
The obvious solution is for cyclists to ‘take the lane’ and ride in the centre (or further from the kerb) as if they were any other road user, however when traffic slows to a standstill the advantage and benefit of cycling is the ability to pass this stationary traffic. I have also received abuse from motorists for riding in the centre of the lane; even though on the section of my commute where I always do this for safety I can comfortably maintain 28-30 mph! Sadly I’ve never managed to speak to any of these motorists to highlight to them that I am obeying the Highway Code and perfectly entitled to my fair share of the road.
Maybe one solution would be for cycle lanes to be placed in the centre of the carriageway thereby increasing the visibility of cyclists and removing them from the ‘door’ zone. It would also remove the obstacle of cars parked in cycle lanes. The one drawback to such an idea I can see from a road planner’s perspective is that joint bus/cycle lanes would not be so easy to create. However in my eyes the sharing of a lane by buses and cyclists is a mildly insane idea as the visibility and blind spots of a bus are I assume similar to Lorries i.e. poor.
Obviously I know that cyclists are no saints and I feel anger every time I see someone run a red light or weaving dangerously in traffic, but as the most vulnerable group of road users (assuming a pedestrian is not a road user) there do need to be steps taken to improve cyclists safety.
Yet still we come back to the question can you promote cycle safety without suggesting that cycling is an unsafe activity? I find my daily commute on the whole a safe one, even though I ride in busy traffic. In addition that traffic is my choice as I am sure I could plan a quieter route for a large part of my cycle and walk my bike through the busy areas if I felt unsure of my bike handling skills. Is that therefore the answer and that every driver focused shock campaign should include cyclist focused safety advice and training such as that being seen in London currently.