Feature: How safe is cycling in London?

How safe is cycling in London? We’ve all heard the damning figures. A recent whitepaper by Leisure Lakes Bikes reported that by the end of June 2015, eight cyclists had been killed in London. In comparison, 13 cyclists died in 2014 and 14 perished in 2013.

Despite the efforts of Boris Johnson to increase the popularity of cycling in the capital, there is clearly danger lurking on the roads of The City.

Current state

London currently has 8,000 cycles available for hire through its ‘Boris bike scheme.’ Combined with private cycle owners, the city has some of the highest numbers of active cyclists in the country. The rate of commuters cycling to work increased 144% between 2005 and 2015, for example. Unfortunately, it also has the highest rates of accidents.

Many of these are caused by HGVs – but there are new rules coming into force to combat these problems.

The following are rule changes of improvements that have helped boost the safety of cycling in the city.

  • Lorry scheme which will impose extra safety measures on any vehicle weighing more than 3.5 tonnes.
  • Boris bike hire scheme.
  • Cycle highways.
  • Cycling-orientated traffic light trial, which began in 2015.

York

Unfortunately, when compared to other places in the UK, London falls short of offering a competent safe environment. It is often argued that cycling is safe when there are lots of cyclists on the road. This safety in numbers effect is evident in York – a traditional walled city that has the highest percentage of commuting cyclists in the UK.

These sheer numbers lead to drivers being more aware of cyclists, drivers being more likely to be cyclists themselves (in order to anticipate cyclist’s movements) and more government awareness and infrastructure. For instance, £4.6 million worth of funding won by the city saw officials invest in a new off-road shared cycle and pedestrian path – creating a safe access route for 15,000 residents.

Cambridge

Cambridge has a reputation as being one of the best cities in the country to cycle in. One in every five journeys is made by bike. The numbers effect works in Cambridge, with 5,000 more cyclists commuting between 2001 and 2011 (with no increase in motorists).

A full 50% of the population travel by bike once a week. Power in numbers is clearly in effect.

Amsterdam

Heading overseas to the Dutch capital, we begin to see exactly how successful cycling can be. If London was to learn from Amsterdam, we’d see far less tragedy on the road. 70% of all journeys are made by bike in Amsterdam, brought on by years of campaigning around road safety and the exclusive infrastructure developed for cyclists. Many paths are wide enough to cycle side-by side, are clearly marked and have smooth surfaces. There are separate traffic signals for cyclists too and many roads even have roundabouts for cyclists.

What to change in London

Clearly we have much to aspire to. Within our own country, safety in numbers is in effect in smaller towns. In Amsterdam, that theory clearly holds true. The infrastructure, high numbers and even the cycling culture help to generate safety and cycling-conscious drivers.

In London, there are too few cyclists compared to the heavy traffic in the city. There are too few cycle paths and lanes as well and the infrastructure that has been implemented can be confusing and misleading. Until we begin to conjure a cycling culture that encourages safety and educates motorists, London will have to do its best to copy from better models.

Read more about this topic with Leisure Lakes Bikes’ Cycling Safety Whitepaper.

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