A Department for Transport report published on Monday concludes that reducing motorised traffic speed is the single most effective way of increasing the safety of cyclists on British roads.

The ‘Infrastructure and Cyclist Safety’ report was produced by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for DfT, and included an analysis of previously published data relating to cycle safety on road networks in Britain and on the continent. In particular, the review looked at the effectiveness of cycle paths, traffic calming and integration/segregation methods.

The report coincides with increasing unrest among urban cyclists who feel that they are being put at unneccessary risk from other road users. There have been several high-profile cyclist deaths at known junction black spots in recent months, highlighting the need for action.

“Of all interventions to increase cycle safety, the greatest benefits come from reducing motor vehicle speeds. Interventions that achieve this are also likely to result in casualty reductions for all classes of road user,” the report found. However, it was noted that high vehicle speed wasn’t always a contributing factor as slow-moving lorries also posed a problem.

The report also records that most injuries to cyclists occurred at road junctions – and that junctions where cycle paths meet the highway presented a very high risk to cyclists. 

Two effective methods of increasing cycle safety at busy junctions were outlined: the continuation of cycle lane markings across a junction and the use of signals that allow cyclists through junctions before motorised traffic.

Controversially, the review found that “there is little evidence in the UK that marked cycle lanes provide a safety benefit, although they may achieve other objectives”. It was recorded that cycle lanes often ended abruptly, were poorly maintained, frequently included drains, were used by other traffic including parked cars, and sometimes required the cyclist to stop frequently where they were intersected by side roads.

The most significant risk factors to cyclists involved in single-vehicle incidents were slippery road surfaces due to wet weather and defective road surfaces. In multi-vehicle incidents, speed limit and encounters with other road users at junctions posed the greatest risk.

The report noted that there were several infrastructure elements that are present in continental road networks – such as the Netherlands – that could be implented in the UK to increase cycle safety, particularly in towns and cities. These, the report outlined, could only be achieved with sustained investment over decades; a willingness to prioritise cycle traffi; and a multi-faceted approach seeking to increase cycle safety and cycle use together.

The report will be used as part of a wider ‘Road User Safety and Cycling’ research programme undertaken by TRL on behalf of DfT.

Related links

Ghost bike for Deep Lee

External links

Department for Transport: Infrastructure and Cycle Safety

  • Martin

    @James: why do you rant about the “civil service” being out of touch with reality? TRL is an independent company that justifiably regards itself as an “internationally recognised centre of excellence providing world-class research, consultancy, testing and certification for all aspects of transport.” Its reports have credibility world-wide. This particular report is of a literature review commissioned by DoT, and forms part of a longer-term programme of research. I suggest you read it before commenting further.

  • Martin

    @James: It may be perfectly legal to ride two abreast, but only in certain circumstances. The Highway Code (section 66) actually says: never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. It also enjoins cyclists to “be considerate of other road users”. Were you?

  • Tom

    I drive a lot for my work, and we drive as a family. I also (as you would expect from me contributing to this) cycle a lot. The last 20 years has seen a massive increase in car use, and the “advent” of SATNAV directs all manner of vehicles down roads they would never have travelled down before when actually READING A MAP. I’ve been saying for years that new drivers should have some cycling as part of learning to drive, and I don’t mean riding round an industrial estate or a car park, I mean riding on proper open roads. If they can’t ride a bike or feel scared to do so, then this highlights 2 issues. THIS SHOULD BE A MANDATE for the future to improve the next generation of car drivers. It’s challenging enough to drive a car in some busy city environments and that’s when you’re protected by a metal shell. The vulnerability of a cyclist is more so than that of a pedestrian!

    Roads were not ever actually “built for cars” they were built for horses & carts, and before the motor car came along, it was the cyclists who campagined for their improvement. We ALL share the road and that maxim needs to be more widely recognised . Until such time, no amount of speed control or “traffic calming” as they so beautifully describe it will make the slightest difference to improving our safety. Slowing down is part of it, but overcoming the ignorance to other road users is more important.

  • Jon

    I think rounding up and shooting the drivers that roar past using their accelerator to deliberately express their contempt for cyclists might also help.

  • James

    This report simply illustrates how out of touch the civil service are with reality.

    Until the government makes it compulsory for the cycling proficiency test, along with a separate test on the cycling parts of the highway code, to be passed before even applying for a driving license, the injuries and deaths will continue.

    During my long ride last weekend (and this is in the Peak District, not major city roads) I had a number of cars merely inches away from my wheel when they couldn’t pass safely due to blind crests or bends – oblivious to the possibility that I could hit a pot-hole or a gust of wind. Other incidents involved people shouting out of their cars “single file only” – despite the highway code saying its perfectly legal to cycle two abreast. Only the other week a bus driver pulled alongside me expecting me to simply vanish in a puff of smoke when he decided it was perfectly safe for him to turn left.

    None of these instances would be resolved by reducing speed limits, and they happen with frightening frequency. Maybe it is the same civil servants who are ignorant to reality that are ignorant to the highway code?

  • jon

    I do not agree with the call for reduction of speed as a cyclist and car driver.
    The reason I say that is I that I am in most danger when passed closely which is usually by slower moving cars. the other main danger is traffic carming measures they generally push trafic into the cycling area. I completely agree with the condition on the road surface and how most cycle lanes are where we don’t need them and not where we do. The other is the complete lack of right of way on a cycle way making them useless for a lot of roadies (I believe they have to be fit for the majority of users of the facility weather school kids/ families or more experienced computers/ roadies etc).

  • Mark Jones

    If every motorist knew how difficult it was to cycle on British roads then they would appreciate what is what like for us. That is the only way things will improve. Driving instructors should make learners aware of cyclists (I know mine did) and better still learner drivers should have to ride a bicycle on a busy road before they can pass their test (make white van man do this too).

  • katie

    For once looks like a professional job with regards to the comments on poorly maintained paths, cars backing on them, sudden lack of paths at junctions etc.