Transport CommitteeFurther written evidence from the Campaign to Protect Rural England

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) believes cycling should be an attractive and safe option for people in town and country. We very much welcome The Times campaign to improve conditions for cycling in cities but believe it important for the debate to consider ways to make cycling safer in rural areas too.

Almost half of all cycling fatalities occur on rural roads where the risks are far higher, while the transport alternatives are far fewer. This briefing:

highlights what is needed for cycling in rural areas to be safe and convenient; and

sets out some immediate steps that the Government could progress this year to improve conditions and safety for cycling.

Rural Road Safety

Other than progress on the national cycle network, there has been very little progress over the last decade to make cycling safer outside of cities. The risk of cycling on rural A roads is over 10 times more dangerous per mile than cycling on urban roads. Many people do not feel safe enough to cycle on rural roads, so the lack of safety for rural cycling is effectively concealed in statistics.

People should not be expected to have to cycle on busy main roads. A proportion of the Highways Agency’s budget should be spent on improving—or in many areas actually creating—walking and cycling routes along and across trunk roads. These facilities are the exception in England as much as they are the rule in neighbouring continental countries. Little has been done since studies in 2002–03 and it seems that spending on cycle facilities is not being prioritised or protected following budget cuts. Indeed the Agency recently removed its web content on cycling.

For minor roads, the focus should be on managing motor traffic flows and speeds. The Dutch are rolling out 60km/h (equivalent to 40mph) zones across minor road networks, such measures have cut serious crashes on their minor rural roads even more effectively than the introduction of lower speed limits in their urban areas. The review of speed limit guidance later this year is the key opportunity to learn from this but the Department for Transport (DfT) have indicated they do not believe it appropriate to amend rural speed limit guidance. Lorry management zones, a national driver education campaign to encourage sharing of rural roads and quiet lane designation should also play a part.

More investment is needed in Rights of Way networks and greenways, such as disused railway lines. The priority should be creating safe routes to stations, schools and employment sites as well as between villages and towns so as to cater for utility trips. English law covering rights of way and cycle tracks is unnecessarily complex and should be modernised: by contrast recent Scottish law gives people much broader rights to cycle in open countryside.

Immediate Steps

Despite a critical recommendation in a Transport Select Committee report, the DfT is refusing to allow local authorities to be able to choose to enforce contraventions of cycle facilities and, outside London, lorry management zones. Enabling decriminalised enforcement of moving traffic offences, by bringing into force Part 4 of Schedule 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, would help ensure mandatory cycle lanes are as respected by other road users as bus lanes. It would also facilitate enforcement of lorry management zones where the police presence is more limited, such as outside big cities. Minister Norman Baker MP has stated there is “no case for devoting scarce resources” to bring the law into force. CPRE notes that the cost to Government of doing so would be less than the cost to the economy of preventing just one serious road traffic injury.

The DfT’s Traffic Signs Policy Review led to a number of improvements, such as making it easier to change the speed limit to 20 mph, following research and lobbying by CPRE, without increasing signage clutter. However, it took thirteen years for the DfT to change national rules to enable contra-flow cycling on one-way streets after the first pilots. That process took just three years in Germany, while in France and Belgium there is now a presumption in favour of two-way cycling on all minor roads. The DfT’s Review excluded consideration of signs that are common abroad, such as rural 40 mph zones, “cycle [priority] streets” and elephant footprint crossings. Without these tools, it will be difficult for local authorities to provide continental conditions for cycling. Trials of continental cycling and safety measures should start this year, otherwise it will be too late to include them in the major rewrite of traffic sign rules planned for 2014.

Better data and indicators are needed to inform policy development and help target limited resources. A welcome commitment in the DfT Strategic Framework for Road Safety was to develop an indicator to measure whether people feel safe walking or cycling, an issue highlighted by CPRE since our Rural Traffic Fear Survey in 1999. Perceptions of traffic safety are important because many people do not feel safe to use our road unless protected in a metal chassis. This is used as a key performance indicator in Copenhagen and to prioritise police enforcement in the Netherlands. Unfortunately there seems to be no progress on developing this indicator. In addition, because of the statistical differences between urban and rural roads, the DfT should ensure its indicators are separated by road type.

The DfT first consulted in 2009 about introducing a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for careless & inconsiderate driving. Enforcement of this offence is currently only possible through time-consuming court proceedings, so is rare unless there has been an actual collision. Yet bad driving covered by this offence, such as cutting up, overtaking too close or pulling out without looking properly, often leads to intimidation of people cycling and a feeling of “lawless roads”. The DfT should implement this proposal quickly and consult on a code of guidance that is fair for all road users, such as by requiring video evidence and ensuring FPNs are not used where a collision causes injury or damage to property.

A national public education campaign is needed to change attitudes towards people cycling. DfT research on policy options for rural roads in 2007 highlighted the need for a national campaign to change drivers’ perceptions and use of minor rural roads, as these often conflict with the needs of walkers, cyclists and riders. Although some advertising in London has highlighted the need to be aware of cyclists, in other countries campaigns go further and encourage drivers to be more considerate. It would be much more cost effective to have a national campaign rather than campaigns by individual local authorities, particularly as those only driving into the countryside at the weekend might otherwise miss them.

March 2012

Prepared 18th July 2012