Response to the Government Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy: Safety Review

FeetThe Department for Transport (DfT) has called for evidence on ways to make cycling and walking safer. London Living Streets welcomes the review and strongly supports the Government’s ambition to increase cycling and walking.

Our response, accessed here, provides a range of recommendations. We will cover some of these in a series of blogs, starting with a summary here.

This review is long-overdue, coming at a time when deaths of pedestrians and cyclists make up nearly one third of all fatalities in the UK. In 2016, a total of 550 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on Britain’s roads. Motor traffic remains the leading cause of death for children aged 5-19 years in the UK.

Pedestrians still get a raw deal on our streets, with narrow footways, inadequate crossing opportunities, long waits at pedestrian crossings, speeding traffic, pollution and traffic noise. It’s hardly surprising that walking levels are at a historic low in England. The modal share of walking for transport was at 22% in 2015, down from 29% 1994/6 and 35% in 1975/6.

This is a great shame considering walking can solve a number of pandemic public health problems. Child obesity has increased nationally by 20% over the last 20 years, and is a serious health threat.

There are also legal requirements to make roads usable for everyone in society, not just those in motor vehicles. The Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty, for example, require councils not to discriminate on the basis of age and ability.

We are calling for a fundamental rethink of how society is arranged in order to end the continuous and unconscious domination of private motor vehicle in town and cities and thereby promote walking and cycling.

Infrastructure and traffic signs 

A key focus for London Living Streets is improvements to infrastructure, particularly around junctions and crossings and traffic filtering for low-traffic neighbourhoods. In our response to this review we advocate:   

  • Manual for Streets and Manual for Streets 2 to be the basis for street design. The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges must be revised and limited to arterial roads with limited pedestrian and cycle traffic;
  • a minimum inclusive footway width of 2.5 metres;
  • all street furniture, including electric car charging points, that encroach on this width to be placed in the carriageway;
  • more walking amenities including plants, trees, seating and rest areas;
  • better crossings for pedestrians with shorter wait times;
  • direct single-phase crossings on all arms of the junction;
  • priority for pedestrians and cyclists travelling straight ahead on pavements, for example with continuous level crossings over side road junctions and give-way lines pushed behind the line of pedestrian footways;
  • traffic filtering to become the norm on residential streets in order to reduce and calm motor vehicles;
  • ban on pavement parking;
  • and a 30% reallocation of car parking space for walking and cycling assets.

The laws and rules of the road

In terms of laws and enforcement, we call for:

  • road pricing to reduce volumes and subsequently casualty levels;
  • 20mph speed limits to become the default in urban areas;
  • safer 5-10mph speeds on residential roads to increase the safety of children;
  • roads policing to become core police work to ensure it is better resourced, monitored and evaluated;
  • a clearer focus on driving offences that affect vulnerable road users;
  • a Roads Collision Investigation Board to ensure greater transparency, accountability and effectiveness in collision investigation;
  • criminal justice reform so offending drivers face suitable sanctions. Too often, drivers who have committed serious offences with terrible consequences face lenient penalties.

Our response also provides detailed recommendations for a revision of the Highway Code (HC) to remedy the bias against people walking and cycling. These include:

  • rules that make it clear a motor vehicle has a dramatically greater potential lethality compared to walking or cycling;
  • new rules on junction priority that oblige motor traffic to give way to cyclists and pedestrians going straight ahead at a junction;
  • removal of anti-pedestrian rules that, for example, require pedestrians to stay on pavements, wear fluorescent clothing and children to be accompanied by — even strapped to — adults.

We argue that these rules are unreasonable and place the onus for not being hit on the pedestrian. Car drivers should be driving at speeds at which they can see pedestrians under any light conditions and stop in time.

Training and educating road users

The driving and theory tests must be more effective in teaching drivers the reasons behind the rules, the dangers of motor vehicles and their speeds, and the vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists.

Living Streets also supports the principles of:

  • ‘graduated driver licensing’ that sets a minimum amount of time before candidates can take their test;
  • driver retesting, particularly for older drivers;
  • Safe Urban Driving training for commercial drivers in urban settings;
  • a compulsory re-test and remedial training for drivers who have committed serious driving offences and have more than 12 penalty points.

Government must also change the focus of road user education that currently prioritises the responsibilities of cyclists and pedestrians rather than encouraging these activities.

Vehicles and equipment

We recommend widespread adoption of the Direct Vision Standard that rates how much a HGV driver can see directly from their cab in relation to other road users. We also advocate Safer Urban Driver Skills training and greater use of rail and water-borne transport and urban cargo bikes to reduce predominance of HGVs in towns and cities.

Other measures should include adoption of Intelligent Speed Assistance that assist drivers in complying with speed limits and Black Box technology that monitors how motor vehicles are driven to reduce dangerous behaviours.

While we believe that autonomous electric vehicles are more likely to be safer for vulnerable road users, the focus on their use must be sharing of vehicles and their effectiveness in providing mobility as a service.

We also believe the use of SUV-type vehicles should be discouraged in an urban environment. Evidence shows that the weight and size of these cars presents greater danger to pedestrians.

Attitudes and public awareness

We believe that attitudes will change if government imposes stronger penalties for dangerous driving and it revises the Highway Code as we propose. This will help reduce drivers’ sense of entitlement on the road.

Attitudes can also be influenced by a transformation of road-user education in schools,  driver training, and messages to the media from central and local Government. Pre-driver training  should also be replaced by education which stresses the disadvantages of driving to society.

We also ask Government to set clearer targets and indicators for walking and cycling and call for the reinstatement of national road safety targets. But these targets must always incentivise rather than discourage walking in order to increase safety levels.

DfT should also publish statistics to show how risk relates to different vehicles and travel modes and invest in “near miss” research to better identity risk hotspots.

Government can also raise the status of walking by encouraging and promoting community-led schemes. For example, school streets (such as pioneered in Hackney), play streets, regular street closures, car-free days, and parklets challenge the assumption the road is just for cars and show how other types of activity can bring streets to life.

Last, and certainly not least, active travel requires more funding. The Government’s transport spending plans currently propose a rapid increase in roads investment, while the tiny annual allocations for its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) are currently set to decline.

This is contrary to its aim to make cycling and walking a safe and normal option for short journeys and to maximise their health, environmental benefits. This must be reversed. 

More detail is available here in forthcoming blogs. Please use our comment facility below to share your thoughts on this and considerations for future work.

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