The benefits of replacing short car journeys with more active forms of transport, like walking and cycling, are obvious. Active travel promotes healthier lifestyles, reduces congestion, improves air quality and is a low cost, socially inclusive mode of transport.

TRL’s exploratory analysis of Stats19 and DfT’s National Travel Survey, shows that there were 96,345 short car journeys in England in 2015 that could have potentially been undertaken by foot or bicycle.

Yet we know that walking and cycling currently incurs a higher risk of road traffic injury compared with travelling by car.

Our analysis estimated the additional casualties amongst cyclists and pedestrians based on published 2015 data. Importantly, the predicted increase is significantly lower than a direct projection of current casualties due to an effect known as Safety in Numbers (SiN). This is a widely accepted phenomenon that details the relationship between more cyclists on the roads and a reduced collision risk per cyclist. Taking SiN into account, we estimated that if 50% of short trips carried out by car in 2015 were replaced by bicycle, this would result in an increase of 2,505 cycling casualties. Without a SiN adjustment that estimate increases dramatically to 41,472.

TRL’s safety researchers created a sensible SiN estimate for this analysis; however, as noted in the report, further research is required to quantify the SiN effect more robustly and to fully understand the mechanisms through which it might arise.

It is easy to focus on the headline-grabbing rise in predicted casualties and reconsider the merits of healthy mobility, when weighed against the seemingly unavoidable rise in casualties. But this doesn’t have to be the case. It is completely possible for healthy mobility and increased VRU safety to co-exist.

We mustn’t forget the successes of other nations, like the Netherlands and Denmark, where active travel is a safe transport alternative. It’s not enough to claim cultural or climate-based differences prevent the same standards being reached in the UK. For healthy mobility and VRU safety to co-exist, we need to understand the successes from these countries, the challenges they overcame, and how they adapted their cities to accommodate new designs, infrastructure, policies and initiatives in line with recent NICE recommendations.

Practically speaking, and utilising knowledge gained from one of the world’s largest cycling infrastructure research programmes conducted by TRL on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) – which went on to inform TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS), this means identifying and addressing systemic barriers. It means introducing measures that restore balance to a road system historically designed to prioritise motor traffic and that, as an unintended consequence, has imposed risk and inconvenience on VRUs.

Interestingly, cyclist fatalities decreased by 40% in London in 2017 (compared with the 2005-09 baseline), despite the number of journeys cycled in the capital more than doubling since 2000 to 730,000 per day. Although other factors no doubt contributed to this rise in VRU safety, throughout this period of growth in cycling journeys, TfL has been introducing LCDS infrastructure designed to make cycling both safer and more attractive – demonstrating that it is possible to increase the level of cycling at the same time as reducing casualties.

It is important to recognise that, when considering the whole population, the increased casualties amongst pedestrians and cyclists are offset by improvements in health arising from their increased physical activity. Research has shown that regular cyclists have a lower level of mortality from all causes than the general population. However, balancing population-wide health benefits against individual causalities is not an easy moral judgement.

We need to create the right environment for safe active travel to thrive. The link between infrastructure and road user behaviour cannot be underestimated, so ‘streetscape’ design and land use planning must take account of this and, where possible, introduce measures to nurture the right behaviours. This can include people-friendly street design that encourages reduced traffic speed, clearer signage and greater visibility at junctions. Better crossing provision and a reconsideration of current presumed liability laws, in which motorised road users take greater responsibility for collisions with VRUs, has also been proven to have a positive impact on safety.

Reallocating road space to accommodate segregated cycle lanes within the carriageway, while maintaining priority and directness, will help to avoid increasing conflict with pedestrians and with motor traffic at junctions. Although segregation often results in a loss of priority for cyclists, with UK practice usually favouring turning vehicles at cross side roads for example, there is a clear need for redress. By shifting priority to cyclists and by introducing new approaches like the ‘Dutch Roundabout’, alongside driver responsibility awareness, overall safety could be vastly improved. For pedestrians, wider footpaths that are free of obstacles and anti-glare surfaces, along with increased routes and public transport links to parks and green spaces, could contribute to not only a better integrated transport system but more inclusive and safer active travel.

Healthy mobility represents a core element of the UK’s future of transport. As examples in the UK and overseas show; if we take a mobility by design approach that places safety at the centre of initiatives from the onset, as individuals and as a society we can reap the rewards of active travel, without compromising safety.

 

 

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