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Something incredible happened last week in the UK. A Murdoch-owned newspaper embarked on a groundbreaking campaign with the potential to save lives and encourage the development of sustainable cities. You heard me right. Phone-hacking may have defined 2011 for News International, but cities safe for cycling could end up defining 2012.
The Times is typically a conservative paper, and though they have dabbled, few people would associate this paper with liberalism. And few people would expect The Times to launch the most high profile cycle safety campaign British journalism has seen in recent years.
Cities Safe for Cycling began after a Times journalist was hit by a lorry just metres away from her place of work. Three months later she is still in a coma which she may never wake up from. This tragic event encouraged The Times to look into cycling culture and infrastructure in British cities, finding that 27,000 cyclists have been killed or seriously injured in the UK in the last ten years. The horrific facts don’t end there, but my focus on them does, because what is most impressive about the Cities Safe for Cycling campaign is its realistic, achievable, and potentially transformative eight step manifesto:
1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.
This is not a campaign that dreams of Dutch-style infrastructure across the UK. This is not a campaign that suggests automobiles should be banned from cities. Cities Safe for Cycling is being utterly pragmatic, presenting eight realistic steps that could swiftly be enacted on an urban and national level. Fully segregated infrastructure and car-free cities are a vision of the future, a vision so far in the future that people often discount such a possibility. The Times’ campaign is not getting lost in that debate. Instead, it is focussing on what can happen now to make things better. What a fantastically refreshing approach.
This Big City dedicates a lot of space to urban cycling. Last year’s series on the role of bicycle infrastructure in creating sustainable communities was wildly popular, demonstrating economic, environmental, and social benefits of investing in bike networks. Bicycles can engage communities, boost house prices, and improve sense of place. A city that cycles is a more sustainable city.
It’s fantastic to see more people choosing to cycle and to hear politicians talking about the potential of urban bicycle use. But what is most fantastic is that people are beginning to demand more. London has a Mayor that is more than happy to vocalise his passion for cycling, is well aware of the potential benefits of getting Londoners on their bikes, and who genuinely believes that a cycling revolution can be created in the British capital. But his tools for creating this revolution have not yet been good enough. Blue paint and a marketing budget can only get you so far. Real infrastructure is a critical ingredient, and London doesn’t have it. Few British cities have it. But if we all keep shouting loud enough, that could start to change.
This Big City is backing Cities Safe for Cycling. Wherever you are in the world, if you think this eight step manifesto make sense, click here to join the tens of thousands of people who have signed up to show their support.