Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 19th, 2006

Should we encourage cycling?

with 2 comments

Between 1984 and 1988 I worked for the UK Department of Transport, Traffic Policy Branch. The branch included a team of engineers devoted to designing and testing safer ways of cycling. The policy at that time was not to encourage cycling, because that inevitably increased the number of casualties. Simply put, cyclists got killed and injured in greater numbers, as the numbers of those cycling increased. The Department’s efforts were aimed at taking routes already used by cyclists and providing safer routes – either by engineering designs or by allowing the use of alternatives which had often been banned to cyclists because of conflicts with pedestrians: the most frequent were municipal parks and canal towpaths. The results of these changes were studied by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and the research results made widely available. Successful engineering designs, or practices designed to both reduce cycling casualties and improve cyclist/pedestrian interaction, were promoted to local authorities who had the primary responsibility for provisions. In addition, special attention was paid to the needs of new cyclists through programs such as “Safe Routes to School” As a result of these measures, cycling became both safer and more popular. The casualty rate (deaths and injuries per cycling mile) fell but the amount of cycling increased. As the Economic Advisor to the branch I determined that the approaches we promoted were better value for money than many of the conventional traffic control measures in use at that time. In particular, we established the use of value of time/value of life as the primary measure of use, rather than passenger car units. This radically changed the rate of return on public investment in traffic management practices, and lead to the greater use of bike lanes, separate bike routes, and bike priorities at signalised intersections. I would expect that all of this research would still be available somewhere. I would also expect that the experience of other European countries could be adapted to North America. In UK and Europe the four way stop is not used as the main device for controlling minor road intersections. I commend the approach used by BEST. It seems to me to be both sensible and practical.

This article first appeared on the trans-action google group, in response to debate about how to make cycling safer 

Written by Stephen Rees

September 19, 2006 at 8:17 am