More than half of UK population believe roads in built-up areas too dangerous for cycling, says Sustrans

Survey results published ahead of this week's parliamentary debate on cycling

by Simon_MacMichael   February 20, 2012  

London cyclist approaching junction.jpg

Sustrans says that more than half of the UK’s adults believe that the country’s roads in built-up areas are too unsafe to cycle on, while seven in ten want speed limits in residential areas to be reduced to 20mph. The sustainable transport charity’s chief executive, Malcolm Shepherd, has described the findings as “yet another wake-up call to politicians.”

The results, contained in a nationally representative poll of 1,002 people aged 16+ conducted earlier this month on behalf of Sustrans by consumer research firm GfK NOP, have been released ahead of this Thursday's parliamentary debate on cycle safety, itself inspired by The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit For Cyclists campaign.

Since the questions focus exclusively on cycling in built-up areas, there may be an element of subjectivity in response levels – clearly, someone in London is likely to have a different experience and opinion than those living in more sparsely populated regions of the UK that have a significant rural population.

Indeed, there are some significant regional variations in the survey’s findings regarding the safety of the roads. Northern Ireland shows the highest proportion of those who believe they are unsafe, at 75 per cent, compared to a national average of 56 per cent.
Scotland at 62 per cent, Wales at 61 per cent and the North West at 60 per cent all also show response rates significantly higher than average.

People in Yorkshire and The Humber are less likely than average to view the roads as too dangerous to ride on, at 50 per cent.

Perhaps surprisingly given the focus of the local, and increasingly the national media on cycle safety in the capital, Londoners at roughly in line with the average at 57 per cent.

However, among those who cycle less than once a month or who do not cycle at all, London and the South East had the highest rates of those who maintained that nothing could persuade them to ride a bike, at 22 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively.

The survey found that one in five respondents, 19 per cent, cycle regularly, defined as once a month or more. By gender, 25 per cent of males and 14 per cent of females do so.

Propensity to cycle once a month or more declines with age, with the highest response being 52 per cent of those aged 16-24, dropping to 22 per cent in the next age group, 25-34, and standing at just 6 per cent among those in the oldest group, the 65+. Some 40 per cent of males and 52 per cent of females never cycle at all.

Regular cyclists are most likely to be found in the South East, at 29 per cent, one and a half times the national average, with the East Midlands at 26 per cent, the East of England at 23 per cent and the West Midlands and South West at 22 per cent also above average. Below the average were the North West with 17 per cent, as were Wales with 16 per cent, Northern Ireland on 14 per cent, Scotland at 13 per cent, Yorkshire and The Humber at 11 per cent and the North East, where only 9 per cent of people classify themselves as regular cyclists.

London was also below the national average at 15 per cent, although of course what the figures do not reveal is how many regularly commute by bicycle, compared to those who perhaps take to their bike one weekend a month.

A third of single people – 34 per cent – ride their bike regularly, dropping to 16 per cent of those who are married or living with a partner.

The survey also asked those who do not cycle regularly, comprising people taking to their bikes less than once a month as well as those who never ride one at all, 817 respondents in total, what would encourage them to ride more regularly on roads in built-up areas.

‘More care taken by drivers’ and ‘more marked cycle lanes’ came out top, with respective response rates of 54 and 53 per cent. They were followed by ‘more care taken by other cyclists’ at 46 per cent and ‘slower cars as a result of lower speed limits’ at 34 per cent, while 16 per cent claimed ‘nothing would persuade me.’

Increased provision of marked cycle lanes was particularly sought after by people in the East Midlands and Scotland, at 63 and 62 per cent respectively, while 66 per cent of those in Yorkshire and The Humber wanted to see drivers take more care.

Northern Ireland showed by far the highest response level for lower speed limits at 56 per cent, more than one and a half times the national average.

Asked specifically whether all councils should follow those that have reduced the speed limit to 20mph in residential areas, 70 per cent agreed, comprising 66 per cent of males and 75 per cent of females, with the highest response by age seen among the youngest group, the 16-24s, again at 75 per cent.

The lower limit was particularly popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, at 81 and 80 per cent respectively, and least welcome in the East of England, where 64 per cent expressed agreement - although that is still two thirds of the people polled.

Commenting on the results, Mr Shepherd said: "People shouldn't have to feel they're taking a risk when they travel on two wheels in our towns and cities.

"This is yet another wake-up call for politicians who must act now to save lives and take the fear out of everyday journeys.

"People want to cycle more for every day journeys and they want a twenty miles per hour speed limit in their neighbourhood.

"Ministers must invest in making our streets safer for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers," he added.

This Wednesday, on the eve of the scheduled three-hour debate at Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament, a flashride has been organised by cycle campaigners in London, departing from the Duke of York's Steps on The Mall at 6.30pm.

19 user comments

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"more than half of the UK’s adults believe that the country’s roads in built-up areas are too unsafe to cycle on"

It's not the roads that are the problem, but DRIVER BEHAVIOUR.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop....

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2063 posts]
20th February 2012 - 14:11

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"Regular cyclists are most likely to be found in the South East, at 2 per cent, twice the national average, with the East of England the only other region above average at 22 per cent."

Couldn't find the original report so can you confirm these figures?

I suspect the one for South East is not right. I'm in East of England so interested in our local figures.

cheers

posted by horizontal dropout [170 posts]
20th February 2012 - 16:42

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horizontal dropout wrote:
Couldn't find the original report so can you confirm these figures? I suspect the one for South East is not right.

Given the text around it, it must be a typo. Whatever the figure is, it has to be above 22. Mind you, it says earlier in the article that "The survey found that one in five respondents, 19 per cent, cycle regularly" - and if "Regular cyclists are most likely to be found in the South East, at ... twice the national average" then 38% in the SE are regular cyclists. Which seems surprisingly high, and an unlikely candidate for a typo that comes out as "2" Smile

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [433 posts]
20th February 2012 - 16:53

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More than half of UK population are idiots.

or so it seems.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [389 posts]
20th February 2012 - 17:07

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@ Horizontal Dropout and Bez - well spotted on the typo on the South East, double checking it also transpired that for that specific question I'd read across the sample sizes not the percentages. That's now been fixed, sorry for confusion - all other percentages in the report have been double checked and are correct.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8517 posts]
20th February 2012 - 18:10

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workhard wrote:
More than half of UK population are idiots.

or so it seems.

Yes, maybe. But until our urban roads are manifestly safe, most people aren't going to consider cycling. My test for "manifestly safe" would be if you're happy for your ten year old child to cycle to school unaccompanied.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1380 posts]
20th February 2012 - 18:25

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Thanks for the summary.

posted by Viro Indovina [79 posts]
20th February 2012 - 19:04

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Simon E wrote:
"more than half of the UK’s adults believe that the country’s roads in built-up areas are too unsafe to cycle on"

It's not the roads that are the problem, but DRIVER BEHAVIOUR.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop.html

Damn right!

APF

posted by alexpalacefan [7 posts]
20th February 2012 - 20:20

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Agreed. Support the only national campaign calling for cycling to be made part of the driving test. http://bikeaware.org.uk

iDavid's picture

posted by iDavid [47 posts]
20th February 2012 - 20:29

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+2 for Simon.

The vast majority of our roads were built for horse and cart and cyclists paved the way for better road surfaces. Since then the roads have been 'adapted' for motorised traffic. The only roads built specifically for the combustion engine will have been motorways and dual carriageways. Even the roads in the 'modern' towns and estates will be based on a model 100 years old. The only way forward is for driver behaviour to vastly improve.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1068 posts]
20th February 2012 - 22:43

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alexpalacefan wrote:
Simon E wrote:
"more than half of the UK’s adults believe that the country’s roads in built-up areas are too unsafe to cycle on"

It's not the roads that are the problem, but DRIVER BEHAVIOUR.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop.html

Damn right!

APF

I don't agree that the link to Copenhagenize supports your argument that driver behaviour is the only factor. I think Mikael Colville-Andersen would strongly agree that the roads are a big part of the problem. In most of his 'bull in society's china shop' he talks about challenging the motoring industry's marketing machine and encouraging alternative froms of transport. There is a strong thread of designing cities around people and the bicycle (and not the car) in his website. The tag-line on his home page reads:

"Forty years ago Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as anywhere else but now 37% of commuters crossing the city boundary ride bicycles each day. That number rises to 55% in the city proper. They use over 1000 km of bicycle lanes in Greater Copenhagen for their journeys. Copenhagenizing is possible anywhere."

I would encourage anyone to visit copenhagenize.com to read his opinions on re-designing roads AND changing driver behaviour.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
21st February 2012 - 8:43

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"It's not the roads that are the problem, but DRIVER BEHAVIOUR."

No, Simon E, driver behaviour IS a problem but road design is too. Governments can change road design, but changing behaviour is a much tougher task. Most drivers are past educating about their behaviour, having embedded bad habits from the instant they collected their driving test pass certificate and possibly even before that. New drivers can have things like cyclist awareness built into their training, but they will inevitably start to unlearn any good habits as soon as they can remove their L plates. We should be tougher on dangerous drivers but even that will not eliminate bad driving, just as the death penalty doesn't stop Americans murdering each other.

Currently roads are designed for motor vehicles. In fact, quite a lot of thought and science goes into road design - engineers survey the geography of the road and the traffic stats, historic and projected - how many go straight, turn left or right etc, at what time of day. Much of that design works very well - if you assume that the only users of the road will be motor vehicles.

The problem is that the engineers, through training, force of habit or perhaps instruction from above, either entirely ignore pedestrian and cyclist needs or bring them in only as an afterthought. If they were to start incorporating them into their plans ab initio, with a clear brief that they rank equally, the result would be very different, maybe even a bit like the Netherlands!

The result would not be coast-to-coast segregated cycle lanes, any more than it is in the Netherlands (it's about 20% there). It would also be new junction designs, new traffic light phases like cyclists advance starts or permitted left-turns on red etc, 20mph zones, "naked streets", filtered pemeability, and so on. Almost all of which are currently rarities in the UK.

Come and argue for real change - Flashride around Parliament tomorrow evening. Meet at 6:15 at the Duke of York Steps in the Mall.

posted by Paul M [325 posts]
21st February 2012 - 11:15

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The problem with such polls is that it depends on what questions you ask.

So 'do you think that sharing the same space and mingling, unprotected, with heavy fast moving machines is safe? Would bring a massive 'no' response.

To blame it on drivers is as daft as cycling down railway lines and blaming train drivers or airport runways and blaming the pilots.

So we have two problems. 1) Because cycling among motor vehicles is historic, we imagine that as an inalienable right to do so uninjured and should be able to continue even though there are now far far more of these machines travelling at higher speeds. And 2)Not accepting that the activity, by its very description, is a dodgy thing to be doing.

What makes matters worse is that motor vehicles are not even on tracks like trains or totally un-shared space such as planes and the drivers of them, are nowhere near as regulated as the two former either.

The fact is that when you mingle human flesh with machinery in a manner that would not be tolerated under any other circumstances, bad things are going to happen.

So it all comes down to personal choice. 'Is it a good idea to place my body in this situation or not?'

When I am on my bike, unless on the pavement and even then a car could back out in front of me, I never feel secure. I can never be certain that some driver will not plough into me. But blame gets us nowhere. So St Peter says: 'come in son you were in the right it's the driver's fault' Oh big deal! Sad

posted by Driver Protest Union [17 posts]
21st February 2012 - 12:02

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Simon E wrote:
"more than half of the UK’s adults believe that the country’s roads in built-up areas are too unsafe to cycle on"

It's not the roads that are the problem, but DRIVER BEHAVIOUR.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop.html

Clearly driver behaviour is a factor, but in the UK the design of junctions and many other parts of the road infrastructure is at least partly to blame, by encouraging such dangerous behaviour.

Too many swept junctions and widely radiused corners, swept entry into roundabouts, unobstructed views, long straight runs. These and more encourage drivers to drive at too high a speed and carry excess speed into junctions. Then there are the pinch-points. I'm not against these, as long as they slow down drivers and make cycling safer. The ones we have typically encourage drivers to encroach into cycle lanes, or drive where cyclists are likely to be, so perversely, they slow down cyclists and make cyclists less safe. Also, it would be a great idea to cut residential roads for vehicular traffic to prevent rat-running. Without motorised through-traffic, residential roads become a great deal safer for all vulnerable road users.

posted by Recumbenteer [153 posts]
21st February 2012 - 13:13

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Recumbenteer wrote:
Clearly driver behaviour is a factor, but in the UK the design of junctions and many other parts of the road infrastructure is at least partly to blame, by encouraging such dangerous behaviour.

The more time and energy we spend talking about infrastructure the less will be spent on addressing driver behaviour.

Consider the number of people using mobiles while driving (I saw a Royal Mail driver texting this morning). Can that be addressed with infrastructure? No. Drink-driving? No. When did you last see a junction that encourages people to drink & drive?

I'm not saying road design makes no difference but the biggest obstacle is 'the bull', as Mikael calls it. In the real world you can't re-engineer all roads to prevent crashes. Plenty of people die on roads that do not obviously seem dangerous. They die at junctions, on roundabouts, on blind bends and even on clear, straight sections of well surfaced carriageway in broad daylight because some selfish idiot didn't want to play by the rules.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2063 posts]
21st February 2012 - 14:59

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'Commenting on the results, Mr Shepherd said: "People shouldn't have to feel they're taking a risk when they travel on two wheels in our towns and cities."'

Wrong, Mr Shepherd, people should recognise that they are indeed taking a risk when they take to the road on a bicycle, otherwise they'll ride along as though nobody else is on the road and then likely end up on the floor or in a collision. Risk assessment will keep you aware, safe and provide a more enjoyable cycling experience. And Simon E, it's not only driver behaviour that's an issue, it's cyclist behaviour. It's a head in the sand mentality to say that it's all somebody else's fault and responsibility. Some drivers bad, no doubt. But some cyclists also bad. As a cyclist (commuting and weekend long distance) I'm at the bottom of road food chain - I'm exposed, so I've got to look out for myself.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
21st February 2012 - 18:48

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Let's hope all the current acticity and debate get things canging in the right drection. And we've had some good comments here on roads designers not thinking of cyclists, the need fo porpoer law neforcments no tjsut driver education and others thinking the roads are no twhere the cyclig should be . But, as in Netherlands, there will always be a lot of cycling on normal roads. We need to strike a balance over where we cycle and how risky it is. Cycling is already safer than: walking per mile, tennis per participant and lots of other everyday activities. It makes huge inroads into obesity, cardiovascular disease and more - health benefits outweigh risks 20 to 1. Cyclists live years longer on average and it takes thousands of years of cycling per fatality. It’s safer to cycle than not to. But it needs to be as safe here as it is elsewhere in Europe. Unfortunately unwarranted scaremongering deters people from cycling’s mostly enjoyable healthy convenience - ironically it’s more people cycling which is key to better safety. Our frightened, populist clamour for cycle lanes might actually make it worse by encouraging more UK style ‘facilities’. They are of such low quality they often make it no safer or convenient. LCC’s Go Dutch campaign is a great start for high quality segregation which assists beginners and experienced cyclists alike. But it will also need a Dutch style cultural shift in attitudes, priorities, 20 mph default urban speed limits, collision liabilities and political will to take space from carriageways not footways. Some advocates set this against integrationist/ vehicular cycling which they see as appeasing the status quo. Not so: they’re complementary approaches with national standards (cyclecraft) training enabling people to lift their skills and safety a notch or two in mixed traffic - even though some can take it a lot further than others. The skills are applicable even in 20 mph areas and on Dutch style cycleways. Let’s use a mix of whatever works. What won’t work is hi viz and helmet promotion – look at www.cyclehelmets.org to learn of an absence casualty benefit., of the bad science which abounds and of safety data like the tennis and walking comparisons. What needs promoting more, especially in promotional pictures, is the Copenhagen style; no helmets, no hi viz and low casualties. Normal people on normal bikes making normal trips in normal clothes. Apologies to you sporty types who can’t throw off the fancy gear to go shopping - as cycling ex transport minister Steve Norris said: “I don’t want to dress up like a spaceman to ride my bike”. John Orpen M www.cyclenation.org.uk

orpen

posted by orpen [6 posts]
21st February 2012 - 22:40

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dullard wrote:
And Simon E, it's not only driver behaviour that's an issue, it's cyclist behaviour. It's a head in the sand mentality to say that it's all somebody else's fault and responsibility.

I spend far too much time reading about this subject as well as both riding and driving for my head to be in the sand on this matter.

As a cyclist you are unfortunately in a vulnerable position, but you're missing the point. Poor cyclist behaviour doesn't wipe out pedestrians and other cyclists, and it isn't the thing that deters the majority of people from cycling themselves.

No amount of hi-viz, helmet wearing, bright lights or defensive riding (all of which reinforce the perception that it's dangerous) can persuade people to ride bikes. None of those things can address the dangerous driving and aggression that is all too prevalent. The problem is with things like this:

http://road.cc/content/news/52730-bristol-bus-driver-used-vehicle-weapon

and this:
http://road.cc/content/news/50682-persistence-pays-cycling-lawyer-motori...

and this:
http://road.cc/content/news/52388-police-seek-manchester-driver-who-hit-...

You can blame RLJing cyclists if you want but even if you trained every single cyclist to ride properly you still wouldn't stop the carnage. DfT says that in 93% of cases the cyclist is not to blame.

http://road.cc/content/news/12065-report-dft-casualty-stats-says-cyclist...

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2063 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 12:37

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Simon E

You miss my point and also rather make it for me. It isn't about red light jumpers or zebra crossing chargers or pavement riders (though they are a menace and often do in fact wipe out pedestrians as you put it). Yes, bad driving is a huge problem, but the instances you mention are mercifully rare but get huge exposure (rightly so) - the bus driver above got put in prison (which is good), the cyclist involved was fortunately not fatally injured (which is very good indeed), but this is extreme. On a more day to day basis, bad cycling is a problem and can contribute to a cyclist's own problems. And bad cycling is mainly, in no particular order (Sleepy not signalling, (ii) changing direction without looking round, (iii) wearing iPods, (iv) riding without lights at night, (v) not being aware and not anticipating, (vii) riding the wrong way up one-way streets, and (vi) beligerent cycling without recognising that other road users also have a right to be there. The increase of cyclists on the road (I'm talking London where I ride) has brought out a lot cyclists who are fanatically sure of their rights above all others, and that's dangerous. Cyclists are not automatically the purer-than-pure saints that you seem to think they are, many are idiots, accidents waiting to happen and shouldn't really be on the road as they endanger other cyclists as well.

You say that no amount of safety equipment will keep you safe; I couldn't agree more. So be aware of your vulnerability, of the risk you face on the public road, use your brain and be aware. We don't have a pre-eminent right to ride on the road, so, as they say in Hill Street Blues, be careful out there.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
22nd February 2012 - 14:07

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