Planners and engineers need to focus more on cyclists and pedestrians and less on motorists, parliamentarians told

Experts have told the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ Parliamentary Inquiry that provision for cyclists needs to be built into all road design at the planning stage, rather than being left as an afterthought. The appeal was made during this week’s third session of the inquiry, held at Westminster this morning, which focused on infrastructure.

To achieve that goal, the inquiry was told, highway engineers need to be trained to move away from considering roads as purely being for motorised traffic and think about how cyclists and pedestrians want to use them.

In a recap of the session, Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, which is holding the inquiry, said:

“It came as no surprise that experts at today’s inquiry recognised that we need to make huge improvements to our country’s infrastructure if we are to make cycling safer and encourage more people to cycle. For years, we have seen little investment on our roads.

“We need real improvements to junctions, signage, traffic calming and speed limits among other areas along with proper infrastructure for cyclists such as dedicated cycle lanes if we are to make a real difference.

“We have to show we are serious about making it safer for cyclists and that means looking at our infrastructure from their perspective and making the changes that benefit them. We need to change the mind-set about towns and cities so that motor vehicles no longer dominate design.”

Roger Geffen, Campaigns and Policy Director at national cyclists’ organisation CTC, said: “"What we don't want to see is cyclists excluded from the road and forced to share space with pedestrians. Dedicated space for cyclists - preferably segregated - must be made from reallocating roadspace."

However, he said that regulations often hampered the ability of what local authorities are able to do. Asked by APPCG secretary Lord Berkeley to provide an example, he highlighted low-level traffic lights, common on the Continent, that give cyclists an opportunity to get ahead of traffic.

While Transport for London is trialling early-start lights for cyclists at at Bow Roundabout in East London and is lobbying for permission for low-level signals, Geffen said that the Department for Transport is opposed to them, claiming they will confuse motorists.

In common with a number of other speakers today, he also called for 20mph to be made the default speed limit in urban areas.

He also criticised the approach taken by urban planners, saying: “There are examples of where the Highways Agency has effectively out-designed cycling. According to some of their audits, they assume there is no demand for cycling. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Mark Ames, who writes the I Bike London blog, told the inquiry: “Cycling must be objectively safe rather than just statistically. We need designs that will bring about maximum feelings of comfort.”

Advocates of vehicular cycling insist that efforts should be focused on safety when sharing space with motorised traffic rather than on infrastructure such as segregated lanes.

Concerns have also been expressed that if segregated bike lanes were built, some motorists might assume that cyclists would be required to use them and have no place on the road at all.

However, Tony Russell of Sustrans pointed out: “Cycling infrastructure must be build to suit the least confident cyclist. A 12 year old should be able to safely navigate it.”

The Charity Living Streets underlined that well designed cycling infrastructure should give cyclists somewhere they feel secure riding, highlighting that too often existing provision is inadequate and leads to many choosing to ride on the pavement instead. “Simply painting white lines on the road is not generally helpful. It can sometimes put cyclists and pedestrian in conflict.”

However, Transport Planning Consultant Phil Jones made the point that provision of infrastructure should not take an either or approach between segrated infrastructure and on-road provision: “The approach must be dependent on local circumstances. Segregated lanes are not always necessary. If we’re going to segregate, we should only do it when we can do it properly.”

Lord Berkeley commented: “Any cyclist using many of today’s roads will know that cycling is often seen as an afterthought, rather than being considered when roads are planned.

“In order to get Britain on bikes, we need to first change the environment to make it more appealing. This demands a concerted effort from government, local authorities and planners to ensure our roads are fit for purpose for all road users.”

The next session, held a week today on Thursday 13 February, will address how to translate Great Britain’s sporting success on the road and track into a lasting legacy for the country’s ordinary cyclists, with Chris Boardman among those due to give evidence.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.