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Bournemouth Borough Council outlines steps it's taking to improve safety - but local paper's figures don't stand up to close scrutiny...

Bournemouth Borough Council insists it is working to improving the safety of cyclists in the South Coast town after a local newspaper claimed that after Portsmouth it is “the second most dangerous place for cyclists in England outside London,” an assertion that is impossible to substantiate once subject to close scrutiny.

Quoted in the Bournemouth Echo, Ian Kalra, transportation services manager at Bournemouth Borough Council said it was “committed to reducing the number of cycling casualties.”

He went on: “We are currently working on major improvements to make cycling safer and easier in the future.”

That will in part be funded by money from the Department for Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund, from which Bournemouth Borough Council received £4.6 million in May 2012, with a further sum of £12.1 million to be shared with Poole Borough Council and Dorset County Council being announced the following month.

“Over the next two years we will implement a major programme to make cycling safer and encourage more people to travel by bike,” added Mr Kalra.

“These include additional cycle lanes, crossings and traffic calming measures to cycle training programmes for children and adults.”

The Bournemouth Echo bases its assertion that the town is "the second most dangerous place for cyclists in England outside London" on reported road casualty figures for 2011, which reveal a total of 137 cyclist casualties there during that year, 23 of those suffering serious injuries and one killed.

The newspaper says that once those figures are adjusted per 100,000 head of population, it makes “an across the board comparison possible.”  

The "second most dangerous" element of the headline could also, at casual glance, be interpreted as saying that after London, Bournemouth is the most dangerous place, although the newspaper points out that Portsmouth ranks second after the capital based on those adjusted numbers.

Besides the fact that the ranking is based on all casualties and not just cyclists killed or seriously injured, what that approach also leaves out of the equation is the distance people within each local authority are actually cycling, which would allow the degree of risk to be calculated and meaningful comparisons to be made.

If a town with an identical population to Bournemouth, for example, had twice the levels of cycling, but half as many cyclists injured in the same year, the risk to cyclists in each place would, in effect, be identical.

While no accurate data for distance travelled are published nationally, what we can say is that according to 2011 Census data released last month, the percentage of people who use a bike as their main mode of travelling to and from work in the Bournemouth Unitary Authority area is 3.0 per cent.

While that’s above the national average for England and Wales of 1.8 per cent, as well as the average for South West Engalnd of 2.3 per cent, it only ranks in 37th position.

Figures released last year relating to Sport England’s Active People Survey showed that Bournemouth, at 19 per cent, is a little above the national average when it comes to the proportion of residents who cycle for any purpose at least once a week, but around 70 local authority areas were ranked ahead of it.

While the data perhaps suggest that there may be a higher than average degree of risk in cycling in Bournemouth compared to the national picture for England, stating that it’s the second most dangerous place to cycle outside the capital is a claim that is impossible to substantiate and borders on scaremongering.

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.