Cycling safely in Bristol

24 02 2012

It is something so typically and so brilliantly Bristol that in a city with a lactic acid-inducing hill around every corner, the fixed gear community here is so strong. Bristol Dropouts, a shop dedicated to fixed gear bicycles, recently opened on Stokes Croft. And last year a short film, Boikzmoind, was released, documenting Bristol’s fixed gear scene.

It is of course not just about fixed gear bicycles in Bristol. Last weekend’s Red Bull Hill Chasers event up Park Street was testament to that, as bikes of all sizes raced to the top of the hill cheered on by a crowd of hundreds.

Cycling is part of the fabric of Bristol life for a very large number of people, of all ages, of all shapes and sizes.

When I lived in Watford, there were so few bicycles on the road that I used to nod at every passing cyclist. If I did that in Bristol, with the incessant nodding of the head I would soon look like Big Jeff at a gig.

Bristol received more than £10 million in central Government funding in 2008 as it became the UK’s first Cycling City. We don’t need the capital letters though, because Bristol is a cycling city.

Sadly, in a city of cyclists, there will always be conflict with other road users. You only need to look at the letters pages of the Evening Post on an almost daily basis to gauge the strength of feeling on this matter.

I am a cyclist. But I am also a car driver, pedestrian and bus user. It is by being one that you can especially see the problem with the other. As a bus passenger, it terrifies me how close buses get to cyclists. This now infamous video from a court case in Bristol last week shows just what a bus driven badly can do to a hapless cyclist.

I get equally enraged, whatever mode of transport I am using, when I see a cyclist jump a red light. We have to put this down to a minority, and we should condemn these ignorant cyclists as equally as the minority of car drivers who break the speed limit or turn corners without checking their mirrors.

Yesterday, there was a debate in Parliament prompted by a campaign by The Times to make cycling in Britain safer, a campaign which was begun after one of their young reporters, Mary Bowers, was hit by a lorry and seriously injured while cycling in London.

In 2010, 17 cyclists were killed on the roads of the South West. I don’t have the figures specifically for Bristol, but it was something that Chris Hutt’s informative and well-researched Green Bristol Blog used to document before Chris sadly died in 2010.

The forward to a special supplement in yesterday’s Times said: “The casualty toll for cyclists on British streets is unacceptable and we are calling for a commitment from government, at both a central and local level, to put cycling at the heart of how our roads and junctions are designed.

“Leading city councils around the country – from Glasgow and Liverpool to Bristol and Birmingham – have told this newspaper that they support its cycle safety campaign. They must now take tangible steps to improve cycling in their cities for the benefit of all those who want the roads to be safer, more pleasant places to share.”

Here is The Times’ eight-point plan:

1. Lorries entering the city centre should be required to fit sensors, audible 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 and how they are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.

4. The Highways Agency should earmark 2 per cent of its budget for next-generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. 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. The default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes should be 20mph.

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.

You can help The Times campaign in three ways. One, pledge your support by signing the online petition. Two, spread the word; tweet using the #cyclesafe hashtag. And three, write to your MP.

For more information, visit