Lot of words, but very little action for cyclists

Cycling has been propelled into the spotlight and grown in popularity on the back of Bradley Wiggins’ success in the Tour de France and the London Olympics medal haul.

Cycling has been propelled into the spotlight and grown in popularity on the back of Bradley Wiggins’ success in the Tour de France and the London Olympics medal haul.

Even before that had started the conversation The Times pushed cycle safety and spending into the mainstream debate in the wake of the death and serious injury toll on the roads.

With Guernsey’s Environment minister Roger Domaille pledging that the road transport strategy is one of the department’s priorities this term, Nick Mann examines the States spending and action in this area and asks: are cyclists being undervalued in Guernsey?

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IT IS hard to find noticeable steps being made to encourage cycling or improve safety since 2006 when the road transport strategy was introduced.

Environment has spent around £25m. on traffic and transport services in that time – but only a tiny fraction on this is dedicated to cyclists.

The majority of the spend is on buses – and there are other initiatives aimed at making improving roads which would have a secondary effect of encouraging cycling.

But as for concrete progress?

It paid out £16,000 on installing new covered stands at North Beach and on the Crown Pier.

New stands have also been put in near the bus terminus and in Church Square.

And it did work to improve safety around the new schools at St Sampson’s – albeit as part of much wider work on a one-way system that, in total, cost £180,000 funded from its capital allocation.

It is easy to argue that progress on cycling is simply stuttering along.

The department is now working on a new strategy, which a working party has been set up to progress.

Environment released a vision document last term, which may give us a feel for where it is going, with the caveat that this was the old board’s work.

Again, initiatives aimed at reducing car use have secondary effects – fewer cars on the road make it a better and safer environment to ride in.

In general talks of one ways and cycling provision around all schools, compulsory cycle training at all primary schools – it also has a section dedicated to increasing cycling.

The previous board identified spending £150,000 to create a cycle network using green lanes, coastal paths, cycle contra flows in one way roads and creating new cycling routes.

Improved cycle stands at a cost of £150,000 won support – and that was it.

‘The encouragement of cycling is likely to form part of the strategy options and ideas such as providing a cycle safe network could reasonably form part of the plan,’ a department spokesman said.

‘There were no firm proposals in place that underpinned this aspect of the 2011 States report, although the possibility of introducing cycle networks and more cycle parking was supported by the previous board.’

That board did not support subsidised bike purchase schemes or business or schools, bikes for hire like in London and distributing any bikes recovered by police for free use.

In total, the new vision document outlines transport initiatives that would cost £3.2m. in capital spend, and £850,000 in revenue.

In the end its report was pulled because of the ongoing problems with the bus contract – but it had faced criticism for not spelling out where the funding would come from.

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CAR drivers can view cyclists as a complete inconvenience, slowing traffic, blocking the road, running red lights, riding the wrong way down one-ways.

Cyclists may find drivers inconsiderate to the point of being plain dangerous, cutting them up, overtaking within millimetres of their handlebars or on blind corners oblivious to the carnage an accident would cause.

Naturally there are bad examples on both sides – and the vast majority can live in harmony with no problems.

One suggestion for improving the relationship is a better understanding of the problems each faces.

Putting a cyclist in a lorry for example will show how restricted the view can be.

And there are already the more formal measures in place – albeit very theoretical.

‘All driving licence holders must sign a declaration that they have read and understood the Highway Code when applying for a first time or renewal driving licence, an Environment spokesman said.

‘The code contains information for both cyclists and motorists about safe use of the public highway and circumstances when motorists should pay particular attention to cycles.

The department also encourages provisional licence holders preparing for a driving test to read materials published by the Driving Standards Agency which cover the importance of motorists paying particular attention to vulnerable road users. There are specific questions in the driving theory test database that cover awareness of cyclists.’

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CYCLING education begins and ends at an early age in Guernsey, as it does elsewhere.

Yet every year thousands of local students go away to university with no previous experience of dealing with the roads and traffic they will face if they choose to use a bike while away.

For those in London the dangers are particularly stark – as outlined by the death toll on the roads for cyclists this year alone.

Some London universities are signed up to schemes to inform students about the dangers they face.

There obviously needs to be a balance between the ‘nanny state’ and making sure people

are as aware as they can be about what they face.

But there appears little appetite at the moment in Guernsey to set anything up for students before they leave – something that ultimately could save lives.

‘The Education Department works closely with the police to encourage cycle safety training for primary school aged children,’ an Environment spokesman said,

‘The vast majority of the schools offer a cycling proficiency course for their pupils, typically in Years 5 or 6. The police are responsible for undertaking the training of staff and parent volunteers who can then deliver a course to the children that normally takes place over six sessions, each lasting between 45 minutes and an hour.

A training session for teachers and parents was last delivered in November 2011. The States does not offer any further structured training for cyclists past this point.’

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GOOD policymaking is always underpinned by decent evidence.

But Guernsey Press requests for accident statistics connected with cycling have been so far fruitless.

Neither police or the Environment Department have them readily at hand.

‘I can advise that the department does not hold accident statistics regarding cycle injuries or deaths but is able to obtain reported accident data from the Guernsey Police and also has contacts at the Health and Social Services who have provided information in the past regarding attendances at A&E [although not specifically

related to cycle injuries],’ an Environment spokesman said.

And it is not just about having the data, which is held, but making it readily accessible and digestible for the public.

It has never been easier to share information through media such as the internet, but, as ever, Guernsey has some way to go to catch up with other jurisdictions.

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WITH work ongoing on developing a new road transport strategy, now is the time to influence policy makers.

The Times has a Cities Fit for Cycling campaign which sets out eight goals and can act as a strong guide, but not all of them are fit for an island community.

This is my seven-point agenda:

* Strong data is needed to create effective policy, so an audit of accident statistics involving cyclists should be carried out and published annually. Surveys of cyclists and drivers should be carried out to capture real life experiences on the road.

*  A cycle network should be created, to include extending the paths around the coastline, contra-flows in one-way streets and allowing cyclists to use the pavement riding up Le Val de Terres.

* A report into whether to make it a legal requirement for lorries and buses to fit sensors, turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars – to include the burden it would place on business. It should also examine the States restricting access to its contracts to companies that already take these safety precautions.

* Cycling proficiency should be compulsory for all primary school children.

* The driving test needs to be strengthened so that there is a greater awareness of cycle safety.

* A short session should be held with students planning to leave the island to help them learn more about the conditions they will face in major cities.

* A cycling champion should be appointed to help push the political agenda.