12 May 2014

Forgiving infrastructure...

Making space for cycling has hit the main stream - big rides, campaigns, new guidance. It's all really good stuff, but I can't help feeling there's one small point that's missing. 

All the reasons given for infrastructural change/making space for cycling are brilliant - especially making people feel safer (often referred to as subjective safety).  But there's an aspect of this, which I think Kim Harding first helped me understand, which is underplayed.  

Essentially, most drivers are careful, considerate, and concerned about causing accidents.  That doesn't always mean they remember everything in the Highway Code, or even get it right every-time. But mostly, and most of the time, they're trying to get it right.  

The problem is that our infrastructure is currently very unforgiving. So, a small mistake, inattention, or just plain bad judgement can lead to very serious consequences. 

And this is why it is so scary to take kids out on the roads, because you can't always trust them to stay focussed.  And sometimes they look in the wrong direction, and their handlebars follow...  Or an adult cyclist hits a pothole, or gets a puncture....  Or a driver misjudges the distance of their overtake, or opens a car door without shoulder checking, or just forgets to indicate....

Infrastructure that 'forgives' these small mistakes by channelling bikes on the inside of cars, with space for doors, or making intersections safe for cyclists, is what makes us feel safer. 

So, when we call for redesigns around schools, on residential roads, commuter routes, shopping areas, it's not just about making it easier for people to cycle, shop and walk, nor about the environment and health, but it's also about making the environment shape how drivers, cyclists and pedestrians behave in it. 

Countries that have higher rates of cycling also have lower rates of injuries - especially deaths. It's not that their drivers are any better (although it probably does help that more of them cycle), it's that their environment is the fundamental determinant underlying the ways in which they interact. 

Maybe this was obvious to everyone else, but in a country where 'education' is prioritised above 'infrastructure' in the Road Safety Framework (link - see top of page 18), it seems like an important point to spell out. 

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