Voice of the Month: Danny Williams

This month Danny Williams, cycle campaigner and author of the Cyclists in the City blog, looks at the latest set of government casualty statistics

In Copenhagen the number of journeys by bike grew by 50% between 1995 and 2010, yet the risk of cycle casualties dropped four-fold in the same period. In the UK cycle casualties are spiralling out of control and (except for in London) the bicycle is being ignored as a serious transport choice for millions.

On 27 June, Transport for London released figures showing the total number of people seriously injured or killed on bikes on London's roads last year was up 60% (yes, 60%) on the long term average 2005-2009. Across the UK as a whole, the risk of serious injury on a bike grew 5%, faster than the growth in bike use. This puts well and truly paid to the idea that more cyclists on the roads equals safer roads.

Yet, in other countries where cycling has increased, the rate of people killed or injured on bikes has decreased. Why is the UK bucking that trend?

It's pretty obvious really. The London Assembly (the body which scrutinises London's Mayor Boris Johnson) said it pretty clearly last year: "In the last four years TfL has spent more money than before on cycle infrastructure... but the budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users." The same is true in other towns and cities around the country: money which should have gone into creating safe networks for people to cycle, has instead gone into things like Boris bikes, into PR and into 'active travel plans', whatever those are.

The London numbers are part of a UK-wide trend. As RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has at last pointed out, road deaths and serious injuries are down across the country, unless you're on a bike. It is good to see that RoSPA has now joined the call for a "coherent safe network for cyclists", although it's concerning they seem to think that network should be along canals and rivers.

In the UK as a whole, the number of people killed cycling increased 10% last year and serious casualties were up as well. The Department for Transport acknowledged that "there is a well-established upward trend in pedal cyclist casualties; this is the eighth year that the number of seriously injured cyclist casualties has increased."

Actually, if you look at the London data, the numbers are bad for pedestrians as well: a 15% increase in the number of pedestrians seriously injured/killed versus last year (although slightly lower than the longer term trend). If you're in a motor vehicle, though, things are getting rosier - a 53% reduction in serious injuries and people killed in cars against the long-term trend; a 52% decrease in other motor vehicles. That compares with a 60% increase against the long-term trend for people on bikes.

Yet, road safety is getting much better if you're in a motor vehicle. It is getting alarmingly worse if you're on a bike. And yet, in other countries, the exact opposite has happened. Road safety has got better for motor vehicle users AND for bicycle users. As the number of people cycling has increased in cities like Copenhagen, the number of road casualties decreased. And that's down to a whole host of interventions, most of which are lacking in the UK: better cycle networks, slower motor traffic speeds, changes in legislation etc.

So what should happen on the very same day that the government published these appalling casualty trends? The government also announced a multi-decade investment plan for UK infrastructure that is entirely about improving capacity for private motor transport only (cheerio bus subsidies). In the entire 82-page document on national infrastructure released on 27 June, the government spends 33 pages talking about investment in roads. There is not a single mention of cycling anywhere in the national infrastructure strategy. 

As BikeBiz magazine points out, the government has been ultra clear about what personal transport is going to look like in this country for the rest of most of our lives when it boasts about investment in roads and in making the Highways Agency able to deliver "the best possible road network for the UK's motorists". Talk about playing to the status quo.

There is one tiny glimmer of hope. The Chancellor's Spending Review did include enough money for Transport for London to go ahead with its plans to invest in the network of cycle routes announced in Boris Johnson's game-changer network of cycling 'Quietways' and new Cycle Superhighways through London. Phew!