THE BLOG

If We Want to Be a True Cycling Nation, Cycling Doesn't Just Have to Be Safe, It Must Appear Safe Too

25/09/2015 14:34 BST | Updated 25/09/2016 10:12 BST

Many people in this country will tell you that cycling is safe, and the statistics do back that up. You have more chance of being killed walking a mile than you do cycling a mile and there is just one fatality for the equivalent of every 1,000 times cycled around the Earth.

However, what those statistics don't tell you is what cycling on our roads is actually like and whether or not the experience is an enjoyable one. This is a critical thing to acknowledge, as we make decisions - such as whether to cycle in the first place - based as much on how we feel as on the facts.

The Near Miss Project is a fantastic piece of work that studies perception as well as hard facts. It is an inspired programme that has the potential to transform how we measure the success of projects which seek to make cycling safer and more convenient.

For the first time, it has measured things that previously went unseen: the incidents that scare you but don't physically harm you. These incidents may seem minor but ultimately they stop people cycling.

If we are to increase levels of cycling in this country, cycling doesn't just have to be safe, it has to appear safe and attractive compared to other forms of transport. Therefore journey times, comfort, convenience and cost must all be considered for an intervention to be successful. This project converts people's personal experiences of these things into facts, and British Cycling and I would like to see the near miss 'rate' used as a key performance indicator to measure improvements in any given area.

I'd like to see this on a city by city, town by town basis across the country to allow rigorous comparisons. If we see the improvements in cycling infrastructure that the government has promised to make, then we should see the number of near misses decrease rapidly. It would be the easiest way for the powers that be to measure whether investment in cycling infrastructure has truly been successful.

British Cycling works incredibly hard to get more people cycling. We have targets on participation and we survey and measure ourselves against these regularly. The 'churn' of people getting into cycling and then leaving is over 20% and rising. We know that the two-thirds of the general population would cycle more if conditions on the road were better - that is some latent demand!

The Near Miss Project is exciting for British Cycling because it adds a layer of information that previously hasn't been available. Our insight tells us that women had greater concerns than men about safety on the road, which is why our programmes focus first on off-road riding to build confidence. This project gives us an insight into the potential cause of these concerns; it's a fact that women experience 50% more close passes than men. If you have enough of these bad experiences it is only natural that it is going to put you off.

The biggest social benefits would come from getting older people cycling, enhancing their mobility in older age, helping them maintain their independence and improving their physical health. If travelling slowly feels less safe it means that it's going to be difficult to reach the Dutch levels of cycling, where over-65s make 25% of journeys on their bikes compared to less than 1% in the UK.

When Boris Johnson said he wanted to 'de-lycrafy cycling' he was spot on. If we are to make cycling an everyday form of transport with people dressed for the destination and not the journey then we need to design for slower cycling. This means reducing speeds on residential roads and providing separated cycle lanes on main roads.

The Near Miss project could play an absolutely crucial role in how we measure cycle safety and ultimately make the adjustments we need to turn our country into a true cycling nation.

The Near Miss Project studies cycling incidents that don't result in injuries but may profoundly influence people's experiences and behaviours. The Near Miss Project has been organised by founding partners Blaze, Creative Exchange and headed up by Dr. Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster