Cycling (London)

– in Westminster Hall at 4:26 pm on 26th November 2013.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 4:26 pm, 26th November 2013

As one who was knocked off his bike in London many years ago, I am delighted that Mary Macleod is leading this debate.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

It is wonderful to have this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This timely debate on safe cycling in London is about saving lives. Just recently, there were six deaths in just two weeks in London, which forced attention on the issue. Two collisions occurred on the same day, which was particularly poignant. Our thoughts are with those who have died on London streets, and with their families. Most recently, Brian Holt, Francis Golding, Roger William De Klerk, Venera Minakhmetova, Khalid al-Hashimi and Richard Muzira have died on the streets of London on their bikes.

As well as highlighting the whole issue of safety for cyclists in London, the recent spate of fatal accidents has raised serious concerns about roundabouts such as Bow, where Hounslow resident Brian Dorling died in 2011. I have a personal interest in the matter because I, too, sometimes cycle into work and around my constituency. Every time I do, I feel as though I am taking a risk, even though I abide by the rules of the road. Even cycling around Parliament square, which is right outside, it feels as though I am taking my life in my hands.

I want to encourage cycling, because it is good for health, well-being and the environment, but we need to find a way to make it safer for everyone on the roads. Some 70,000 cyclists took to the streets of London in August for the Prudential RideLondon festival, and the Barclays Boris bikes have expanded across London. I want to encourage the inspiration created by the Olympics and the Tour de France, which will come to Yorkshire in 2014. Individuals such as Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, Chris Froome, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott, Lizzie Armitstead, Jason Kenny and others have inspired a whole nation of cyclists, which has to be good.

The number of journeys made by bike more than doubled between 2000 and 2012 to more than 540,000 a day in London. The central London cycling census conducted by Transport for London in April this year calculated that bicycles accounted for up to 64% of vehicles on some main roads during the peak morning period, a time of day that recent incidents have shown to be particularly dangerous. More bicycles than cars travel across London, Waterloo, Blackfriars and Southwark bridges during that time, a setting that presents enhanced safety hazards to cyclists. In pure numbers, however, there were fewer cycling fatalities in the past six years than in the previous six. Reading the figures in a different way shows us that in London in 2012, 22% of all casualties on the road were cyclists, whereas in 2006 10% were, so there has been an increase in the percentage.

Across the country, 2012 saw the highest number of cycling fatalities, with 118. For me, that is far to many. In London specifically, there were 10 deaths in 2010, four of which involved HGVs, and 14 deaths in 2012, five of which involved HGVs. This year, we have had 14 deaths so far, nine of which involved HGVs. There is absolutely a case for doing something. Fourteen deaths in the capital so far this year is 14 deaths too many. We should be doing something about it.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing an important topic to the House today. As a fellow Hounslow MP, I am sure she will join me in congratulating the Hounslow cycling campaign on its work in promoting road safety for cyclists, making roads safer and increasing the number of women cyclists. I am sure she will come on to this point, but does she agree that there is concern over the Mayor of London’s comments that seemed to suggest that irresponsible behaviour on the part of cyclists was disproportionately contributing to the problem? We need roads to be safe and we need those driving large vehicles, as well as cyclists, to drive safety.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

I thank my neighbour in London for that intervention. London councils have made an effort to create a safer environment for cycling, but I always push them, because when we have deaths, it shows that there is more to be done. The Mayor certainly stressed that there were issues with cyclists, but there are also other matters to consider. He has published “The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London”, so he is addressing the serious issues. Everyone on the roads has a responsibility. Whether we are motorists, cyclists or lorry drivers, it is important that we take responsibility. There are things that we can all do improve safety.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Conservative, Totnes

Does my hon. Friend agree that in this important debate we should stress that someone is more likely to be killed walking a mile than cycling a mile, and also stress the health benefits? Our overall life expectancy is increased if we cycle and lead an active, healthy life. We should ensure that we stress the benefits of cycling for well-being, as well as the dangers, and make it safe for those who cycle.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We want the debate to be positive, and we want to say that cycling is brilliant for everyone to participate in and has amazing benefits. I want more people to cycle, so we must make it safer for everyone.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I am pleased that she has secured this important debate. My constituency has thousands of cyclists, who are fortunate to benefit from an integrated cycle network, so they feel safe cycling. My constituency is close to London, and over the past few months, as these unfortunate deaths have occurred, we have seen a huge increase in the number of cycles left in the cycle racks at Stevenage station, because those cyclists are now scared of cycling in London.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. There is a fear of cycling in London. My hon. Friend Dr Wollaston pointed out that it is important to stress the positives, but we also have a responsibility as MPs to protect people and allay some of the fears.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Conservative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

I occasionally cycle in my constituency in Plymouth. Safety is not only an issue for cycling in London. We have a big problem in Plymouth with potholes, some of which are incredibly deep, and I suspect that the situation might be the same elsewhere.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

I agree that many issues need to be addressed. There were 118 deaths across the country last year, so we must look at what we can do to make cycling safer in every area.

This year, the Mayor appointed London’s first cycling commissioner, who with the Mayor created “The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London”. There are many great ideas in that paper, which is intended to build on the Olympic legacy for all Londoners and make the roads safe for people who want to take up cycling, as I did after many years of not being on a bike. I take great pleasure in using my Brompton bicycle, which was made in my constituency. Brompton Bicycle Ltd in Brentford is a great local company.

We want to encourage more people to cycle safely. Earlier this year, city hall announced almost £1 billion in improvements over 10 years to make cycling safer. I push the Department for Transport to work closely with the Mayor, because he has responsibility for only a certain number of roads in London. More communication, co-ordination and partnership would be good, with all the stakeholders involved sitting together and working out a vision and strategy that will help everyone.

Several schemes are certainly helping. We have already heard about what is happening in the London borough of Hounslow, and there are also various initiatives such as Bikeabilty training for beginners, advanced cyclists and children. We must see whether more can be done. The police recently played their role in cycling safety with Operation Safeway, whereby 2,500 Metropolitan police officers were posted at junctions in London to advise on the increased road safety problems caused by the high volume of traffic.

There have been several petitions through which we can see that the public are behind us: the “Save our Cyclists” petition has 35,500 signatures; the “Get Britain Cycling” petition has 72,000 signatures; and the “Better road driving test” petition has 17,900 signatures. The public want movement. We do not need a knee-jerk reaction to the deaths, but we must have a response. That is why there is an urgent need to have measures in place before there are more deaths on the streets. I would like a co-ordinated plan for the initiatives and ideas that are coming forth on better and safer cycling, which all stakeholders can sign up to, so that we know that things are happening.

There are a lot of options to make cycling safer, such as better safety equipment on lorries—side guards, proximity sensors and side cameras. Given the number of deaths involving HGVs, the complete lack of visibility in HGV drivers’ blind spots is a grave issue that I want us to take seriously. When I cycle in London, I try not to go anywhere near a lorry if I can help it, and I stay well behind them at junctions. We could be slightly more radical and ban HGVs during rush hour, as they do in Paris. Deliveries in London during the Olympics were made at night, so it could be possible to do that again. We may need to tighten up driving tests for van and lorry drivers. We have talked about having more Trixi mirrors at road junctions—big mirrors that allow better visibility, especially for lorry drivers. In some areas of London, and elsewhere, where there are very wide pavements, there could be safe sharing of pavements to allow cyclists to travel more safely. It is important to crack down on cyclists breaking the rules of the road, and perhaps helmets should become a requirement.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Conservative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. If someone decides to use a Boris bike—a wonderful initiative—they are not offered a cycle helmet at the same time. I am not suggesting for one moment that people should be forced to wear them, because I am a Conservative and I believe in a moderately liberal approach, but they should be offered them, particularly helmets that have lights attached, so that people can see where they are going.

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

My hon. Friend obviously knows my shopping habits. I recently bought a new light for my helmet, because I did not feel that I could be seen clearly enough from behind, even with a high-visibility jacket. That is important.

In this short debate, I would like to get a feeling from my hon. Friend the Minister about some of the things that must be considered as a matter of urgency. The first is a cycle safety summit, for want of a better term, to get all the London stakeholders around a table to discuss the vision, strategy and plan of action going forward. That would include, of course, the Department for Transport, the Mayor’s office, Transport for London, the Metropolitan police and each of the London boroughs, which all have roads for which they are responsible. It would also involve the cycling safety campaign groups, and maybe even the all-party group on cycling. It would be a conversation around a table about a joint approach and a plan of action to get things moving.

The second issue that we need to consider is continuing to improve the safety of road junctions, whether with Trixi mirrors or safe cycling routes. Transport for London has increased its budget for safer junctions from £19 million to £100 million, but how far will that stretch across the key London junctions that need to be sorted out? Can TfL also address some of the other junctions that might not be its responsibility?

The third issue is better safety equipment on lorries. I feel strongly about that issue, given the scale of deaths from HGVs; nine out of the 14 deaths so far this year have been linked to HGVs. Side guards are critical to prevent people from being dragged underneath, as are close proximity sensors to let drivers know whether someone is around and side cameras to help with blind spots. Maybe we will have to prevent HGVs from entering central London unless they have safety features. If they do not, maybe the Mayor could impose a levy or fine.

The fourth issue to consider is the importance of clamping down on all road users who break the law, with on-the-spot fines for dangerous driving or cycling. Those who use the roads must respect each other; I say that as both a driver and a cyclist. I think that being a cyclist has helped me be a better driver, and I encourage everyone to try it. We might consider a fixed penalty for going into the cycles-only box at junctions. I would also like those cycle boxes and the advance stop lines extended a bit. At the moment, they are about 5 metres out, which is very close to traffic queues, especially during the morning rush hour. Maybe that could be extended to 7.5 metres.

My fifth point concerns further training for children and adults. London boroughs and the police have been reasonably good at giving support on cycling safety, and there are also videos about how HGV drivers have blind spots. Adults returning to cycling after many years, in particular, may need a refresher. Another option is changing the driving test for drivers of all vehicles, including taxis, HGVs and cars, and including cyclist awareness and safety. I have mentioned considering a rush-hour HGV ban or a levy on HGVs not fitted with safety equipment.

This debate is important because it is about saving lives in our capital as well as elsewhere around the country. We want to do something as soon as possible in order to prevent more unnecessary deaths. It will help create a better, happier, safer city in which we can all live, and will hopefully save a few lives in the process.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:44 pm, 26th November 2013

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Mary Macleod for securing the debate, which comes after a series of fatal accidents involving cyclists on the capital’s roads in recent weeks. I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.

Such incidents are a sobering reminder of the dangers that road users can experience on our busy urban streets, but equally, they should not discourage people from getting on their bikes. Cycling is still generally a safe activity. Indeed, the number of fatalities in London dropped from 21 in 2003 to 14 last year. Sadly, we have already reached 14 so far in 2013, including six in the past couple of weeks.

As my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston pointed out, we must not forget that the health benefits of cycling greatly outweigh the risks, but as the Minister with responsibility for cycling and road safety, I am determined to make cycling even safer. Since February last year, we have made an additional £159 million available to support cycling and boost safety, including £20 million to improve the design and layout of road junctions at 78 locations around the country. A further £15 million is being targeted specifically at dangerous junctions in London. More recently, we have announced £77 million to help eight cities across England realise their ambitious 10-year plans to increase cycling and make it safer.

Those investments are crucial as the number of cyclists on our roads continues to rise. After the heroics of Team GB in the Olympics and Paralympics and the success of our riders in the Tour de France, thousands of people are catching the cycling bug. Although I got the habit nearly a decade ago, I am also a Brompton rider, and I very much enjoy riding the vehicle, which was made in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Conservative, Totnes

The Minister is another Brompton rider in the Commons. I am grateful to him for pointing out the welcome boost to funding, but is he aware of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling report, which recommended that long-term stable funding is what makes the difference? At least £10 a head for the whole population, rather than for the seven cities, is what is needed if we are to make the great strides that we have seen on the continent and allow for infrastructure improvements, particularly separation at junctions and on our most dangerous roads.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Government have certainly announced long-term funding pledges for transport infrastructure that will, with reforms to the Highways Agency, enable planning year by year, unlike the stop-go investment that we have had.

I will be on my Brompton again on Friday morning as I cycle from King’s Cross station to Westminster. My officials have devised a route for me that will allow me to experience both the worst and the best of cycling roads in London.

The trend back to cycling is particularly noticeable among young people. British Cycling, the national governing body, has seen membership of under-18s soar by 42% in just a year. However, money is only part of the answer. We are also working in other ways to improve cyclist safety. For instance, we have made it simpler for councils to put in place 20 mph-limit zones, and we have encouraged local authorities to implement such limits in areas where cyclists and pedestrians are most vulnerable. Reducing traffic speeds can make roads safer and improve the local environment.

As we have heard, a high proportion of cyclist fatalities involve large vehicles, so we have given English councils the power to install Trixi mirrors at junctions. We have also made it easier for councils to install contra-flow cycling and signs saying “No entry except cycles”. Awareness of other road users is paramount, particularly in big cities, so we welcome initiatives such as TfL’s “Exchanging Places”, in which cyclists can sit in a lorry cab and watch for a police cyclist riding up on the left side of the vehicle.

Several new driver certificate of professional competence courses now take cyclists into account. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth will probably know, truck drivers must now undertake five days’ training, and then one day’s training every year, to achieve the certificate. The training may even require the driver to experience what it is like to be a cyclist on busy urban streets. As someone who has driven HGVs, I know where their blind spots are, and I hope that those who participate in the scheme will too.

We are investing £11 million a year in Bikeability training to help a new generation of cyclists to get the skills they need to be safe on our roads. That training is not just for children; it is for adults too. On top of the Government’s funding, some local authorities provide free or subsidised training.

One of the most effective ways to make our roads safer is to change people’s driving habits through hard-hitting marketing and advertising. That is why we continue to develop new campaigns through our award-winning Think! brand. In October, I launched a new Think! cyclist campaign, targeting Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge, on top of the activity already launched in London. That built on a similar campaign last year that was based around the message, “Let’s Look Out For Each Other”.

In August, the Prime Minister announced a major programme of work to cycle-proof new trunk road projects so that they can be navigated confidently by the average cyclist. That includes a £20 million investment from the Highways Agency to fund significant junction upgrades and other improvements to remove barriers to cyclists. We also expect local authorities to up their game to deliver infrastructure that takes cycling into account from the design stage.

The delivery of the Mayor’s “Vision for Cycling” could also help to make cycling safer in London. There will be a new network of better cycle routes in London, including a “Crossrail for the bike”—a fast, segregated east-west super-highway. The Mayor’s plans also include prioritising major and substantial improvements at the worst junctions, and making significant improvements to existing cycle super-highways, such as the one that I use every morning when I cycle in to Parliament.

Clearly, however, if we are going to improve cycling safety in London significantly, we will have to reduce the threat of trucks where full segregation is not possible. Cyclists are no more likely to be involved in a collision with a lorry than with any other type of vehicle, but when it does happen the outcome is all too often a tragedy. In September, we set up a taskforce with Transport for London to raise awareness of safety among HGV drivers and to take targeted enforcement action against the small minority of potentially dangerous operators, drivers and vehicles.

I understand that last Monday, on the first day of the Metropolitan police’s new road safety enforcement campaign, 70 lorries were stopped and 15 penalty notices were issued, for offences such as vehicles not being fit for the road. In addition, about 100 cyclists were advised of a range of road safety measures that they can take, such as wearing hi-vis jackets or helmets, or fitting their bike with lights. A number of cyclists were also stopped for riding on the pavement. Indeed, only this morning I witnessed a cyclist dangerously running a red light in this part of London.

New standards for mirrors on the passenger side of lorries have recently been agreed at international level, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, recently wrote to the European Transport Commissioner urging him to ensure that those standards are mandated by the necessary regulatory change within the EU. Such mirrors are crucial, as they improve drivers’ visibility and make it easier for them to see cyclists on the passenger side, particularly when turning left at junctions.

The Department for Transport continues to work with international partners through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, particularly to allow camera technology that further improves driver vision. From 29 October 2014, all new goods vehicles will have to comply with revised European rules—for example, with regard to side guards—that will permit fewer exemptions than the current legislation does.

In August, the Prime Minister also announced that we will be publishing a cross-Government cycling delivery plan. We will work with stakeholders, including TfL, on drafting the plan, which will set out how we will deliver on our vision of more people cycling more safely and more often. It will be supported by Departments across

Whitehall and will include a commitment to work together to deliver a cycling infrastructure that will make Britain a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth suggested that there should be a cycling summit. That is a very good idea, but I have to say that I am ahead of the curve, because even before the most recent tragedies on our roads I met Chris Boardman, British Cycling, the Cyclists’ Touring Club and the charity Sustrans to discuss the issue. Indeed, I have a meeting in the diary for tomorrow with TfL to discuss some cycling issues, and on 4 December the Mayor is coming to the DFT to discuss cycling and other issues. It is important that we work together with all the stakeholders involved, including the cycling campaign groups and the all-party group on cycling, of which I used to be a member.

We can also look at other areas where we can make improvements. Mention was made of advanced stop lines, but a contribution could also be made by having early start signals, to allow cyclists to get away first before the lorries set off.

There is a huge amount going on to improve cycling safety standards in London and across the country. Our challenge is to ensure that an increase in the number of people riding bikes on our roads does not translate into more casualties. We are already making progress. Cycling in London has trebled over the past decade, yet fatalities of cyclists have fallen by 17% during the past five years. However, as the past few weeks have shown, there is absolutely no room for complacency. We have to continue working with our partners and continue delivering the investment. We must focus on key areas of threat, to continue raising safety standards for cyclists.

We should also examine some other ideas, such as those that my hon. Friend mentioned today. However, I have reservations about proximity sensors down the side of vehicles. They can often be set off by roadside furniture or other obstacles, and could actually distract a driver on some occasions. But it is absolutely imperative that we see what we can do about side guards. There are a number of vehicles that are currently exempt from having to have them, such as skip wagons, refuse wagons and some tippers, and it is important that we consider what we can do to improve the design of those vehicles, and to ensure that more and more vehicles are fitted with side guards.

As a Government, we are absolutely committed to doing what we can to improve road safety. I have considered the issue of having a ban on lorries in London. However, it must be borne in mind that in Paris the area covered by the ban is only about the size of the zone 1 area in London, so there is not an extensive ban in Paris. Of course, there are also communities in London that would resent deliveries being carried out at night as a routine measure, as that may—

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. I am very sorry to interrupt the Minister, but we have come to the end of our time for this debate. I ask all those who are not staying for the next debate to leave Westminster Hall quickly and quietly.