A Wide Berth in Perth: Safer Roads for Everyone

Bike Station side-by-side tandem
Steering group: Phil Jones and Sally Hinchcliffe try out the Bike Station Tandem

It seems a long time ago now – back when the sun was shining – but Perth and the Labour party conference marked the end of the conference season. Thanks to Phil Jones for stepping in to lead the ride – and Perth Bike Station for showing up on their fantastic side-by-side tandem to demonstrate the sort of bikes we’re going to need to design for if we’re going to enable everyone to ride

We were delighted to make contact with a number of politicians at the event – we couldn’t entice any along for the ride but Andrew Burns (Leader of City of Edinburgh Council) and Cara Hilton MSP (Dunfermline) joined us for the photo call beforehand

Andrew Burns and Cara Hilton
Ready to set off: Andrew Burns and Cara Hilton join the group before the ride

Lesley Hinds also popped out to talk #allmalepanels (she’ll be joining us for tomorrow’s Women’s Cycle Forum to experience the complete opposite)

Lesley Hinds and Councillor Laurie Bidwell
Lively conversation between Suzanne Forup, Sally Hinchcliffe, Lesley Hinds and Laurie Bidwell of Dundee council

And finally Sarah Boyack and Claudia Beamish joined us at the end of the day, along with John Lauder of Sustrans. We had a good conversation with both and we hope that the importance of our message is getting through – certainly we’ve heard from all the conferences that active travel is being discussed not just in the context of transport but also health policy and the problems of pollution.

Lizzie Reather, Dave Du Feu, Sally Hinchcliffe, Sarah Boyack, Claudia Beamish and John Lauder
Lizzie Reather, Dave Du Feu, Sally Hinchcliffe, Sarah Boyack, Claudia Beamish and John Lauder

As for the ride – Perth didn’t have very much that was remarkable in the way of infrastructure that we saw, although we enjoyed the ‘Salmon Run’ cycle route along the river. However whether it was the fine autumn weather or something in the water, Perth was remarkable for the politeness of its drivers who – even when we weren’t on the tandem – seemed to be very laid back about waiting for an opportunity to pass, and then gave us plenty of room, as demonstrated by this bus.

Perth Bus
Narrow cycle lanes right at the edge of the roundabout do little to protect cyclists …
bus gives ample space
Fortunately the bus driver is familiar with the Highway Code and gives the bike ‘as much room as when passing a car’. Sadly, we can’t always rely on individual drivers to do this

Our third policy pledge might seem like a bit of a vague one “Promote and deliver safer roads for both walking and cycling” – but actually it’s key to active travel, and a difficult one to deliver. There are many ways to make roads safer from greater enforcement and stricter laws, lower speed limits, better education of drivers (among many other things, Phil trains HGV drivers on cycle safety, including getting them out on bikes themselves, an experience which is both eye opening for them and – encouragingly – enjoyable). The design of the roads themselves is also key – the Dutch ‘sustainable safety’ principles for instance, so that safe behaviour is built in to the roads – we need to make sure that it’s not simply up to individual drivers to give cyclists enough room, welcome though that is.

But in reality, all of these factors are important and they all need to be given priority. At the moment, deaths on the roads – even of children – are treated as ‘one of those things’, as if they were an unavoidable tragedy. We need to start with a commitment from our politicians that every death of a vulnerable road user will be treated as though it were preventable, until the most effective policies are found to prevent them. It is only then that our roads will start to be safe, and more importantly feel safe for everyone, whatever bike they ride

Perth Bike Station tandem
A bike for everyone – but they need the right conditions to ride in if it’s to be a means of transport rather than a bit of fun.