An Open Letter to Those In Charge about Cycling Safety in Swindon

Actually…here’s something I found in my drafts from back when I had my bad-cycling week. I left it and intended to come back to it, re-read it, and work out what to do with it.

Reading it again, outside of the context of my bad week, it seems quite reasonable, documents my “bad week” and expresses some of my frustrations. The only problems: it’s a bit long and I don’t know who should be the recipient!

To whom it may concern

I am a cyclist. I cycle not just for fitness and leisure, I use my bicycle as a form of transport in place of a car or bus. I have been cycling regularly since I was a teenager, I am experienced and confident on my bike.

The fact that I cycle is good for me, it’s good for you, it’s good for our town, and it’s good for our world:

  • I’m fitter and healthier
  • I take up less space on the roads
  • I do less damage to roads
  • I need less space to park
  • I emit less particulates and greenhouse gases
  • I don’t burn our limited reserves of fossil fuels

Cycling has many benefits for everyone, I try to campaign for and help promote cycling as a good thing that our country should be investing in. And I love cycling!

And yet, this week has scared me. It’s made me nervous. It’s made me consider where, how and even IF I use my bicycle as transport. I’d like to tell you why, and I’d like you, if you can, to help.

This has been an exceptional week of encountering bad driving. I’ve faced:

  • Being overtaken far too close
  • Being overtaken and cut up too close to a junction (by a Police car!)
  • Being overtaken and cut up on a blind corner
  • Cars driving at me when there’s barely enough space for a car and bike to occupy the road
  • Being UNDERtaken on a single-lane roundabout

The final item is the single most dangerous thing that has happened to me in many months and, had I been turning left or going a little faster, would have been incredibly dangerous.

I’m normally quite placid and let things go but the incidents this week have caused me to complain to two drivers and lodge a complaint with the Police about the driving of one of their officers.

While this week does appear to have been exceptional in volume of events, most of these things, and others, happen to me frequently while cycling. I’m currently at the point where I, a cycle campaigner and promoter, don’t feel I can promote cycling to my friends as a convenient and safe alternative form of transport and I find myself considering, against all my instincts and values, using my car to get to work.

I hope you’ll agree that this situation is unacceptable. Oil will run out and our usage must reduce. Carbon emissions must be cut. The safety of cyclists and pedestrians and the health of our nation must improve. And surely one way to achieve all of this is to make cycling convenient and safe.

I have no idea what I, as an individual, can do to change the attitude of motorists to cyclists. There is a small circle of people that know me and know, because I’ve told them and explained to them why:

  • that they should give cyclists at least as much room as they would give any other vehicle when overtaking (as per rule 163 of the Highway Code); and
  • that they should NOT overtake approaching or at a road junction on either side of the road (as per rule 167 of the Highway Code)

but the reach of my education is limited.

I also have ideas about how we might change perceptions and get more drivers to notice cyclists, and to make cycling more convenient and safe:

  • Have specific cycle and pedestrian awareness as part of the driving test – perhaps even ensuring that all new drivers experience riding a bicycle on the road.
  • Provide a way of reporting minor incidents that would send drivers a letter reminding them of their responsibilities towards more vulnerable road users.
  • Run an advertising/social marketing campaign to educate drivers reminding them of their responsibilities towards more vulnerable road users.
  • Install more direct cycling routes that make cycling more convenient for longer distances. Swindon has an extensive network of cycle routes, but they are difficult to navigate, rarely direct, and frequently shared with pedestrians or vehicles.
  • Install and improve cycle parking. Ensure all new buildings and developments, as well as public buildings have decent cycle parking. Here are some places in Swindon that (as far as I can tell) don’t have cycle parking:
    • The new Wichelstowe Development (despite the development’s goal of “prioritising pedestrian, cycle and public transport to minimise the use of the private car in a congested urban network.”)
    • The Health Centre on Carfax Street
    • The new central Youth Centre “The Platform” which presumably is intended to cater mainly for people who don’t have cars

I confess that maybe not all of these ideas are realistic or practical. I’m not a travel planner or an expert on cycle training and infrastructure, but they seem to make sense. And, as with education, my ability to implement these ideas is very limited.

So it’s over to you. If you agree that I shouldn’t feel the way I do about cycling at the moment, my questions to you are these:

  • What are you going to do to make me feel safer cycling around Swindon?
  • What are you going to do to educate drivers on how much space and attention they should give to more vulnerable road users?
  • What are you going to do to improve cycle infrastructure and facilities in Swindon?
  • What are your targets for sustainable transport and how are you going to achieve them?