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How safe is walking and cycling in Europe?

Walking and cycling safety needs to be addressed urgently, writes Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority

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Slow decline: Infrastucture and speed are key factors in the number of cyclist deaths

Slow decline: Infrastucture and speed are key factors in the number of cyclist deaths

Slow decline: Infrastucture and speed are key factors in the number of cyclist deaths

According to a new report published last week by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) cyclist fatalities in the EU have fallen eight times more slowly than deaths of vehicle occupants in the EU since 2010.

The report entitled 'How Safe is Walking and Cycling in Europe?' showed that there were 51,300 pedestrians and 19,450 cyclists killed on EU roads between 2010 and 2018. The researchers found that while deaths among motorised vehicle occupants fell by, on average, 3.1% a year over the period, deaths among cyclists averaged only a 0.4% annual reduction - eight times slower.

The authors of the report said that the slow decline in cyclist deaths reflects both an increase in levels of cycling in several EU countries, but also the failure by the EU, many governments, local authorities and motor vehicle manufacturers to invest more heavily in measures to protect vulnerable road users. It notes that cyclists and pedestrians are also the least likely to harm other road users but the ones who need the most protection on the road.

57% of all reported cyclist deaths in the EU occur on urban roads and 42% on rural roads. 83% of cyclist deaths follow a collision with a motor vehicle.

Infrastructure and speed are critical factors in the interaction between road users and play an important role in determining road user safety. Infrastructure can contribute to reducing speeds and separating pedestrians and cyclists from vehicles. This can reduce both pedestrian and cyclist deaths and severe injuries when collision do occur or even prevent them from happening.

The report calls on member states in the EU to prioritise the provision of separate cycling infrastructure on roads with the highest speeds and those with the highest volumes. Special attention also needs to be paid to the issue of vehicles turning which is a contributing factor in pedestrian and cyclist deaths. It also calls on member states to encourage local authorities to roll out more 30km/h speed limits in areas used by many pedestrians and cyclists.

But finding ways to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists is multifaceted. It requires a combination of appropriate laws, self-explaining and self-enforcing infrastructure, traffic law enforcement, safe vehicles and education of all road users on safe road use.

The most important recommendation in the report is for all member states and EU institutions to start thinking differently when it comes to developing policies around the modal priority for road users. It recommends that the modal hierarchy should be based on safety, vulnerability and sustainability. Walking should be at the top of this hierarchy, followed by cycling and then public transport. Cars and good vehicles should be at the bottom.

Countries should also intensify enforcement of traffic law in areas which are rich in pedestrians and cyclists, i.e. urban areas, to protect them. An important part of this is speed enforcement. Traffic needs to slow down when it enters areas used by pedestrians and cyclists. Not only will they have greater chances of survival if involved in a collision, slowing down will give drivers time and space to react to an emergency, and so avoid a collision in the first place.

The EU is facing several challenges. The climate is changing, road deaths are stagnating, urbanisation is increasing, air pollution is worsening, obesity is rising, and the population is aging. Walking and cycling has an important role to play in overcoming many of these challenges.

According to the Eurobarometer travel survey on urban mobility conducted in 2013, 71% of people cycle at least a few times per week in the Netherlands, 56% in Denmark compared to 14% in the UK and 15% in Ireland.

The ETSC report's recommendations really do support the findings of the RTE TV series on cycling that the RSA sponsored last year. This series examined why there is such a disconnect between drivers and cyclists, looked at how we can better share our roads. Importantly it looked at what we can learn from other countries that have embraced cycling and its many benefits.

In the cycle-friendly city of Copenhagen the series examined how a combination of segregated track and traffic law enforcement has resulted in drivers and cyclists co-existing in relative harmony. In the Spanish city of Seville we saw how building cycle tracks transformed the city and its people.

It's a city the size of Dublin and up until about twelve years ago they had virtually no cycle infrastructure. Then a new regional government decided to invest in cycling. They now have over one hundred kilometres of dedicated track and you can safely cycle just about anywhere in the greater city area. Seville is a great example of what Dublin could be.

The series visited Eindhoven which is similar in size and population to Cork or Galway. Over there you can safely cycle from every small town or suburb into the city centre on a dedicated and segregated cycle track. Proving the point - building cycle tracks that separate cars and bikes works.

Perhaps the biggest take out from the RTE series was that building dedicated cycle tracks that separate cars and bikes and properly enforcing traffic laws across all road users will, remove conflict between road users, benefit the health of the nation, tackle pollution and importantly save lives.

Sunday Independent