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Making cycling safer in Southampton

Source: Public Sector Executive Sept/Oct 2013

Adrian Webb, Local Sustainable Transport Fund project manager at Southampton City Council, discusses the challenge of getting people cycling. 

As more people get on their bikes following Britain’s recent cycling success, last month the Government announced a £77m fund to boost cycling in eight English cities. However, one of the major barriers in getting more people on their bikes is the safety concerns people have about cycling on the road.

In the UK, 43% of us own or have access to a bicycle, yet only 8% of the population cycle three times a week or more – despite the many benefits cycling brings to the environment, people’s health and reduced traffic on our roads. 

Earlier this year, the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, cycling organisations and transport and planning experts argued that cycling must be considered and designed into all road infrastructure as it is being planned. As part of the new funding initiative to improve cycling, councils are being encouraged to take cycling into account from the design stage of service provision. 

At Southampton City Council, before planning the city’s cycling infrastructure we wanted to get a better idea of people’s cycling habits across the city. Our aims were to understand the key cycle routes; identify accident hotspots for cyclists; to better plan network repairs; and to address poor road surfaces on key cycle corridors with the support of additional funding. 

In October 2011, we surveyed 1,388 cyclists across the city in what was possibly the largest survey of cyclists in any UK city to date, asking respondents about their cycling habits and experiences. In addition, we asked them to mark out their routes and highlight locations of accidents or hazards and asked several questions about what the council should be doing to develop the cycle network. 

Using Ordnance Survey mapping data accessed via the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), we were able to visualise the results. The PSMA enables free at the point of use access to a wide range of mapping datasets, available for the majority of public sector organisations in England and Wales. 

The maps were able to show accident hotspots, key destinations for cycling journeys, and areas for improvements such as road maintenance, dedicated cycle routes, and better street lighting. 

Of the cyclists surveyed, 41% had been involved in an accident at some time whilst cycling in Southampton, but only 15% of these accidents were reported to the police. As a result of the data we were able to map the locations of over 800 accidents involving cyclists that did not feature on official records until now. As a result of this work we were able to help cyclists more by providing more off-road cycle lanes (33%), more on-road cycle lanes (22%) and better road maintenance (12%). 

As a result of the data collected, Southampton City Council successfully secured £1m of funding through the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund in June 2012. This will enable us to introduce a cycle corridor from the eastern edge of the city through the centre and on to the railway station. 

In February 2013 we launched a public consultation on the proposed 7.6km cycling corridor across the city, of which half will be separated from traffic, either on footways or separated cycle tracks on the Itchen Bridge. Across the bridge, one roundabout would be transformed into Dutch-style set-up – allowing cyclists to navigate round the outside of the roundabout without mixing with motor vehicles. Another junction could be fitted with Danish-style “cycle pockets”, allowing cyclists to turn right by waiting in protected marked areas before moving off at a green light.

The result of the consultation was very positive, with 95% of respondents agreeing with the selection of the route and also believing that it will support the aspiration to increase the number of cycle trips in Southampton. The first phase of construction starts on the route this autumn and will include the junction of Central Bridge with Saltmarsh Road, Central Bridge, Marsh Lane and also Evans Street. 

Collecting data and mapping where the issues were occurring, and where improvements were needed, was critical in helping us understand where spending was required. The cycle survey has given us an unprecedented insight and understanding of how cyclists travel around Southampton and was invaluable in helping us win the funding necessary to improve cycle infrastructure in the city. 


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