The Department for Transport has recently released road safety statistics for 2015 and once again Portsmouth is shamed by the rate at which cyclists are hurt on our roads. We have the worst rate of cycle casualties of any city in England. A few London boroughs do have a worse casualty rate but taken as a whole London is safer than Portsmouth. Portsmouth also topped this unenviable league in 2014, 2012 and 2011.
Portsmouth’s cycle casualty rate for 2015 was 888 per million of population. This is very slightly better that the 2014 figure, but this is likely to be no more than a statistical blip. The city’s leaders have taken no concerted action to address road safety, despite our exhortations, preferring to wring their hands and claim there is little they can do because Portsmouth is such a crowded city.
This excuse does not stand up to close examination. England’s most densely populated area, Islington, is nearly three times as crowded as Portsmouth. Islington has a population density of 14,517 people per square kilometre compared to 5,141 in Portsmouth and yet the cyclist casualty rate is slightly lower in Islington with a rate of 882 compared to 888 in Portsmouth.
Waltham Forest, which has recently implemented a ‘mini-Holland’ scheme of cycle infrastructure improvements has a population density of 6,849 people per square kilometre. This is a third more than Portsmouth and yet the cyclist casualty rate is only 409, less than half the rate in Portsmouth. This goes to show what can be achieved with good infrastructure, even in densely populated areas.
It’s time our leaders recognised that this is happening on their watch and it is their problem to solve. It is not a dry statistic to be regretted and ignored, these are the residents of our city being hurt (or worse). Each of these casualties represents a day, week, month or even lifetime ruined or lost. Even minor accidents can have a huge effect on the victims, as the case studies at the end of this piece show.
It is past time to start taking cycle safety seriously. The city is gridlocked and desperately needs people to get out of their cars, but people are understandably put off by the danger on our streets.
For too long Portsmouth City Council has been putting in a token effort at cycle safety. That has to change. We are calling on councillors to commit to halving the cycle casualty rate by 2020. Their first step has to be proper funding for road safety and to recruit a world-class traffic engineer with expertise in cycling infrastructure to lead on it.
It is the first responsibility of government in a democratic society to protect and safeguard the lives of its citizens. Cyclists are citizens and the government of our city is currently failing us. Now is the time to act. It’s time to lift the city from it’s humiliating position as the most dangerous city for cyclists in the UK.