It is with the greatest sadness that we have to report the death of one cyclist and injuries to two more in the last two days. On Thursday evening a cyclist was hit by a driver on Fratton bridge roundabout and had to be airlifted to hospital in Southampton, where his condition is reported as ‘critical but stable’. Worse was to come on Friday, as two cyclists collided on the Eastern Road cycle path, apparently causing one to fall into the busy traffic where he lost his life and the other to fall into the hedge that narrows the path.
We have long campaigned for improvements to cycle safety in Portsmouth, but sadly our worst fears have come true. The sites of both accidents are well known problem sites and both have been discussed with officers at Portsmouth City Council, but sadly no meaningful action had been taken at either site to prevent the tragic events of the last two days.
The Eastern Road cycle path is one of the most important cycle routes in the city but it has a number of serious safety problems. In some stretches – including the area of Friday’s accident – it is too narrow for two cyclists to pass each other safely. This is compounded by a blind bend next to the entrance to the Harvester pub. This section of the route is shared use meaning it is intended to take both cyclists and pedestrians in both directions, yet it is too narrow in places even for pedestrians to pass each other comfortably. The high hedge on one side and fast traffic on the other mean there is no room for error at all.
There are parallels here with another important route in and out of the city, on Hope Street in the city centre. It is surely only a matter of time before a similar incident takes place there. As with the Eastern Road, the Hope Street path is narrow, carries two way cyclists and pedestrians, has an impenetrable barrier (the dockyard wall in this case) on one side, has fast traffic a kerb-width away on the other side, has a dangerous blind bend and is frequently obstructed by lamp columns and sign-posts.
We have been warning Portsmouth City Council about the state of the Eastern Rd and Hope Street paths since our Strategic Cycle Routes report of 2009. The part of the Eastern Road path where Friday’s tragic accident took place has been discussed with council officers this year, after members of the forum reported head on collisions and near misses with other cyclists there. The site is at the junction of two of the council’s recently launched ‘Quieter Routes’ which are supposed to offer safe routes to less confident cyclists.
The accident on Thursday took place on Fratton bridge roundabout, where the cyclist was hit by a car entering the roundabout. This roundabout has four two-lane entry points, the design creates a high traffic density, with vans and lorries creating multiple blind spots. In such situations drivers looking right for gaps in fast-moving motor traffic then accelerating onto the roundabout find it easy to miss cyclists ahead, the cyclist remaining unseen until impact. On a roundabout like this serious collisions are a certainty, it’s just a question of when and how often.
PCC has worked on Fratton bridge roundabout recently but no change was made to the dangerous layout, which was highlighted by us in 2014. The roundabout lacks safe, attractive alternative routes for cyclists in all directions, meaning that in some cases cyclists are forced to use the main carriageway. This roundabout is also on one of the new ‘Quieter Routes’, although that route uses the toucan crossing that exists on the northern leg of the roundabout.
These two incidents indicate the hazards cyclists can face on the roads of Portsmouth. The weather on both evenings was perfect and all three cyclists caught up in the horrible events should have been able to expect a pleasant and safe journey.
Portsmouth remains the most dangerous place to cycle in England, excepting a few parts of London. This has been the case for the last five years at least but there has been little meaningful action from Portsmouth City Council, in spite of our efforts. There has been almost no investment in safe cycle infrastructure, with the budget the council had being spent on ‘soft measures’ (meaning activities and events to encourage people to cycle) and signage. It is time for that to change. Urgently.