Road safety ‘crisis’ for cyclists in West Sussex

Ruth Fletcher, second from left, with other cyclists and residents concerned about new cycle lanes in Parsonage Road,  Horsham
Ruth Fletcher, second from left, with other cyclists and residents concerned about new cycle lanes in Parsonage Road, Horsham

A road safety ‘crisis’ for cyclists in West Sussex has seen the number of people killed or seriously injured on bicycles double in the last five years.

West Sussex County Council’s Road Safety Framework is currently being reviewed and a new draft proposes to adopt Vision Zero, a philosophy aiming to get to where there are no KSIs on the county’s roads.

Cyclists demonstrate the width of new cycling lanes in Parsonage Road,  Horsham

Cyclists demonstrate the width of new cycling lanes in Parsonage Road, Horsham

Gavin Watts, director of communities and assistant chief fire officer at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, said they recognised it was ‘not acceptable to drive on West Sussex roads and be at risk of harm’.

The number of people killed or seriously injured rose to 482 in 2014, up from 439 in 2013, according to a report discussed by West Sussex County Council’s Environmental and Community Services Select Committee on Monday December 14.

But fatalities are down compared to the 2005-2009 average, from 43 to 21, and the county council and fire service are aiming to reduce KSIs by a ‘whole system approach’, including engineering solutions, new technology, and behavioural change.

But Ruth Fletcher, chair of the Horsham District Cycling Forum, said: “There really is a road safety crisis in West Sussex for cycling. The number of KSIs has doubled since 2010. This has been a steady year-on-year increase. This is not some kind of blip.”

Speaking at a WSCC North Horsham County Local Committee meeting on the same day as the ECSSC meeting, she expressed concern that the new Road Safety Framework would not offer solutions that were going to work.

She added: “The road safety framework is not getting to grips with what is going on.”

New cycle lanes have been installed in Parsonage Way, Horsham, and Mrs Fletcher called them ‘substandard’, and added: “Far from making it better it’s now significantly worse then it was, and how can this possibly be happening in 2015, building 70cm cycle lanes?”

Brad Watson (Con, Nuthurst and Southwater), chairman of the committee, said the problem with retrofitting adequate cycling facilities was that the roads were not designed for that.

But he added: “Generations of motorists have not been exposed to cyclists in a significant number. That is something that needs to change.”

A briefing note sent by the West Sussex Cycle Forum to councillors asked if WSCC understood why cycle KSIs have risen so fast.

It suggested that a number of contributing factors may include an increase in antagonism towards cycling, a reduction in road policing, a lack of campaigns targeting motorist behaviour towards cyclists, mobile phone use, larger vehicles, and a lack of progress on adequate cycling infrastructure.

At the ECSSC meeting, Mr Watts said the Vision Zero concept was ‘not just a throwaway line’ and ‘needs to be an aim and an intent’, and one of their milestones was to reduce the KSIs by 25 per cent by 2020 indexed against the national baseline average for 2005-09.

He added: “We do not want to set ourselves up to fail but we want to make our roads consistently safer.”

He said the framework was about tackling issues such as improving safer interaction between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, and how they made speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving.

John Rogers (Con, Cissbury), vice chairman of ECSSC, said he would like to see more awareness campaigns targeting people in their early 20s to tell them ‘you could be the next set of flowers on the roadside’, and felt there were a number of ‘terrible’ road layouts in Worthing that had not been dealt with, especially at roundabouts.

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) asked if 25 per cent was a realistic target, and added: “What are we going to be doing that we have not been doing before, and it begs the question why have we not been doing it before?”

Mr Watts thought 25 per cent was a realistic target, and said they would be aiming for greater community engagement than before, and rather than an 180 degree turn the new framework would be a ‘tap on the tiller’.

Philip Circus (Con, Storrington) felt driver behaviour at roundabouts was ‘appalling’ and added: “It seems to me all road users need to behave a lot better than they do.”

Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill Town) called the framework ‘good wishful thinking’ but did not see any ‘concrete plan’, but officers explained an action plan would follow after the updated framework was agreed.

Graham Tyler (Con, Rustington), chairman of the committee, said councillors broadly supported Vision Zero and efforts to improve the behaviour of all road users, and looked forward to seeing the final vision document.

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