Call to make Portsmouth safer for cyclists

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Portsmouth is almost perfectly flat and one of the most compact cities in Europe — a dream for the cyclist, one might imagine.

But the city has an alarming record for cycle safety, with almost 700 collisions at junctions and roundabouts in the last five years.

Significant strides have been made in recent times, particularly cycling routes north/south, with miles of designated lanes along Portsmouth Harbour and Langstone Harbour.

But venture into the heart of the city and a cyclist can be faced with a mind-boggling labyrinth of obstacles.

What driver has not sat in their car, inching forward during the misery of weekend traffic, and wished they were out enjoying the fresh air and getting to where they need to be on two wheels rather than four?

The stumbling block for many, before they rush to grab their dusty bicycles out of the shed, is safety.

The truth is many people do not feel safe cycling on Portsmouth’s roads.

Tackling this harsh reality is Portsmouth Cycle Forum, which is calling on the city council for a long-term and short-term overhaul of transport infrastructure that will increase safety and encourage more people to travel by bicycle.

Chairman Jon Spencer says: ‘If you see people cycling on pavements, that tells you all you need to know.

‘The city needs to come up with a new strategy of how it is going to deliver transport.

‘We are sitting down over the next six weeks to come up with some suggestions that the city should employ in the short-term and long-term.’

He says most drivers are ‘very good’ and driver awareness is increasing.

‘If you go out on a Sunday, a lot of people are cycling,’ he says.

‘Most of these people do drive. They are becoming aware.’

But one of the main problems is busy junctions with no provision for cyclists – and this is where most accidents happen.

‘A lot of people improvise to find the way through they can,’ says Jon.

‘That’s what frustrates drivers. I think most drivers would rather there was proper infrastructure for cyclists so they know what is going to happen.’

Space is one of the main limiting factors for the council, so creative thinking is needed, says the forum.

‘There are some quick wins,’ says Jon.

‘Enforcing parking would be one of them.’

One of the key routes where parking restrictions could be enforced is along Albert Road as cyclists often have to dodge illegally-parked cars.

The forum says updating advisory cycle lanes which create confusion would be major improvement.

The Northern Quarter development and Tesco at Fratton Park could also provide a real opportunity – and hard cash – to invest in infrastructure.

Jon admits he despairs when he sees cyclists on the pavement in narrow roads where are there are two rows of parking cars.

‘They have just been squeezed out,’ he says.

‘There’s not a square inch of carriageway for them.’

On the plus side, it appears the powers that be are listening. Council leader Donna Jones has stated she is keen to improve cycling provision and has asked the forum to report back to her.

Roger Inkpen, from the forum, adds: ‘I think safety – and its perception – is one key to getting more people on bikes, but better and clearer routes are also needed. Simple safety measures include giving cyclists an early green light at junctions, and not marking cycle lanes that stop, forcing cyclists around parked cars, into the line of following vehicles.

‘Of course we would like to see more advanced infrastructure such as segregated tracks, and “Dutch-style” roundabouts to improve safety and comfort for cyclists.’

Only time will tell whether Portsmouth can become a cyclists’ haven to rival cities in Holland and Denmark.

But with air pollution and congestion both on the rise, it could bring a cascade of benefits to everyone.

‘There is certainly an over-reliance on the car for short journeys,’ says Roger.

‘It’s something our European neighbours have addressed, making them healthier and wealthier.’

BICYCLES can cost hundreds of pounds, but a helmet, for a fraction of the price, could save your life.

That’s the view of Ciaran McCabe, a partner at Moore Blatch solicitors and also chairman of the South of England Acquired Brain Injury Forum.

He says: ‘It is unwise not to wear a helmet when travelling on a road with other vehicles and even if only 1 in 100 people are protected from serious injury, helmets should be worn.

‘If helmets are not worn, any head injury tends to be more severe and even if people suffer a minor head injury, it is very difficult to tell what effect this will have on memory and other functions of the brain for a very long time.

He adds: ‘Helmets are endorsed by professional cyclists - James Cracknell, Bradley Wiggins – these are people exposed to dangers on daily basis and they are encouraging use.

‘Wearing helmets must be encouraged and start at a young age by protecting children and encouraging road safety.

‘People also need to remember that helmets tend to be of a better design these days and offer better protection.’

Deborah Robinson, service manager of Headway Portsmouth, a brain injury charity, says: ‘When you hear people say “my cycle helmet saved my life”, it is not hyperbole or just the opinion of an emotional survivor, it is the considered view of medical experts who work at the sharp end and are in the best possible position to make such comments.

TO wear a helmet or not to wear a helmet – that is the burning question for many wannabe cyclists.

Opinion is divided.

Katie Anelli, 29, who lives in Gosport with her two daughters, has been cycling for as long as she can remember and all her family wear helmets.

She says: ‘They are definitely a must.

‘I see it both sides. If the worst happens and you are hit by a car, you could have a head injury. If it was not the driver’s fault, the driver still has to live with the fact that you have a head injury.’

She adds: ‘Sometimes you see parents wearing them and the children aren’t and other times the children are and the parents aren’t. I think the parents should be leading by example.’

Her husband Christopher was involved in an accident on Portsdown Hill last year and believes the helmet saved him from a serious head injury.

Portsmouth Cycle Forum looks at the issue from a different perspective.

Chairman Jon Spencer explains: ‘If you look at countries with an excellent record for cycle safety, such as Denmark and Holland, the first thing that comes to mind is no-one is wearing a helmet.

‘Some people are more comfortable wearing a helmet and if that’s what makes them happy there are some circumstances where a cycle helmet will help you. I think putting the expectation on cyclists to wear helmets takes away the responsibility from the highway authority to fulfil its duty of care to provide sufficient transport infrastructure.’