Cyclists call for greater protection on roads
The Westcountry is one of the safest places in Britain for cyclists, a Western Morning News analysis has found, but riders are calling for greater protection as the bicycle revival continues.
Figures emerged amid attempts to capitalise on a boom in the sport, with British Olympic road and track triumph and Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France.
An analysis of Department for Transport figures shows Devon and Cornwall last year boasted the third-lowest number of deaths and serious injuries per head of population out of 42 areas in England and Wales. Yet 45 people were still killed or seriously hurt in the two counties, including two fatalities – a figure higher than in 24 other areas in 2011. But when the size of each area's population was factored in, only Staffordshire and Gwent had fewer deaths or serious injuries than Devon and Cornwall.
However, cycling enthusiasts argue that Britain's roads put cyclists at greater risk than in continental Europe, and are calling for speed limits to be cut and more cycle lanes and other safety measures implemented.
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Peter Grainger, Devon area manager for the Sustrans cycling organisation, said: "Looking at the statistics indicates safety is not bad. But there does remain a perception of danger that puts people off."
Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw, a former Cabinet minister and a keen cyclist for many years, hopes cycling success will "herald a sea change in attitudes to safety".
He said: "Despite improvements in recent years, especially in places like Exeter, where we've had a real cycling boom, Britain still lags badly behind countries like Denmark or Holland on cycling safety.
"This is about segregated road space for cyclists where possible and cycle lanes and advanced priority boxes at junctions as the norm.
"It's also about motorists allowing cyclists space and lower speeds in built-up areas and country roads."
Cycling's growing popularity is apparent. Torbay Council and British Cycling are considering building a velodrome as the region is in "desperate need of dedicated traffic-free cycling sport facilities".
Meanwhile, the world's best will race from Barnstaple to Dartmouth as the Tour of Britain arrives in Devon next month.
Nearly 150 miles of the National Cycle Network can be found in Devon, with the hugely popular Tavistock-to-Plymouth Drake's Trail expected to be completed next month.
Cycling in Exeter has grown hugely, a result of being among six cycling "demonstration towns" each given £500,000 to spend on improvements. Between 2005 and 2011, cycling increased by over 40%.
Cornwall boasts trails including the 180-mile Cornish Way, which has 29 miles of traffic-free cycling. The latest plans include a cycling "hub" at the National Trust's Lanhydrock House estate near Bodmin.
But there remain concerns about safety. Last year, while the number of deaths fell by 4% to 107 fatalities, the total number of injuries rose by 16 per cent to 3,085.
In Devon and Cornwall, the 45 people killed or seriously injured were among 357 injuries in 2011. In 2010, 46 cyclists were fatally or seriously injured – two, again, were killed – out of a total of 312 injuries. By contrast, London recorded 548 people killed or seriously injured – including 16 fatalities – out of 4,349 casualties last year.
While London and other major cities have a higher level of commuter cyclists, the percentage of the population in the region using bikes is around the national average, campaigners say.
Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council's cabinet member for transport, said: "We have invested more than £13 million in Devon's cycle network over the past three years, and continue to set out an ambitious programme for the future to make Devon a cycling county."
Natasha Dennis, Cornwall Council's sustainable transport officer, said it had a "sustained programme of measures to encourage cycling, including activities, promotional events, highway improvements and cycle training".