Rider Down by Trevor Gornall
Illustration by Kerry Dunning Illustrations
That awful feeling as the news starts to break. A message to the WhatsApp group or a post on social media. Word slowly starts to spread throughout our community. There’s been a road traffic incident of some sort. Details are sketchy, but early reports suggest serious injury. Or worse.
Around 7 pm on an early spring evening last year, news spreads that a woman and man have been involved in a collision involving three motor vehicles and two bicycles. The location emerges as a road we all use on a regular basis when heading out on our usual training route. It already sounds very serious. Many of our friends and club mates live in the area and use that road regularly. There are several couples that would fit the description provided in the few, typically unreliable, details to emerge so far.
Soon the website and twitter feed of a local newspaper picked up the story. The headline “Cyclist dies after horrific crash…” is published. Details are sporadically added. Hard facts are few and far between and conflicting updates fly around the internet: ‘The woman died at the scene’. ‘The man is thought to be her husband’. ‘The woman and man were both alive when taken to hospital’. ‘The man is not her husband but is said to be in a critical condition’. The misinformation around reporting the incident causes significant confusion and heightened anxiety.
The immediate sadness you feel at understanding a woman has been killed, and that a man is fighting for his life, is compounded by the very real thought that these people might be your friends. Chris and Kate train on that road. So do Andy and Hannah. The fact that this has happened at all is bad enough but the terror that it might involve close friends elevates the concern to a near fever pitch.
Messages ping back and forth and we slowly establish the whereabouts of our closest friends. It seems likely that none are involved. This time at least. Any sense of relief quickly passes as you learn the woman who died has two young kids. Empathy at how they must be feeling tonight replaces any respite in the tension and fear that is being widely felt.
As the worry subsides the anger gradually rises. A short period of contemplation. How can this have happened? Again!!! How is this possible? Then the sharing of the dissatisfaction amongst our community. ‘This is happening all too often.’ ‘Our roads are not safe enough.’ ‘What is being done about this?’ ‘It’s only a matter of time before it’s one of us.’ ‘Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?’ ‘Who is going to do something about this?’
And that’s absolutely not meant as a criticism of anyone else and the numerous agencies that do work tirelessly for improved road safety and better cycling infrastructure. It’s purely a reflection of the frustration and helplessness felt in those low moments when you feel utter sadness at the loss of yet another life and genuinely fear for the lives of your friends and colleagues.
A little more time passes before the penny finally drops as I ask of myself ‘What am I doing about this?’ And of course, the answer is nothing. The reality hits that I’m no more than a spectator and it stings. I exchange a few more messages with colleagues to discover that they are having similar thoughts, bordering on guilt at the fact that it had never occurred to us that maybe we should have thought about this before. And acted sooner. And who knows how things might be different now. Tonight.
That’s where it all started. An attempt to try to work out the best way of reducing the chances of our friends and fellow citizens being killed on our streets when all they are trying to do is train, keep fit, stay healthy, reduce congestion and pollution, and get to and from work, or school, or the shops. Is it really too much to ask that people should be able to accomplish these things without the fear of being killed or seriously injured?
Within our network, we quickly identified a handful of us that could potentially work together to coordinate some action to identify and focus resources in a coherent manner to better understand the challenges involved in making cycling safer on the roads of our home - the Liverpool City Region. Between us, we have hands-on experience of the cycling media and industry, world-class urban planning and how to make environments more cycle and walking friendly. We have the skills and the network of contacts to make a difference.
Our self appointed unofficial task force met and discussed how to consolidate our ambition and summarise it under one easily communicable theme. We quickly...ok, not so quickly, worked out that this fundamentally is not only about cycling at all. Approaching this purely as a cycling project would be futile. It would almost inevitably lead us down a number of blind alleys and culs-de-sac.
Perhaps many will consider the objective we ultimately defined as being somewhat over-ambitious. But we’ve decided our goal is to make Liverpool (City Region) the most liveable place in the UK. In analysing what makes places liveable, and the numerous benefits that would bring, we believe that improving the environment for cycling impacts more efficiently than any other single action that could be pursued.
People who have not visited Liverpool since the 2008 Capital of Culture, and who subscribe to a narrow stereotypical perception of 1980’s inner-city decline will perhaps find our stated ambition laughable. The fact is, Liverpool is already, on the whole, a very liveable place. Areas within the City and wider region such as The Georgian Quarter, Aigburth, Woolton, Heswall and West Kirby on The Wirral, regularly score favourably in those “Best places to live” surveys conducted by the Sunday supplements of various broadsheets. To be brutally honest, we’d rather the secret was not let out of the bag. There is a reason why a huge number of students coming to study in the city decide to remain long after they graduate. Whisper it, but this place has quite a lot going for it already.
However, there is an aspect of life in this part of the UK that is utterly shameful. According to data published by the Walk and Cycle Merseyside campaign https://www.wacm.org.uk “Liverpool has the worst rate of serious cyclist casualties out of all the English metropolitan boroughs.” The chart below shows a comparison of all the metropolitan boroughs for the rate of cyclists reported killed or seriously injured per 100,000 population. Liverpool City Region (Merseyside) boroughs are highlighted (black). When the boroughs of England's cities are compared, Liverpool, Wirral and Sefton are among the deadliest per head of population.
Furthermore, the story for pedestrians is shockingly similar:
These were the statistics that when appearing in the same local newspaper that first reported the incident involving Clare and Anthony really galvanized our determination to act. We know progress will be slow and appreciate it may be several years before our efforts deliver meaningful change. But those first strides have now been made.
We don’t seek to ignore or replace the great work done by others to tackle these issues. More, we want to supplement these existing efforts with our added impetus, enthusiasm and energy.
In Part 2 of our Most Liveable Place blog, we will report on our recent fact-finding mission to visit places where cycling and walking are more embedded into integrated transport solutions and where cycling especially is a more safe and enjoyable experience. The lessons we learn should form the building blocks of a strategy that we believe will eventually lead to Liverpool City Region becoming the most liveable place.