Is Urban Cycling Worth the Risk?

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If you live in a big city, you may have thought about cycling to work. You will have weighed up the pros and cons: the health benefits, the low cost, the speed – versus the fact that you might be hit by an 18-tonne articulated lorry. On balance, you may have decided you didn’t want to take the risk.

You would be in the majority. In 2014, 64 per cent of people surveyed by the UK’s Department of Transport said they believed it was too dangerous for them to cycle on the road. These decisions are often based on gut feelings or anecdote: a friend who has had a great experience commuting by bike can inspire us to follow suit, while seeing or hearing about a bad cycling accident may put us off for life.

Such experiences are important. But what do the data say? As cities grow busier, obesity levels rise and climate change becomes a more pressing concern, we asked the FT’s transport correspondent and two of our specialist data journalists to investigate the risks and benefits of commuting by bike in big cities, something all of them do regularly. Here they give us their verdict: is it worth it?

Death and accidents

When a new cycle superhighway opened along London’s Blackfriars Road this year, a long-standing danger was removed. The traffic lights were phased so that cyclists didn’t have to go through the junction at the same time as motor vehicles.

Nine cyclists died riding in London in 2015, all of them hit at intersections, highlighting the concentration of danger at these key pressure points. The designers of London’s new cycle superhighways have made safer junctions a priority. Transport for London, the government agency responsible for the capital’s transport system and the creator of superhighways, is also pushing truck operators to introduce new types of lorry with better visibility, because big trucks are involved in a disproportionately high number of crashes affecting cyclists.

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