Following a short battle, time trialling is no longer allowed on what has long been regarded as the country’s fastest course.
The A63 Trunk Road near Hull forms the majority of the V718, a 10 mile time trial course which is well known for being the fastest in the country. As a result, it’s the scene for many competition records – both Hayley Simmonds’ 18:36 and Marcin Bialoblocki’s 16:35 times were recorded here.
Many time triallists make the pilgrimage to the V718 each year, looking to set new personal bests and see just how fast they can go. As a result, a place at a V718 event is often hotly contested. With the exception of some races, a fast recent time is required to qualify in the first place.
Like many time trial courses, the A63 is a dual carriageway. As well as being wide, straight, and non-technical, dual carriageways offer minimal junctions where people on bikes and people in cars will need to give way to one another, and a second lane gives lots of room for traffic to overtake. Although CTT (Cycling Time Trials) rules place a maximum on the allowable amount of traffic during a time trial, the additional traffic on a busy and moving road provides a significant boost to riders’ speeds.
In January, Highways England proposed to ban cyclists from this stretch of road on safety grounds, as well as the associated slip roads. After some negotiation, events on the V718 were temporarily put on hiatus during a consultation period. This morning, the V718 has officially been retired as a course:
Of course, many riders are disappointed to see this course disappear, feeling that they are robbed of a ‘rite of passage’ in time trialling. Far more concerning, however, is that a ban on legal road users has been allowed on ‘safety grounds’.
The first question would be ‘What safety issues are being caused by people riding bikes on this road?’ Here’s Highways England’s ‘Statement of Reasons’ for the answer:
So, it seems that any road where vulnerable road users are exposed to traffic at 65mph is unsafe, and warrants the banning of cyclists (walkers, horse riders and so on are not mentioned). This statement apparently carried the support of the relevant Councils and Humberside Police Force.
While the proposed ban on cycling as a method of transport on this route has not yet been approved, Cycling Time Trials has proven an easier opponent to defeat, and its use as a course for those sanctioned events is over.
This is worrying for two reasons: firstly, the ‘Statement of Reasons’ could be applied to most main roads in the country, and especially most time trial courses. Banning cycling on the most direct and convenient routes is certainly a statement that cycling is not taken seriously as a mode of transport.
Secondly, and equally concerning, is the official backing of a ban which is not backed up by evidence. Cycling is deemed to be ‘unsafe’ on the A63 but, as Highways England’s statement confirms, there have been just six accidents ‘involving cyclists’ in the last five years, including a fatality in 2013[i]. When compared to 297 accidents involving motor vehicles in the same period on the same stretch of road[ii], it’s very difficult to find concrete evidence for a ban on safety grounds.
But what if we were to find cyclists involved in more collisions? Is it right to blame vulnerable road users for being involved in accidents? More motorcyclists are involved in accidents compared to cyclists and suffer a huge amount more fatalities[iii], but somehow they evade the same calls for bans. While many would cry ‘victim blaming’, it’s somehow a step further to blame victims for accidents that aren’t happening.
So, where will the line be drawn? As some groups move to promote active travel and to tempt people away from their cars, other seemingly more powerful ones work to remove anything that could be considered an ‘obstacle’ in the road. If this dual carriageway is dangerous, what sets it apart from the rest? Should cycling be allowed on any of them? If so, have the respective councils and police force been incorrect in their judgement?
Similarly, what specifically about time trialling makes it more unsafe than other kinds of riding? The statistics don’t seem to reflect that it is, and it would be interesting to see at what point a ‘rider’ becomes a threat in the eyes of those who proposed and allowed the ban – after all, if a group of riders did the exact same ride without going through the channels of the CTT, they would be breaking no laws.
We’re now left with a large inconsistency in the policy on our roads. Why is cycling allowed on any of Highways England’s roads which fit the same criteria, and why should it be allowed if it isn’t on the A63? While the CTT was not able to defend itself against these authorities, it is a shame that larger cycling groups (such as British Cycling, the nation’s governing body for cycling) have not appeared to show interest in this case.
It is understood that the CTT will be issuing a statement on the matter shortly.
[i] I should note here that 2013’s fatality was during a time trial, and the result of a competitor riding into the back of a stationary caravan. ‘Head down riding’ is an issue of its own, and the cause of some entirely avoidable crashes, but leads to surprisingly few fatalities. While tragic, it would be difficult to treat this as a priority if safety strategies were based on evidence.
[ii] From the CTT response to the proposed ban:
[iii] DfT, Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2016 annual report, page 6 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/648081/rrcgb2016-01.pdf