In February, the Oxford Mail quoted an article from the Sunday Times that branded The Plain roundabout in Oxford as the second most dangerous junction for cyclists in the country, reporting 45 collisions between 2009-2015.
The two other contenders for this celebrated title are Lambeth Bridge, London and a junction in Cambridge.
Does it not seem a coincidence that the ‘most dangerous’ junctions happen to be in in London, Oxford and Cambridge, cities where there is a lot of cycling? Well no, it isn’t, as these junctions are used more than others in the country.
The way the report has been written misleads as it highlights places around the UK where there are higher numbers of cycle injuries per year without taking account of high cycle flow.
Taken as straight numbers, The Plain does sound dangerous, but what the Sunday Times forgot to include is the ‘denominator’, that is the number of cycling journeys round The Plain over those seven years.
Here’s a quick calculation to show another interpretation on the data.
The Plain roundabout is used by around 10,000 people on bikes each day (an underestimate, as that was only the working day). That's roughly 3.5 million bikes each year.
And over the seven years 2009-2015, that’s around 25 million journeys. With odds of 45 collisions associated with 25 million journeys, cycling round the Plain sounds a reasonably safe bet.
While any collision is unacceptable, particularly those involving a cyclist who is likely to be the loser, nevertheless these figures show that the Plain is not such a nightmare of a junction as portrayed.
There is lots of research to show that there is “safety in numbers”. The more people cycle, the safer it is for a cyclist, as places with high levels of cycling are associated with lower risks.
The reasons for this effect are that drivers are more aware of cyclists and drivers are more likely to be cyclists themselves.
And in places with a high cycling rate there is likely to be better cycling conditions, with better segregation and reduced traffic speed, all of which create the virtuous circle of more cycling, and more cycling awareness.
In Oxford, while we grumble about the cycling infrastructure, we have better facilities than many cities in the UK and many more people cycle. But twice as many people cycle in Cambridge as in Oxford, so we could do much better, and it is fear that continues to be the main factor that prevents people cycling.
We need roads that are more cycle-friendly, vehicle drivers who are more considerate and aware, and good cycle training for children. There is still much to play for to increase the numbers of people cycling in Oxford, reducing the risk of collision still further.
The Plain is not the ‘most dangerous’ junction and the report in the Sunday Times should not deter people from using their bikes.
There are many more risky things we do than cycling, in particular, sitting on our sofas watching the TV. As a mode of travel that provides exercise, the health benefits outweigh the risks, and those risks reduce further the more people cycle.