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Cycling in Nottingham: Tram Tracks

17 November 14 words: Mark Patterson

Continuing on our bicycle endeavours, we tackle the problems tram lines cause for pedallers all over the city...

On the afternoon of September 22 this year, Steve Fewkes was cycling along Gregory Street in Dunkirk when the front wheel of his bike slipped into a new tram line, causing him to lose balance and throwing him into the road. The 56-year-old crashed heavily on his right side. Tram workers came over immediately, sat him down, wiped the blood off his legs, applied plasters and bandages to his cuts and checked the movement of his stiff right shoulder. Eventually Steve got back on his bike but later that day made an emergency GP appointment for an arm and shoulder that had become increasingly painful. Steve says the tram workers, including the site manager, were very attentive. “While he was treating me I enquired if they get many people falling off as a result of the tram lines,” says Steve. “He said they get approximately one per week.”

Steve, an experienced cyclist, believes Nottingham’s tram lines are the cause of so many cycling accidents now that he is looking into the feasibility of getting injured cyclists to take a US-style class action legal case against the tram authorities. Similar legal action has been talked about in Edinburgh where cyclist falls on tram tracks have been well publicised. “It’s only a matter of time before someone in Nottingham is thrown off their bike and ends up under the wheels of a car or lorry or even a tram and is killed,” Steve told LeftLion. “Vast numbers of cyclists are being brought off their bikes and all we get are platitudes that are of little or no use.”

Vast? LeftLion asked for the latest figures for cycling accidents on tram lines and was told by Nottingham City Council that in the ten years since NET became operational “the number of recorded injury accidents involving cyclists has been limited to slightly more than one a year in the city.” NET project manager Chris Deas added, “This compares to almost double that figure on the same route corridor in the same time period for cyclist injury accidents that did not involve the tram or tram tracks.” While ‘slightly more than one a year’ doesn’t sound like much to worry about, the key word is ‘recorded’ since anecdotal and other reported evidence suggests the actual number of incidents is much higher.

On September 29 local media reported the case of 64-year-old Terence Granger from Ruddington who spent a week in the QMC with eight cracked ribs and a punctured lung after his bike wheel got stuck in a new tram line in Clifton. Steve Fewkes himself had a similar accident when his 700c tyres fell in the lines in Hyson Green in 2009; Chris Green, from Ruddington, told LeftLion how his rear wheel slipped into a track on Fletcher Gate and he “ended up in the middle of the road with the bike half on top of me. Fortunately there wasn’t a tram coming and cars stopped in time.”

Taking part in a group tram line safety session at Chilwell, organised by TravelRight Broxtowe, we were told that there had already been ten cycling accidents along the newly built lines on Chilwell High Street. If this is the case when the lines aren’t operating, how many accidents will there be when they are? One of the accidents here must have been the one involving Rosemary Palethorpe who, like many others, was thrown off her bike when her wheel went into a tram line. Local media reported that she lay injured in the road for 45 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Other cyclists at the Chilwell safety event spoke privately of having their helmets shattered in falls and of one child even being knocked off her bike when her mother, in front, swerved sharply to cross a tram line at a safe wide angle. In 2008 a Nottingham City Council transport advisory committee reported that there had been 22 accidents on tram lines reported to police since NET became operational in 2002. Two resulted in serious injury to the cyclists. Tram lines were considered to be “a possible contributory factor” in seven of these but the report added, “It is acknowledged that, due to many cycle accidents not being reported, there will be an element of under-reporting in these figures.”

But if the problem is bigger than the authorities want to admit, what can be done by Tramlink, the consortium which now runs Nottingham’s trams, to make it safer? Some parts of the networks tram lines have been temporarily filled in. Yet for some cyclists the lines are only part of the issue; there are also problems with designs of station platforms and signage. And, more fundamentally, an innate problem with a transport system that requires cyclists to manoeuvre around trams, tram lines and traffic junctions using their wits alone rather than a system that has cycling built into its design from the start. Chris Green is one who believes proper cycle lanes to help cyclists negotiate tram tracks are the solution. “I would like a more comprehensive design that includes cycle paths wherever there is tram track,” he says. Steve Fewkes also says, “In the long term I think the council will have to provide in all cases an alternative cycle path to keep cyclists away from tram rails – even if it means allowing cyclists on the pavement.”

Responding to questions submitted by LeftLion, Chris Deas said, “Tram tracks are in many cities around the world, including places such as Amsterdam where there is a long history of high cycle usage. In all of these locations, it is fully recognised that tram tracks can present a hazard to cyclists. However, it is also understood that, with careful road layout design, including the provision of additional highway features to assist cyclists, coupled with cyclists taking due care and attention when negotiating tracks, tramways and cyclists can successfully co-exist in a modern city environment. The situation is no different here in Nottingham.” Mr Deas said Nottingham tram drivers were trained in cycle awareness and that safety advice was promoted in leaflets, posters, school lessons and an online video. He also pointed out that Tramlink had worked with campaign group Pedals to design new cycle lanes, shared paths and track crossings “to help cyclists to travel safely around the tramway and create new cycling opportunities.”

Back at my cycle safety session at Chilwell, the advice boiled down to this: cross tram lines at a safe angle - as close to 90 degree as possible; deal with tram line junctions by swerving across lines at a similar safe angle (so would there be signs warning motorists about swerving cyclists? The instructor didn’t know); on roads passing through tram stations move from the left hand side of the road to the middle of the road. All common sense. But this is an approach that places the responsibility for safety into the hands of cyclists themselves, rather than one that promotes awkward questions about problems in the ‘sustainable’ transport thinking which Nottingham is supposed to be good at.


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