Death of experienced cyclist in crash leads to call for safer roads

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The Independent Online

Cycling campaigners have joined one of Britain's oldest clubs in demanding greater safety for cyclists, after one of its most experienced riders joined the growing number killed on UK roads.

Birkenhead North End Cycling Club, which was formed in 1901 and has seen Olympians Steve Cummings and Rachel Heal through its ranks, is mourning Mel Vasey, who died six days ago in Wirral. He was killed a short distance from the spot where four members of the Rhyl Cycling Club died in Britain's worst bike accident a year ago.

The death of the 53-year-old came as the number of cyclists killed on the roads reached at a six-year high. Some campaigners blame the rise on the sharp increase in riders switching from four to two wheels.

Deaths on bicycles were up 10 per cent to 148 in 2005 - the most recent year for which figures are available - compared with 134 in 2004 and 114 the previous year. Cycling was the only mode of transport to record an increase in deaths in 2005.

Rob Gifford, director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said Britain was in urgent need of more cycle lanes which are clearly segregated from the road and do not stop at junctions.

Many campaigners point to northern continental Europe's superior infrastructure for cyclists, its stricter enforcement of speed limits and a pro-bike culture.

The Birkenhead club's secretary, Clive Walmsley, said the push to get more cyclists on the roads was not being matched by considerations about how to protect them. "If this can happen to an experienced cyclist like Mel, then what could happen to the novice?" he said. Sunday's death occurred a short distance from a well-known meeting point for cyclists: the Eureka café, whose walls are adorned with Tour de France yellow jerseys.

Riding with two friends, Mr Vasey had planned a short stop there before setting out on a 50-mile run through Cheshire.

Five minutes before reaching the café, Mr Vasey was hit from behind by a Renault Clio and catapulted into the air. Despite first-aid efforts by a passing lorry driver, he died on the carriageway of the A540 Chester High Road - on which he had cycled countless times. Mr Vasey was talking about his favourite subject of bike shops with a club colleague, Dave Parry, as the two cycled towards the Eureka at 8.45am.

"He pulled alongside me, with Danny [McDonough] just behind us and we slowed a bit - 16mph I'd say - as we talked," Mr Parry said. "Then, suddenly, I heard an almighty bang."

The Birkenhead club has lost one of its most popular members: an avid cyclist who loved the sport. He had owned Quinns cycling shop in Liverpool, where he started helping out on Saturdays in the 1960s. Mr Vasey was passionate about getting more people to cycle. He had made hundreds of new members welcome, first at the Phoenix club at Aintree, Liverpool, and then at Birkenhead, which he joined 16 years ago. The Birkenhead club now wants Wirral Council to build a cycle lane on the A540, one of only three main routes out of Wirral to north Wales and Cheshire.

"We had deliberately avoided going out in big groups in recent months," Ruaraidh Gillies, a member of the club, said."This is a wide dual carriageway - a mini motorway - and there's plenty of width to provide a cycle path. This is our road every bit as much as motorists'. We don't want Mel's death to be in vain."

What Britain could do

* Build proper cycle lanes. Many simply "disappear" at junctions

* Better rights of way on cycle lanes. People using them must give way to traffic emerging from side roads, which means many use the road instead.

* Better overtaking. The Highway Code says motorists should give as much clearance when overtaking bikes as they give to cars. Many do not.

* Legislate against bad drivers. Cyclists say the 2006 Road Safety Act does not make it easier to prosecute drivers who maim cyclists.

* Enforce speed limits. Speeding German motorists are social pariahs who know they will get a ticket, cyclists say. Not so here.

How Europe does it better

* The Netherlands has raised bollards to divide some of its cycle lanes

* "Cycle paths are often an afterthought when new roads are created in Britain," Tom Hummel, a Dutch traffic engineer, says

* In the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, all motorists must give way to cyclists already on a roundabout

* In the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France and Germany, motorists who injure cyclists must pay compensation, unless the driver shows that the injured person did something illegal

* Promote a cycling culture. While 4 per cent of journeys in London are bike, the figure is 30 per cent in Copenhagen

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