Segregated cycle lanes are putting patients’ lives at risk because they prevent traffic moving out of the way of ambulances, medical leaders have warned.
The College of Paramedics said the new model of kerbed lanes, which are fiercely supported by cycle safety campaigners, leave drivers nowhere to go when they see blue flashing lights behind them.
For some of the most critical emergency patients, such as those suffering cardiac arrest, every minute added to the time it take to reach hospital can significantly reduce the chances of survival.
The College on Friday called for town planners to re-think the introduction of fully segregated lanes in order to allow better traffic flow in congested city centres.
It is supporting calls by ambulance bosses in London to introduce so-called “light segregation” – lanes formed by intermittent objects which allow motorists to pull off the road.
Richard Webber, a paramedic and spokesman for the College, said ambulance drivers supported designated cycle lanes in principle, but that a balance had to be struck.
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“If you are trying to get to an emergency call, particularly at rush hour when the roads are very slow moving, you’re not able to use your sirens to any effect to get people out of the way because there is nowhere for them to go,” he said.
“You just end up sitting behind them waiting.”
NHS data is not sufficiently detailed to discern the extent to which cycle lanes are hampering swift response times, but Mr Webber said there was a general feeling among paramedics that their presence is having a negative effect.
Work started to introduce kerbs in Manchester in 2015, and segregated lanes have also started to crop up in Bristol, part of an effort to double cycling in the city.
Meanwhile Edinburgh has some dedicated cycle lanes separated by rubber barriers. As well as fully protected cycle lanes, London has led the way in the establishment of cycle “superhighways”, which aim to give cyclists fast and direct access to the city centre from outlying suburbs.
Much of these are unprotected, however, merely designated by brightly coloured tarmac.
The College of Paramedics says these have also been badly thought through in terms of their effect on emergency vehicles, including snarling up the flow of ambulances outside The Royal London Hospital, a major centre for emergency care.
“We understand the need to segregate cyclists because there have been a number of horrific fatalities, but it can be a double-edged sword,” said Mr Webber.
“You can’t allow it to slow things down for everyone else.”
In cases of cardiac arrest, every minute before a patient is resuscitated lessens their chances of survival by as much as 10 per cent.
Fully segregated lanes have been introduced in some UK cities over the past decade in response to a wave of concern at the number of cyclist deaths.
In London, fatalities peaked in 2001 and 2005, with 21 cyclists killed in each of those years, and the numbers have declined steadily to a 22-year low of 9 in 2015, despite more bicycle journeys being undertaken in the capital than ever.
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The improvement in safety has been partly attributed to the proliferation of segregated cycle lanes, although removal of hundreds of miles of roadside guardrails is also believed to have had a positive effect.
Simon Munk, infrastructure campaigner at London Cycle Campaign denied segregated cycle lanes were causing a problem.
“The issue fundamentally is congestion,” he said. “The safer we can make cycling the less people will drive the fewer cars there will be on the road.
“The best evidence we have contradicts the view of the paramedics.”
Editorial Comment :
Is this man for real, just take a look at London, is gridlocked most of the day since they introduced the segregate cycle lanes....and they are set to introduce more.
He admits the issue, fundamentally, is congestion... But turns a blind eye to the rout cause of the congestion, namely the segregated cycle lanes