Council Wins Funding for Innovative Cyclist-Alert Sign Trial Scheme

An innovative cycle safety project by Central Bedfordshire Council is one of three to have today been awarded £100,000 of central government funding to make cycling safer, more accessible and encourage more journeys by bike. The grant is from the Cycling and Walking Small Business Research Initiative, which is run jointly with Innovate UK to help make cycling safer, more accessible and encourage more journeys by bike.

The Council will use the funding to test proposals for a range of sensor technologies that will interact with new signage on rural roads to inform other road users that a cyclist is on the road.

The Council hope that this initiative will help to make cycling and walking safer whilst encouraging more people to take up cycling at all ages as part of a green revolution in transport.

Figures released at the end of last year show that for every billion miles travelled, 1,011cyclists will be killed or seriously injured, compared to just 26 car drivers (that’s almost a factor of 39).*

Cllr Budge Wells, Deputy Executive Member for Community Services at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “Almost half of cyclist deaths occur on rural roads. We are primarily a rural local authority. Part of our focus on developing a cycle network across our region is to improve the safety of rural roads. We are using this funding to explore the innovative use of technology to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists in the road ahead.”

Two rural routes in Central Bedfordshire will be trialled in this cycle safety pilot, and two different types of technology – one prototype using radar detection, the other thermal detection. The routes will be those used typically by cyclists who use bikes as a form of sustainable transport, such as commuters to rail stations, rather than the lycra-clad leisure riders.

The system will detect a cyclist and then trigger a flashing warning on the road sign. The signs will be located on rural roads in places where cyclists are no longer in the field of vision (eg bends, dips, junctions etc.)

This project is particularly important because most cycle-safety initiatives are currently mainly aimed at urban areas: It’s harder to implement these on rural roads, where there are usually higher speed limits, and a lack of space or street lighting to attach signs to. Also, rural cyclists are often less frequent and more spread out than within the hustle and bustle of a town. So in rural areas, technology-based solutions are more appropriate.
  • Critics argue that thermal imaging is ineffective as it only works on line of sight and the scan must be alongside a moving bike during the scanning process (

The Scheme

Phase 1 of the project will comprise two areas of work. The first will categorise and summarise existing interventions designed to improve the safety of cyclists on rural roads and the second will develop an outline prototype design.

Phase 1 deliverables

Phase 1 deliverables include:

  • a list of existing interventions currently used in the UK and overseas to improve cycle safety on rural roads
  • technical/sensor evaluation and selection of preferred sensor for detecting pedal cycles and motor vehicles on rural roads
  • customising the sensor for integral processing, through an agreed methodology for calculating the changing distance between the cycle and the vehicle, and extrapolating it to a potential collision
  • a flow chart that supplements existing interventions, and provides guidance of types of interventions to be considered for safe cycling
  • summary of the most suitable mechanism to inform drivers and cyclists
  • a phase 1 report
  • Following successful completion of phase 1, a technological system solution has been developed to detect and activate a cyclist activated warning sign (CAWS). This solution will provide a new approach to supporting cycling on rural routes by improving safety and promoting cycle use when deployed. Phase 2 of the project will be used to take the solution through the design, implementation, operation and evaluation stage; with the aim of demonstrating the effectiveness of deploying the sign.

Phase 2 deliverables

Phase 2 deliverables include:

  • completing further research to ensure the final design of the CAWS complies with Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016 and/or other authorisation requirements
  • undertaking interactive user testing to select the most effective sign face design to optimise driver perception
  • producing a CAWS with identified suppliers for trial testing
  • conducting 2 trials to evaluate the CAWS; including designing a package of cycle intervention measures that include CAWS deployment, creating robust evaluation methodology, successful planning and implementation of routes, reliable collection/storage/downloading of data
  • producing a robust evaluation of project report
  • preparing and delivering a comms plan including development of a best practice design guide for cycling infrastructure in a rural context

What can thermal imaging show? 

Here are bicycle brakes filmed with a thermal camera:

*Figures from RoSPA
Around half of the cyclist fatalities occur on rural roads. 75% happen at, or near, a road junction and 80% occur in daylight. 10% of cyclists killed or injured are children. Over 80% of cyclists killed on rural roads had head injuries.