Sub-Standard Cycle Lanes in Bolton

Last August, I wrote to the Highways Department in Bolton about the standard of cycle lanes in Bolton, many of which I believe cause more problems than if they had not been there at all. Below is a copy of my letter:

Hello,

As a cyclist living in Bolton and working in Salford, I typically cover more than 100 miles each week cycling to work and back.

It has for some time been a concern that I feel my safety is being put in jeopardy every day by sub-standard cycle lanes in Bolton which are dangerous if I use them, but cause conflict with some motorists if I do not use them.

Sub-standard cycle lanes may often make cycling more dangerous than it would have been in the absence of the cycle lane, because they have a negative effect on the attitudes and behaviour of drivers towards cyclists, and they often encourage cyclists to take up a road position that is in itself dangerous. Most of the cycle lane provision in this borough falls well below the standard specified in the DfT’s own guidelines, which are set out in their publication: “Cycle Infrastructure Design” (accessible online at http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roads/tpm/ltnotes/ltn208.pdf). This is particularly true in relation to lanes widths of so-called advisory cycle lanes, and I would like to propose improvements in two partcular areas with regard to this issue.

First, most cycle lanes in the borough do not meet the minimum acceptable width of 2.0m (or 1.5m on roads that are not busy and have a 30mph speed limit), which is specified in section 7.4.2 of those DfT guidelines, and a large proportion fall seriously short of this standard, having widths of only 0.5m or less in some cases.

Second, in cases where there is a local restriction to carriageway width, a significant number of cycle lanes are designed to preserve the quality of the main carriageway rather than to preserve the quality of the cycle lane as specified in section 7.4.3 of those guidelines. In such cases, the width of the main carriageway should be reduced in order to maintain the cycle lane width. Examples of these problems include all of the cycle lanes in both directions on Manchester Road between Bolton and Farnworth (but these are not the only examples).

I would like, therefore, to see an undertaking from our highway authority that it will not install cycle lanes that do not meet the specifications set out in the DfT guidelines. In cases where these specifications cannot be met, there should be no cycle lane installed, and other measures to improve cycle safety should be considered, such as 20mph speed limits and enforcement. In addition, I would like to see a timetable set out for the improvement or removal of all sub-standard cycle lanes that are currently in existence in the borough.

An additional problem that exists is that a significant number our cycle lanes are frequently blocked by cars that park across the lane, and in some instances are compromised by the existence of adjacent park spaces, thus requiring cyclists either to ignore the cycle lane altogether, or ride through the dangerous car door opening zone. Again, these lanes need to be improved by means of changes to the parking regulations in those places, or improvements to the design of the cycle lanes to eliminate these problems. Examples of these problems include all of the cycle lanes in both directions along the A6 from Farnworth through Kearsley toward the boundary with Salford (but these are not the only examples).

A number of cycle lane arrangements at also need to be addressed junctions, where the cycle lane has the effect of forcing the cyclist to move out across the flow of traffic in the first lane, which tends cut across the cycle lanes. Example of this problem include Blackburn Road (Northbound) at the junctions with Halliwell Road, and Moss Bank Way Eastbound at the junction with Smithills Deane Road (but these are not the only examples). Again, these junctions, which have only recently been installed in the two cases mentioned, are in dire need of a rethink.

I have video evidence of the types of problems that occur in every one of these locations, and would be happy to show you those video clips to illustrate the problems that I have described above.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours Sincerely,

I was pleased that I received a very prompt reply from a Senior Engineering Manager in the Highways Department (on 2nd September), but I’m afraid I was not quite so pleased about the response that I received:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding cycle lanes in the borough.

It is current Bolton Council policy that if on-carriageway cycle lanes are provided they should be a minimum of 1.5m wide or 2.0m wide for busy roads or where the speed limit is 40mph. Short lengths of lane 1.2m wide can be used to maintain continuity of cycle lanes for example on the approach to the advanced cycle box at a traffic signal junction stop line. This policy is in accordance with most good practise guidance including the Department for Transport’s Local Transport Note 2/08, ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’. Where these widths cannot be achieved, cycle lanes are not installed.

The cycle lanes and traffic calming features on Manchester Road between Bolton and Farnworth and A666 Bolton Rd / Manchester Rd between Farnworth and Kearsley were installed around 1999 – 2000, before the latest guidelines were produced. However the majority of the cycle lanes along these lengths of road are at least 1.5m wide and would meet the current guidelines. Where the lanes are substandard they are reviewed when maintenance work, such as resurfacing, is carried out or other schemes are implemented and either rectified or removed if necessary. I can give you no indication of a timetable for such works because as you may be aware the funding available for such schemes has been either greatly reduced or suspended completely.

There are, as you state, lengths of cycle lane along these roads which are permanently blocked by parked vehicles. These lengths of cycle lane would not be installed nowadays unless an appropriate parking lay by could be created with room for a cycle lane on the outside with enough room to avoid opening car doors. Simply implementing parking/waiting restrictions is not the answer as on the majority of lengths of road where this occurs many of the vehicles belong to residents of adjacent houses and do not have any alternative parking provision.

The two issues you mention at the junctions of Halliwell Rd / Blackburn Rd and Moss Bank Way / Smithills Dean Rd are on the inside radius of a bend in the carriageway and some vehicles do encroach onto the cycle lane. Although it is quite legal for a vehicle to enter an advisory cycle lane if it is safe to do so, we have added green road marking paint to help to emphasise the presence of the cycle lane at these locations.

We do monitor how our roads are operating with regards to all users and I would be interested to view your videos if you would be willing to either send them to me via e-mail (if they are not too large!) or on a DVD to the address below.

Yours sincerely,

I disagreed with most of the claims that the specifications of cycle lanes met the guidelines, and have videos and images to prove it. Even those responses that I do not think are factually incorrect leave a lot to be desired.

The responses regarding parked cars in cycle lanes and cycle lanes passing through the door opening zones of parked cars were very poor. What is the point of installing cycle lanes that can’t be used, especially when they will bring cyclists into conflict with motorists?

The statement that it is to be expected that drivers will cut across cycle lanes on the inside of a bend and the implied assertion that putting some green paint there will somehow protect cyclists is patently absurd.

I expressed these objections in my reply, and also made a video to explain some of the issues:

I did receive an acknowledgement and was told that the video “provides some useful information on the use of cycle lanes etc.”, but that seems to have been the end of it …

… well, almost. A couple of months ago, someone came to Manchester Road and repainted the existing, inadequate cycle lanes, painting over areas of broken and pitted tarmac in the process. Don’t know who it was, but it couldn’t have been the Highway Authority, surely; not after what they said in their reply?

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