The stupidity of painting substandard cycle lanes on roads.

The UK Government’s guidelines for cycle infrastructure design are contained in  the Department for Transport’s Local Transport Note 2/08. This actually specifies quite a low level of design quality compared to those countries that have achieved high rates of cycling, but these are nevertheless far above what is currently installed across most of the country.

I am writing here particularly about what LTN2/08 refers to as “advisory cycle lanes”, which covers the majority of cycle lanes installed in the UK. These are lanes that are bounded by a dashed white line, and “signify that other vehicles should not enter unless it is safe to do so”. The “Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions” states (in Section 4) that such a road marking denotes a cycle lane that “may be used by vehicles other than pedal cycles”. Clearly these lanes have very little standing in law, and the only purpose they could possible serve is to “advise” drivers of the amount of space that they should give a cyclist when overtaking.

When considering the appropriate width for such lanes, LTN2/08 states that “Cycle lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy roads, or where traffic is travelling in excess of 40 mph. A minimum width of 1.5 metres may be generally acceptable on roads with a 30 mph limit.” Of course, this width is itself inadequate; the previous paragraph in LTN2/08 states that “under the National Cycle Training Standards, cyclists are trained to ride in a safe position in the carriageway which is usually at least 1 metre from the kerb edge”, so motorists that are using even a 2 metre wide cycle lane as a guide would often be passing a trained cyclist with significantly less than a metre of clearance at speeds in excess of 40mph.

However, it gets worse in reality. At the most recent meeting of the Bolton Cycle Forum, I raised the point that, as part of the works to build a new cycle route between Bolton and Bury, council workers had repainted cycle lanes on Manchester road that were far below the standard specified in LTN2/08. The location is shown here, where the cycle path passes the end of Orlando Bridge, over which the new route will pass. My objection relates to the straight ahead route: After I raised this point, something of an argument arose regarding whether the lane was really below that standard, so I said that I would measure it. Whilst I didn’t have a tape measure to hand when I went past, I did have the front wheel of my bicycle as a reference, so here is an image showing the width of the Cycle lane as it passes the pedestrian refuge that separates the two routes:

Note that this is directly approaching a left turn, where a cyclist should be particularly concerned about holding a strong position to avoid being left hooked by left-turning traffic approaching from behind.

The argument in the Cycle Forum also involved the use of various excuses to justify the general failure by the council to implement the cycle lane widths specified in the guidelines, the most ridiculous one being that, if they make the cycle lanes 2 metres wide, motorists just treat it as a normal traffic lane and drive in it. But let’s not even start on that one here.

As it happens, the picture that forms part of Highway Code rule 163, concerning the amount of space a motorist should give to a cyclist, shows a cyclist riding about 1 metre from the kerb: So let’s see how it looks when we place a cycle lane on that road, of the same standard as the one passing Orlando Bridge in Bolton: When we put a car in the picture, we may well find that the motorist uses the painted line on the road as a guide to how much space they should give the cyclist, resulting in a picture like this: In the mind of this driver, they have done nothing wrong, surely! Of course, you may say “yes, but surely drivers are not that stupid”. Well, most drivers aren’t, but it only takes a few, such as this idiot, who passed me at about 35mph when I was myself passing some overgrown trees on the left:

or this idiotic bus driver:

or the idiot driving this BMW:

[Added 13/9/2018] A member of Warrington Cycle Campaign recently pointed me towards this report on a study he did back in 2005 about the same issue that’s illustrated in the last few pictures above.

Of course a big part of the problem here is that the presence of such stupid cycle lanes panders to the prejudices and misplaced sense of entitlement that already exist amongst a small but significant proportion of non-cycling motorists. They believe even more strongly that the cyclist should not be using “their road”. This attitude is illustrated time after time by conversations such as these, to mention just a few:

All of these so called cycle facilities are worse than having nothing at all, because they never improve the safety of cyclists, but they do encourage drivers to adopt behaviours that are detrimental to cyclists’ safety. There is a great need to change the attitudes of local authority highway engineers so that they understand that installing these disgraceful “facilities” just for the sake of box-ticking, is highly irresponsible.

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2 Responses to The stupidity of painting substandard cycle lanes on roads.

  1. Phil Hanson says:

    Hi, great website and I totally agree with this post. I am also an experienced driver and relatively new (sept 2012) road cyclist doing big miles each week on our roads. Thought you might like to read my thoughts on how to expand the cycle lanes and make us all safe. Keep up the good work

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