Everytime I cycle to work, I have to use the Histon Road cycle lanes in Cambridge.
|Histon Road, Cambridge with 1m cycle lanes.|
You would have thought most cyclists would agree that cycle lanes one metre or less are dangerous, but that is not the case. Everybody has an opinion, but when you hear or see anecdotal comments about cycle lane safety, it always leaves me wondering what type of cyclists they are and how much experience they have?
So, cards on the table before I give my opinion. I am a cycle enthusiast, I have read Cycle Craft and know of and practice defensive cycle techniques. I estimate I have used Histon Road at least 600 times. That's getting to be a decent sample size on which to reflect.
What is obvious to most, is that barely-there cycle lanes bring you close to overtaking traffic regardless of your fear level. In my experience, there are other hidden dangers that are never discussed and are not obvious to casual users.
Here is my list of observed thin-cycle-lane dangers:
Increase of Tunnel-Vision overtakes. Some drivers only consider danger and obstacles within their own lane. If there is a white line, and a bicycle is on the other side of it, they will not move over. They are assisted in ignoring Highway Code rule 163.
No room to swerve around obstacles such as:
- pot holes, glass, drain covers.
- other cyclists pulling out into path from left or right
- other cyclists just stopping in the lane to get off
- pedestrians stepping off the pavement into the road.
Unable to choose road positioning. With the lane in place, irate drivers will intimidate you to use the cycle lane, even if it compromises your safety. When restricted to the lane, you are unable to move away from the gutter and into safer Secondary and Primary positions. Most cyclists have never heard of those terms but when you know them they increase your safety significantly.
Difficult to look over your shoulder. When you look behind on a bicycle, you wobble. A thin lane gives you no wobble room to look behind, which makes many manoeuvres more difficult - e.g. overtaking, turning right, leaving the lane to avoid obstacles, slowing safely.
Difficulty indicating. A lot of newer cyclists have trouble cycling perfectly straight whilst indicating.
Standing Water, Ice and Snow. Gutters are designed to catch water and consequently are full of puddles which hide potholes and debris, collect ice and snow. (And yes I have had words with a driver who was angry about me using the clear road, and not the snow filled cycle lane)
Unable to ride two abreast. When I cycle with my youngsters, I like to act as a barrier between them and the traffic and be the fall guy should a driver get too close. Even the recent Gilbert Road lanes at 1.7m are not wide enough for two abreast. Cycling is more fun when you can come alongside and chat to your friends, just like in cars.
Off camber induced wobble. On Histon Road, there is quite a steep camber at the edge of the road. This adversely affects your bicycles steering.
Four abreast is unsafe. This is specific to Histon Road. Typically, the full width of the road is filled with: cycle-car-car-cycle with a small buffer of space between each. When a larger vehicle arrives on the scene and mis-times an overtake the small buffer gets reduced to virtually nothing. I have many times seen near misses e.g. cycle-TRUCK-carcycle.
The Fear. Lets not forget that most normal people cite fear of traffic as a major influence on why they do not cycle. Jostling with cars, trucks and buses is going to feel unsafe and a white painted line does nothing to reduce fear.
I would be in favour of removing the cycle lanes - they increase risk to cyclists. There is a small benefit of being able to filter more easily for about 30-60 minutes of the rush hour in the city bound direction. At other times, they allow traffic to pass closely without considering an overtake.
Thankfully there is growing support for removing the lanes. October 2011's Area Joint Committee minutes briefly question if they should be removed as part of a review of the ring roads. Also, the Cambridge Cycle Campaign's Cycling Vision 2016 call for a removal of all under sized (<2.0m, sometimes <1.5m).
For me, removal of that paint cannot happen soon enough.
What's the ideal city cycle lane ?
I've noticed that when I cycle on the pavement with my youngsters, I feel a lot safer and more relaxed if there is a row of parked cars acting as a physical barrier between us and on-road motor traffic.
This idea is in use in New York. See this film on StreetFilms on NYC's Physically Separated Bike Lane.