The Big Question: Do dedicated lanes make cycling less safe, and should roads be redesigned?
By Simon Usborne
Friday, 11 September 2009
Why are we asking this now?
Because research published yesterday suggests that when cyclists ride in dedicated lanes motorists give them less room. Teams at Leeds and Bolton universities, supported by CTC, the national cyclists' organisation, put a camera on the back of a bike being ridden along three roads in the north of England. Analysis of the footage revealed that drivers gave up to 18cm (seven inches) more space to cyclists on stretches without cycle lanes. The findings question the perceived wisdom that slapping down strips of green paint and white lines makes riding safer. And as cycling continues to enjoy a boom, the suggestion that cycle lanes could be endangering rather than protecting users highlights increasingly fraught relationship between riders and drivers.
Why do drivers behave this way?
It comes down to psychology. "The very existence of cycle lanes can lead to drivers to being lazier when overtaking because they believe the space between the cycle lane and the middle of the road is their territory," Peck says. It's though the presence of a solid white line offers the illusion – to both rider and driver – of a barrier behind which cyclists are protected. When the barrier is not there, drivers take care as they move to overtake cyclists rather than roaring past with inches to spare. Other research suggests drivers react in similar way to cyclists wearing helmets. In 2006, a traffic psychologist at the University of Bath found drivers gave him less room when he was wearing head protection than when he rode helmet-free.
What have other studies found?
This latest research isn't the first to paint cycle lanes in a bad light. Studies in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Milton Keynes have also shown an increased risk for cyclists using lanes. And in 2007, the Cycle Campaign Network, an umbrella organisation representing 70 local cycling groups, said it "knows of no evidence that cycle facilities and in particular cycle lanes, generally lead to safer conditions for cycling".
Can lanes be effective?
Only when they're properly built and in the right places. Government standards require cycle lanes to be two metres wide, with a minimum width of 1.5 metres. But all the lanes used in the latest research fell short – and CTC believes that the same is true of the "vast majority" of Britain's bike lanes. "You wouldn't see authorities skimping on lane width when it comes to motorways," Peck says. "Even if drivers are being lazy that's not so much of a problem if the cycle lane is wide enough to give the required berth." Other cycle lane failures include stretches that stop suddenly, depositing riders back into traffic.
Are lanes always a good idea?
Not in slower traffic. "It's the difference in speeds on the road that creates danger," Peck says. "Cycle lanes try to alleviate that by creating separate areas but they aren't always successful. But if traffic is limited to 20mph, that's the speed at which road users can mix happily."
To read the entire article click here.
The article makes the point I've been trying to make - that bike lanes actually make it more dangerous forthe bike rider by bringing the traffic closer. Vehicles will generally pass closer to you when you are riding in a bike lane than when you're not in a bike lane.
The article also makes the additional point I made...that bike lanes are not needed in areas with slower traffic. Drivers in downtown Indianapolis do not usually go much more than 20 mph. Bike riders can generally keep up. Where there is a disparity in speed, you have a more dangerous situation.