Thursday, October 4, 2012


I reported recently on Richmond Borough's plan to eliminate cycle lanes in Twickenham town centre, while widening pavements. Freewheeler reports on similar schemes in other parts of London, and Cyclists in the City on plans to widen pavements, thereby shoehorning a lot of cyclists and motor vehicles into even narrower lanes in the City of London.

Now, let us be absolutely clear about what is going on here, in terms of what the Highway Code regards as safe and legal. According to the Highway Code, when passing a cyclist, you should give them "at least as much space as you would a car". There's even a helpful picture illustrating what that means. What it means in practice is, it is only safe to overtake a cyclist if you can allow 2M of space. Which in turn means that each lane on a road needs to be at least 4.0M wide to allow for safe overtaking by a car, and wider (4.5M) if we're talking about buses or larger goods vehicles. Obviously, it's possible to execute a safe overtake by moving into the oncoming lane, but only if there is no oncoming traffic, which is rarely possible in London traffic conditions. These are not numbers I have pulled out of a bodily orifice by the way; the come from the London Cycle Design Standards, (Figure 3.1).

So, if you narrow road lanes below 4.5M or 4.0M (if there are no larger vehicles), you are effectively saying that no overtaking of cyclists is safely possible. It then follows that, if you are creating conditions in which safe overtakes are not generally possible, you must ensure that drivers do not attempt them. Unless you ban cycling, of course. Because you cannot rely on drivers excercising restraint. Every regular cyclist knows there are a significant number of drivers who believe, in the words of Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a bicycle must be in want of an overtake". They just can't stop themselves. They see a bike, they've just got to overtake it. Never mind if there's no room, or a traffic island coming up, or a red light in 20 yards, or they're going to immediately have to cut in to make a left turn, they just have to do it. They belong in front, the cyclist belongs behind, because the cyclist is slower - and a cyclist being in front of them is an perversion of the natural order of things. As a cyclist, you're expected to get out of the way, and God help you if you don't. Anyway, back to my main point: how is a local authority, having created a situation in which overtakes are not safe, going to prevent them? In practical terms, the answer is they aren't going to bother.

It is surely morally indefensible to wilfully create conditions in which cyclists and drivers are foreseeably forced into dangerous conflict, given what we know about driver overtaking behaviour. Especially set against a backdrop of escalating cyclist casualty rates. One of three things will happen:

1. Cyclists will 'take the lane' and we'll see incidents of 'road rage' and 'rear-end' collisions;
2. Cyclists will ride in the gutter, and we'll see collisions because that's the most dangerous place to be;
3. Cyclists will stop riding on these roads.

The government need to take note: This is the kind of reckless endangerment of cyclists that is happening at a local level. This is what you get if you push responsibility for cycling down to local authorities for whom cycling comes somewhere below CPZs, cutting the grass and dealing with dog mess in the list of things they are concerned about. They don't have the priorities, knowledge, processes, expertise or resources to come up with road schemes that don't kick cycling into the long grass.


  1. Simply put, I couldn't agree more.

  2. Excellent post. I would just add that it doesn't just misunderstand how drivers behave but how cyclists behave too. After all, by making it impossible for a driver to overtake a cyclist safely, it also makes it impossible for a cyclist to overtake or undertake a vehicle safely - i.e. to filter through traffic. But the ability to filter through congested traffic is the key advantage of cycling in city centres as at gives a big time advantage over other forms of road traffic. So people will continue to cycle into the City of London from neighbouring boroughs where filtering is safe, and then find themselves on roads where it isn't. They'll react as they have been doing on Cheapside - by either trying to squeeze down the side of vehicles in a totally unsafe manner, or by riding on the footpath.

    This would not be so much of a problem if the roads were (a) congested and (b) kept to a very low speed limit. But clearly neither of those conditions apply in the City (or anywhere else in London), so it is a problem.

    I really think cycling campaigners have to make a big effort to stop these kinds of schemes now, because once the changes have been made they'll be very difficult to undo. Taking space away from vehicles is one thing, but trying to take it away from pedestrians is much more difficult.