Tuesday, 11 August 2009

How a cycle lane can make cycling worse

There are at least two major objections to carriageway cycle lanes. Firstly, when they are less than the recommended minimum two metres in width (and almost all the cycle lanes in Waltham Forest are less than 2 metres), they make cycling more dangerous, because drivers come closer to a cyclist when there is a lane than they do when there isn't one.

Secondly, they invite undertaking on the part of the cyclist when traffic is slow or stationary, resulting in potential collisions with pedestrians, drivers who swerve into the cycle lane without checking their mirrors or passengers springing out of cars. Cycle lanes leading into Advanced Stop Lines can also put inexperienced cyclists into conflict with left-turning traffic. It is much better to overtake when cycling than to undertake, but cycle lanes usually force traffic out into the centre of the carriageway, removing the space for overtaking which would have existed had the cycle lane not been there.

But there is a third reason why cycle lanes are a curse, and it's a reason I've not seen articulated anywhere on the internet. Namely, many drivers emerging from side roads or exits treat cycle lanes as a space to occupy while waiting to turn left or right. Locally, this happens with great frequency on Hoe Street and Selborne Road. Many drivers are simply contemptuous of the idea that the cycle lane is exclusively for cyclists, and have no qualms about moving into to it, even when you are approaching from as little as two metres away. I have lost count of the times I've had to pull round, swerve round or brake because of this. When I was photographing something else yesterday on Selborne Road I inadvertently captured a classic example (below). Two cars, one turning left, the other turning right. Both drivers treating the cycle lane as an extension of The Mall car park exit.

If the London Borough of Waltham Forest really wants to promote cycling, it needs to get rid of every cycle lane less than 2 metres in width. But that wouldn't look very good for the statistics, would it? Instead of 20 miles of glorious cycle lanes, we'd have... well I can think of a 20 metre stretch of very wide cycle lane in Leytonstone.