Cycling By Mistake

Bear with me, because this is a rather dry post about the design of cycling infrastructure with very little in the way of rural amusement, homicidal buzzards or even particularly attractive photographs (also very few jokes, but you’ve probably got used to that by now).

In Bigtown there is a road, a not particularly nice road, which I mostly avoid cycling on because it is busy and has multiple lanes of traffic and a roundabout where people keep getting knocked off their bikes. Unfortunately, it’s also a fairly major route through town and there are some trips where I can’t really avoid it, so occasionally I use it. Although I much prefer cycling away from cars and lorries, I’m not, on the whole, that nervous a cyclist when I’m on familiar roads, and I’m quite capable of holding my own in traffic if I need to, as long as I know where I’m going and I don’t have to do it for too long and the drivers aren’t actively trying to kill me.

So I was a bit surprised, the last time I cycled down this road, that I was feeling much more uncomfortable and beleaguered by the traffic. The road had been freshly resurfaced, so I wasn’t having to do the pothole slalom, and the traffic wasn’t any worse than usual, and there was a lovely new cycle lane – so why was I feeling that I was in the wrong place?

bike lanes

Shiny new bike lanes. Lovely! Why would I not want to cycle in the very spot where drivers are going to be sweeping left into the Lidl car park?

And then I twigged that it was the cycle lane that was the problem: it was trying to put me in the wrong place.

bike lane and left turn lane

Left turn only. Unless you’re a bike. Of course the drivers will look before they turn. Erm. Probably. Oh and ignore all those stickers on lorries telling you not to go up the inside of them. Confused yet? You will be

One of the things that makes this road (and any big multi-lane road) is that you’re constantly having to watch out for left turning traffic. Where there are left-turn only lanes, you basically have to keep pulling out into the middle lane, or else hope that the lights are red so you can get ahead of any potential sideswipes. This is what makes most cycling in the UK something for the quick and the brave and it’s bad enough at the best of times. But it’s worse when there’s nice bright new paint on the road trying to encourage you to stay on the left (and encouraging drivers to think that’s where you belong) just when you should be pulling out away from the kerb. That lovely cycle lane was in fact a dangerous trap. Unlike a proper Dutch style cycle track, it wasn’t making me feel safer or be safer, it was actually making things worse.

Now this would normally be the point where I start ranting on about the coonsil being idiots who wouldn’t know a decent piece of cycle infrastructure if it jumped up and bit them on the nose – but here’s the thing. This is not actually the coonsil’s fault. They didn’t put the paint on the road just on a whim – they were following the design guidelines. Guidelines which have you cycling in the place where you’re mostly likely to get left hooked by a turning lorry because otherwise there’s no legal way to get into the bike box at the front of the junction (to be fair, they also allow for cycle lanes right in the middle of the road but trust me, they’re even scarier).

So why am I telling you all this instead of burbling on about knitting or growing vegetables? Well the Scottish cycle design guidelines (Cycling By Design) are in the process of being revised. It’s an opportunity to ditch the default paint-on-the-road approach which does nobody any favours, not even existing cyclists, and adopt something slightly more forward thinking. Such as junctions that look like this

Amsterdam junction with cycle track

Or even this

Hovenring-night-shot.jpg
Hovenring suspended cycle roundabout at night. By John TarantinoOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Any Scottish bike bloggers (or just cyclists) out there who have seen similar issues on the roads they cycle regularly – I’m looking for similar examples of where the design guidance has gone wrong, of things you’d like to see banished from the roads altogether as a waste of paint. It doesn’t have to be spectacularly bad, just the everyday mild disappointment at the way things could have been better most UK based cyclists suffer as a matter of course every time they take to the roads.

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6 Responses to Cycling By Mistake

  1. eric mackay says:

    Have you seen the Bears Way in glasgow its a total nonsense.

  2. disgruntled says:

    From what I’ve seen in photos it’s a lot better than most of the other stuff we get round here. Not Dutch standard of course but I would have called it a step in the right direction.

  3. Andy R says:

    Hate to say, but Scottish councils and engineers seem quite parochial when it comes to design, i.e. “if it isn’t (or isn’t in) Cycling by Design then it doesn’t exist”. I have at least managed to convince engineers down here in England that the Welsh Active Travel Guidance, for example, is worth referring to and contains best practice. North of the border, “It’s Welsh!”, and that’s that.

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