Friday, 20 November 2009

Dangerous cycle lanes?

Debate continues within the cycling community about the value of cycle lanes.

Proponents argue that a well planned and continuous network of cycle lanes are essential to encourage more people to cycle as many people have a perception, or real exerience, of the roads being dangerous.

Opponents argue that cycle lanes are misguided, a waste of money and actually endanger cyclists. Looking through the 'Crap Cycle Lanes : 50 Worst Cycle Lanes in Britain' book, published by Warrington Cycle Campaigns in 2007, it is easy to see how a lot of local council money has been wasted installing useless green paint on the roads and pavements across the United Kingdom.

One example that isn't in the book, but should be in any reprint, is the cycle lane that Salford Council has installed on the A666 roundabout near Swinton (see photo).

Requests for more information about the design process, safety audit and costs have been submitted to Salford Council - more details as they become available.

the Department for Transport Cycle Infrastructure Design guide [1] states that:

"9.8.1 Keeping well to the nearside on the circulatory carriageway is the typical approach adopted by less confident cyclists, but this puts them in the most hazardous position for being hit by vehicles entering or leaving the roundabout. They are less visible to motorists entering the junction, and this is where most conflicts occur.

9.10 Cycle lanes on Roundabouts

9.10.1 The idea of marking cycle lanes on roundabouts may appear, at first glance, to be a relatively simple one, but it is not. Cycle lanes on roundabouts must be very carefully considered. There is little evidence to suggest that they offer any safety benefit to cyclists, and they may introduce additional hazards. Some cycle lanes on roundabouts have been removed because they led to a deterioration in the accident rate.

Designers should first decide how the lanes are intended to benefit cyclists and then balance this with the problems they can give rise to. It is possible that annular nearside cycle lanes can highlight the presence of cyclists on the roundabout, but against this is the risk that cyclists using the lanes may be taking up an inappropriate position, particularly near exit arms. To a driver, it may appear that a cyclist approaching an exit arm in such a lane intends taking that exit because of his position in the circulatory carriageway. If the driver intends to leave at the same exit, he may attempt to overtake and be confronted with the cyclists turning across his path. On busy roundabouts, it is important that the cyclist takes up a prominent position nearer the centre of the carriageway to ensure that drivers understand the intended manoeuvre, and, for this reason, annular lanes are not generally recommended."

In a nutshell, the advice from the Department for Transport seems to be - don't install cycle lanes around the outside of roundabouts as they can encourage inexperienced cyclists to cycle in dangerous positions on the road.

Unfortunately, Salford's highway planners seem to have gone one step further. In addition, to encouraging people to cycle in a poor road position with regard to vehicles taking a left exit, the cycle lane "give way" markings then suggest that cyclists should stop on a busy roundabout and let vehicles exit.

What other traffic is expected to do this on a roundabout? Have the people who designed this scheme actually tried to cycle on it and start cycling from a standstill position on a busy roundabout?

The road positions that this type of cycle lane encourages people to adopt directly contradicts the road positioning training provided through the national standards Bikeability courses. This is the same cycle training courses that Councils provide for year 5 and 6 children in schools across Salford and Greater Manchester. Perhaps the Highway Planners should get Year 6 classes to apply their training and evaluate all new planned cycle lanes for compatability with national standards.

As a way of encouraging more people to cycle, I do support the creation of a cycle lane network in Greater Manchester. But any such network has to be coherent, continuous and consistent with national standards.

The DfT guidance notes that "
some cycle lanes on roundabouts have been removed because they led to a deterioration in the accident rate." Lets hope that it doesn't require an increase in accidents at this location before Salford Council acts.

[1] Local Transport Note 2/08. October 2008.

Update (December 2009): In response to a Freedom of Information request, Salford City Council have supplied the following (not very helpful) information.

Q) When (date) were the cycle lane marketings installed?
A) The cycle lane order came into force on 31st March 2000, the markings would have been placed just prior to this date. Unfortunately, we cannot provide an exact date, the work would have been cafrried out over a number of days in March.

Q) What were the costs of installing these cycle lane markings? 

A) We no longer have a record of the costs as they would have been destroyed after five years.

Q) What consultation was undertaken with cycling groups prior to these cycle lane markings being installed?
A) The scheme was brought forward via the Accident Investigation Unit and consultation with Salford's Traffic Management Unit, to improve the cycling facilities as part of an accident reduction scheme and made the existing cycle facilities mandatory.

Q) [Request for] Copies of any plans, assessment and evaluation reports in relation to installation of thse cycle lane markings.
A) Records of any consultations, evaluations etc would have related to the original scheme and such records are no longer kept, they would have been destroyed after five years.

If anyone has any copies of the consultation documents relating to these cycle lane markings, we would like to hear from you so please get in touch.

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