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Cycling commissioners say painted bike lanes don’t make cyclists feel safer (theguardian.com)
52 points by nokicky 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

Painted bicycle lanes are actually dangerous in my opinion. I cycle almost every day in London for now about 6 years. I avoid streets with painted cycle paths if I can (and take parallel side roads instead).

The way I see it, painted cycle lanes makes cyclists feel secure, but does not create much awareness by motorists. They are mainly used on roads with a lot of traffic. Because they are painted they have sometimes hazardous layouts crisscrossing mainlanes (to turn right). The blue ones can be very slippery when wet. I really don't trust them when it is wet.

Having a curb between the road and the cycle lanes, or elevating the cycle lanes on the level of the sidewalks is much saver for cyclists, because motorists can literally not cross over them. It also forces the planners to do a good job when designing junctions. For elevated cycle lanes though, paint can help rasing the awareness of pedestrians who often got in the habit of crossing anything without looking.

What TfL needs is having their planners cycle to work, and to generally rethink their approach to pedestrians and cyclists. The fact that most pedestrian traffic light are often showing red even if no traffic is routed through them and the fact that many junctions with traffic lights for cars (even big ones) do not have pedestrian traffic lights, reeducates everyone not to care about the lights and just walk into the traffic. This is almost as much a hazard to everyone as cars (on smaller roads.with speed bumps anyway), as pedestrians can cross without warning. If this happens this obviously creates the risk of a cyclist (cycling on the far outside of the road to avoid cars) either swerving into traffic or taking a pedestrian out.

> What TfL needs is having their planners cycle to work

This. Like the stories of having ancient bridge designers stand under their bridges, the people designing cycling facilities should be made to use them in order to improve their safety and usability.

I think for a lot of planners having a week where they are given a cycle orienteering challenge around a set of random points in a city would be a huge benefit. Give each of them a cycle dashcam and call it a data-gathering exercise.

Take a look at e.g. https://www.innertubemap.com/ , a third-party compiled resource of off-street cycle routes in Edinburgh. What strikes you as wrong with it? The fact that it's a set of disjoint small graphs and not a proper mesh, perhaps?

More use can also be made of name-and-shame: http://wcc.crankfoot.xyz/facility-of-the-month/

Btw, what you are referring to is the Hammurabi Code. Engraved in Babylonian by the Mesopotamians.

> painted cycle lanes makes cyclists feel secure, but does not create much awareness by motorists

> It also forces the planners to do a good job when designing junctions.

Living in Dublin, I have the opposite perspective on this.

I much prefer roads with painted lanes (or better, no cycle lanes), as having cyclists on the road necessarily makes motorists more aware of their existence (particularly when you have a lot of cyclists, so this effect increases with usage). I agree that painted lanes give more of a false sense of security to cyclists than anything (motorists will still ignore you if they can), but with segregated lanes they always ignore you.

This seems fine until you realise that well-planned segregated lanes are much more difficult to achieve (and where I live, an absolutel rarity—we have some of the most dangerously haphazard segregated lanes), and even very well-planned segregated lanes are still quite limiting in terms of cyclist movement. They lead to cycle congestion, cyclists become more of a danger to eachother, and you will always have entry/exit points which are far far more dangerous than if the cyclists had been on the road and visible all along.

On a more political level, they also reinforce the idea that roads belong to cars, and that cyclists, by using them, are invading them and should not be there.

On a political level, I think a lot is lost already - at least in London. I am seeing daily both "fundamentalist" behavior from both cyclists and motorists (rarely from pedestrians interestingly). I am catching myself sometimes not paying attention at zebras and junctions to pedestrians who did behave predictively. This usually happens because I am busy watching back and forth watching out for a speeding car (or a driver who clearly saw me but decides to pull out anyway), scooter, or cyclist.

My hope would be that segregating traffic would simplify what I need to pay attention to and I can focus more on pedestrians and other cyclists. The road sharing idea is a nice one. And TfL tried it in places, but realistically speaking it does not work out in a busy place which does not have a culture of watching out for each other.

I do agree though, that cycle lanes on street level separated by a curb from the street can be a pain. I wonder sometimes of they are made intentionally narrow and winding to slow down cyclists or if they are badly planned. Of course there are places where there is not a lot of space to give to a cycling lane. But often there is a lot of space, and it is not used.

In continental Europe cycle lanes are often on the same level as the pedestrian side walk. But I have never cycled in a large city where this is the case (except in Amsterdam for a few days). I wonder if that is a better solution or if it endangers pedestrians more.

Having cycled briefly in a few cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Hague), and also in Copenhagen, I found the former cities excellent and the latter stressful.

Copenhagen tends strongly towards segregated lanes: you have to be extremely familiar with the city layout to be able to pre-empt where to enter & exit, and local cyclists come across quite aggressive if you're not constantly perfectly aware of where you're supposed to be going (and going fast enough for them). The lanes are claustrophic and hurried.

Turning at junctions works quite well (cyclists cross with traffic and loop backwards to wait to turn, rather than crossing lanes), but only with very large junctions; this doesn't scale downwards.

In the Netherlands on the other hand, road-sharing is very much the norm. The sheer number of cyclists means bad behaviour just does't seem to be an option for motorists: safety in numbers.

I think this is the real answer. I've seen "fundamentalist" behaviour from fellow cyclists, and it bothers me, but I think it's reactionary when the relationship with other road-users is strained. With growing numbers of cyclists, and shared road-space, I think this wanes. This has been my experience in Dublin anyway: nowhere near the numbers of Amsterdam, etc, but still, the numbers have significantly increased in recent years and the relationship has noticably improved (anecdotally).

If I compare cyclists in London (and, there are a lot) to pretty much anywhere in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the cyclists are far better behaved.

I don't have to worry for my life walking on a pavement that in the next moment a cyclist may decide to go on the pavement because there is a red light on the road at full speed, or almost knock me over, going across a zebra crossing when the light is green for pedestrians. Cyclists in London seem to think they can go regardless and no rule applies to them.

It wouldn't be too surprising in such a circumstance that they don't particularly feel safer with bike lanes.

I don't think this is a numbers issue.

To clarify: I don't think having as many cyclists in London as in a Dutch city will bring about the kind of culture and benefits cyclists enjoy in Netherlands; there are so many other factors there.

All I'm saying is that having more cyclists brings about marked improvement for cyclists.

For your particular example (cyclists jumping onto the pavement), this is often down to bad planning. Signals and road layouts are designed exclusively for motorists in most cities, with the question of whether it's efficient to use (not just safe) for cyclists very unlikely to even be mentioned during planning. How fast you can get from A to B in a car is a question enormouse resources are poured into, with complex models developed. The same process is rarely applied to cyclists. If cyclists could get from A to B relatively efficiently without meeting unnecessary barries along their journey, you'd find a smaller minority would be feeling the need to hop on pavements and run reds* through crowds of pedestrians.

* Though on the subject of running reds in general, there's quite a few studies advocating things like the Idaho Stop and the Parisien laws on red lights. In my experience, pedestrian outrage at this behaviour is usually exaggerated and comes down to nothing more than anger at rule-breaking for the sake of it. Accidents whereby pedestrians are injured due to cyclists running reds don't factor highly in statistics.

>The sheer number of cyclists means bad behaviour just does't seem to be an option for motorists: safety in numbers.

I was once almost hit by a car who didn't look coming from a side street in Amsterdam, the surge of cyclists behind me angrily shaking fists and yelling curses at the driver was quite something.

> I wonder sometimes of they are made intentionally narrow and winding to slow down cyclists

I think this raises an interesting point. There are cyclists and then there are cyclists. You have those people out with the kids or bumbling along on a Boris bike; and then you have power cyclists in all of the gear on a carbon framed bike averaging faster than most cars in London. While some cycle lanes are perfectly appropriate for the former, few are appropriate for the latter.

That's a more difficult problem to fix. In Sydney, there are quite a few cycle lanes popping up but are almost all dominated by enthusiast cyclists in lycra on sports bikes, and I'd rather cycle on a road than deal with them. In the Netherlands, of course, cycling is a normal every day thing so the commuters far outnumber the enthusiasts and it's safer for everyone (enthusiasts / sport cyclists don't even bother trying to cycle during busy times, they'd be constantly stuck behind commuters).

Painted bike lines could have separated flexible bollards added to them which makes them far more effective.

I have a slightly different perspective - I cycle daily in London and drive too. I think the painted lines do encourage drivers to think about their spacing and are better than nothing. The ones put on the pavement can be an absolute nightmare since pedestrians simply amble in your way onto the bike lane - I don't blame them its too easy.

If I want to cycle fairly briskly - say 15MPH - that can't be done on cycle lanes that share a pavement. It can be done on the road.

They converted a 4-lane (2-lane each way) road near me into a 3-lane (1 each way + turning lane) with a wide buffer zone and a bike lane on each side. I see people taking the buffer zone as a lane all the time, just about had someone t-bone me a few months ago as I was turning and they tried to pass me in the buffer zone.

Grade separation or hard barrier, full stop.

Are segregated lanes any better? It seems to me that the vast bulk of the danger for cyclists is at intersections (the dreaded right hook, mostly). A segregated lane can make it harder for a car to see you and prevents you from taking the lane to make yourself obvious.

What we need are protected intersections; the rest of the road can be painted or segregated, I don't really care.


It really doesn't have to be much, just bollards in the middle of intersections forcing cars to make a wide right turn would be enough.

Intersections are dangerous for sure, but I think it mostly depends on the city and driving culture each has.

One thing that segregated lanes help immensely with is double-parking in painted bike lanes, and bus routes that weave in and out of bike lanes to make their stops.

Ideally we'd have both segregated lanes and protected intersections.

bus routes that weave in and out of bike lanes

Have you really found this to be a problem? Everywhere I've lived and cycled, buses are the most predictable vehicles on the road. When they approach from behind, they leave plenty of space. They rarely go very fast. They stop often enough that you'd never get stuck behind them. Unlike a lot of other "professionally driven" vehicles, they know where they're going and don't make last-second turns. They signal their turns. Any cyclist unaware enough to be endangered by a city bus is also threatened by every other vehicle on the street.

> Everywhere I've lived and cycled, buses are the most predictable vehicles on the road.

living in a midsize US east coast city, this does not match my experience at all. city bus drivers have the same mentality as truck drivers on the interstate: I'm bigger than you so you better get out of my way. it's a common occurrence to see a city bus pull all the way over to the right for a stop, then cut across four lanes of traffic to turn left at the next light.

That sounds like a complaint to address to whomever designed that bus route, not to the drivers on the route? I'm sure the drivers don't enjoy that maneuver. (and sure, sometimes that's going to be unavoidable for any particular route...) Frankly, you sound a bit like an automobile driver, complaining about interstates and cutting across four lanes. On a bicycle it's easy to observe, plan ahead, and avoid the maneuver you've mentioned. For one thing, it always occurs in the same place! Also, it's great to be cycling behind a big vehicle as it vacates a lane: you've got first dibs on the free space.

Yes, at least in Boston it's a major issue. I've personally seen three separate instances of a MBTA bus forcing a cyclist on to the curb by approaching them from behind, passing, and cutting them off.

They _should_ be predictable, but that does not seem to be the case in my anecdotedal experience.

And regardless, why put the onus of responsibility on the bus driver when a segregated lane would solve the issue entirely?

In all honesty, I've seen more examples of armored trucks (a much rarer vehicle) forcing cyclists onto the curb than of buses doing so. One episode was particularly memorable since I was the cyclist... happily, it seems that armored trucks all have a "how am I driving?" number painted on the back.

> They stop often enough that you'd never get stuck behind them.

depends on your locality. the experience i have is that because of the stops, the bus travel speed matches that of a bike. so when you are close to a bus you are passing the bus every time it stops only to be passed by the bus on the way to the next stop.

you then always have to watch out to not get in the way of passengers, or in the busses blind spots.

a totally seperate path gives me the peace of mind that i only have to worry about pedestrians and not try to avoid getting into the way of bigger vehicles.

If not about painted or not-painted. It's about is the bike lane 4m wide or 1m.

Painting 1m wide bike lanes is just because cities don't want to take away from cars.

Painting 1m wide bike lanes is trying to eat the cake and have it. There is no free lunch.

In Berlin most bike lanes are very narrow [1] while in Copenhagen most bike lanes are wide enough to feel safe and have two bikes next to each other. No one cares about paint.

[1] ... and winding, and blocked all the time by delivery trucks, parking cars and construction sites, and taking 90 degree turns around obstacles, and full of overgrown bushes ...

I can think of several states in which bike lanes are basically nonexistent that are better for cycling than my state which goes somewhat out of its way to put in bike lanes simply because the former require an approximately lane-wide shoulder on all but the smallest roads and it is the de-facto bike lane when bikes are present.

The title of the article is a bit inaccurate, the main criticism is that badly marked bike lanes are a waste of money that could better be spend on more adequate infrastructure (so bike lanes that adhere to minimum safety standards etc.)

Is any money getting spent on painted bicycle lanes in the UK? I'm surprised to hear that, because the very few I've seen there were a joke. The similar joke examples shown in this article don't seem far-fetched based on my (limited) experience in the UK.

I've seen a few new ones pop up around leeds in the last 5 years, but not many.

This is BS title. Painted cycling lanes are an important part of the cycling environment. No, in themselves, they don't make me - as a cyclist - feel safe. But _without_ them, I will never feel safe. They need to be _added_ to by education from a young age and during driver training, as well as through cultural products such as TV programming, films, books, social media etc. And by "education" I mean the education to never swerve into bike lanes, watching out for bikers, never walking onto bike lanes as a pedestrian etc.

Of course, a hard separation of a bike lane from the other lanes increases safety; but that cannot be expected to exist everywhere, or in most streets even.

I don't feel safe on some of the marked cycling lanes I use regularly, but you're right that it's still a good step toward education and acceptance.

There's a marked lane on my commute that I now ride much more carefully than the roads I use, because pedestrians are more likely to step out, and cars open doors without looking, because the lane seems to give them a false sense of safety. But with time they can learn that it should be the opposite.

I'm mostly grateful for clearly marked lanes when there's an incident and I can simply point out that yes, I do actually have a right to be riding there and they should have been looking where they're going.

As someone who has recently started to use cycle lanes to move around London I disagree with the view expressed in the article. Many of the cycle lanes I use everyday in West / Central London are only painted.

I personally feel much safer in a cycle lane, even if only a painted one, simply because I don't have to worry as much about getting side-swiped by a bus. Seeing the end of a painted cycle lane is a good indication that the road ahead requires more complex navigation and will often cause me to slow down and be more cautious.

As some one who used to cycle a lot in London - the problem is the use of the reserved space at stop lines for cyclists as it teaches cyclist to aggressively undertake cars to get to the front.

An before you down vote me - undertaking and getting hit causes 90% (aprox) of the fatal casualties in London.

Could you define that term? All I'm getting are "a formal pledge or promise" and "the occupation of an undertaker".

Undertaking = passing on the left, in a system where traffic is meant to drive on the left and pass on the right. By analogy with overtaking, for passing on the right.

Cyclists (in a bike lane or not) undertaking heavier vehicles certainly are involved in a lot of serious accidents. However it's a very twisted view of reality to say that this causes accidents. The proximate cause is the heavy vehicles turning left or pulling to the left without regard for the cyclist in their blind spot.

Oh that's a nice word! Being alive is better than being right, so blind spots are a bad place to be. Actually it's fine to be right behind a big vehicle, but I never want to be beside them for more than a couple of seconds...

No if you take very risky action you do cause accidents - and you do bear some responsibility.

When there's no dedicated line, just use the sidewalk.

I go really slow near pedestrians / densely populated areas, and I try to minimize danger (think a child getting out of a building suddenly). Before it gets inconvenient or dangerous, I dismount.

I know this can mean a fine, and I am aware that this can put some pedestrians at risk of bruising (again, I am careful, respectful and slow when I go on the sidewalk). But between that and risking death-by-car, well, the choice is simple.

No. Don't. You may "try to minimise danger", but one day you will hit someone and injure them. You also make it difficult for nervous or timid pedestrians. I absolutely will walk in your way and give you a mouthful.

Sorry, but no amount of verbal chewing out is going to change behavior on this one. It’s far safer for me on the sidewalk — and it’s far more likely both people walk away from an accident with a pedestrian than a vehicle.

Edit: also, where I live (northeastern US) the roads have craters like Beirut in the 80s. Cars have problems on them, so cyclists ride on the sidewalk rather than swerve all over the road to find a path that won’t shred your rims / tires.

In most places riding on sidewalks is illegal. I always get pissed when I see bikes hogging my sidewalk and almost hitting me.

Yup, it’s illegal. So is driving / parking in the bike lane, but the cops in my city enforce neither. Doesn’t change a thing — I refuse not to be selfish when it comes to protecting my life.

> I refuse not to be selfish when it comes to...

... endangering pedestrians.

Something being assumed here is that in the US, we have pedestrians on sidewalks.

In truth, you only see this in large urban core areas, but in most places, even the suburbs, people don't walk anywhere - mainly because in many cases, there's nothing nearby to walk to.

Everybody drives.

That isn't to say nobody walks, but such people are few and far between. Usually, when you see someone on the sidewalk, it's either a skateboarder, a bicyclist, or someone in a powered mobility chair.

This does, of course, vary based on the population and geographical makeup of the area (and weather), but usually, again, the only time you see more than a few people walking on the sidewalk, it's within an urban core area.

Also - speaking on the weather topic - here in Phoenix, Arizona, we don't typically have many walkers on sidewalks in the downtown area, in the summertime, because the heat is extremely brutal (even with shade). At one time, it was also a year-round thing, because there wasn't much to do downtown (and shops closed early), but things have changed in recent years (mainly due to the install of light rail).

I mean, I’m not a moron. If the sidewalk is crowded, I’ll hop off and walk my bike.

But it’s a false equivalency to compare the two: a bike vs pedestrian accident usually ends in bumps and scrapes with the cyclist getting the worse end of the bargain. A car vs bike accident can easily leave you permanently disabled or worse (with a very high frequency of hit-and-runs).

> It’s far safer for me on the sidewalk

Absolutely. Should probably drive your car on it for that reason.

Much of the suburban US has busy roads with zero accommodation for bicycles and sidewalks with no people on them for half a mile (~1km) in each direction.

If that's the case, it will be easy to hop back on the road when you see a pedestrian. Only hillbillies bike on the sidewalk when pedestrians are present.

Ok. I still prefer that to being driven over by a car honestly.

if a bike hits you at a typical walking speed, how much worse is it than just bumping into another pedestrian?

Cyclists who claim to ride slowly on pavements very rarely actually cycle at 3-4 mph, bikes are pretty unstable. Get a handlebar in your got at 8mph and you'll know about it. Even as low speed a piece of tubular metal in your abdomen is more painful than someone brushing a hip.

fair enough. I suspect there is usually an impedance mismatch in these discussions where each party is imagining a very different context. you seem to be envisioning a densely packed sidewalk with cyclists at a moderate speed.

when I ride on the sidewalk, it is in a small town or suburban setting where there is virtually no one on the sidewalk (if it even exists) and fast SUVs and crossovers in the street. in this situation, I usually just pedal a couple times and then coast twenty feet until the bike won't stay up. if I see a pedestrian I get off and stop until they pass me. I really don't think this should be illegal.

Biycling on the sidewalk is illegal in most places. And for good reason. In cities the differential between the speed of bikes and cars is smaller than between bikes and pedestrians.

>In cities the differential between the speed of bikes and cars is smaller than between bikes and pedestrians.

I find that hard to believe. A bike can easily move at a walking speed among the pedestrians, while a car would never drive at a bike speed unless forced to.

In New York bikes are often going faster than cars.

Yep. So I might get a fine in the future. Maybe.

This waist could be "understandable" if UK was a pioneer in this field. There are countries with excellent biking infrastructure already. Learn from them.

Here's the letter from Chris Boardman and the other commissioners, which doesn't seem to be linked from the Guardian story: https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/media/2145/19-1309-s...

As a dutchman i beg to differ.

The point of the article is not that the bike lanes are useless. Rather that the way they are implemented is woefully inadequate.

There aren't many of these kinds of lanes here (NL), at least in the cities.

Just like crosswalks. More accidents on crosswalks than somewhere else.

But what about accidents per crossing?

Hard to measure.

Really depends on implementation. The best and the worst bike lanes are painted on the road.

The point of many of these cycle lanes is not to be useful to cyclists but to be useful to the council's PR.

Bike lanes exist to get bicycles "out of the way," which is why we have a decades-long alliance between the car-insurance lobby and the sell-bicycles lobby to get bikes off the road and on to facilities.

This is a losing strategy for people who actually ride bikes, the correct one is to lower speed limits.

> This is a losing strategy for people who actually ride bikes, the correct one is to lower speed limits.

I do not think that this is going to cut it. On a good day I easily do 30kph on a good road (that's why I prefer the painted lanes, btw., they tend to give you access to paved roads). With wind, or exhaustion, or any number of reasons, that speed can drop downwards to 20kph. Now I am definitely not the most well-trained person on the streets, but I am among the faster cyclists. So there are many that can only go about 15kph or even slower.

So what speed limit would you actually pick? 20 would slow me down on my bike (I presume you do not belong to that minority that believes traffic rules do not apply to bikes), 30 would leave lots of slower cyclists behind.

In an ideal world, city roads with two lanes would be converted as follows: Speed limit of 60 on the broader left lane, with a minimum speed of 40 or a strict "no bikes" policy. A 2m cycle priority lane on the right, cars may use it but at most 30kph and have to leave it when overtaking. Lanes separated by engravings in the pavement that make noise. Maybe even by some kerbs. Parking on that right lane, in particular deliveries, should be a serious offence.

This way, in the case of serious congestion, cars can also take the right lane (I do not see any reason to demand a free road for any party in traffic), but will naturally use the left lane in better conditions.

This should be seconded by clear paths and traffic lights to turn left from that right lane and to turn right from that left lane.

30km/h (19mile/h) is a reasonable speed limit within cities. Less fit cyclists can use electrical assistance to keep up. The money spent on useless paint can be switched to e-bike subsidies.

> I presume you do not belong to that minority that believes traffic rules do not apply to bikes

Personally, I don't see much reason for speed limits to apply to bikes, or at least, for a speed limit intended for cars to apply to bikes. The two classes of vehicles have different concerns.

doesn't look like they applies to cars either.

>So what speed limit would you actually pick?

No posted limit. What is safe and reasonable it is left to the road user's discretion. If you want people to slow then clog up the road with all sort of "traffic calming" measures.

Speed limits apply to motorized vehicles. Not to bicycles.

I do not understand why this idea is voted down. In contrast to the insistence in the Netherlands in the late '70s that urban planning must cease to create a hostile enviornment for self-mobile humans there has been a long-standing and well-funded push to develop bicycle lanes backed by both federal and state governments and lobbied for by organizations like the Thunderhead Alliance explicitly to remove bicycles from the road network which we all pay for.

The Netherlands is as good as it because they insisted on the fundamental right to security, safety and convenience of all the people to use public space.

Accepting a narrow, little painted lane where you cannot dawdle and chat two-abreast and have to stop at a novel intersection design every few hundred meters is not progress. It's a step away from a reasonable cycling environment.

Cycling organizations in the USA are dominated by well-organized lobbyists from the bicycle retail industry and their hangers-on.

I'm in favor of reducing speed lines, but I don't think that is enough. I haven't seen a city with more bikes (or where cycling works better) than Copenhagen, and it's full of bike lanes (the vast majority of them proper, segregated bike lanes, not painted, of course).

Which cities have you cycle in to compare them with Copenhagen? (Assuming you did actually cycle in Copenhagen).

Madrid, Barcelona, London, Paris, Berlin, apart from other smaller cities in several countries. And yes, I also cycled in Copenhagen. Have to confess I haven't been to Amsterdam, which is also considered an extremely bike-friendly city, though.

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