Vincent Stops: ‘Protected’ bike lanes, anyone?

Vincent Stops: ‘Protected’ bike lanes, anyone?

The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has continued ramping up pressure on Sadiq Khan and Transport for London to do more to make London’s roads safer for cyclists. Their latest focus is on providing safer road junctions. I do not often agree with the LCC, but in targeting junctions they are correct – 80 per cent of collisions that injure cyclists occur at them.

However, what the LCC does not say is that the “protected” bike lanes they have spent so much time cheerleading have, arguably, made junctions more dangerous for cyclists, not less. For example, in an article identifying the capital’s worst junctions they highlight the lane between Colliers Wood and Balham, which is segregated using plastic poles or wands:

“The most dangerous cluster of junctions for cycling in London is on Upper Tooting Road where Ansell Road, Derinton Road, Price Close and Lessingham Avenue intersect with the wand-protected cycle lane called Cycle SuperHighway (CS7).”

A simple analysis of this scheme, using TfL road safety data, shows that there were 18 serious cycle injuries on this group of junctions during the three years before July 2020, but 35 during the three years after the cycle lane went in. That is a doubling of serious injuries which cannot be explained by marginal increases in cycling volume.

The increase in casualties is no surprise because, contrary to what campaigners for them claim, such bike lanes are not necessarily safe. The problem with them is that they encourage poor road positioning by cyclists who wish to take right turns at junctions.

The segregated space down the left-hand side of roads means that cyclists are trapped close to the left-hand kerb, when the safest position from which to execute a right turn is the other side of the carriageway. This leaves them more vulnerable to what are sometimes called “fail to see collisions” with motor vehicles when they seek to turn right and goes against all the principles of formal cycle training.

Cycle lanes at junctions also create general confusion for all road users, including cyclists, about where they should be positioned on the road in relation to each other and where to expect others to be. Creating such confusion is contrary to what has hitherto been best practice – that road layouts should be understandable and self-explanatory.

There are many ways to improve road safety for cycles. Indeed, in 2013 TfL had a good plan, informed by years of road safety experience. Slower speeds, motor traffic reduction, cycle training, good road rules enforcement and targeted, data-led, engineering would make for more and safer cycling.

London should revert to that approach. Policies for improving road safety should be led by data. Simple slogans such as “Go Dutch” and “Safe Space 4 Cycling” and the very term “protected lanes” create only an illusion of greater safety for cyclists on the roads.

Vincent Stops is a former Hackney councillor and lead member for transport who worked on streets policy for London Travelwatch, the capital’s official transport users’ watchdog, for over 20 years. He cycles everywhere. X/Twitter Vincent Stops and On London.

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Categories: Comment


  1. Peter says:

    How about putting pressure on TfL to prosecute the majority of cyclists that:

    1. Casually cycle through red lights.
    2. Whizz through junctions where all vehicles are supposed to stop and give way if necessary.
    3. Cycle around at night with no, or only one light on, at night.

    Rather than automatically blaming the motorist, that will always have a number plate and there be accountable.

    Some of this cycle riding is SO dangerous that it’s almost impossible to avoid the cyclist when they ride on the above manner. It’s just by luck, over and above a motorists extreme care and caution, that a cyclist doesn’t collude with a vehicle rather than visa versa

  2. Raymond Attfield says:

    ‘Protected’ cycle lanes, perhaps better described as ‘segregated’ lanes, maybe a better and safer option in some situations but in many others they are not. They are often ignored and a cause of confusion and conflict for pedestrians.

    I live near Highbury Corner where cyclist are a threat to the safety of pedestrians. Few cyclist use the segregated lane round the junction, opting for the short cut across the paved area, usually without reducing speed. They will then cross the road, not via the dedicated lane but mixed in with pedestrians crossing.

    To rejoin the Holloway road they ride along the pavement until it is convenient to rejoin the road, which has no cycle lane. It is common for cyclists to ignore traffic lights, again a threat to pedestrians crossing the road. Add to this the increasing use of electric bikes and the litter of hire bikes obstructing pavements life for pedestrians is more threatened than that of cyclists.

    The more the public space of the road is subdivided the more there will be conflict. Sharing the public space at slow speeds and regarding cycling not as a high speed sport is the only way.

  3. Tony Woolf says:

    Our fully engineered and fully segregated systems such as the Embankment cycle route are very safe, and on longer distance journeys I will make a significant detour to use them.

    We need more of them, but I’m realistic enough to admit that London’s roads simply don’t have enough space to have very many; there is just too much vital motor traffic that won’t go away.

    The less fully-engineered schemes always have compromises, many of which are inevitable given the conflicting legitimate demands on our roads. Both cycling campaigning groups and pro-cycling councils seem reluctant to admit that a scheme is no better than its weakest link.

    For example, a recent scheme local to me is supposedly segregated. But it allows loading and unloading in short sections of the cycle lane over much of the day, forcing cyclists out into the traffic, and any cyclist who can cope with this doesn’t need the scheme.

    Campaigners love to point to completed schemes, but we need more realism. And of course, as you say, slower traffic.

  4. Paul W says:

    What does it take for UK highway authorities to get it right? Send their staff on a training course in The Netherlands maybe? The Dutch are 50 years ahead of us. They have intelligent infrastructure which almost eliminates bike Vs motor incidents. Long term this not only cuts the suffering, it saves money.

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