Tuesday 18 January 2011

An Hour in a Cyclepath: Hills Road Station Road to Brooklands Avenue

Some safety concerns with 70 vehicles in 1 hour in cycle path

A technical and emotional note about the reasoning behind these blogs.

Along Hills Road there have been some fantastic developments to help cyclists travel and protect them from general traffic, whilst also aiding traffic flow. The new Hill Road Bridge is a good example of some well thought out design. I was a bit concerned that the previous version, which was so good, couldn't be improved upon. I was wrong.

Enough about the bridge, I'm more concerned with other bits here. The section of this city-centre-to-town-outskirts route between Station Road and Brooklands Avenue is proving a little difficult for road users. Here it is in detail on a sunny day.

Notice the cycle-path sign right at the beginning, but also notice the dashed white line on it's edge. What does that mean? Then, at 15 seconds in, a bus-stop appears, directly after which a cycle path sign appears. I assume this to make sure it's obvious that this is only a cycle path from the end of the bus-stop, so bus drivers know. Again, that dashed white line borders the main road. Then at 36 seconds a second dashed line appears in the middle of the lane, about 1 metre outside the bike lane. Now, what does that mean? At 46 seconds, the dashed line bordering the cycle path disappears leaving the other dashed line which gives the appearance of a two car-lane approach to the coming junction, despite roughly two-thirds of the inner lane being covered by red cycle path tarmac. Finally, the red tarmac disappears at 51 seconds at the pedestrian crossing.

So, where is there a cycle path along this section? Where should cyclists feel protected from traffic?

Let's start with what does that dashed line mean? Article 140 of the The Highway Code makes it fairly clear.

  • Cycle lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply.

Or does it? What does it mean by "unavoidable"? I have to cross a cycle lane when I park, that seems pretty unavoidable. But what about just to avoid non-moving traffic that isn't going the same way as your vehicle? As mentioned, this is on the way towards a junction with two separate routes for traffic. So maybe to avoid stopped traffic in the outer lane (waiting to turn right) is considered "unavoidable"?

I've tried looking up the Road Traffic Act (as referred at the bottom of the Highway Code quote) but can't find anything readable. Mind you, this means there's an interpretation under law here, not just the Highway Code. I think I'd choose the interpretation that short of crossing the cycle path, any entry is avoidable.

But then there's the problem of when does the cycle path end. When the second dashed line appears? When the first dashed line ends? Or when the red tarmac ends? Again, I, like most cyclists, would suggest that the red tarmac is the defining issue. But that second dashed line does confuse most vehicle drivers.

Here's a short video (turn the sound down, Radio 6 was on!), taken over one hour that I've cut to pick up vehicles straying into the cycle path. In all fairness, most vehicles did stick with my interpretation of the cycle path and avoided the red tarmac. However, this video is over 6 minutes long, implying that for 10% of the time, there is a vehicle on the red tarmac. This shows that a significant proportion of vehicles either are confused or don't share my interpretation. And, just to add, I didn't pick up the large numbers of vehicles that just clipped the edge.

I make that a total of 70 vehicles including 37 cars, 22 buses, 5 taxis, and 6 vans (please do check, I may be one or two out!). Two particular items to note: at 2:06 a learner/instructor driver and at 5:07 a cyclist having to make a manoeuvre to avoid a car pulling into the cycle path.

So, what's going on? Although there is clearly a need for better education around cycle lanes, especially if my interpretation of the cycle path is correct, there is a clear need for clarification along this stretch. The road needs to be clearly marked so that drivers and cyclists know what is where. At the moment this just isn't the case.

Clear road markings would help all road users understand their path along the road. Cyclists would know that they need to slow down earlier if their path boundaries are not guarenteed to be free of motor vehicles making manoeuvres. Drivers would know that they cannot just move over because their journey is slightly impeded.

Especially important is the high proportion of buses spotted to buses on the road. Other vehicles have a much lower proportion. (Sorry, no figures, but just look at 22 buses compared to 37 cars, that's 1 bus to every 1.68 cars!) One reason for this maybe that bus lanes and cycle paths are coloured using the same tarmac. Go into town a bit in the other direction, there's a good example outside St Paul's Church. So, I'd guess a proportion of bus drivers think that this is a bus lane, despite the clearly marked cycle path signs early on. Clearly, that's a big educational gap!

Now, I've had further experience of buses in this cycle path, down near the bus-stop. Here is a cyclists-eye view of when vehicles move into the cycle path.

Stationary traffic, what cycle paths where made for! A school student and I are making our way up the inside as allowed. The second bus along is determined to get into the bus-stop and accelerates forwards and into the cycle path whilsts we are on it's inside. HEE-BEE-GEE-BEES!!!! Both of us jam on brakes thinking we are about to be deposited either onto the pavement or under the wheels. With our space cut in half, the bus stops. Not because we have been spotted but because it cannot go any further forward in traffic. We can only tell this once we've both negotiated the limited space left to move along the cycle path. And it's at least 40 metres before the bus stop itself. So, why is it pulling into the cycle path in any case?

If you know any constructive answers to the above questions, please feel free to let me know. And the "constructive" is intended to show I'm not interested in the very-slow-to-get-it drivers who'd prefer to get all cyclists off the road, despite that approach increasing the congestion they'd have to suffer!

Oh, and a reminder of the financial breakdown to the answer of that age-old failed "You don't pay road tax" is here.

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