Anna Hughes

A comment on cycling infrastructure

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A comment on cycling infrastructure

On March 21, 2017, Posted by , In Cycling,Road Safety, With 7 Comments

Confession: I whacked a car window today. It was the conclusion of a conversation with a driver that had grown more and more heated as we both tried to make our voices heard, a conversation that had no end other than anger. She yelled expletives; I used my fist. Her transgression: daring to suggest I should use the cycle lane.

She was trying to be helpful; I was trying to get where I was going. She thought she was looking out for my safety. But the reality is, I don’t have to use the cycle lane. I can use it if it will help, but this particular lane (and many others) wouldn’t have. It was part of the pavement, a painted line all that demarcated the space between cyclists and walkers. Pedestrians wander across the line, paying scant attention to my passageway, and so they should; it’s easy to ignore. Partway along, the separation ends and the area becomes dual use, with a crowd of buggies and mums waiting for the bus. Here, pedestrians have priority; I have to slow down. Each time there is a side road the cycle lane gives way while on the main carriageway the traffic sails on by.

These are my choices: potentially endanger pedestrians, take longer getting to work, and give up my right of way at each side road, or potentially endanger myself by sharing with motor traffic, but take a fast, direct, well-surfaced, clearly signed route along which I can ride quickly. It’s a positive choice I make to use the carriageway, though the unsolicited advice and abuse is not quite so pleasant.

These are common problems with cycle infrastructure: too narrow, poor surface, unfavourable priorities, disappears just where you need it, doesn’t go where you want, unclear signage. We’re in a stage of transition in London at the moment, where there is plenty of new infrastructure going in, some good, some quite awful, and, at the moment, no legal obligation to use it. Motorists hate it because roadworks cause congestion, the new infrastructure takes away lanes from the main carriageway, and there’s still a bl**dy cyclist sitting in front of you; cyclists hate it because it’s not quite good enough to make use of, yet it encourages people to yell at you for not using it.

The frustration that resulted in my hand making contact with a car window is common amongst all road users. I’ve had my fair share of drivers who scream at me before winding up their window and driving off, offering no right of reply. I’ve also been the one to do the screaming. It’s impatience, frustration, but mostly fear that leads to these exchanges. None of us is perfect, and we’re all just trying to get where we are going. Currently, the infrastructure isn’t helping.

Perhaps at some point in the future there will be a good quality cycle lane along every road, and then I will use it. Until then, we all just need to share the space better.

new bridge

A state-of-the-art, multi-million pound segregated cycle lane, including a brand new bridge, along the Lea Bridge Road in East London. I choose not to use it because…

Further along Lea Bridge Road, lane is squashed onto existing pavement, with street furniture causing obstructions, becoming narrower in the distance. Alternative is to ride in busy road with buses. No plans to extend new cycle lane to this point.

…further along Lea Bridge Road, the lane is squashed onto the existing pavement, with street furniture causing obstructions, becoming narrower in the distance. Alternative is to ride in busy road with buses.

7 Comments so far:

  1. Simon says:

    The woman wasn’t trying to be helpful, she wanted you out of her way.

    And if you can hit the window she’s FAR too close.

    You and I have just as much right to be on the road while on a bike as when we’re driving a car, lorry or anything else. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not only 100% wrong but I’d question how well they know the Highway Code and whether they are even competent.

    Unfortunately it’s all too easy to get mad – this ‘roads are for cars’ crap really winds me up – but if you can memorise some effective responses beforehand you have a better chance of staying calm. Keep it short, firm yet polite. It’s hard to continue arguing with someone who uses simple, clearly stated facts (Chris Boardman is a superb example). If they don’t listen then they are simply unwilling to listen.

  2. Simon Munk says:

    As per twitter exchange, there are plans to “extend new cycle lane to this point” and beyond. The Lea Bridge Road from the borough border with Hackney (c’mon Hackney!) all the way to Whipps X roundabout and including it will get high-quality tracks. See here: For the bridge next to Lea Bridge station they’re planning, AFAIK, a cantilever bridge extension next to the current one to enable enough width over the tightest point. This means a metal structure hanging largely off the existing bridge that isn’t built to take the weight of an HGV etc – cos it’ll only have cyclists and pedestrians on.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for the info Simon. I’ve deleted that description from the picture to avoid confusion. I’d be interested to see the exact plans for the stretch between the Lee Valley Riding Centre and Lea Bridge station. At the moment, the pavement/cycle lane is very narrow as the industrial yards back onto the road. Are they going to increase the width of the pavement here? At the moment there are railings belonging to the industrial yards that would need moving in order to do that. I’m curious as to the logistics!

      • Simon Munk says:

        On the bridge itself, I believe the southern side pavement goes completely – steps down to the industrial area at crossing? And then ramp further down with a new crossing? It’s all changed a lot over time. And with tracks either side. The concern there is obviously pedestrians will walk in the track. But given how few pedestrians there are there and the width of the track, I doubt that will be a huge issue if they do.

        Off the bridge itself then they are moving the road about a lot and I think the bus lane goes – so pavements both sides plus tracks. And yes, AFAIK, some of that means some small bits of the fencing gets shifted. That was part of reason for delay – lots of businesses to deal with there. But if you look at the gap coming eastbound where the old station entrance is, you can see there is width to cantilever the bridge over there.

        Hope that helps!

        As to detailed plans – don’t think any are public. But do check the enjoywalthamforest site – that’s where they’ll be.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We don’t need more cycle lanes, especially when you think how many of them endanger pedestrians (even those who don’t have earphones in and eyes on their iPhone screens).

    We don’t need more “roadpartheid” and second-class citizenship for non-motorised vehicles.

    (Cycle lanes where I live are stuck in the world where car-oriented road safety was in the 1920s and 1930s. You can expect: inconsistent and missing signage; ambiguous or plain wrong markings; blind corners; dangerous intersections; absurd and apparently random objects – including street signs for car drivers – sticking out unexpectedly; dangerously narrow where busy two-way cycling is normal; inconsistent surfaces with challenging camber; and routinely being forced with no warning into the very traffic they were supposed to shield you from in the first place. And this in a city that boasts of its love affair with bicycling.)

    It seems gloriously simple to me: footways for people on foot; highways for those on vehicles; peace on earth; and goodwill towards men.

    Failing the last two, respect.

    And failing respect, zero tolerance for dodgy drivers 🙂

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for your comments, though I’m not sure I agree with your view that we don’t need more cycle lanes. Segregated infrastructure doesn’t condemn cyclists to second-class citizenship, but recognises that a cyclist is different to a motor vehicle. Road infrastructure that puts me in the path of a vehicle that could potentially kill me is, in my view, madness! My ideal would be a city similar to Copenhagen (see my post on the same) although in London, we are far far away from that at the moment, hence the problems cyclists encounter.

    • Simon Munk says:

      Bad cycle lanes aren’t a reason to have no cycle tracks or lanes. Cycle lanes – ie paint on roads – aren’t much use. They don’t confer safety or perceived safety benefits. But cycle tracks, physically separated from the cars, are shown over and over to be the key lever to get more people cycling. They need to be good to do this. But it being hard getting good cycle tracks is not a reason not to do them.

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