Cycle lanes

Early cycle lanes were marked only between junctions, and not across the mouths of side roads. There was a fear that cyclists would pass too close in front of cars waiting to pull out of the side road, and that the car might well pull out without seeing the cyclist.

Danish research in the 1980s identified that this type of cycle lane seemed to reduce accidents between junctions, but that they increased accidents at side-road junctions, apparently because the cyclist was taking less care. Cycle lanes had no apparent effect at major junctions.

In Oxford, we decided to try painting cycle lanes across junctions. This eliminated the problem at side roads, making cycle lanes an overall-positive intervention (safer than the previous no-cycle-lane situation). This was reported at the 1999 Velo-City conference in Graz/Maribor, is cited by the Danes, and painting across side roads is now officially recommended in the UK.

The Danish research is also the only reasonably-large study of cycle lane width. There is only a paragraph in the report (on page 63 – page 13 in the scanned version), but the result is quite clear. Narrow cycle lanes are a safety problem for moped riders, but not noticeably for cyclists. (Also note that the Danes measure cycle lane widths to the offside edge of the 30cm lane marking). In Denmark, mopeds are allowed to use cycle lanes, so they have to take them into consideration. Mopeds aren’t allowed to use cycle lanes in the UK, so we can get away with narrow cycle lanes. This matches our experience with narrow cycle lanes in Oxford.

The Danish research has been misquoted by the Dutch road institute, with the result for mopeds reported as applying to cyclists as well. This has in turn been quoted on CyclingEngland’s website, and gives a misleading impression of the safety of narrow cycle lanes. In the Netherlands, cyclists aren’t supposed to leave the cycle lane to overtake other cyclists, so they need cycle lanes to be wide enough for one cyclist to overtake another, otherwise cyclists would be continually breaking the law. In the UK, cyclists don’t have to stay in the cycle lane, so the extra width isn’t required for legal reasons.

Since these studies, the width requirements have been further refined, with explicit attention to cycle lanes alongside parking. The consensus appears to be that a “critical reaction strip” of at least 50cm is required alongside the parking. This isn’t enough room for a car door to open, but it appears to be enough room for the cyclist to dodge round if a door opens in front of them.

We’ve also learnt – on Botley Road – that cycle lanes across side roads are a risk when traffic is standing. A section of the cycle lane is now painted red to highlight to cyclists and turning traffic that they should take extra care. We would also like Keep Clear markings, to improve visibility of cars turning right into the side road, but unfortunately the side roads are too close together to make this practical. There is also an issue when the side road is wide-enough for two cars to line up side-by-side at the give-way line. The left-turning car will sometimes pull out without seeing a cyclist. The width of the side road needs to be reduced to prevent this.