Why cyclists don’t always use the cycle lane

By Hazel Dawe

Car drivers are often annoyed when they see people not using a cycle lane. Yet there are many good reasons why people might choose to cycle on the road rather than in the cycle lane.

Firstly, the poor condition of the cycle lane. Loose stone chippings left after surface dressing a road are supposed to be forced into the bitumen by vehicle movements. But car tyres do not get to the edge of the road where the cycle lane is so the stone chippings do not get pushed into the bitumen. Additionally, vehicle slipstream can push stones and chippings aside and therefore into the cycle lane, making it even more hazardous.

Then there are drains, or other utility covers. The various covers can be either sunken, or raised above the road surface. Avoiding them can lead to cycling outside the cycle lane. Equally, the edge of the road is where all the rubbish will gather, including broken glass. To avoid it you need to leave the cycle lane.

Another hazard is the driver who gets out of the vehicle without looking back and knocks you off your bike – it has happened to me. This can result in defensive cycling far enough away from doors of parked cars.

Many cycle lanes in Oxford are too narrow. Cycling down Headington Hill, for example, is dangerous because of this. Even worse where lamp posts make the already narrow cycle lane even narrower. Some lanes, like several near where I live, are made narrower by paving stones which create a stone gully. The neighbouring tarmac, after being resurfaced a few times, ends up creating a high ridge at the edge of the gully, which makes it very difficult for anyone trying to cycle out of the gully back onto the tarmac.

Older cycle lanes on pavements which cross sideroads do not have priority. Anyone on a bike is forced to constantly stop and start – not very pleasant given the extra energy needed to restart again. However, anyone cycling on the road has automatic priority and can enjoy a smooth cycle ride. There are several examples of this in North Oxford.

Signage for cycle routes is inconsistent and often poor. I have ended up on the road with a high curb between myself and the cycle lane because I missed the turning.

Then we have the right turn. A cycle lane is on the far left of the carriageway. To turn right, you need to cross two lanes of often busy traffic. The highway code recommends, when cycling in the left hand lane, to move to the centre of the lane after checking behind and signalling. From there you can move into the right hand ‘turn right’ lane. Pity the poor person stuck on a cycle lane on the far left of the carriageway faced with a very short distance to the crossroads/junction left to try and ‘take’ two lanes of fast moving traffic – mission impossible and very dangerous.

These are some of the reasons why the road can be safer, or more comfortable, than a cycle lane.

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