Do some cycle road markings do more harm than good?

All over the UK, local authorities spend money and effort improving conditions for cyclists in a bid to encourage the use of bikes. Wherever we see painted cycle markings on the road surface, we get the feeling that something positive is being done to improve the situation for cyclists. But is this always the case?

Putney cycling 2 Putney cycling 1

What are these? Cycle markings, in the commonly recognised format. This looks great.

But what do they tell me? As a cyclist or driver, what information do these signs convey? I’m not actually certain…

Are they on a recognised or recommended cycle route? Not according to the London cycle route maps produced by London Cycling Campaign and Transport for London, no.

Do they indicate a cycle lane? No. The street in question is a busy suburban street. There would be no space for an actual cycle lane. They are simply cycle markings in the main carriageway of the road.

Do they indicate the correct position on the road? I really hope not. Correct position cannot be mandated – it needs to be decided dynamically by the rider. If taken as an indication of proper road positioning, these markings are dangerous. A rider following the position shown in the first picture would place themselves in prime position for a ‘dooring’, one of the most frequent, and painful, of cycling accidents.

Parked cars should, wherever practical, be passed by a margin that allows a door to be unexpectedly opened by a unobservant driver. If a cyclist knows better than to follow the positioning of these markings, other road users may then question their use of the road. Neither drivers nor cyclists need any more potential for negative feeling or misunderstanding.

Markings to indicate recommended road positions are sometimes called sharrows, especially when used in North American cities. But they are usually seen on wider roads.

Do these markings simply remind drivers that bikes may be present on this road? If so, this is well-meaning, but worrying. If we start marking roads as being used by bikes, where does that leave us on unmarked roads? Cyclists should be expected on all roads.

I’m intrigued to know how these markings are intended to help, and I’m contacting Wandsworth Borough Council to ask why.

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4 Responses to Do some cycle road markings do more harm than good?

  1. John says:

    We have plenty of those near Cheam, almost unanimously in areas with a 20mph limit. I like to think they mean “Priority to cyclists”..

  2. Geoff Smith says:

    In parts of Norfolk there are areas at traffic light junctions designed for cyclists.They are coloured red with a large rectangle covering the width of the road at the head of traffic waiting and a red “tail” coming down between two lanes. Wouldn’t it be much safer to stay left rather than try to negotiate to the centre of the road. I fail to see the logic behind that one.

  3. Hi Geoff. Thanks for commenting.

    I know the markings you describe. They’re often called ‘Advance Stop Lines’ and are now commonplace in many UK cities. The intention of ASLs is to place cyclists in clear view of queuing traffic and give them a small headstart when the lights change.

    Regarding the ‘tail’ you describe, it’s hard to say without knowing the junctions themselves. But there are several reasons why the feeder lane may be in the centre, rather than at the left. Lots may depend on the road layout before and after the ASL: there may be good reason why a cyclist may need to be in the right lane, not the left – if they’ve just joined from the right or will be leaving to the right. Or maybe the lanes are soon to split. Regardless of this, I think it’s worth noting that the very left hand side of a road or lane is often not the best place for a cyclist to be. Riding further out in the lane gives more visibility in busy traffic, and moving the ‘tail’ feeder lane away from left may well support this.

    I am wondering why ASLs need these ‘tail’ at all… Why are they needed, when a cyclist could entre the ASL from any poition?

  4. Darren says:

    Clapham old town is currently being redeveloped but at least the cycle Road markings are in the same direction as the traffic. Park of the current plans has a 1- lane which accommodates just the width of a double decker bus and another half meter and we have a cycle sign like the one in your pic but coming the opposite discretion. Cyclists riding where the signs are stating will seriously be in danger of oncoming traffic of both cars unaware of the cyclists’ rights as well as double decker buses.

    I have wrote a letter with no reply. I’m about to write another letter.

    I’ll have no joy.

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