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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Do dedicated lanes make cycling less safe, and should roads be redesigned? [The Independent]

Why are we asking this now?
Because research published yesterday suggests that when cyclists ride in dedicated lanes motorists give them less room. Teams at Leeds and Bolton universities, supported by CTC, the national cyclists' organisation, put a camera on the back of a bike being ridden along three roads in the north of England. Analysis of the footage revealed that drivers gave up to 18cm (seven inches) more space to cyclists on stretches without cycle lanes. The findings question the perceived wisdom that slapping down strips of green paint and white lines makes riding safer. [Editor's emphasis] And as cycling continues to enjoy a boom, the suggestion that cycle lanes could be endangering rather than protecting users highlights increasingly fraught relationship between riders and drivers.

Why is this a big deal?
Cycling is booming like never before. In the capital alone there has been a 91 per cent increase in the number of cycle journeys since 2000 as commuters ditch gridlock and delay in favour of fresh air and exercise. But not everyone's prepared to take to two wheels. "The main barrier stopping as many as two-thirds of the people who don't cycle regularly is a fear of traffic," says Chris Peck, CTC's policy chief. "While cycle lanes can have a positive effect, bad facilities only make those initial excursions terrifying, putting people off altogether."

Why do drivers behave this way?
It comes down to psychology. "The very existence of cycle lanes can lead to drivers to being lazier when overtaking because they believe the space between the cycle lane and the middle of the road is their territory," Peck says. It's though the presence of a solid white line offers the illusion – to both rider and driver – of a barrier behind which cyclists are protected. When the barrier is not there, drivers take care as they move to overtake cyclists rather than roaring past with inches to spare. Other research suggests drivers react in similar way to cyclists wearing helmets. In 2006, a traffic psychologist at the University of Bath found drivers gave him less room when he was wearing head protection than when he rode helmet-free.


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