Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Barely there Cycle Lanes

Everytime I cycle to work, I have to use the Histon Road cycle lanes in Cambridge.

Histon Road, Cambridge with 1m cycle lanes.

You would have thought most cyclists would agree that cycle lanes one metre or less are dangerous, but that is not the case.  Everybody has an opinion, but when you hear or see anecdotal comments about cycle lane safety, it always leaves me wondering what type of cyclists they are and how much experience they have?

So, cards on the table before I give my opinion.  I am a cycle enthusiast, I have read Cycle Craft and know of and practice defensive cycle techniques.  I estimate I have used Histon Road at least 600 times.  That's getting to be a decent sample size on which to reflect.

What is obvious to most, is that barely-there cycle lanes bring you close to overtaking traffic regardless of your fear level.  In my experience, there are other hidden dangers that are never discussed and are not obvious to casual users.

Here is my list of observed thin-cycle-lane dangers:

Increase of Tunnel-Vision overtakes.  Some drivers only consider danger and obstacles within their own lane.  If there is a white line, and a bicycle is on the other side of it, they will not move over.  They are assisted in ignoring Highway Code rule 163.

No room to swerve around obstacles such as:  
  • pot holes, glass, drain covers.
  • other cyclists pulling out into path from left or right
  • other cyclists just stopping in the lane to get off
  • pedestrians stepping off the pavement into the road. 

Unable to choose road positioning.  With the lane in place, irate drivers will intimidate you to use the cycle lane, even if it compromises your safety.  When restricted to the lane, you are unable to move away from the gutter and into safer Secondary and Primary positions.  Most cyclists have never heard of those terms but when you know them they increase your safety significantly.

Difficult to look over your shoulder.  When you look behind on a bicycle, you wobble.  A thin lane gives you no wobble room to look behind, which makes many manoeuvres more difficult - e.g. overtaking, turning right, leaving the lane to avoid obstacles, slowing safely.

Difficulty indicating.  A lot of newer cyclists have trouble cycling perfectly straight whilst indicating.

Standing Water, Ice and Snow.  Gutters are designed to catch water and consequently are full of puddles which hide potholes and debris, collect ice and snow.  (And yes I have had words with a driver who was angry about me using the clear road, and not the snow filled cycle lane)

Unable to ride two abreast. When I cycle with my youngsters, I like to act as a barrier between them and the traffic and be the fall guy should a driver get too close.  Even the recent Gilbert Road lanes at 1.7m are not wide enough for two abreast.  Cycling is more fun when you can come alongside and chat to your friends, just like in cars.

Off camber induced wobble.  On Histon Road, there is quite a steep camber at the edge of the road.  This adversely affects your bicycles steering.

Four abreast is unsafe.  This is specific to Histon Road.  Typically, the full width of the road is filled with: cycle-car-car-cycle with a small buffer of space between each.  When a larger vehicle arrives on the scene and mis-times an overtake the small buffer gets reduced to virtually nothing. I have many times seen near misses e.g. cycle-TRUCK-carcycle.

The Fear.  Lets not forget that most normal people cite fear of traffic as a major influence on why they do not cycle. Jostling with cars, trucks and buses is going to feel unsafe and a white painted line does nothing to reduce fear.

I would be in favour of removing the cycle lanes - they increase risk to cyclists. There is a small benefit of being able to filter more easily for about 30-60 minutes of the rush hour in the city bound direction. At other times, they allow traffic to pass closely without considering an overtake.

Thankfully there is growing support for removing the lanes.  October 2011's Area Joint Committee minutes briefly question if they should be removed as part of a review of the ring roads.  Also, the Cambridge Cycle Campaign's Cycling Vision 2016 call for a removal of all under sized (<2.0m, sometimes <1.5m).

For me, removal of that paint cannot happen soon enough.

What's the ideal city cycle lane ?

I've noticed that when I cycle on the pavement with my youngsters, I feel a lot safer and more relaxed if there is a row of parked cars acting as a physical barrier between us and on-road motor traffic.

This idea is in use in New York.  See this film on StreetFilms on NYC's Physically Separated Bike Lane.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Gone cycling

A look back at 2011

Since getting my touring bike back in 2010, the amount I cycle has gone up tremendously.  Its amazing just how much a good bike helps you to get out and ride more. So 2011 was the year that I would measure just how much I cycle.  At the very least I will know how much I've worn out my bikes.

My recorded cycling distance for 2011 is 4,831km.  At the start of December I could see that 4,831km would be an excellent target to get to so I made sure I got a couple of long rides in. (for me a long ride is 50-80km). The target is actually 3000 miles :-)   I was decimalised by OS maps, and their 1km grid lines - its so much easier to calculate distance when you simply count squares.

About two thirds of my cycling distance is spent cycling to and from work.  I really have found its the best way to keep fit when juggling a busy family life.

I've worked out that I manage to cycle half of my journeys to work.  That's a fair amount of petrol and wear and tear saved, and boy, some days its saved me a lot of queueing time. The petrol alone on my 55mpg motorcycle is £1.50, and fully costed with depreciation etc, more like £3 a day.  Actually, that's still quite cheap compared to the bus at over £5.


December was spent trying to pop my 2011 mileage over the 3000 mile barrier - it's one of those silly targets I invent to push myself.  Offroad cycling is just not efficient for building distance so I put the effort in on my mile munching road bike. I decided that I do not get south of Cambridge enough so that's where I headed.

I followed the National Cycle Network's Route 11 out to Duxford.

It has a few gems such as the DNA path between Addenbrookes and the Shelfords ...

And this lovely path also near the Shelfords ...

That path was very popular with family walkers too - as is anywhere on the National Cycle Network that is not on a road. It's a pain slowing and mixing with pedestrians but its great to see such routes being used and enjoyed by all.

Another gem, at the end of the path above and just south of Sawston, is arriving at this beautiful churchyard.  My picture doesn't do it justice.  Cyclists Dismount :-)

I then made it to Duxford before turning around that day.  There are plenty of road cyclists in this area.  Possibly because the National Cycle Network and National Byway join forces.

For my next ride out, I decided to see how far south of Cambridge I could get.  Again I got to Duxford but this time I bypassed the NCN.  I love the NCN for recreational riding, pleasantness and safety, but sometimes you just need to get somewhere and that means getting off the meandering network and onto direct roads.

My target was to get to Clavering, only because I've never been there and Jamie Oliver's Dad has a restaurant there.  I didn't quite make it, running out of time and turning back just South of Strethall, but enjoyed the quiet roads and hills with a view over the M11 running almost silently in the distance.  

The Puncture Fairy Visits.

In the last three weeks I have fixed 7 punctures.  I can't believe it.

Road bike had two, I blame using the glass covered Cottenham to Histon cycle path, the new section is clearly smashing for some.  I should have stayed on the road grrrr.

I got four on one mountain bike ride on the Aldreth Causeway - I have named this Puncture Alley in the past - doing one change and pumping the tyres every few miles to limp home and avoid patching a tyre in fading light with cold hands caked in mud.  At home I was pulling thick hardy thorns out of both tyres.  Then I go though my normal thought process loop:  right! I'm getting tubeless tyres and Tyre Milk, then read that you need a high pressure pump to seat the tyre on the rim. Darn it, who the hell has one of those at home?

And just when I thought my reliable touring bike's commute friendly Schwalbe Marathon (not Plus!) tyres have not let me down, I notice a slow puncture once at home.  I pulled a long shard of glass from the tyre.  I blame one of: Mill Road; The Tins, or the perimeter path around Cambridge Airport.

That's where I've been for the last few weeks.  Busy cycling.  Christmas.  Fixing punctures. Getting Vitamin D while the weather is warm.

Happy 2012.