As the country tries to encourage more people out onto their bikes for the benefit of their health and the environment, a new study could put people off getting back into the saddle.
According to the study by Leeds and Bolton universities cyclists are in much more danger of being hit by cars on roads that include cycle lanes because they encourage motorists to drive closer when overtaking bicycles.
The study says that on roads without cycle lanes, drivers “consciously perform an overtaking manoeuvre”. On roads with cycle lanes, they treat the space between the centre line and the outside edge of the cycle lane as exclusively their territory and make less adjustment for cyclists.
The research was carried out using a mounted camcorder on the rear rack of a bicycle and rode on three roads that each had sections with and without cycle lanes. On all three roads, drivers gave cyclists less room where there was a cycle lane. The greatest difference was recorded on the A6 near Garstang, Lancashire, where cars passed 7in closer when the cyclist was in a cycle lane.
The study challenges the approach taken by many local authorities to promote cycling and suggests that reducing the speed and volume of traffic would be more effective in improving cycle safety than painting narrow cycle lanes and cycle symbols on their roads.
The Government recommends that cycle lanes should be at least 1.5 metres wide and very few are.
Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Manager for the CTC welcomed the research and said: “Cycle lanes are very useful as long as they are good - if the cycle lane is an adequate width. If you’re going to do cycle lanes then you have got to do them well.
“I think the study is offers some very useful findings for local transport authorities to have a look at because while it’s great that so many are doing something and promoting cycling they do need to realise you have to do it well or it can be counter productive, particularly for novice cyclists who find the roads intimidating.
“There is growing evidence that non cyclists main concern for not cycling is a lack of cycle facilities but then when they get out on the roads this is forgotten and their greatest concern is volume of traffic.
“Lots of local authorities are very good at persuading people to take it up but not so good for when they actually have.”
A recent study from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), identifying the enormous potential for more motorists to take up cycling, showed that what deters them are inconsiderate drivers, heavy traffic, lorries, the poor state of roads and risk of an accident. More cycle lanes, safer roads and less traffic topped the wish list of cycling motorists.
To get an idea of how they do things in other countries check out David Hembrow's A view from the cycle path blog about how they do things in Holland - you might even spot a road.cc sticker.