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Here's what the law says and why you might sometimes prefer to give them a miss

You hear it all the time, especially on internet forums: cyclists should ride in the cycle lane. You might have had motorists yelling the same thing at you out on the road, or honking their horn (breaking Rule 112 of The Highway Code) and pointing at the cycle lane. What's the truth?

Let's see what The Highway Code has to say (remember that not all of the rules in The Highway Code are legal requirements).

Cycle lanes - 4.jpg

Here's Rule 63: "Cycle Lanes: these are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway. When using a cycle lane, keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer."

That's simple enough, then. Despite what people might claim – and how hard they type USING BLOCK CAPS – The Highway Code makes it clear that cyclists aren't obliged to use cycle lanes. 

Cycle lanes - 6.jpg

Surely, though, it's better all round for cyclists to make use of cycle lanes when they are provided? It helps us cyclists by giving us our own space and it allows motor vehicles to flow more freely, right?

Well, it's not always the best option.

What if the cycle lane is full of debris that could to cause a puncture? Cycle lanes are usually positioned on the far left of the road and the camber means that everything that lands on the main carriageway eventually ends up there... grit, stones, bits that have fallen out of skips, the lot.

We're not saying it's common but we've even seen glass from a road traffic incident being swept from the middle of the carriageway on to the cycle lane and left there, as if that means it has been cleared.

Some cycle lanes are dotted with slippery drain covers because of their positioning and they can be full of obstructions like bins left out to be emptied, temporary road signs and parked cars.

Rule 140 of The Highway Code says, "You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply."

There's a distinction in The Highway Code between 'Must/Must not' instructions which are legal requirements, and 'should/should not' and 'do/do not' rules which are advisory. That means that motorists are only advised not to park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line (which is most of them).

Cycle lanes - 8.jpg

Even if there's just the occasional parked car, you'll need to leave the cycle lane and perhaps move back into traffic that's travelling at a faster speed. You might feel safer staying out of the cycle lane completely.

Another reason for not using a cycle lane on the left of the road is that it isn't always convenient if you're soon going to turn right or need to be in the right lane. Staying in the cycle lane might leave you needing to cross multiple lanes of traffic.

You might also sometimes find traffic turning left across your path without noticing you. The risk of getting sideswiped is one of the most common objections to using some cycle lanes.

A recent study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention found that, far from protecting cyclists, painted cycle lanes are likely to result in closer passes from motorists. If you've had similar experiences, you're perfectly entitled to skip the cycle lane.

Prince  of Wales Road, Norwich (via Norwich Cycling Campaign).PNG

There's also the fact that some cycle lanes are simply – what's the word? – crap. They're filled with obstacles – street signs, bollards, trees and the like – they're so narrow that it's impossible to overtake, and they end abruptly.

Some cycle routes impede progress by requiring cyclists to give way to side roads frequently and even to dismount at certain junctions. It's far easier and quicker to steer clear of many.

London Cycle Lane Trees

If you use a cycle lane you'll have to rejoin the rest of the traffic at some point. This is usually straightforward enough but sometimes the junction at the far end has been poorly designed so you might want to avoid it by not taking the cycle lane in the first place.

Cycle lanes - 7.jpg

You'll often hear complaints that cyclist don't use "perfectly good cycle paths". The issue is that a cycle path existing and a cycle path being perfectly good are two different things. They're sometimes footways that have been converted by having little blue shared-use signs added, they're full of pedestrians, they're narrow and poorly surfaced, they yield at every junction and they sometimes disappear entirely.

We've only pointed out the negative aspects of cycle lanes here, naturally, because we're explaining why cyclists don't always use them (and, of course, it's always easy to criticise). The truth is that many fulfil a purpose.

If you feel safer in a cycle lane, you think it's better for your purposes, or you reckon that, as a matter of courtesy, using one will help the flow of motor vehicles on the road, then go for it. Riding in a cycle lane is often the most sensible option but, despite what others might insist, it's completely up to you.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

47 comments

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DrG82 [263 posts] 1 month ago
8 likes

Not sure why you are telling us all this here, surely you are preaching to the converted.

Try getting The Sun or the Daily Hate Mail to publish it in a prominent place and getting the DVSA to do a more thorough job exhamining new drivers.

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ktache [2233 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

For me it is does it provide me with an advantage.  Do the pros outweigh the cons?  Do I want to travel fast or am I going for a slower journey?  Sometimes an off road or away from the road route is so much nicer, with nature and less fumes, but it is often not as direct.  Then there is the joy of a near road path that takes me past huge queues of near stationary motor vehicles, stinky fumes but so many smiles.  I also don't like too many give ways at side roads, or the dreaded blue beware concealed entrance nonsense signs.  And the amount of objects that they expect us to navigate around that would never be placed in the middle of any other form of roadway, let alone dark grey posts in the dark.  Signposting  is rarely great either, never telling you where you are or where you are going.

 

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Spangly Shiny [283 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Agree with DrG82, you're leaning on an open door posting this article here. It would be much better aimed at a driver forum than a cyclist one, after all we already know why we avoid certain cycleways.

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Organon [358 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

I had this the other day. Riding on the road a bus come really close behind me within 2 metres, it can't get passed but won't back off, I have to stick my hand out to tell him to back off. At the next lights I am shouting at the driver, what is he doing? He dismissively gestures to the kerb where there is a seperate bike lane. I am shouting back WRONG WRONG WRONG! He keeps gesturing. I just sprint away from him when the lights turn.

There was an adjacent bike lane which goes around the back of bus stops, has plenty of pedestrians walking around in the dark and wet not looking out for me (they even seemed to forget to look when stepping into the road that night the visibility was that bad.) It was jusy safer to be on the road until this berk decides he knows the law better than I do.

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hirsute [1202 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Not sure why you refer to rule 140 when last month you told us it was ok to park in cycle lanes built after 2016. Or as seems the actual case, the regs were changed in 2016 and due to poor wording allow parking.

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MrGear [110 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

Completely segregated cycle lanes are frequently good. Shared use paths are ok when I'm riding with my 5 year old.

But white paint on the road causes me more problems with motorists than if they weren't there at all. Because if you dare to ride outside them, get ready for a full barrage of honking, finger pointing and shouting from ignorant halfwits who struggle to operate a motor vehicle.

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vonhelmet [1509 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

They're too small to provide any protection, but you're expected to use them.

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Rick_Rude [461 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I went into town on my motorbike yesterday and found the cycle lane very useful to get front of the traffic lights. I don't think I've ever seen a cyclist use this section of them, I reckon the council just randomly placed them for a token gesture so they could say 'look we've done our bit for cycling'. They didn't even end it with an ASL at the lights either. 

Anyway 10/10 for motorcycling - would jump to front of queue again.  

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brooksby [5194 posts] 1 month ago
5 likes
Rick_Rude wrote:

I went into town on my motorbike yesterday and found the cycle lane very useful to get front of the traffic lights. I don't think I've ever seen a cyclist use this section of them, I reckon the council just randomly placed them for a token gesture so they could say 'look we've done our bit for cycling'. They didn't even end it with an ASL at the lights either. 

Anyway 10/10 for motorcycling - would jump to front of queue again.  

Motorbike/scooter in a cycle lane or ASL is definitely in my top ten things that pi$$ me off, tbh.

Remember: that's the strip of road which is (supposed to be) ours, away from the motor vehicles.

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Mungecrundle [1610 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

Motorcyclists and scooter riders are also vulnerable road users and also have the right to filter. In some circumstances, getting to the head of the queue and pulling diagonally in front of the lead vehicle is a trick I learned from a Police rider. It is extremely dominant, gives you clear space, good visibility into the junction and prevents any thought of a drag race when the lights turn red and amber. In most scenarios the motorcycle will be off and away into clear space and safety without holding up the traffic in any way. ASLs are therefore a complete pain in the arse in this respect and reduce rider safety.

If they were to work for cyclists then they should be combined with a 5 second head start over the motorised traffic to allow the cyclists to clear the junction without motons breathing down their necks, and especially in those daft designs where 2 lanes of traffic are forced to merge into 1 at the far side of the junction.

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hawkinspeter [4287 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Motorbikes in ASLs can be an issue when the rider isn't indicating their intention i.e. when they are planning on turning left and a cyclist goes to their inside. Most of the time though, two wheelers share the same problems on the road and so tend to be more considerate.

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gaz rides [16 posts] 1 month ago
6 likes

oh god this is my pet hate- people telling me to use bicycle lanes which dont exist or are crap. You all know why we cannot use them when shared with pedestrians, when they cross junctions, when they have ramps or when they are full of trees, lamp posts or the elderly. Motorists who do not cycle of course wont get it, because theyre too retarded to ask politely. They are in effect, giving us permission to ride up alongside them in traffic and point to the bus stop sign. ''Why arent you on the bus? The council spent millions on the bus services here, yet you car drivers REFUSE to use them! And youre sat two abreast, slowing me down!]            i have actually said this, or along those lines, to a few people now. Anyone reading this still, go to rate driver, type in'' thr900j''        or ''hg59yrf''        ''hg09foj''     you cannot drive two abreast, with just you in a car, at zero mph, then beep and shout at a cyclist going 30 mph for slowing you down.   seriously, we have to be on the road with people this dumb.      i will gladly use cycle lanes when i dont have to give way, stop or battle with pedestrians.      they dont exist yet in my area, the council takes great delught in pisstaking us with pavements and that little blue sign. Putting me going 30 mph on a pavement with people going 3 miles per hour is akin to cycling on the road at ten mph then letting a car driver weave in and out of you and other people on bikes, going at 100 mph, Ten times the speed, why is this thought to be ok to mix?   I remmeber numberplates very well, every time i come across a driver who has previously said or done something to me when im  cycling, if i find them when on my motorbikes, i beep or yell at them.

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crazy-legs [1164 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes
Quote:

oh god this is my pet hate- people telling me to use bicycle lanes which dont exist or are crap.

And of course the winner in this one is the awful "shared space" one on Priory Lane, from the South Circular in towards Richmond Park (Roehampton Gate).

One pavement split half and half with a "cycle lane" that's routinely blocked by parked cars / delivery vans, covered in leaves, full of schoolchildren etc and obviously all the road cyclists going to and from Richmond Park will ride in the road. The abuse along there is unreal, I know road.cc has featured a couple of close passes and one example of extreme abuse but it's a classic example of how shit infrastructure makes things MORE dangerous. Remove that cycle lane from the pavement and the abuse will drop dramatically (it'll never go away entirely). Crap cycle lanes are worse than nothing.

Sustrans have to accept some responsibility for this because for years they were wiling to sign off any half-hearted bollocks from councils as being a hard-won campaign effort and "better than nothing" whereas in fact it's contributed to a lot of the issues.

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bike.brain [15 posts] 1 month ago
6 likes

The Department for Transport (DfT) advice is,
"Ride at a sensible speed for the situation and ensure you can stop in time. As a general rule, if you want to cycle quickly, say in excess of 18 mph/30 kph, then you should be riding on the road."

https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dft.gov.uk/consu...

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brooksby [5194 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Motorbikes in ASLs can be an issue when the rider isn't indicating their intention i.e. when they are planning on turning left and a cyclist goes to their inside. Most of the time though, two wheelers share the same problems on the road and so tend to be more considerate.

I think my opinions have been skewed by anecdotal experience.  Being followed down a cycle lane into an ASL by a small group of scooters, who took exception to my clearly not moving over far anough to let them all out into the ASL, and one of whom tried to kick me off once the lights changed...

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LastBoyScout [648 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

I've got numerous pics of scooters and motorcycles, in one case 3 of them, stopped in ASLs from my handlebar camera. I don't generally have a problem with it, although I'd never do it on my own motorbike.

I do object to scooters/motorbikes using the cycle lanes although.

My other reason for hating painted cycle lanes is that the addition of them on the roads has pushed the 2 lines of traffic closer together and reduced the amount of space and, therefore, safety and opportunity, for filtering up the middle of the road on the motorbike when it's rush hour - hence why some of them now use the cycle lanes.

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Tom_77 [38 posts] 1 month ago
7 likes

Most cycle lanes just aren't wide enough. According to the design notes for cycle lanes:

Quote:

Cycle lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy roads, or where traffic is travelling in excess of 40mph. A minimum width of 1.5 metres may be generally acceptable on roads with a 30mph limit.

 

All too often what you actually get is a cycle lane that's not much wider than your handlebars.

 

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Rick_Rude [461 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes
Tom_77 wrote:

 

Cycle lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy roads, or where traffic is travelling in excess of 40mph. A minimum width of 1.5 metres may be generally acceptable on roads with a 30mph limit.

Whoever is measuring cycle lanes must be the same sort of person that says they've got a 12 inch cock. As mentioned, handlebars width if you're lucky.

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hirsute [1202 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

The one by Dover castle is great

https://goo.gl/maps/tQWEy3W14Z3gTVdC7

On this occaision, the bike lane looks wider than the car lane.

 

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brooksby [5194 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Or my personal favourite, approaching the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Bristol side...

And the motorists just cannot understand why a cyclist might ride in the general lane...?!

https://goo.gl/maps/yhaFnD6awyYig1st7

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Philh68 [123 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

You’re lucky that using painted lanes is optional. Here (NSW, Australia) it’s compulsory if they are provided. But at least there is less confusion, they must be signposted as a bike lane, with the word lane written. If there’s a bike symbol without the word lane written, it’s not one. There is no parking permitted in bike lanes at all, which there shouldn’t be, they’re a traffic lane (enforcement is another matter). It doesn’t mean they’re any good, but at least it’s clear to cyclists what they are and when we must use them.

 

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hawkinspeter [4287 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

I'd like to vote for the shared pavement along Coronation Rd in Bristol:

https://bristolcars.blogspot.com/2010/08/coronation-road-cycle-path.html

or, there's an absolute beauty on the A370/M5 roundabout by Weston:

https://www.google.com/maps/@51.3594591,-2.8941526,3a,75y,96.43h,77.04t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sKHeN_WKdakzy1T33Ipoqgw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

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fukawitribe [2941 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd like to vote for the shared pavement along Coronation Rd in Bristol:

https://bristolcars.blogspot.com/2010/08/coronation-road-cycle-path.html

It's pretty crap, but not really like that article makes out,  most folk seem to be able to use and share it just fine. That said, my favourite bit is where the blue signage gets erroneously reversed for one wee section, putting the cycle side furthest from the road - or not...

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hirsute [1202 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd like to vote for the shared pavement along Coronation Rd in Bristol:

https://bristolcars.blogspot.com/2010/08/coronation-road-cycle-path.html

Well, now I know where Norwich got its inspiration from

Quote:

or, there's an absolute beauty on the A370/M5 roundabout by Weston:

https://www.google.com/maps/@51.3594591,-2.8941526,3a,75y,96.43h,77.04t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sKHeN_WKdakzy1T33Ipoqgw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

What! Where do I go then when I get to the traffic lights?

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hawkinspeter [4287 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
hirsute wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd like to vote for the shared pavement along Coronation Rd in Bristol:

https://bristolcars.blogspot.com/2010/08/coronation-road-cycle-path.html

Well, now I know where Norwich got its inspiration from

Quote:

or, there's an absolute beauty on the A370/M5 roundabout by Weston:

https://www.google.com/maps/@51.3594591,-2.8941526,3a,75y,96.43h,77.04t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sKHeN_WKdakzy1T33Ipoqgw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

What! Where do I go then when I get to the traffic lights?

It's not obvious, but on the left hand side of the A370 there's a quite usable cycle lane, so by just merely hopping across two lanes of traffic, you can carry on in relative safety (strangely enough, that bit is on the pavement, but is marked as cycle only though it's very rare that I've encountered walkers on there).

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hawkinspeter [4287 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
fukawitribe wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd like to vote for the shared pavement along Coronation Rd in Bristol:

https://bristolcars.blogspot.com/2010/08/coronation-road-cycle-path.html

It's pretty crap, but not really like that article makes out,  most folk seem to be able to use and share it just fine. That said, my favourite bit is where the blue signage gets erroneously reversed for one wee section, putting the cycle side furthest from the road - or not...

It's usable if you're not in a rush and can handle all the tree roots, but yeah, you can't rely on pedestrians keeping to "their" side. Personally, I prefer tangling with the motorised traffic instead.

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hirsute [1202 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

It's not obvious, but on the left hand side of the A370 there's a quite usable cycle lane, so by just merely hopping across two lanes of traffic, you can carry on in relative safety (strangely enough, that bit is on the pavement, but is marked as cycle only though it's very rare that I've encountered walkers on there).

I did see that bit of signage but I thought it was for joining. I really didn't think it was intended as an exit from the traffic lights !

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hawkinspeter [4287 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
hirsute wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

It's not obvious, but on the left hand side of the A370 there's a quite usable cycle lane, so by just merely hopping across two lanes of traffic, you can carry on in relative safety (strangely enough, that bit is on the pavement, but is marked as cycle only though it's very rare that I've encountered walkers on there).

I did see that bit of signage but I thought it was for joining. I really didn't think it was intended as an exit from the traffic lights !

"Intended" would be putting it a bit strong - I'd be surprised if anyone put much thought into it. The whole appoach to the M5/A370 roundabout is almost impossible to navigate on foot as there's only fragments of pavements here and there.

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fukawitribe [2941 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd like to vote for the shared pavement along Coronation Rd in Bristol:

https://bristolcars.blogspot.com/2010/08/coronation-road-cycle-path.html

It's pretty crap, but not really like that article makes out,  most folk seem to be able to use and share it just fine. That said, my favourite bit is where the blue signage gets erroneously reversed for one wee section, putting the cycle side furthest from the road - or not...

It's usable if you're not in a rush and can handle all the tree roots, but yeah, you can't rely on pedestrians keeping to "their" side. Personally, I prefer tangling with the motorised traffic instead.

Aye, I only ever use it if the traffic is spread out kerb to centre - it's generally reasonably  easy to stay at or near the flow of traffic on that stretch, more often have to filter than not at the times i'd be going through.

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CyclingInBeastMode [164 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

This bit right here is exactly why the HC needs a total revamp and written by people who actually understand things like priority, safety and hazard perception!

"keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users."

The first bit is utterly irrelevant, it should be something like, ' the lane is a guide only, if you need to ride outside of the marked area for any reason (safety being one), do so, you are not constrained in any way to remain within the cycle lane.'

And, 'When leaving the lane, if you are able to check behind, do so, you have priority and vehicles behind need to ensure it is safe to pass/overtake you. If it is safe for you to take your hand off the bars (do not do this if the weather or road conditions would make this dangerous to you) then signal your intention with an outstretched arm in the direction you wish to move, this can be helpful to other road users but is not necessary.

Motorists behind you who are observing the HC and fulfilling their lawful obligation to ensure you are not going to be harmed and doing their hazard perception will see that the lane is ending and/or that you may wish to navigate to another part of the highway. if you are making a turn then the HC already states that a motorist cannot overtake you if there is a junction, move confidently to the position you wish to hold.'

Except it won't, because it's written for motorists by motorists with little to no understanding of the problems and why they'll reoccur time and again with bad outcomes for the vulnerable person no matter what line/lane or training people on bikes have.

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