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Drivers give cyclists more space on roads without central markings, study finds

20mph speed limit also leads motorists to give bike riders wider berth

A study funded by the national cyclists’ charity, CTC, suggests that the absence of central road markings and a speed limit of 20 miles an hour cause motorists to take more care when overtaking cyclists. However, the presence of a bike lane was found to make no difference, which CTC says reinforces the need for segregated space for bike riders.

Due to be published in the December issue of the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, the article, entitled Measuring the influence of on-road features and driver behaviour on proximity and speed of vehicles overtaking cyclists, was presented at the annual symposium of the Cycling and Society Research Group in Newcastle earlier this week.

It is the work of John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering at the University of the West of England, and Stella Shackel from the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds. It can be consulted free of charge until 3 November.

They found that where there was no centre line on the road, motorists gave cyclists more space when overtaking them, and suggested that where one is present, it gives drivers a “visual clue” of where they should “drive up to.”

They added that the absence of a centre line, on the other hand, “may cause the driver to consider his or her road position and speed more carefully.” A lower speed limit of 20mph also resulted in a reduced speed when overtaking.

Sam Jones of CTC Campaigns said: “The report’s findings that drivers’ overtaking behaviour is not dependent on cycle lanes makes a strong case for protected space for cyclists. This is an issue that highway authorities should take seriously.

“Well-designed cycling infrastructure which leads to people’s feeling of safety is essential to getting more people on the road.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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wyadvd | 116 posts | 9 years ago
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Out of interest: has any cyclist here actually witnessed a collision between a loony car overtaking them and an oncoming car? One came within cm on my commute . I arrived at work slightly hoarse from having shouted expletives at him at the top of my voice!

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mrmo replied to wyadvd | 2091 posts | 8 years ago
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wyadvd wrote:

Out of interest: has any cyclist here actually witnessed a collision between a loony car overtaking them and an oncoming car? One came within cm on my commute . I arrived at work slightly hoarse from having shouted expletives at him at the top of my voice!

yes, one occasion loud bang and bits of wing mirror being sent off in all directions, and in another a skretch of brakes and a loud thud...

I didn't hang around, not interested in getting involved in some idiots accident and being on the receiving end of their abuse. You don't imagine for a moment that the driver was in the wrong do you?

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bambergbike | 90 posts | 9 years ago
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I cycle a fair bit in rural Germany and I've always felt far more comfortable on roads with no centre-line than on similar roads (same width/traffic volume/bendiness) with centre lines, so it's good to see UK research being done on this as well.

I've only had one overtake in years and years in Germany where I wondered whether the lack of a centre-line had actually encouraged a motorist to overtake dangerously (the car driver went for a gap between me and a motorcyclist coming against me - did the lack of a centre line make him feel better about "taking" space from the motorcyclist as well as about "giving" space (not much!) to the cyclist [me]?)

There's a brief summary of research on taking out centre lines on rural roads with further references from Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany here: http://www.unfallzeitung.de/zeitung/praxistest-sind-landstrassen-ohne-mi...
[in German]

And then there's reams and reams of research and discussion on the whole business of making roads appear narrower by taking out the centre line and putting in cycle lanes, Dutch style...The no-centre-line roads in the Netherlands have speed limits of max 60 km/h AFAIK, and the Netherlands have substantial speeding fines and an intelligent system for linking road markings (or the absence of markings) with speed limits so people can't plead ignorance. So if their markings help, the fines may come into it, too.

Here's a Swiss street gone Dutch: http://www.kernfahrbahn.ch/beispiel.html
And a Swiss infrastructure textbook with lots of pictures:
https://www.ag.ch/media/kanton_aargau/bvu/dokumente_2/mobilitaet___verke...

Here's an Austrian example (hello, door zone!):
http://alt.argus.or.at/transdanubien/ziegelhofstrasse_kernfb2.jpg

And here's a current German national pilot project with a focus on rural routes:
http://www.nationaler-radverkehrsplan.de/neuigkeiten/news.php?id=407

And one that was just in Baden-Württemberg (but urban and rural routes there, and this research is further along and stuff has been published):
http://www.fahrradland-bw.de/radverkehr-in-bw/infrastruktur/modellprojek...

My local cycle campaign in Germany has divergent views on these - we agree that they're often too narrow and encourage cyclists to ride dangerously close to the edge of the carriageway, but some of us like them anyway because they do seem to have a civilizing effect on motorized traffic.

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Ronald replied to bambergbike | 57 posts | 8 years ago
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bambergbike wrote:

And then there's reams and reams of research and discussion on the whole business of making roads appear narrower by taking out the centre line and putting in cycle lanes, Dutch style...The no-centre-line roads in the Netherlands have speed limits of max 60 km/h AFAIK, and the Netherlands have substantial speeding fines and an intelligent system for linking road markings (or the absence of markings) with speed limits so people can't plead ignorance. So if their markings help, the fines may come into it, too.

Correct. The goal in the Netherlands you can see the speed limit from just road markings.

No centre line + optical narrow by having cycle lanes (Dashed) = 60km/h (40mph)
Double dashed centre line = 80km/h (50mph)
Double dashed centre line filled with green line 'Autoweg' = 100km/h (60mph). These can be dual or triple carriage, but generally lack hard shoulder.
Only motorways proper are 130, or 120/100/80 if appropriate.

Narrow-ish Extra-urban used to be 80km/h speed limit, but these are being downgraded to 60, usually using the cycle lane narrowing trick.

IMHO all the narrow hedge-lined country roads in UK should mostly be downgraded to 40mph... 60mph is completely irresponsible, even before taking cycling into the equation.

(Source: I lived there for 30+ years)

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gazza_d | 487 posts | 9 years ago
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Interesting and welcome research, but isn't this basically the theory behind the concept (and usually bobbins implementation) of shared spaces? Which in the ones I've experienced often end up being a "might is right" battle.

I get a sinking feeling that this could end up being used as a reason/excuse by less enlightened LAs to promote new schemes as cycling friendly on the cheap by just not painting any lines.

What works and is needed is seperated space either by grade or by curbs & other dividers.

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ChairRDRF | 385 posts | 9 years ago
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For the effect generally on driver behaviour in London of removing centre lines, see this recent research http://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/centre-line-removal-trial... .

For some years I and colleagues tried to reduce central hatching widths, preferably to white lines, if not removal altogether. Not quite the same as described in this research by parkin, but same principle.

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ChairRDRF | 385 posts | 9 years ago
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For the effect generally on driver behaviour in London of removing centre lines, see this recent research http://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/centre-line-removal-trial... .

For some years I and colleagues tried to reduce central hatching widths, preferably to white lines, if not removal altogether. Not quite the same as described in this research by parkin, but same principle.

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Northernbike | 228 posts | 9 years ago
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Absence of road markings and signage does I think tend to engender an approach based on negotiation, give and take, common sense whereas signs and lines give rise to the 'I have right of way so I'll damn well carry on regardless of anyone else' attitude. High traffic volumes or high speeds in city centres and motorways probably need more road clutter to keep order but on the whole I can't help thinking, as this study suggests, that in many cases less is more.

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Quince | 378 posts | 9 years ago
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I've been sitting on this theory for ages, so it's sort of a relief to see it come under study. I've been waiting to be proved right or wrong for a while. Ever since a local smallish A Road was redone, I noticed the atmosphere while cycling on it changed hugely before they put the lines back in. As Bez was saying, when you have a 'corridor' of white paint laid down, it's easy to develop a mentality of 'stay within lines; press accelerator; get home'. You pre-empt the nature of the entire road, then forget about it. Taking the lines away makes the environment less uniform and seemingly predicable, and so I think people tend to be aware of more of it. Everything certainly felt slower and calmer on the unpainted road, as opposed to people usually barrelling down their own personal train tracks.

Anything that encourages people to think about what it is they're actually doing generally seems to be a good thing. People take more responsibility and generally make better decisions when they're not given apparent 'rights' that conflict with the reality of a situation.

Not that all road markings and bad - at all - but they certainly don't seem to be not all good.

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drfabulous0 | 409 posts | 9 years ago
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Hmmm, where I live every single residential street is reduced to a single lane by parked cars on either side. As a result oncoming cars nearly always assume priority over cyclists where no line is present on account of being bigger despite technically being on the wrong side. Based on my personal experience this seems bollocks.

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dafyddp | 470 posts | 9 years ago
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When I saw the Doctor recently he asked how many units (alcohol) I drank a week. 'About 20' I said. 'Just because 20 is the limit, doesn't mean it's a recommendation' he responded.

In my view, speed (especially in built up areas) is the same - too few drivers realise that a 30mph limit, doesn't make it a recommendation, and getting cars to slow right down to a similar speed to bikes would be far more effective than any amount of segregation.

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KiwiMike replied to dafyddp | 1599 posts | 9 years ago
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dafyddp wrote:

getting cars to slow right down to a similar speed to bikes would be far more effective than any amount of segregation.

JOHN FORESTER / JOHN FRANKLIN VEHICULAR CYCLING GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC ITS FINE YOU'LL LOVEIT KLAXON

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teaboy replied to dafyddp | 306 posts | 9 years ago
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dafyddp wrote:

In my view, speed (especially in built up areas) is the same - too few drivers realise that a 30mph limit, doesn't make it a recommendation, and getting cars to slow right down to a similar speed to bikes would be far more effective than any amount of segregation.

How? So far we can't trust rives to slow down to the legal limit, let alone drive to the conditions. I've so far NEVER heard a way of achieving these lower speeds that goes much past 'ask nicely again and hope'.

Even if you can get absolutely everyone driving slowly absolutely all of the time it still doesn't FEEL as safe as traffic-free riding.

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mrmo replied to teaboy | 2091 posts | 9 years ago
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teaboy][quote=dafyddp wrote:

How? So far we can't trust rives to slow down to the legal limit, let alone drive to the conditions. I've so far NEVER heard a way of achieving these lower speeds that goes much past 'ask nicely again and hope'.

There are some fairly simple way of ensuring compliance, How often do you see lorries doing 80 on the motorway? and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that with todays GPS technology and that most? new cars rely on computers for many engine management functions, linking the two together. But as with road pricing and black boxes enforcing absolute limits on cars would be an "infringement of drivers human rights".

None of which deals with idiots not driving to the conditions etc.

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oozaveared | 934 posts | 9 years ago
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In addition my pet hate is when on a narrow road with two way traffic I take a more primary position to make overtakers think about the overtake a bit more and not just pass by on my elbow. Essentially making sure they can't overtake when there is directly oncoming traffic, only to find that said oncoming traffic pulls over to their side a bit to allow traffic overtaking me to make a close pass.

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rich22222 | 166 posts | 9 years ago
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Shame the lines don't also seem to stop them from driving head on at me on my side of the road when trying to get through too small a gap.

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STATO | 596 posts | 9 years ago
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How many miles of painted cycle lanes would we get for the price if 1mile of separate infrastructure? I guess it would equate to a lot of paint!?

Separate lanes have their place but if we painted a lane on every road then that would be a hell of a lot of new lanes. On a case basis (as this report shows) the safety might not improve but surely putting that much volume of space available to cyclists and making a clear statement to motorists that 'bikes are here' has to give benefit?

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teaboy replied to STATO | 306 posts | 9 years ago
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STATO wrote:

How many miles of painted cycle lanes would we get for the price if 1mile of separate infrastructure? I guess it would equate to a lot of paint!?

Separate lanes have their place but if we painted a lane on every road then that would be a hell of a lot of new lanes. On a case basis (as this report shows) the safety might not improve but surely putting that much volume of space available to cyclists and making a clear statement to motorists that 'bikes are here' has to give benefit?

Does the paint increase safety? No - this report says that. Is subjective safety a huge barrier to cycling? Yes. How would all the paint in the world change that? Did painting large bits of road blue make things better in London? Were these areas respected by motorists? No.

Continuing to paint the roads will continue to give the same results - no improvement of safety to those on bikes, and no increase in the numbers who think riding is safe enough for them to start.

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Bez replied to STATO | 615 posts | 9 years ago
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STATO wrote:

How many miles of painted cycle lanes would we get for the price if 1mile of separate infrastructure? I guess it would equate to a lot of paint!?

Separate lanes have their place but if we painted a lane on every road then that would be a hell of a lot of new lanes. On a case basis (as this report shows) the safety might not improve but surely putting that much volume of space available to cyclists and making a clear statement to motorists that 'bikes are here' has to give benefit?

I couldn't disagree more  1

Why fritter funds away on miles of moderately inexpensive but entirely ineffective paint, when it could be focused on small areas done properly?

Without doing things properly, no significant change will occur. Without significant change occurring, no local authority will look at any scheme and see evidence for doing anything other than frittering funds away on miles of moderately inexpensive but entirely ineffective paint. Paint doesn't bring much change. If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.

It's time to end what has proven to be a wasteful loop of doing things poorly, and start doing a few things properly to show that it works.

Which is precisely why so many people are so keen to get so firmly behind London's "crossrail for bikes" plans. This is the opportunity to find out what happens when things are done (near enough) properly.

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STATO replied to Bez | 596 posts | 9 years ago
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Bez wrote:

Without doing things properly, no significant change will occur. Without significant change occurring, no local authority will look at any scheme and see evidence for doing anything other than frittering funds away on miles of moderately inexpensive but entirely ineffective paint. Paint doesn't bring much change. If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.

If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.... like a significant increase in cycling where painted lanes, ASL and other on road cycle features are present. Pretty sure thats where we are at now.

What im saying is this needs extended to more roads. Putting in a section of segregated path which dumps you on a road with no facilities is a waste of money and its what councils are doing now. There are already unused segregated facilities because the lead nowhere so no-one uses them - which leads to complaints by councils that no-one uses them so they wont build more. I think we need to start at the bottom and work up, not try and jump in at the top when we can only afford 1% of it, it just leaves it unfinished and unusable.

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teaboy replied to STATO | 306 posts | 9 years ago
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STATO wrote:
Bez wrote:

Without doing things properly, no significant change will occur. Without significant change occurring, no local authority will look at any scheme and see evidence for doing anything other than frittering funds away on miles of moderately inexpensive but entirely ineffective paint. Paint doesn't bring much change. If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.

If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.... like a significant increase in cycling where painted lanes, ASL and other on road cycle features are present. Pretty sure thats where we are at now.

Correlation is not causation. The additional cyclists are not because of the paint, and paint does not protect anyone. Where are the kids cycling to school? Certainly not on the road. Why? Because it doesn't feel safe.

STATO wrote:

What im saying is this needs extended to more roads. Putting in a section of segregated path which dumps you on a road with no facilities is a waste of money and its what councils are doing now. There are already unused segregated facilities because the lead nowhere so no-one uses them - which leads to complaints by councils that no-one uses them so they wont build more. I think we need to start at the bottom and work up, not try and jump in at the top when we can only afford 1% of it, it just leaves it unfinished and unusable.

If councils are building bad protected lanes it doesn't invalidate the concept. What's the point in starting at the bottom and working up when there's a better solution that will actually be cheaper in the long run? Would you also suggest African countries install landline phone networks despite there being a better, working solution?

Just design and build the protected lanes properly, acknowledging it's a long-term project that has to start somewhere.

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teaboy replied to STATO | 306 posts | 9 years ago
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STATO wrote:
Bez wrote:

Without doing things properly, no significant change will occur. Without significant change occurring, no local authority will look at any scheme and see evidence for doing anything other than frittering funds away on miles of moderately inexpensive but entirely ineffective paint. Paint doesn't bring much change. If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.

If it did, we'd have seen such change in towns across the country.... like a significant increase in cycling where painted lanes, ASL and other on road cycle features are present. Pretty sure thats where we are at now.

Correlation is not causation. The additional cyclists are not because of the paint, and paint does not protect anyone. Where are the kids cycling to school? Certainly not on the road. Why? Because it doesn't feel safe.

STATO wrote:

What im saying is this needs extended to more roads. Putting in a section of segregated path which dumps you on a road with no facilities is a waste of money and its what councils are doing now. There are already unused segregated facilities because the lead nowhere so no-one uses them - which leads to complaints by councils that no-one uses them so they wont build more. I think we need to start at the bottom and work up, not try and jump in at the top when we can only afford 1% of it, it just leaves it unfinished and unusable.

If councils are building bad protected lanes it doesn't invalidate the concept. What's the point in starting at the bottom and working up when there's a better solution that will actually be cheaper in the long run? Would you also suggest African countries install landline phone networks despite there being a better, working solution?

Just design and build the protected lanes properly, acknowledging it's a long-term project that has to start somewhere.

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rggfddne | 225 posts | 9 years ago
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I don't think this is really the end of "the case for cycle lanes" - but it is fair to raise the point that adding lines is not always the solution.

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Bez | 615 posts | 9 years ago
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Yes, I've also noticed a strong trend in recent years for more people to give sufficient space to the cyclist but pull off insanely ill-judged games of chicken with oncoming traffic, whether in full view or by gambling on blind corners.

I've seen several of these come very close to collisions (I've once my self had to do a full-on emergency stop to avoid one) and I fear it's only a matter of time before I see one go horribly wrong. I can only hope that if I'm the one on the bike at the time I don't get taken out by the ensuing wreckage.

I'm not sure what light that casts on my "people obey lines" hypothesis. I guess they adopt an "in for a penny, in for a pound" approach.

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pmanc replied to Bez | 211 posts | 9 years ago
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Bez wrote:

...insanely ill-judged games of chicken with oncoming traffic...

So true. I think some drivers have a hard-wired urge that they have to overtake cyclists (and learners) on principle, regardless of the circumstances. So often people force their way past me (even when I'm in primary) only to slam the anchors on for the red light 20 metres up the road (so I have to go around them again).

People need reminding of a simple rule. If you don't have room to overtake, then don't overtake. Leave it a minute and perhaps your paths will separate and so you won't have to overtake at all.

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wycombewheeler replied to Bez | 4070 posts | 8 years ago
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Bez wrote:

I'm not sure what light that casts on my "people obey lines" hypothesis. I guess they adopt an "in for a penny, in for a pound" approach.

The issue here is often the oncoming car not moving left at all, because the line shows what is his, right? Or more commonly the wrong time to overtake regardless of what lines are present.

I've had a few of these and it's pretty terrifying when the oncoming driver uses the horn at the moment when bike and two cars are all in line.

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oozaveared | 934 posts | 9 years ago
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A few years back they also found that a lack of road marking in towns also made drivers more careful. They needed to think more.

The number of motorists that pass me when it's clear on the otherside of the road and could easily give me a wide berth but won't actually cross a white line to give me more space is well .. a lot.

I agree with Bez. The lines seem to become physical barriers in some peopl's minds rather than just an indication of the median

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STATO replied to oozaveared | 596 posts | 9 years ago
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oozaveared wrote:

The number of motorists that pass me when it's clear on the otherside of the road and could easily give me a wide berth but won't actually cross a white line to give me more space is well .. a lot.

I find (scarily) that its the opposite, driver giving you plenty of space by nearly forcing oncoming into the gutter, god forbid they dont as i fear the overtaker would either plow head on or swerve back into their lane... whether i was still in it or not!

I still dont like the idea of a physically separated lane (for regular cycle paths). There has not been a design yet that integrates separate lanes back into the road without the cyclist having to stop. Separate lanes only work if you have a long run, try it on roads with junctions a cyclist might want to use and its easier to just stay on the road.

I understand it will be great for 'new cyclists' or 'mum and the kids' but what happens to these people when the segregated bit ends, they get dumped on a normal road with no provision and have no idea how to deal with it.

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teaboy replied to STATO | 306 posts | 9 years ago
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STATO wrote:
oozaveared wrote:

The number of motorists that pass me when it's clear on the otherside of the road and could easily give me a wide berth but won't actually cross a white line to give me more space is well .. a lot.

I find (scarily) that its the opposite, driver giving you plenty of space by nearly forcing oncoming into the gutter, god forbid they dont as i fear the overtaker would either plow head on or swerve back into their lane... whether i was still in it or not!

I still dont like the idea of a physically separated lane (for regular cycle paths). There has not been a design yet that integrates separate lanes back into the road without the cyclist having to stop. Separate lanes only work if you have a long run, try it on roads with junctions a cyclist might want to use and its easier to just stay on the road.

I understand it will be great for 'new cyclists' or 'mum and the kids' but what happens to these people when the segregated bit ends, they get dumped on a normal road with no provision and have no idea how to deal with it.

 102

Stop looking at the UK for examples. Separate infrastructure works very well when it is well-designed and well-built. The segregated bit shouldn't 'just' end - it should end in residential streets with low volume, low speed access-only traffic. If it's easier to stay on the road then it isn't well-designed infrastructure.

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Bez | 615 posts | 9 years ago
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No surprises. People heed lines, they feel reassured by them, that if they obey them they're fulfilling their legal obligation.

That's why they don't like crossing centre lines, or lane lines, but also why many think the lines on painted bike lanes are fine to go right up to: the line says, "you're just dandy up to here".

Of course, the line also means that if others cross them, they're viewed as transgressing in terms of responsibility as well, and so they're fair game. Swerve to avoid that broken glass in the narrow bike lane and you're basically changing lanes just as you would on the motorway: the people around you are guided by the lines to be less tolerant of it.

Painted lines along the direction of travel emphasise laminar flow: smooth, efficient, but poorly suited to coping with disruption.

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