Daily Mail leads attack on "Britain's barmiest bike lane"… but is it barmy?

Critics claim lane gives more space to bikes than cars - maybe they should re-read their Highway Code

The local council in Poole, Dorset, has come under fire for introducing what the Daily Mail describes as “Britain’s barmiest bike lane” but has defended the road markings, which it says are purely advisory and serve as a reminder to drivers to give cyclists more room.

According to the newspaper, the cycle lane, on the town’s Constitution Hill, is 6.5 feet wide, leaving just 4.5 feet for cars travelling in the same direction up the hill. But that ignores the fact that since the lane is marked with broken lines, drivers are actually allowed to drive over them if it is safe to do so.

Steve Dean, Principal Engineer at Poole Council, told the Daily Mail: “The cycle lane is designed to encourage motorists to give more room to cyclists as they tackle the steepest section of Constitution Hill.”

He continued: “Vehicles travelling up Constitution Hill are able to straddle the cycle lane as the markings are advisory and as such are there primarily to act as a reminder to motorists to give space to cyclists.

'The lane has been marked in accordance with national guidance but further signs and cycle logos are scheduled to be added and we hope this will make the situation clearer for all road users.”

Mr Dean added: “We are currently monitoring the use of the lane and most drivers seem to be using it appropriately,” although the Daily Mail did quote one local driver who said: “It's utterly ridiculous. The cycle lane is wide enough to stage the Tour de France.”

One local cyclist, who gave his name as James, made a comment on the Mail’s website regarding the story and claimed the markings were necessary, saying: “There's been a quite a high number of serious accidents on this road involving cyclists being hit by cars.

“Although, I think the cycle lane is too wide, I imagine it is a response to the high number of cyclists who have been injured on this road from cars swerving into the side of them,” he added.

“Cars are know [sic] to speed along it and try to overtake cyclists on corners only to find a car coming the other way and will then swerve back into the cyclist knocking them off their bike.”

Nevertheless, AA spokesman Paul Watters, quoted by the Daily Mail, suggested that the cycle lane could cause confusion among drivers.

“'I suspect it has been put there because of the danger of wobbling cyclists or to allow a faster cyclist to overtake a slower one without going into traffic,” he said.

“But the average width of a car is around 6ft at least. Most drivers are sensible and would be concerned about crossing the line. They may be worried about breaking the law, even though they are allowed to cross it,” he continued.

“It seems there is an increased risk that to avoid straddling the lane, cars will be more inclined to cross the centre line and will be in the path of oncoming cars.”

Mr Watters concluded: “It does not seem particularly right that drivers should permanently have to abuse the lane to stay on the right side of the road.”

We’re not sure whether doing something you are allowed to do constitutes “abuse”, but one thing that seems clear from the coverage of the story, and even the AA's comments, is that not only does there seem to be confusion about the intention of the markings, but also of the Highway Code's provisions for overtaking cyclists. Those say that a driver should give bike riders “at least as much room’ as you would a car,” with a picture clearly illustrating how much room that should be.

Viewed in that context, the Poole bike lane serves as a visual reminder of just how much room that is, and it seems that some drivers – and certain elements of the media – think that is too much. It is also worth pointing out that the picture used in the Highway Code to illustrate safe passing distances shows the motorist giving far more room to the cyclist than that given by the car in the Daily Mail's picture.

It is amazing how excited some white lines painted on the road can get the mainstream media, you'd think there was nothing much happening out there but aside from the Mail this story was picked up by the Express, Sun and the Daily Mirror, even Evan Davis permitted himself a quick snigger on Radio 4's Today programme. 

Not surprisingly Britain's largest cycling organisation the CTC failed to see the funny side CTC Policy Coordinator Chris Peck said: “This cycle lane is not ridiculous; in fact it is just slightly wider than the 1.5m minimum width that the Government recommend. More councils should follow Poole’s example of giving cyclists more space. Poole should really have removed the centreline to make it clearer to motorists, but drivers should be aware that a broken white line is only advisory and, so long as cyclists aren’t using the lane, they are allowed to drive in it.”

Research supported by CTC found that people overtake closer where a cycle lane is used, so extra width is required to create a comfortable space for cyclists. Cycle lanes can be particularly useful when travelling uphill, where extra width makes up for the higher differences in speeds between cyclists and overtaking cars and gives cyclists greater room to manoeuvre.

CTC also point out that Cycling England's guidance on cycle lane widths specify that 1.5 m should be the minimum and 2.0 metres the width whenever practicable

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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