Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has been criticised on social media by active travel campaigners after urging that the changes to the Highway Code due to come into force tomorrow be paused – and also repeating a misconception over one key rule aimed at making roads safer for people on bikes, referring to people riding “in the middle of the road.”
It’s a phrase that has been used by several national media outlets this week, but one that misrepresents the wording of the revised Highway Code, which under Rule 72 sets out a number of situations in which cyclists should position themselves in the centre of the lane – not the road – for safety, for example on quiet roads or streets, or in slow-moving traffic.
Speaking on BBC Radio Manchester, the Labour politician said: “The idea of people going into the middle of the road … I don’t think most cyclists would feel confident doing that. It’s a potential recipe for confusion.
“There are a number of issues here about road safety that have not been handled properly and I was confused when I heard about the changes to the Highway Code.
“The answer is to build segregated infrastructure for people,” he insisted.
“We’ve (also) piloted a side road zebra crossing in Tameside which makes it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to get across and it really worked and we want to expand that idea and need government approval.
“That’s a better way rather than expecting cyclists to go into the middle of the road, which I see fraught with problems,” he added.
Active travel campaign group Walk Ride Greater Manchester said on Twitter that Burnham’s words were “ill-judged & sadly ill-informed” and called on the Mayor to urgently replace Chris Boardman, whom he had recruited as the city-region’s cycling and walking commissioner in 2017 and who was announced as the interim commissioner of the new body Active Travel England last week.
We know @MayorofGM has a lot on his plate right now & is down a Transport Commissioner - but his ill-judged & sadly ill-informed comments on the new Highway Code on @BBCRadioManc today - incl. suggesting the changes are paused - show why he needs a right-hand replacement ASAP.. pic.twitter.com/h5XPrB9wXu
— WalkRideGM (@WalkRideGM) January 27, 2022
They also don’t urge cyclists to ‘ride in middle of road’ but take a safe central position in their LANE
We also believe new rule giving pedestrians priority over vehicles turning in & out of side roads makes GM’s push for zebra crossings he mentions, far EASIER to make into law
— WalkRideGM (@WalkRideGM) January 27, 2022
Manchester-based inclusive active travel campaigner Harrie Larrington-Spencer, meanwhile, pointed out that she always rides her cargo bike – complete with four-legged friend Frida in the basket – in primary position.
I always trike in primary. @AndyBurnhamGM more than happy to spend some time discussing what the changes in the highway code are, what they mean, why they are necessary, and why delaying them would endanger the lives of people walking, cycling and using mobility aids. pic.twitter.com/KzGVVHMcPs
— Harrie Larrington-Spencer (@tricyclemayor) January 27, 2022
As with many of the other changes to the Highway Code, the wording of Rule 72 is more a case of clarifying what bike riders were already permitted to do, and riding in primary position – also known as taking the lane – has long been recommended in cycle training, including under the government’s own Bikeability scheme.
However, much of the media has presented Rule 72 as though it is a change to the law rather than reinforcing existing advice and best practice, which in turn has led to a wave of criticism of the Highway Code revisions from many who do not seem to have been too familiar with the existing document, nor to have read up on exactly how it is changing and the reasons for it.
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.