Is the writing on the wall for the writing on the road?
An old nemesis
A couple of years ago, I had somewhat different attitudes to cycling infrastructure.
As someone who was willing and able to brave the road, I had taught myself how to stay safe amongst the traffic, and almost all the infrastructure I had ever seen diminished my ability to do that.
Of course, as a selfish idiot, this meant that I was resolutely opposed to all infrastructure. I hadn’t seen the sort of thing that exists in the Netherlands (and I still haven’t ridden on it, much as I’d like to); all I’d seen was the stupid, nonsensical, unusable, impassable, pointless, insulting junk that we get in the UK.
But worse than all of those examples – each of which is clearly laughable (it’s that or cry) – is this sort of thing:
What’s wrong with that?
Maybe to you it looks fine. Maybe it looks like it could be better, but is broadly ok.
Well, there’s the problem. On the face of it, to many people, it seems fine. But it’s awful.
Why’s it awful? Because it coerces cyclists into a thin sliver of road, the “gutter ghetto”, with the paint suggesting to drivers that all is well provided they don’t cross the line when in reality there’s woefully insufficient space to pass safely here. The cycle lane on one side at least is right against the pavement so cyclists may need to move out to avoid pedestrians (as they might for drains, potholes or debris, all of which are mostly found towards the kerb) and the paint, which encourages people to just keep hammering on in their lane, makes moving away from the kerb much more difficult and risky. It continues this theme through a pinch point, adding to the risk. It might look like cyclists have a bit of refuge, but it’s just paint.
And because it looks fine to many people – in fact these lanes seem to encourage novice cyclists – it’s accepted. And because it’s accepted, more of them appear.
And so on.
And then, of course, we can add advanced stop lines (ASLs) into the mix.
(Photo by Tejvan Pettinger, CC-licenced)
Again, on the face of it they seem fine and dandy, but again they’re highly problematic. They act as bait for cyclists to ride up the feeder lane (which often isn’t as wide as the one pictured), often causing them to be alongside vehicles that are moving off (never a safe place to be) and often dumping them in the blind spot of an HGV.
Oh, look. The ASL box is the exact same shape as an HGV’s blind spot.
Well, finally, this appears to have been recognised.
In the past couple of months, some interesting things have happened. And the interesting thing about them is that, as far as paint is concerned, we may finally be at a tipping point.
Bus says no
It said “Nope” to passing up the inside of buses (and, by implication, other large vehicles), despite the fact that – as shown – that’s often precisely where the paint sends cyclists.
This is the Scottish government telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure it has painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.
Egg says no
Next, we had the City of London Corporation and their bizarre egg film, giving us not one but two clearly written and illustrated instructions.
It’s crystal clear: the egg in the painted area is used as an example of dangerous positioning, whilst the egg ignoring it is used as an example of safer positioning.
This is the City of London telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure it has painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.
Croydon says no
Next up we have Croydon Council saying only yesterday – well, I’m sure you can guess:
The danger of riding between the pavement and large stationary vehicles is the focus of a new cycling safety initiative launched this week by Croydon Council.
The campaign seeks to keep riders safe by raising awareness of the risks of being hit by buses and lorries making left turns, particularly at traffic light-controlled junctions.
This area is often a ‘blind spot’ in mirrors, meaning that drivers who are turning may well not be able to see anyone who has ridden up alongside them while they have been waiting for the lights to change
Casualty statistics show that this is a relatively common cause of serious injury, and one which can easily be prevented.
This is Croydon Council telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure it has painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.
But the real damning blow to painted lanes is currently unfolding.
Coroner says no?
After viewing CCTV evidence and pictures of the scene, coroner Mary Hassell said: “It just seems to me that it’s an accident waiting to happen if cyclists are guided into the space where blue paint is on the left and they’re in the very place where the lorry is going to hit them. It seems like they’re being guided into the place where they’re most vulnerable.” … Accident investigator PC Alex Hewitt replied: “It’s almost an impossible situation.” … Asked by the coroner what status cycle superhighways had in relation to vehicles not being permitted to enter, PC Hewitt said: “Legally nothing. It’s just a piece of blue paint.”
The implications of this should be huge. Police officers, accident investigators and a coroner – someone specifically tasked with identifying things that cause fatalities - all appear to be stating what we knew: that paint offers no protection. Not physically – of course! – and not even legally. It’s little more than a trap.
So, it would appear that we may soon see a coroner telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure that has been painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.
Just say no
The current inquest may be focused on London’s cycle superhighways, but it really concerns all painted lanes.
Finally, it seems that everyone – not just cyclists but people tasked with spreading a road safety message, people who paint the lanes, and people tasked with determining cause of death (not to mention a fireman who stuck the boot in this week, although his comments have been slightly disowned by his service) – will all be saying the same thing: painted lanes put people where they absolutely should not be, and they put people in mortal danger.
This should be a tipping point.
This should be the point where everyone gets behind Space for Cycling.
This should be the point where we tip out the paint.