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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Hazards of Cycling

In this blog, I want to talk about the hazards that I experience on my daily commute. If I get out on the country I find the number of these hazards declines but they don't completely vanish.
The first hazard is crossing major roads sometimes partially mitigated by traffic light controlled crossings. However, I never assume that the cars are going to stop simply because the light is red. I have seen too many drivers ignore the lights and go through the red light without slowing down even when pedestrians and cyclists have moved onto the crossing. Rather than watching the lights, I watch the cars to ensure that they are breaking and stopping. This includes when I cross the ring road around Birmingham city.

The next hazard is the number of cars that pass too close to me. The West Midlands police are running a campaign to educate and prosecute drivers who do not give cyclists the 1.5 metres space when passing. The number of times this doesn't happen is very high and it gets worse were roads narrow. I follow the good riding policy of moving into the centre of the lane where I believe the road is too narrow for cars to pass safely. Some driver get frustrated with this a will rev their motors or toot just to let you know they want passed. Sorry safety means I will hold the centre of the lane. I rely heavily on a helmet mounted mirror and signal my intent before moving out to reduce the passing space but some will still endeavour to push pass well within the 1.5 metre safety limit.
It is not just the gap when passing. It is also whether the road ahead is clear enough for them to get ahead of the cyclist before they have to pull in. So many times when the road is about to narrow, I have had near misses when a vehicle does a last minute pass and cuts sharply across in front. In some situations, the obstacle blocking the clear road is an oncoming vehicle. Put an immoveable obstacle in front of them that they have to stop for and the situation is worse. They pass and pull in while braking leaving causing a near miss and then leave little space for the cyclist to stop safely. In some of these situations, if they hadn't passed, the cyclist would have got passed the blockage and been out of everyone's way but having to be ahead of the cyclist takes priority in some driver's eyes despite the dangers to themselves and other road users.
Shared pedestrian and cycle ways may not have vehicles but they do have people walking dogs. Some dogs are on leads and others running lose. Owners are usually fairly good but it means maintaining an even speed is impossible. Even passing pedestrians means slowing down almost to their walking speed. Ringing the bell helps but it isn't easy to predict which direction in which a pedestrian will move on hearing the bell that is if they hear it. Some have head phones to listen to their music so can't hear the birds singing of a cyclist ringing a bell.
You would think that dedicated cycle lanes would be good choices but some are next to pedestrian lanes. Pedestrians don't seem to understand what cycle lanes are for and neither do cars where a cycle lane runs along the side of the road. However, there are also other reasons that make some cycle lanes unsafe or useless unless you are walking. Some of this is the amount of rubbish and in particular glass that is scattered across the cycle way. Another issue is how uneven the cycle lane is. Traffic calming humps are avoided by car drivers and even more so by cyclists. Uneven road surfaces vibrate up through the frame of a bike jarring the cyclists body and decreasing the comfort of a ride.
There are places where the cycle lane moves away from the corner before crossing the road at an uncontrolled crossing. Why are these a problem? Cars come round the corner and accelerate not having any concern for what might be crossing. You could argue that those crossing the road should be more vigilant. The number of cars that don't signal their intent simply means that a cyclist has to wait until the road is completely clear. It is actually safer to ride through the intersection in these situations.
I have an even greater complaint for the new cycle lane at the bottom of our street. It clearly rates cyclists as third rate citizens on the road. In a short stretch (around 100 meters) of cycle lane, there are three give way symbols painted for the cyclists, two driveway crossings and an intersection.

The first of the give ways is for a driveway into a parking area behind some small units (see photo on the right). If the cyclist enters the cycle lane it is clear that they should give way to traffic going into or coming out from the flats even if that traffic is coming from behind them. They can hear a car coming but unless they have mirrors or the car is right beside them, they will not know whether the car is turning in or going up the road. That possibly isn't too big a problem but if the cyclist decides to use the main carriage way which they are allowed to do (see below) then surely they have the right of way regardless of what cars might be doing. It seems obvious to me that for your own safety unless you feel a car coming out isn't going to give way, you ride up the main carriage way. As I walked down to take this photo, I saw a car turn into this drive way. They drove across the white painted area including the cycle lane. Does this make it sound like it is safe?
Obstacle two is the second driveway which fortunately isn't marked for the cyclist to give way (visible in the distance in the photo above and the upper edge visible in the photo below). My concern here is that the cyclist is less visible being a car width away from the main carriageway that a driver could easily swing across their path without realising they are there. I thought this was marked with a cyclist give way originally but it clearly wasn't there when I went to take the photo.

The third obstacle is crossing the Meadow Brook Road junction which is what these supposedly road safety changes are about. There was a visibility problem because of the curve in the road and the hedge on the corner property. As can be seen in the photo on the right, the cyclist now reaches this junction about a car's length back from the main Shenley Lane carriage way and they have to give way to cars turning in from behind them or from the other side of the main Shenley Lane carriageway. They also have to give way to anything coming out of Meadow Brook Road. Cars on the Shenley Lane don't have to give way so cyclists are clearly being told they should give way at intersections regardless of whether they are on the main carriageway or not and even worse, they should give way to cars coming from behind them that are going to turn left across their path. Again I ask, if I ride on the main carriageway do I have right of way? I do and I argue that I still should have on the cycle way and I should be given the opportunity to be more visible to vehicles.
The final give way is on return to the main carriage way (see right). Here, the cyclist is giving way to traffic coming from behind. Since Shenley Lane again becomes dual carriage way at this point, I am wondering what the cyclist is giving way to. Is it the cars that are moving over into the left lane who possibly and most likely are not signalling their intent? On what basis should the cyclist give way? Is it simply because there is a car coming up behind them?
The safe cycling guidelines suggest that the cyclist should indicate their intent to exit a cycle lane but I would argue here that it is the cycle lane that has left the cyclist. The problem is that the cyclists visibility has been removed if they go through the cycle lane and as a consequence are at risk on return to the main carriage way. There are two possible solutions here. Continue the cycle lane up the hill or make this lower cycle lane next to the main carriage way with the same rules applying as the main carriage way.
The cars on the same road have unobstructed flow but cyclists, sorry you have to give way to people joining the main carriageway. Why are cyclists treated this way by the city council traffic planners? Obviously, we are not considered normal traffic when the road code clearly gives cyclists the status of any other vehicle. Planners clearly seem to think that protecting cyclists on the road means moving them off the road and adding as many obstacles as possible to their journey so that cycling is no longer a viable option.
In trying to re-find instructions for safe cycling, I also found Making Space for Cycling's design principles (http://www.makingspaceforcycling.org/#principles). This was quite nice to find the following guideline:
“2. Priority at sideroads.
All cycle tracks along primary streets should have priority over side roads, including junctions with secondary streets. The cycle track and footway must not change height across this junction.”
This practice is clearly not followed by Birmingham City Council with the design of this junction and at least two others that I know of in Birmingham.
The following is taken from the highway code (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82):
Rule 61
Cycle Routes and Other Facilities. Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.
Rule 63
Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). 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.
I take this to mean that if I judge the cycle route to be unsafe which I do in this case, then I am not required to use it. As a consequence, I won't be using this short piece of cycle lane. I also find no instructions in the highway code that says cyclist should be treated differently to other road users so if a cyclist is on the main carriage way then they have the right of way.
In safe cycling guides on shared use of carriage ways are statement like these:
Ride assertively, away from the gutter. If the road’s too narrow for vehicles to pass you safely, it may be better to ride in the middle of the lane to prevent dangerous overtaking.
Ride in a straight line past parked cars, rather than dodge between them, and allow at least a full door's width in case the doors are suddenly opened. (The AA, https://www.theaa.com/driving-advice/safety/cyclists-and-drivers-sharing-the-road). Similar statements appear in Cycling UK resource (http://www.cyclinguk.org/be-seen-bike) , and The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents: (http://www.rospa.com/road-safety/resources/free/drivers/sharing-the-road-with-cyclists/) and a PDF booklet from the RoSPA http://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/cyclists/sharing-the-road.pdf). The reason for this aggressive approach is the issue of visibility. Pushing cyclists off to the side is making them less visible rather than more visible so I argue there needs to be a change to the design of the short cycle lane or the cycle lane should be removed altogether.
Potholes are everywhere around Birmingham streets. Many seem to be in the area between the curb and where cars left side wheels pass along the road. Negotiating your way around potholes puts you in the path of vehicles and they don't understand why you are not riding a straight line. If you hit the pothole, there is a good chance of damaging wheels or being thrown off into the path of vehicles. A friend's frame broke when in hit a particularly bad pothole. The ones that frustrate me most are those that run along the street close to where you need to cycle. Often these are about the width of a road tyre and if the tyre drops in then it takes control of the steering like getting the wheels stuck in tram lines. The council doesn't see them as a problem because they are not very deep but they don't understand the impact on a cyclist. Neither do drivers understand why you are riding slightly further out on the road so they push past
.

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