Plymouth Car drivers: Please stop using the cycle lane

Post date: 11-Jan-2018 14:28:32

I cycle to work all year round, almost every day and I’ve been riding from the West of Plymouth to Derriford for nearly eight years now. When anyone comments on how dangerous cycling is, I have always said that yes, Derriford Roundabout can be a bit hairy at times, as can areas around Crownhill shops but that much of it is really safe, in particular West Park and Crownhill Road where there’s a long dedicated cycle lane.

Since early December, 2017 however, this has changed quite significantly. For some reason car drivers travelling towards Derriford from West Park have collectively decided that it’s better if they start queueing in the bike lane as they wait to exit Crownhill Rd and go past the Police Station. The reason for moving across to the left has some merit, as it allows cars the space to continue travelling along Crownhill Rd towards Crownhill, however the reason that nearly all drivers have recently decided on this course of action must be a kind of herd mentality that favours the experience of other car drivers over the safety of another road user, cyclists. For most of the distance that cars are now pulling over, it’s not essential for them to be tight to the kerb to allow cars past on the right, but yet many cars choose this option.

Why is it a problem?

The scene above is pretty typical for a weekday morning where up to around 40 cars can be found blocking the cycle lane leaving cyclists with two options; mount the pavement with pedestrians or ride in the fast flowing traffic left by their moving across. Neither of these are good for cyclists, and are particularly frustrating when there is already a dedicated cycle lane in place. Both pictures I've included show how it is possible for drivers to encroach on the cycle lane slightly yet still leave space for cyclists to pass quite comfortably. They also show how drivers that pull right over to the kerb restrict access completely.

Cycling is dangerous enough already

If any of this seems petty to readers then it should be viewed in addition to the other stresses and dangers that cyclist have encountered over the last year as a result of the roadworks at Derriford. Many drivers will say that it’s been a stressful time for all of us but as a car driver and cyclist I can say with some confidence that driving a car to work might be annoying but you don’t feel like your life is at stake anywhere near as often as when riding a bike.

What does the law say?

The Highway Code is quite clear on the inability of drivers to park in cycle lanes with solid white lines but is less clear on those that have broken white lines suggesting that it is possible if unavoidable. You won't be surprised to hear that my opinion is that driving in this lane is avoidable, there is even less need to block it entirely.

Less people cycling means more people driving

I’ve always been a relaxed cyclist, and have always seen many more good acts from drivers than poor ones. I’ve also been a great advocate for cycling and have encouraged many people to take up cycle commuting over the years. Part of the sadness of my recent experiences has been that I’ve become less positive about the experience and this means my advocacy is more hesitant. If we multiply this by the many cyclists that do commute to work then we’ll find it harder and harder to persuade people to take up this great form of transport that’s environmentally sound, great for our health and crucially for many car drivers, reduces the number of car drivers and helps reduce congestion. It surely makes sense for those in cars to help cyclists share the roads safely as it is a benefit to all road users in the end.

What’s needed

The best long term solution would be to have a structurally dedicated cycle lane, as this would take away the option that drivers currently have of driving over the white line.

In the meantime we need to rely on the rational, conscious choice making of all the good drivers out there who need to realise the impact of blocking cycle lanes and avoid pulling over. Ideally, all drivers would avoid crossing the line but it would even be possible to place the left wheels on or even slightly over the white line and we could get past OK.

Good drivers need to be confident in making the right decision and leave enough space, rather than follow the unthinking masses. If more good drivers left adequate space, many other drivers will follow suit, some consciously aware and considerate and many others less conscious in their decision making, but still leaving space.

My polite appeal therefore, is that drivers of Plymouth avoid blocking cycle lanes as it's really dangerous for cyclists if you do. The cycle lane is there for a reason and that reason is to prevent accidents.