Reclaiming the Road Space

Last year, TfL launched an experimental scheme to extend the ability of motorbikes to use bus lanes. In other news a few months ago the industrious James Randerson of the Guardian managed to unearth a few facts about Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs), basically after much digging he discovered that actually, yes, it is a fixed penalty for deliberate flouting of them.

Together with the eye-wateringly blue cycle superhighways, which many cabbies, motor cyclists and assorted other ne’er’do’wells assume that cyclists MUST use, London’s roads are becoming increasingly confusing; who is allowed to be where, when and who’ll you’ll be sharing the space with when you get there.

The cycle lanes are particularly open to misinterpretation: parked cars, mopeds, motorbikes, the unwitting and the deliberate. You might forgive the poor motorcyclist, they’ve been let into bus lanes (which are normally also cycle lanes), so they assume (incorrectly) that now all cycle lanes are open to them too. It seems like every day I’m being overtaken on the inside by a motorcyclist along CS7 – and when I’ve pointed out the dangers, almost exclusively the responses are that they believe they’re allowed to be there (normally in fewer words).

iBikeLondon is advocating cyclists reclaim the ASL box. That doesn’t go far enough; we need to reclaim the cycle lanes, too. But as the cyclists in the city point out, all this is highlighting the conflict that marrs our roads: we’re just none of us very good at sharing.

London just isn’t very good at going beyond some PR fluff and spin. The boris bikes have helped get a few more non-specialists out there, but as the nights (and mornings) draw in, the roads will return to their more natural state of being populated by the generally more hardy, experienced and, dare I say it, more militant cyclist. If you’re out there week-in, week-out, rain and shine, cold winter dark mornings and balmy summer evenings, you’re less likely to put up with grockles invading your space.

Fighting back doesn’t really help anyone, but where’s the balance between deliberate obstruction (e.g. Critical Mass) and meekly submitting to being weaker and happy with it? The police shouldn’t be needed to enforce every last nuance of the traffic rule book, we should be adult enough to work these things out but when everyone’s rushing about, desperately trying to make it through the lights, being higher and mightier than thou (we are all each individually right, after all, it goes without saying that you, as the other guy, are implicitly wrong).

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Red lights distract

Recently Boris decided that it might be an idea to investigate whether cyclists should be allowed to (conditionally) turn left through red lights.

While it certainly is not the answer, it’s not really even part of the question.

There are innumerable reasons why cycling is dangerous, but the fundamental one is that cyclists are not considered first class citizens when the road system is being planned, amended, dug up, redesigned or rephased.

My commute is around 7 miles each way. On my morning route in the other morning, just for fun, I counted the number of sets of traffic lights that I had to cycle over. 32. Thirty-two. That’s more than one every quarter mile. There are just four zebra crossings.

I divided the lights into 3 categories: those which were fair enough, e.g. major junctions etc. (12), those that were pure pedestrian crossings that could be easily replaced with zebra crossings (12) and those which I couldn’t quickly decide on (8). It’s these pedestrian request lights that are the most irksome – people pressing the button, then walking across on green, only for the lights to kick in anyway. How about a cancel request button?

It’s no wonder that cyclists run red lights (I don’t, but I’m in a minority) when so many of them are blatantly surplus to requirement. Surely zebra crossings must be cheaper to install, cheaper to maintain, greener (given the average wait times) and less likely to provoke irritation at others’ behaviour? After all, I’m convinced more car drivers would run reds if they could – but they’re constrained by the guy in front.

So rather than the red herring of turning left (which could be often useful, but more often than not, not) – let’s have TfL justify every set of lights with a pedestrian request phase and ponder if that crossing could be better served by a zebra crossing.

That would be a real win in the battle to wrestle control of our roads back from the car.

Update: Someone’s on my wavelength. Ealing is putting a bag over many after realising that the wisdom of crowds works well. Hoorah for them.