Is this the worse cycle lane in London?

You'll often hear the argument from other cyclists that we should "be grateful for any cycling provision we get" or that cycle lanes that have been campaigned for have been "hard earnt", as if this means we should be silent in accepting them if they are second rate, or worse still dangerous.

Unfortunately, there are many cycle lanes here in central London that are so second rate as to actually pose a danger to cyclists.  Defensive cycling means cycling at least three feet out from the curb, away from the gutters full of dirt and debris, away from the doors of parked cars that might open at any moment, away from the potholes and drains and, most importantly, out in the lane where you can maintain a straight predictable course (instead of weaving back and forth between gaps in parked cars) and where you can be seen by other road users. 

Lambeth bridge cycle lane 2

Lambeth bridge northbound cycle lane 1

If you kept within the boundaries of this cycle lane that I snapped on Lambeth Bridge near the Palace of Westminster you would be riding less than half a metre from the curb side - the useable part of the lane (ie the bit not covered in half an inch of raised slippery-when-wet paint or in the gutters) is so narrow you'd be so busy focussing on trying to balance and maintain a straight line within the confines of the lane that you probably wouldn't even notice the lorry ahead of you turning left without signalling....

Cycles lanes like this decrease the road space available to cyclists and, because drivers seem to perceive the painted boundaries of such lanes as some kind of 'magic barrier' are likely to get much closer when passing - this was demonstrated by a report by the Warrington Cycle Campaign  which showed the differences between overtaking space given by vehicles to cyclists on the road and cyclists in designated cycle lanes:

And when cyclists are wise enough to protect themselves by choosing not to use poorly designed cycling infrastructure, they are accused by motor users of not 'getting out of the way' and using the lanes provided (at great expense no doubt!).  This only increases the animosity sometimes evident between cyclists and other road users.

Regardless of the statistical truth, cycling is perceived as being a dangerous activity in central London.  Whilst more and more people are realising how easy, safe and convenient cycling really is, and the numbers of cyclists are growing year on year, we are a long way off from 'convincing the masses' to get astride their bikes.  If there is to be a shift-change towards achieving mass cycling rates (such as in the Netherlands or Denmark where certain urban areas are currently working towards achieving 50% of modal share of journeys by bicycle) there needs to be perceptibly safe and well-designed cycling infrastructure provided.  Our present Mayor is exceptional at marketing cycling in a positive and encouraging way that makes cycling out to be everyday and ordinary, which is great, but the marketing spin has to be backed up with well maintained, well designed and good quality infrastructure to boot.  If you don't think your Mum or Gran would feel safe using the facility provided (such as the Lambeth Bridge cycle lane) then it isn't good enough, and if you don't think your Mum and your Gran would feel safe cycling in the traffic there either then something else, a third way in terms of cycling facilities, needs to be found for London...

Post Script:

Of course not all cycling facilities in London are as bad as the one above, and some do provide safe passage or well constructed contra-flows against one way systems or across dangerous gyratorys.  But they need to be maintained and patrolled (like double yellow lines) to ensure that people don't abuse the facilities and park in them.  Over at MyBikeLane you can view and report incidents of vehicles encroaching on our space.  I am sure that most London cyclists will be more than familiar with having to cycle round one of their worst perpetrators:



Anonymous said...

i cycle this bridge every day and never use the cycle lane because its so awful - i regularly have others drivers (especially taxis) shout at me to get in lane.

this cycle lane is worse than worthless because it is making the relationship between cyclists and drivers worse - it would be better if they tore it up and just had shared space - the bridge is too narrow for cars to overtake you anyway so you are better off taking the whole lane

great post thanks for sharing

Cal said...

Brilliant blog - so glad to have found you.

Sadly I can't cycled at the moment (recovering arm injury) but this is making me itch to get back out there again. I am *so* bored of waiting for buses.

ibikelondon said...

Hello Cal, thanks for the post and welcome! I'm glad you found us too. Best of luck with recovering from that arm injury (not a cycling injury we hope?) and get back on that bike soon.


Anonymous said...

No shortage of crappy bike lanes here in the States, either. Despite fighting a losing battle for more, I recently wrote our local Dept. of Transportation suggesting that one bike lane by my home be removed because it just isn't ridable anymore. But that certainly is one of the worst I've seen.

And we have our problems with people parking in the bikes lanes, but here in L.A., it's usually a movie crew.

Anonymous said...

Why do we need bike lanes at all? Cyclists in London seem to keep campaigning for them but as you note they encourage drivers to drive closer and think cyclists should get out of their way into the lane. Research shows they are more dangerous than not being there. So why waste all the campaigning effort and Council money to get something that doesn't work?

Natalie said...

I also cycle across this bridge most days. It is a complete death trap. The buses using the Bus Lane alongside the cycle lane seem to think it's acceptable to drive with their tyres on the thick white line that divides them. And if you can avoid the buses you have the bridge expander spaces to deal with - which just happen to be the perfect size for my bike wheels!

The irony is that it's actually not that busy on the bridge but I seem to have more scary moments there than anywhere else I regularly cycle.

ibikelondon said...

Hi Natalie, thanks for the comment. I'm not surprised that this part of your journey is the most dramatic - the cycle lane truly is worse than useless. If I were you I'd pretend it wasn't even there and take the lane. Thanks for stopping by, and I love the tea blog by the way!

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