Cycle lanes: A place of danger?

12 July 2010

The Department of Transport and local councils nationwide are promoting cycling as a safe, healthy and environmentally friendly activity.

Cycling numbers have been increasing year-on-year along with ways to accommodate them, which is putting cycling facilities in the spotlight once more.

The most obvious is the cycle lane. Supposedly a 'safe area' for a cyclist to ride in, they're actually seen by many cyclists as creating more danger than they avert.

Not all cyclists have the same experience, aptitude or assertiveness. As a general rule, those relatively new to cycling may be reluctant to cycle anywhere other than what they believe to be their designated area - the cycle lane.

The reality for the more experienced or urban cyclist is that the cycle lane itself often poses so much of a hazard that they tend not to use them, putting themselves into possible conflict with motorists, who believe that if there's a cycle lane, cyclists should be in it.

So why is such a good idea in principle actually the source of safety concerns, and something that could lead to personal injury?


It's commonly believed in the cycling community that when it comes to cycle lane implementation, numerous governmental recommendations and planning regulations are at best misinterpreted and at worse ignored or simply not known.

In fact, consultation with cycling groups by local authorities could, it's believed, save thousands of pounds in poorly designed cycling facilities, by leading to the amending of a proposed facility or stopping it's implementation altogether.

Some of the most common design faults are:

  • lanes too long for cyclists' intended journey, often taking less direct routes and adding journey time
  • poorly designed and incomprehensive Give Way markings appearing at pointlessly short sections 

  • lanes conflicting with pedestrian pathways

  • lanes with sharp turns or bends, forcing cyclists to vary speed and position

  • lanes blighted by poorly placed street furniture, inappropriate surfaces (broken, bumpy or with paint that's slippery when wet), and poor maintenance

  • lanes of varying widths, some barely as wide as a bicycle with side panniers

  • lanes poorly signposted, particularly at junctions, directing cyclists the wrong way, causing confusion, or simply incorrect

  • lanes adjacent to motor vehicle parking areas, bringing cyclists into the 'door zone', where opening doors become a hazard

  • lanes on roads that appear to end when the road narrows at any point



Maintenance - or the lack of it - is a big issue. Usually positioned parallel to the kerbside and to the left of the carriageway, cycle lanes are often a natural area for water removal and the collection of debris. Drain covers, gutters, glass, sand, loose gravel and potholes are all commonly found in cycle lanes, each posing a high risk to cyclists.

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The design of many cycle lanes means many cyclists simply refuse to use them.

Most urban cycle facilities tend not to be designed with the knowledge that cyclists often travel at the legal speed limit on urban roads – a competent cyclist can travel at up to 30mph.

The vast majority of cycling accidents involving personal injury occur at junctions, and it's a common belief amongst cyclists that the poor design of cycle lanes is most obvious at junctions.

Cycle lanes at junctions tend to move cyclists into a position where other road users either do not see them or are not expecting them. If a cyclist is out of sight at a junction, it's fair to say they're probably out of mind, too.

Until the number of cyclists increases, the average motorist rarely expects to see a cyclist, and is more occupied with other road users around junctions.

Cycle lanes also encourage cyclists to ride up the left hand side of traffic, the most dangerous place for a cyclist to be, as indicated in our free information guide on cycling safety.

Often slowed down or forced to stop at junctions while other vehicles are not, cyclists are then faced with not only being in the 'wrong' position, but also having the added difficulty of having to navigate the junction, merge with traffic, before once again becoming part of the general traffic flow.

In fact, many cycle lanes at crossroads appear to simply end, then reappear on the other side of the junction. Are cyclists supposed to beam themselves from one side of the junction to the other?

The motorists' view

There's no legal obligation for a cyclist to use a cycle lane. They're fully entitled to use any part of the road, and given the information above it comes as no surprise that many cyclists avoid cycle lanes completely, and instead merge with traffic.

Cyclists who choose to travel outside cycle lanes often find themselves the brunt of verbal abuse and aggressive or intimidating driving.

Despite there being a cycle lane the unfortunate reality is that riding on the road, within traffic, adjacent to the cycle lane is deemed to be a safer option.

Cyclists would like nothing better than a clear, safe, well designed stretch of road free of obstruction dedicated to them. Motorists have a misconception that the cycle lane is just this. Local authorities continue to design and implement cycling facilities at a high cost that continue to have the issues raised in this article.

The time has come for town and highway planners to consult more with all road users. Bicycle use is set to double within a lifetime. Cycle lane management has to be addressed.

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All documents should be read and used in accordance with the terms and conditions. This document is for your general information only and is not a detailed statement of the law. It is provided to you free of charge and should not be used as a substitute for specific legal advice. If you require specific legal advice please contact client services on 03700 868686.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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