Why Giving Cyclists Priority at Junctions Is a Good Thing for All
Bike ‘super-highway’ built in Yorkshire
Take a look at this photograph. Looks pretty good, doesn't it? Cyclists must love it! It's a freshly built bit of cycle infrastructure in Yorkshire, part of the 14-mile 'super-highway' linking Leeds and Bradford. This offers the sort of protection-from-motor-traffic that many cyclists have long championed. It's costing £18m to install (£18m for 14 miles of any form of road is a bargain) but take a look at the photograph again. If you're a motorist you may not notice anything untoward – it's a cycle path, and cyclists have to give way to cars. No big deal.
But now imagine you're driving on the M1 and you have to negotiate artificial chicanes and stop every time you pass a minor road. It wouldn't be much of a motorway, would it? In fact, it would be downright annoying and you'd likely not wish to use such a start/stop wiggle-for-no-reason facility. It's the same for cyclists. If they have to keep stopping on their "superhighway" it isn't super.
If this design for the cycle path – done by Yorkshire's CityConnect team – stays as it is many cyclists will continue to use the road at this point. Why? Because it's safer than using a "protected" cycle path that doesn't offer protection at junctions. The success of a bike path is in how it treats junctions, a factor that has been well understood since the 1930s (but largely ignored).
The junction in question is where a three-lane highway passes a minor road. (The three-lane highway is Dick Lane, part of the A647, the main road between Leeds and Bradford, and the minor road is Grange Avenue.) Motorists may be going at a fair old lick at this point and would expect to be able to turn into the minor road at speed. But that was then, this is now.
In the Netherlands motorists would expect to be slowed down with hard infrastructure as they left a "fast" road and entered a "slow" one. Grange Avenue is a residential street and motor-car speeds ought to be slow, there should be no high-speed entries into such roads. Grange Avenue is not a motorway slip-road but that is how, currently, the local authority is treating it.
Cyclists were given priority at this junction on the original plans, with the superhighway shown as having preference over side roads. However, when the work took place the design had been changed, with no priority given to cyclists. If motorists are allowed to exit and enter Grange Avenue at speed cyclists will be sitting ducks – motorists certainly won't be expecting them to appear in the middle of such "slip roads". Experienced cyclists would know to stop at such death-trap "farcilities" but less experienced ones might be lulled into a false sense of security by the protective curbs and then assume they have protection across junctions, too. Bang!
In the last day or two this junction has been a cause célèbre on social media after the photograph above was posted by Twitter user "Lee DotDash". National cycle campaign groups have voiced strong concerns about the inherent dangers of the junction treatment, and even Olympic gold winning cyclist Chris Boardman has chimed in, retweeting the photograph and adding that giving priority to cyclists at such junctions "works very well" in Denmark.
Giving priority to slower, less armoured road users is not alien to the UK, the concept is in the Highway Code. According to rule 170 motorists are supposed to "take extra care at junctions" and "should ... watch out for cyclists ... and pedestrians as they are not always easy to see." The Highway Code stresses that if pedestrians "have started to cross they have priority, so give way." This acknowledgement that non-motorised road users have priority isn't always made visible in the real world – many roads look, and feel, like race tracks.
To their credit the CityConnect team is now to look again at the Grange Avenue junction. Ginny Leonard, comms Manager for CityConnect, told Motoring.co.uk: "The Cycle Superhighway has sought in the first instance to provide priority to cyclists at side road junctions as this is the main conflict point amongst road users. In the main we have been able to do this along the length of the cycle superhighway, and are looking to alter this junction as a result of the recent discussions on social media."
The best solution would be to give cyclists – and pedestrians – priority at this junction by using hard infrastructure to show that motorists have to cede priority. In part this can be done by raising the cycleway above the height of the intersecting roads (and changing the give way paint).
Is this unfair to motorists? Not really. Sensible ones already enter Grange Avenue slowly. Dick Lane had three lanes before the works and it still has three lanes now. Nothing will be taken away from motorists – except, that is, some speed. With greater safety for cyclists – and pedestrians – perhaps more motorists in Bradford and Leeds will choose to cycle or walk instead of driving everywhere? This has social, health and community benefits for those in Bradford and Leeds but fixing junctions such as these (and not building such hazardous schemes in the first place) will be key for cycle infrastructure plans in the rest of the country, too.
If motorists really want cyclists to use cycle infrastructure that infrastructure has to be top-notch – if it’s not cyclists won’t use it and that’s a waste of money, time and effort. This can be frustrating for motorists and so it’s in everyone’s interests to get these things right from the start.
Carlton Reid is the executive editor of BikeBiz.com. He drives a Nissan Note "but not very often." He has written a history book on motoring's cycling beginnings, Roads Were Not Built For Cars. This has been #1 in the automotive category on Amazon.com.