While we are all welcoming the new cycle lanes which are springing up all over Europe, and many UK cities are getting the new infrastructure right many are still finding their feet, so it is interesting to note what the Highway Code says about cycle lanes and the drivers response to them.
Typically, the first verbalised reply of any road user who objects to the way a cyclist is behaving is to say that we don’t obey the Highway Code. As a result of this, I bought an up to date copy of the Highway Code this week because, and let’s be fair about this, who has read it in it’s entirety since they passed their driving test?
The latest edition was updated in 2015 and there have been changes since when I passed my test. It was interesting to see that some of these changes, I personally, would count as improvements but some were definitely moves in favour a particular group of road users. I emphasise some, because I am not convinced that all the changes are welcome news for everyone.
One that did perk my interest, mainly because it is a constant bone of contention around Edinburgh in particular, is parking in cycle lanes.
Here is what the 2015 edition (2020, 8th impression) of Highway Code says:
A considerable amount of the Highway Code is ‘guidance’ which means it is not enforceable in law. However, where it say MUST NOT in nice big red letters then it refers to a specific law, and that law is then referenced below the paragraph, as shown.
The point here is that the solid white line is crucial to permitting cyclists a safe passage. Without it, then it’s subject to interpretation – i.e ‘unless it is unavoidable’ which is rather vague. I think this is what catches some drivers out; the differences with the white lines. Giving them the benefit of the doubt because none of them obviously choose to break the law deliberately of course.
When campaigning for cycle routes which share the road with other users, it is therefore imperative that we campaign to have a solid white line of demarcation and we have enforcement.
When campaigning on a larger scale for road safety, I would suggest, we ask for this section of the Code to be tightened and possibly for the broken white line to be removed from the highways and councils options. We need a simple clarity that says you cannot park in a cycle lane. This needs to be such throughout the UK, enshrined in Scottish and English, Welsh and Northern Irish laws.
Cyclists should not be forced out of their lanes into the vehicular traffic, it does nothing for their safety or for our relationship with other road users, and like it or not we have to have that relationship with the way infrastructure is in the UK at the moment.
Yes, it would be wonderful to have the Dutch model but that has taken 50 years for them to get where they are now. We have decades to catch up with them, and it will take decades because there is so little will to make it happen any faster.
Now, before any ardent cyclists say that we don’t have to cycle in the cycle lanes, this is perfectly true, but my point is that if we are going to get them then lets make them work for the cyclists that do chose to use them and those that feel they need them. Why wouldn’t you use one if it worked for you? It would be faster, safer, and much more pleasant.
Until we can have completely segregated lanes then we have to work with what we have got, and what we have got is the law. If we can get solid lines, with 24 hour operation, and proper enforcement then this would help a lot of cyclists. It would also help move other road users, such as car and van drivers, to campaign with us for proper segregation so that they ‘get their lanes back’ as some of them put it.
Arguing about rights over road space, legally or morally, is never going to end until segregation is the accepted standard approach, and the segregation works for and is used by the majority of cyclists. But at least if we all argue for that, rather than constantly battling each other, we might get there a little bit quicker. I’d like to see safe cycling within years, not just within my lifetime.