Motorists drive closer to cyclists on cycle lanes

when there is a cycle lane, motorists drive within their own marked lane with less recognition of the need to provide a safe and comfortable passing distance to those using the cycle lane

Source: CTC

New research supported by CTC – the UK’s national cyclists’ organisation shows that motorists give cyclists less room when they are riding in a cycle lane.

Using a bicycle with instruments that measure the distance of passing vehicles, Ciaran Meyers from the University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies undertook the research on roads with and without cycle lanes. Ciaran said: “The analysis shows that significantly wider passing distances are adopted by motorists on a 9.5 metre wide carriageway without a 1.45 metre cycle lane and with speed limits of 40mph and 50mph.” The same finding was not found on a carriageway with a 30mph speed limit, but that location had more side road junctions and there is likely to be a greater amount of variability in road positioning by motor vehicles.

The results reveal that, when there is a cycle lane, motorists drive within their own marked lane with less recognition of the need to provide a safe and comfortable passing distance to those using the cycle lane.

John Parkin of the University of Bolton, who was also involved in the study, said: “In the presence of a cycle lane, a driver is likely to drive between the cycle lane line and the centre line in a position which is appropriate for the visible highway horizontal geometry ahead of the driver. A cyclist within a cycle lane does not seem to cause a driver to adopt a different position in his or her lane. This has important implications for the width of cycle lanes and implies that their width should never be compromised.”

CTC’s Policy Coordinator Chris Peck said: “Cycle lanes have a part to play in improving road conditions for cyclists, but this research has raised concerns that they are not always the best solution and may in fact make cycling more unpleasant. Where a cycle lane exists, drivers may overtake with the belief that they can use the entire road space outside the cycle lane, and consequently may be paying less attention to the cyclist’s need for space.”

Non-cyclists often say that more cycle lanes would encourage them to cycle more. A recent survey found 83% of non-cycling motorist men agreeing with this. However, the same survey found that only 2% of regular cyclists had a problem with a lack of cycle lanes – for them the most serious concerns were inconsiderate motorists (71%), busy roads (59%), lorries (60%) and poor road maintenance (58%).

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20-25 years ago the NZ Government intentionally talked up the danger of bicycling, within the last 5-10 years they've quietly admitted that wasn't exactly honest and now presents a hurdle as policy now requires encouraging bicycling (without of course ever publicly admitting they misled in the first place).

Cycle advocates invariably fell into the trap and happily called for bicycling to be made safer, they're still doing it today. I remember the battle to ensure that Palmerston North's Bike Plan did not follow the same old "it dangerous, improve safety" line; replacing it with "it's healthy and safe, increase participation".

The result of all this was sadly inevitable; a widespread acceptance that bicycling is just too dangerous, calls for bicyclists to banned from urban highways, the view that the driver's choice to use a car outweighs the rights of non-car occupants to safe passage, etc. BikeNZ's recent "1.5 to survive" campaign was basically called ridiculous by an AA representative - motorists cannot be expected to provide safe passing distances as it would interfere with the journey too much.

How often do you hear "more people cycle in Europe" combined with "because they have proper facilities" - either by advocates (asking for the facilities) or anti-cyclists (arguing providing them is uneconomic etc.)?

What this ignores is that plenty of places in Europe don't have lanes or segregated facilities, I've cycled in enough countries to know that. Yet cycling is still more common and pleasant. Bicyclists don't need lanes, or segregated facilities, just as pedestrians don't need every road to have a footpath. Segregated facilities have their detractors, arguing that they reduce safety on the roads. The research in this article suggests cycle lanes have their drawbacks as well - as many probably know from experience.

In 2010 let's hear more of:

  • Cycling and walking are not dangerous, they don't need special safety equipment (but don kneepads, hats, etc. if you wish) or segregated facilities everywhere (nobody's is suggesting banning them or that they can't be good).
  • Roads are for people, not just motorists.
  • Vehicular bicycling: in NZ a bicycle is a vehicle after all.
  • Driving is a privilege, with obligations, and not a right.

And less shooting ourselves in the foot with "cycling is dangerous and needs special facilities" twaddle.

Just a suggestion.

I agree "npcycle". Cycling and walking on ther own are the least dangerous activities. They are made out to be dangerous by some self centered motorists who want to grab all available resources for themselves. And there is AA to support them, since they are the basis of their membership strength.

The beauty about these self centered motorists is they end up causing injuries and fatalities to other motorists themselves (hope you saw the TV One news yesterday 24th where a women lost her motorcycling husband at the hands of a motorist - she used the same term "selfish drivers").

The solution to this is changing driver attitude. And there are two ways of doing so.

a) You can run publicity campaigns

b) Make it mandatory thru legislation

Option (a) has been going on in NZ for at least 10 yrs that I know of. 10 yrs itself is a pretty long period and we should have seen the results by now. But the campaigns have not made a dent on driver behaviour. Which means now it is time for legislated behaviour change. Yes it will be "forced" on them, too bad, but then they were given ample opportunity and they flunked it.

Until then, I will go by the story that "cycling is dangerous in the present context at the hands of motorists".

Interestingly, would you know who from AA commented on the "1.5 to survive" campaign? Will be interesting to know the reaction of their own General Manager of Policy if we run it past him.

Sridhar: I think you miss the point. I wrote "the NZ Government intentionally talked up the danger of bicycling" and in "agreeing" you re-wrote it "are made out to be dangerous by some self centered motorists" - which isn't the same thing.

Sure some motorists are idiots, and while the general population contains its share of idiots and saints getting behind the steering wheel does seem to skew the usual distribution towards the idiot end - the long known problem of road safety.

However bicycling faces a different problem, that the motoring lobby and others are of course quite willing to exploit.

If you walk you child to school everything is fine, you are a good parent, etc. Yet motorists slaughter four times or so as many pedestrians each year then bicyclists... sounds pretty irresponsible to me...

If you drive you child to school everything is almost fine, you're a pretty good parent etc. Yet motoring cost millions in medical costs each year...

However if you let your child bicycle to school... The roads are dangerous folks! Bicycling is so dangerous you must wear a helmet! You are probably a questionable parent.

In NZ bicycling is legally discriminated against/for. Should motorists and pedestrians wear helmets or should bicyclists be free not to? Doesn't matter which way you answer this, the simple fact is when you have a theory which applies to all three groups and you legally enforce it for *any* subset then you are discriminating (positive or negative). And in NZ this had entrenched the "fact" that bicycling is excessively dangerous into people's minds - sadly with the help of most so called cycle "advocate" groups.

That is why silly arguments such as "the Europeans have cycle facilities everywhere" are seen as credible, because its obvious to Kiwis that as bicycling is so dangerous without such facilities they would have a huge problem. Kiwis cannot comprehend that vast areas of Europe have no special cycle facilities and at the same time they have no bicyclist injury problem.

AA details: Nelson district chairman Gary Stocker quoted in Nelson Mail 29/9/09:

'However, [the AA] did not support the petition, because a 1.5m gap was practically unworkable on most roads, would create an extra safety hazard if cars travelling 100kmh had to slow down drastically or cross the centre line to pass cyclists, was likely to lead to driver resentment and was another illustration of an enforcement focus, he said.

"BikeNZ should in our view be advocating for our roads to be engineered with a 1.5m-wide sealed shoulder on each side, not restricting the use of our current lanes by the majority of road users."'

The number of ways that statement is wrong is amazing!

For example it suggests most roads in NZ cannot accommodate the width of one car and one bicyclist with a safe gap between them. Wow!

How about re-engineering the roading network with 1.5m shoulders just so motorists can be inconsiderate to others? Clearly an unworkable idea designed to deflect the discussion.

And of course, we can't have enforcement (except for bicycle helmets) can we?

The AA can only say things like this because of the prevailing image of bicycling in NZ - one entrenched by law into people's minds. I doubt anybody from the ANWB could make such a statement.

If the letter responses to the article you will find much anti-cyclist vitriol, and one saying:

'Many New Zealand roads lack pavements, pedestrians are entitled to walk along them. Does the AA believe it OK for vehicles to speed at 100Km/h close past pedestrians because to do otherwise is "practically unworkable"?'

Strange, the AA did not respond.

I think you have just elaborated what I said mate! thanks for that.

My comments were nothing to do with helmets (neither pro nor anti) but to highlight the danger to cyclists is coming from elsewhere - motorists. Ok, at least we are agreeing on that point.

Do you want Gary Stocker's comments to be followed up at AA or have it decided it is not worth it? I am happy to do so for you.



Let's try this (with maybe a pinch a Devil's advocacy, but only a pinch): the danger to bicyclists (insignificant as it is) and Kiwis general health & safety, is coming from Government policy, cycle "advocates", health & safety "experts", etc. These are the people who told motorists and parents that bicycling is an extremely risky activity that needs to be legally controlled due to the cost it imposes on society.

Get it yet mate?


You do not need to ask whether I would like this followed up. Is it something you/CAN thinks should be followed up? If so, do so, if not, don't.

Ok take a deep breath mate!

Are you suggesting that merely changing messages to "Cycling is not dangerous" is enough. You will be asked to explain why NZ has one of the highest cyclist number and rate of accidents. How do you propose to answer those questions. You can't deny accidents in NZ. Then you need to figure out what causes accidents. That is where you will find, majority of car-cycles crashes are caused by motorists.

So again we are saying the same thing, that we need to get motorists to be more responsible on the roads. cyclists will also need to take more responsibility but the payoff will be more with motorists being more responsible. And that is what I had said in the first place.



Your thesis is boils down to NZ motorists being worse than in other countries, thus producing what you state is one of the highest cyclist number and rate of accidents in the world. Why are NZ motorists so bad?

Maybe the Government telling motorists that bicycling is dangerous and enshrining it in law contributes to the motorists lack of care...

Or maybe the reduction in bicyclist numbers resulting from the Government telling Kiwis that bicycling is dangerous makes it appear the NZ motorists are worse than elsewhere due to the reduction of the "safety in numbers effect".

And maybe the Government's actions are why some overseas researchers found the law in NZ has increased the risk to bicyclists...

And just maybe, cycle advocates and health & safety experts, etc. are looking in the wrong direction...

It is now common to call for cycle lanes etc. as a panacea, the research in the article suggests that maybe not be the solution, indeed it may exacerbate the problem.

Maybe, just maybe, in 2010 cycle advocates should do something other than just call for facilities and action against motorists.

Which is back where I started in my first post. Over & out.