“Where cycle lanes are less than 1.5 metres in width, it is because the road is too narrow to introduce a wider lane.”

On 22nd May 2010, Everton Smith was killed while riding his bicycle northbound along Vauxhall Bridge Road.

The cycle lane he was travelling in was 1.2 metres wide, a good deal less than the 1.5 metre minimum stipulated by the Department for Transport.

Somewhere between Besborough Gardens, and Drummond Gate, he was hit by a cement lorry that was about to turn left, and went under the wheels.

You can see the width, and condition, of the cycle lane along this road in the above image from Streetview.

The Metropolitan Police Officer investigating the collision, Sergeant Simon Seeley, stated that

Our traffic management unit has advised me that that cycle lane is not of the required width. It is not the proper width for a cycle lane.

The Evening Standard further reports that Sergeant Seeley felt that ‘the road layout was too cramped. Not only was the 1.2 metre-wide cycle lane below the minimum 1.5 metre width set out in government guidelines, but the adjoining traffic lane was only 2.9 metres wide. He said that was only slightly greater than the 2.5 metre width of the cement mixer and warned that such lack of space was putting cyclists at risk on a significant number of London roads.’

Seeley said

As a cyclist, you think this is not a cycle lane, this is the gutter. They try to squeeze everything on and there isn’t enough room because some of these HGVs and buses take up the whole lane.

What Sergeant Seeley is arguing is that the markings are not sufficiently wide for a bicycle and an HGV to fit in, simultaneously (this does not have anything to do with an HGV even being compelled to give safe clearance to a cyclist). Using Seeley’s figures, if the cement mixer was in the middle of its lane, and a bicycle of 90-100 cm in width was in the middle of the ‘bicycle lane’, there would only be thirty to forty centimetres between the edge of the truck and the cyclist. Any slight deviation, and there would be contact.

The markings on this road, therefore, were an accident waiting to happen.

You would think that Transport for London would rush, immediately, to rectify the markings that have been directly implicated by the Metropolitan Police in a man’s death. This was their response at the time.

A spokeswoman for Transport for London, which is responsible for the layout of Vauxhall Bridge Road, said it was “very saddened” by Mr Smith’s death.

She said: “Where cycle lanes are less than 1.5 metres in width, it is because the road is too narrow to introduce a wider lane. The green tarmac at these locations helps cyclists to navigate and is designed to alert motorists to their presence.”

This anonymous spokesperson seems to be arguing that Vauxhall Bridge Road is “too narrow” to introduce a wider lane.

This is not true. Vauxhall Bridge Road is, as can be seen from the above photo, six lanes wide at this point, with a dividing island. From kerb to kerb (excluding the pavement), this is a distance of 20.2 metres, or over 66 feet.

This is not a road that is ‘too narrow’ to introduce a wider lane.

What the TfL spokesperson is actually saying is that TfL cannot introduce a wider lane, without removing one of the six lanes allocated to motor vehicles.

The direct implication is that, for TfL, having six lanes of motor traffic, rather than five, is an absolute priority, one that cannot even by overridden by the fact that some cyclists might be killed while cycling in a dangerously narrow lane, alongside a dangerously narrow motor vehicle lane.

If there was any doubt about TfL’s commitment to keeping motor vehicle lanes at this location, at the expense of cyclists’ safety, it comes in the form of their proposed changes for this road, as part of the forthcoming Superficial Cycleway Cycle Superhighway 5, which will run from Lewisham to Victoria, along Vauxhall Bridge Road.

The Cyclists in the City blog – which, as always, is doing great work exposing the utter tripe that TfL is serving up for cyclists and pedestrians – has all the details. It comes as no surprise that all six lanes of motor traffic are being kept. There are no concessions at all to cyclists. The dangerous width of the cycle lane southbound (opposite where Everton Smith was killed) has a superficial ‘solution’. It has been widened to 1.5 metres, the bare minimum, but this extra width has come at the expense of a narrowed vehicle lane, which is – guess what – only 2.4 metres wide, which is narrower than the cement mixers Sergeant Seeley was describing. Any cement mixer travelling along the inside lane will almost certainly be straddling the cycle lane.

Northbound, the situation is hardly any better. The cycle lane is 1.5 metres wide, again, the bare minimum, but this time it has been placed in between two lanes of motor traffic, each of which are only 3 metres wide (again, note that this is only just wider than the 2.9 metres which so upset Sergeant Seeley). This ‘central cycle lane’ is a lethal design – empirically so, as it directly resulted in the deaths of two cyclists on Blackfriars Bridge, before it was hastily removed in 2006.

The whole picture is that – still – provision for cyclists is, literally, being squeezed in at the margins of the road network.

Don’t believe the nonsense Transport for London come out with about roads being ‘too narrow’ for decent, safe cycle routes. The plain facts – borne out by their own designs – are that they care more about keeping lanes for motor vehicles, than cyclists’ safety.

This entry was posted in Boris Johnson, Cycle Superhighways, Infrastructure, London, Transport for London, Transport policy. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Where cycle lanes are less than 1.5 metres in width, it is because the road is too narrow to introduce a wider lane.”

  1. Amoeba says:

    If the road is too narrow to accommodate cyclists safely, then it’s too narrow to accommodate the source of the source of the danger. The powers that be, need to incorporate a width restriction to exclude dangerous and inappropriate vehicles, from roads where they have caused avoidable deaths.

    It’s about time that each and every death of a vulnerable road user is visited by means of corporate manslaughter, upon individuals responsible:
    a) The owners and management of commercial vehicle fleets.
    b) The planners and management responsible for these dangerous roads.

    They need to go to gaol and be fined very heavily.

  2. Rhode Long says:

    A fantastic post which unfortunately sums up how much the motorist culture pervades road planning and the tragic consequences that will continue to result from bad infrastructure accordingly.

    May the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain champion a change.

  3. Pingback: Bicycling 3 / 5: Cycle lane widths | Comparative Geometrics

  4. William says:

    Even 1.5 metres is barely enough especially if a cyclist swerves, for whatever reason. The cyclist needs to stay a MINIMUM of 0.5 metres away from the curb. Add to this the minimum distance afforded them by passing cars (1m at <20 mph; 1.5m if over) and you can see that many cycle lanes are simply inadequate, and dangerous. How are they allowed to create lanes so thin and put so many lives at risk? In fact it seems that most cycle lanes encourage illegal passes. They also encourage death by virtue being far too close to parking bays and hence the dreaded 'dooring'. This country has a disgraceful record when it comes to cyclist welfare. In many cases the law doesn't even follow up complaints unless there's a collision, so anything goes: toots, threats, use of a vehicle as a weapon, verbal and physical abuse, objects thrown, spitting, to name just a few of the things done to innocent cyclists going about their lawful business. Cyclists also fund roads the same as everyone else, and are there by right. Yet they get treated like dirt..and we're supposed to be a civilised, first-world nation? Don't make me laugh..

  5. Andrew Williams says:

    Removing dangerously small cycle lanes improves cyclist safety. Cyclists can take up enough of the lane to force vehicles to use another lane or fall back, if those vehicles don’t see a cycle lane and think it’s safe and large enough.

    This obsession with proper cycle lanes doesn’t help cyclists, it hinders them. Why sacrifice a whole traffic lane for a few cyclists, when many more motor vehicle users are paying for vehicle excise duties and fuel duties?

    Cyclists should be demanding proper cycle lanes, or, no cycle lanes at all if there is no room.

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