Selective attention to danger

The local cycling forum in Horsham are banging their heads against something of a brick wall, attempting to get contraflow cycling on a short (residential) street that has one-way flow. This is Barrington Road.

DSCN9687There’s a bit of background here, but essentially allowing two-way cycling on this street would mean that it would form part of a useful route, from north to south, connecting up with a a reasonable shared cycling and walking path. At present, without two-way cycling, the route effectively hits a dead end.

Local councillors appear adamant that allowing two-way cycling would be ‘dangerous’, because of the parked cars on each side of the street, and the narrowness, and continue to oppose opening up this street to cycling in both directions.

We find these arguments quite unconvincing. The street is not at all busy, even at peak times, the sight lines are good, it is short, and it is surrounded by equally narrow (and busier) streets that have two-way driving on them; for instance, New Street –

DSCN9811and Clarence Road –

DSCN9813I encounter people driving towards me while cycling on both these streets, and we manage to work it out amongst ourselves. Barrington Road would, of course, involve changing the status quo, meaning drivers would now be encountering people cycling towards them when they hadn’t previously, but

  1. these difficulties can be mitigated by appropriate exit and entry treatments, making drivers aware of the situation
  2. bicycle symbols can easily and cheaply be painted on the road, again, making plain to drivers what to expect
  3. it is not unreasonable to expect drivers to look where they are going, and to respond appropriately to oncoming cyclists.

Of course, there will be a safety issue that didn’t exist before. But simply refusing to allow cycling in a contraflow direction – while a neat and tidy way of dealing with that safety issue – is not a particularly productive one.

There’s a wider point to be made here. This particular case illustrates a phenomenon I would like to call selective attention to danger. What this involves –

  • a minor scheme which might introduce a small element of risk or danger being blocked, while
  • the roads and streets around that scheme – indeed, often the only alternative in the absence of that scheme – remain hostile, intimidating and objectively dangerous, without any remedial action. For decades.

A notable example of this phenomenon is the Holborn gyratory in Camden, which was the scene of death in July last year. This justifiably angry blog from Andy Waterman – written on the day of Alan Neve’s death – tells this story better than I can. But this image, from his blog, sums up the issue.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of Andy Waterman

The direct east-west route – formed of a contraflow bus lane – could not be used by people cycling, and indeed the police consistently ticketed people for doing so. The only alternative was therefore the fast, wide Holborn gyratory, four lanes wide. Where Alan Neve died. Subsequent to his death, east-west cycling is now allowed in the bus lane. It probably wasn’t that dangerous in the first place; certainly compared to the alternative.

There’s similar selective attention to danger in Horsham. Contraflow cycling on this quiet residential street is seemingly beyond the pale, but across the rest of the town, we have unremittingly hostile roads that pose far, far greater risks, about which nothing has been done, and about which nothing is being done. To take just one example, barely half a mile, as the crow flies, from Barrington Road, we have this junction on our inner ring road, Albion Way.

DSCN0817

To make a right turn here by bike (at the lights in the distance) involves crossing into the third lane, moving across two lanes of heavy traffic, often travelling at or above 30mph, heading straight on. There is no alternative here, except giving up entirely. The only reason this junction might appear ‘safe’ is that very, very few people are actually prepared to do this.

The risks posed cycling down a quiet residential street, facing intermittent oncoming traffic, pale into insignificance compared with the hostility of this junction, and many others, in Horsham. Yet nothing is being done about these latter environments, while the comparatively minuscule risk of the former is enough to torpedo any changes. It’s objectively absurd.

If a council is genuinely concerned enough about my safety to stop me from cycling on a short, narrow street in such a way that I might occasionally encounter an oncoming vehicle, where is that concern on all those other roads where I, and many other people, cycle every day? Roads where I have to cross multiple lanes of motor traffic; where I have to negotiate out around parked cars into streams of traffic; where I have to position myself to prevent drivers from turning across my path; where I have to ‘take the lane’ to prevent dangerous manoeuvres. Why is your concern so selective?

This entry was posted in Horsham, Infrastructure, London, Safety. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Selective attention to danger

  1. Paul says:

    To answer the rhetorical question; someone making such a change is liable to be blamed for any casualty in that road and is unlikely to be praised for any reduction in casualties elsewhere.

  2. “Of course, there will be a safety issue that didn’t exist before.”

    Lots of contraflow cycling in Cambridge. Crucially, if a bit shaming, there is no additional safety issue: people cycle the wrong-way anyway. Making it legal arguably improves safety, by making drivers aware that there will be oncoming cyclists, and also removing some of the antagonism, where drivers may decide not to give way to teach an errant cyclist a lesson.

    Then-councillor Julian Huppert (now MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group) was told he would ‘have blood on his hands’ if he and other councillors supported making a number of streets two-way for cycling. The feared-for results failed to materialise.

    In fact yesterday saw the approval of a number of new contraflow-cycle roads in Cambridge, with one councillor admitting that he had been against it when it the last round had been proposed a few years ago, and he acknowledged that there had been no problems.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if councils could actually share such information, so the same process does not need to be repeated across every transport authority in the country?

  3. The Horsham councillors who expressed their concern had much the same immediate reaction as many other people. Contraflow cycling does sound scary, but when you think about it, it is pretty much what goes on all the time on narrow, minor roads. The difference is that, when two oncoming cars meet, the traffic gets jammed up, but when it is just a bike, it doesn’t.

    There is evidence from TRL that shows that “properly designed contraflow schemes can function satisfactorily in a variety of conditions. Safety practitioners should note that this research found that in none of the cases studied had cyclists been put in a position of serious conflict, and the behaviour of cyclists was not judged to have endangered pedestrians.” This is backed by official guidance including LTN2/08 which states: “Where one-way systems are introduced, consideration should always be given to maintaining two-way working for cycles through contraflow working, if it can be safely accommodated.”

    As far as I can tell, the councillors were not shown official guidance or any examples of the increasing number of safe and successful cycle contraflows, some of which are very similar to Barrington Road -next time I hope they are because this kind of ‘filtered permeability’ is a very important tool for improving our towns for everyone. By making cycling convenient and attractive, more people choose to cycle and fewer cars clog up our roads.

  4. Tim says:

    Sorry but I’m going to buck the trend and play devil’s advocate here. This seems similar to a short section of road I’m familiar with. Streetview: http://goo.gl/maps/ttvRI

    It starts all friendly with a mandatory cycle lane and some little islands, then you get to the parking (on both sides) and you’re suddenly forced into the middle of the road into the oncoming traffic. And it’s *not* the same as a two-way road. Drivers head at you much faster than is comfortable, lulled into a false sense of security because “it’s a one-way road” (despite the signage at the far end). Perhaps they assume the signs are for cyclists, not them. And this is on a residential road with lots of young families.

    It’s too narrow to safely pass and it can be quite scary. IMHO if they want it to have contra-flow cycle access – and it really should – then they should remove the parking on one side and continue the cycle lane (plus double yellows). Or close the road to through traffic – filtered permeability.

    • Tim says:

      Or maybe this streetview image sums it up better. I can’t imagine the driver giving way.

      • Pointless to put the ‘cycle’ marking underneath a row of parked cars as here! Better to paint it near the middle of the road. In which case I guess that, as with two-way roads, a car will sometimes wait for a bike to go down the centre and sometimes a bike will let a car go first. Sure some more people in cars will aggressively assert their ‘right’ to go first, but that happens on two-way roads as well and I find that many motorists are gracious.

        • Tim says:

          childbacktandem, of course I’m pleased to hear that you have experienced a lot of gracious drivers, and it has happened to me, but I have to say most of the time it’s a lot more like the tale D. relates.

          In contrast, the relatively new contraflow lane here: http://goo.gl/maps/Q1CYr is one of my favourite bits of cycle infra in Manchester. It’s not wide by Dutch standards and it ends earlier than it should, but it’s really useful and it’s well segregated. Cars can’t park here, and if they do pull over they do so outside the cycle lane. Admittedly it is on a bigger section of road.

          • Now that is interesting and it must be great to have a cycle lane with no parked cars! This is a design that was missing from the TRL study that As Easy discussed recently in ‘Setting Back’ Cycling.
            How do you find it where you cross the side roads? It seems to me that the kerb segregation is profiled the wrong way round. It is cut away on the motorist’s side encouraging faster turns and possible left-hooking from motorists turning into Sidney St. In principle, it should instead be cut away on the cycle track side to allow cyclists to move slightly further away from the Give Way line to protect themselves from motorists who overshoot/overhang the line. (I realise that, in this particular case, Sidney St is one-way so that shouldn’t be a problem.)
            The narrow width underlines the potential benefit of using sloping kerb stones.

      • D. says:

        Anecdote of how (some) motorists see contraflow cycle lanes.

        I was here – https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Stanfords/@51.4537397,-2.5949836,3a,75y,323.81h,90t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1s8IxmiqLS_R0AAAQXMAwm6w!2e0!3e2!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xe89c5699bc80c4d – on St Stephens Street in central Bristol.

        One lane – one way – for traffic toward Corn Street. Cars park along on side (left of the standard lane). One contraflow cycle lane along the right of the standard lane.

        There was a bin lorry blocking the traffic lane. I could see a cyclist turning out of Corn Street to come down the cycle lane. The two cars ahead of me just pulled out, drove past the bin lorry with two wheels on the footpath and two wheels in the cycle lane.

        I got to the front of the queue, realised the woman on a bike was still just waiting. I figured, cycle lane, her priority, so I just stopped and waved her through.

        Cue honk-honk-honk, and swearing, from behind me. Turned and saw a bloke driving a large BMW going an interesting shade of red as he screamed at me, “What are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Its just an f-ing bike!!!!”.

        Long pause. Then I gestured down at my own two wheels, smiled, and said, “I know.”.

    • Colin says:

      One of the problems with making roads one-way is that drivers go faster because they think they have a clear run. You then have to put in traffic calming to slow them down again. The DfT guidance – Traffic Advisory leaflet 06/98 – gives traffic speeds and volumes below which they advise that contraflow cycling is safe enough. The guidance doesn’t mention width. If your road doesn’t meet the guidelines, it needs to be changed so that it does. This will be far easier politically than taking out half the car parking. The guidance also prescribes signs to be used, though this part is now out of date.

      I have been responsible for numerous cycle contraflows since 2005. The cyclist casualty rate is too low to measure, and certainly no worse than on equivalent 2-way streets.

  5. D. says:

    There’s a contraflow cycle lane right in the middle of Bristol city centre (Nelson Street/Quay Street).

    On Streetview here – https://www.google.com/maps/@51.4563896,-2.5945637,3a,75y,105.46h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sK3HTpdICH4JFUOuho0AhTQ!2e0?hl=en-GB

    The road in question is supposed to be taxis, buses and deliveries, but, well, you know…

  6. rdrf says:

    There has been lots of contraflow cycling around for ages. Sometimes in segregated off lanes (e.g. LB Hammersmith and Fulham in King Street – I designed the eastern extension many years ago!) and more relevant to this piece, plenty which is NOT segregated off, with lanes and entry treatments. LB Ealing, RB Kensington and Chelsea, now Corporation of London…

    Of course each case is different. But motorists can and do adapt to what initially seems “wrong way” cycling.

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