Dangerous is legal, safe is illegal

This (short) post is going to look at a paradoxical situation in British road road design, one that means that a very dangerous way of dealing with turning conflicts is legal, while a much safer way of dealing with those turning conflicts is illegal.

Here’s the legal situation. Take any signal-controlled crossroads. It’s perfectly acceptable to paint a cycle lane, against the kerb, on the inside of a lane of left-turning motor traffic. We are then quite happy to release, with a green signal, both a person on a bike in that cycle lane – who might be going straight ahead – at exactly the same time as a driver turning left from the lane on that cyclist’s right.

We even do this with fairly new road layouts.

Someone in that cycle lane could be going ahead - they have a green signal at exactly the same time as the bus.

Someone in that cycle lane could be going ahead – and they have a green signal at exactly the same time as the bus which is turning left, from their right.

In other words, we’re completely okay with this kind of conflict being designed into new roads, as long as there’s only a line of paint separating you from the bus or the lorry waiting alongside you on your right.

Itchen Bridge plans with conflict

But let’s say we change this arrangement slightly; change the position the person on the bike is waiting at, relative to the driver of the car, bus, or lorry. Something like this.

St John's Street junction Islington

Plans for the Clerkenwell Road/St John St junction in Islington, which may go to consultation later this year (but not allowing this conflicting movement!)

The person cycling is moved forward into the junction, where the driver can see them, so far forward, in fact, that if they get a green light simultaneously, the person cycling will have cleared the junction before the driver makes his or her turn. Even if they do happen to meet, they will do so at a perpendicular angle, so both parties can see that a conflict is about to occur, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There’s even a nice BicycleDutch video explaining the advantages of this design.

But of course in Britain it’s not possible to do this, because it amounts to a ‘conflicting green’. Drivers turning left with a green must not meet someone crossing their path with a green signal.

So there we have it. It’s completely acceptable for drivers to turn left across someone cycling if that person on a bike is right next to them, separated only a bit of paint – that’s not a conflicting green. Meanwhile if that person on a bike is situated in a much safer position, more visible, and more likely to be out of the driver’s way before the turn is completed – that is a ‘conflict’, and not legal.

Such is the British approach to road safety!

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14 Responses to Dangerous is legal, safe is illegal

  1. dr2chase says:

    Could do Leading Pedestrian Interval and allow the bike to go early with the pedestrians, too. Also illegal?

    • Paul Luton says:

      Apparently so – I asked about that possibility at a location where 2 quietways cross.
      There is an all-pedestrians green phase but you are not allowed to add in cyclists. This is a location where you will have, say, half a dozen of each so the cyclists would have no difficulty in keeping clear of the pedestrians. (and no , we can’t have an all cyclist phase as that would reduce the capacity !)

      • Jitensha Oni says:

        You seem to be able to in Walton on Thames. Here’s a 4 way green for pedestrians and riders actually in operation (no riders in this shot, but hey, I can’t be everywhere!).


        The key seems to be that If you make the corners shared use, and put in toucans it’s perfectly legal, but put in cycle paths and you can’t. Crackers.

      • fred says:

        alternating mini-roundabout (scrambleabout)?

    • Eric D says:

      People are beginning to test this

      we don’t have jaywalking laws so running across is probably legal
      (police tend to make up “laws” on the spot – it needs to be tested in court)

      Scooting across is the same as riding across – wrong

      Not sure he had a ‘green man’, either!

      Now we are beginning to see red-amber-green bike lights, there is more scope for bike phases, but I don’t think we are yet doing bike-filter-arrows !

      As they say “Don’t cross the streams” !

  2. Paul Luton says:

    What is needed is a clarification of the idea that if you turn a corner you should give way to anyone going straight on. Alas you also need a bit more free space at the corners.

  3. Notak says:

    Yes. That idea – that turning traffic gives way to pedestrians crossing the road they’re entering, and by extension to cyclists on a crossing – doesn’t really exist in UK (yes, I know HC rule 170, but even if drivers observed it, it only seems to apply when turning into minor roads). It certainly doesn’t exist at traffic lights. And yet it works very well in some places which have it – including ones where drivers generally treat pedestrians as annoyances to be brushed out of the road.

    • meltdblog says:

      In Australia, traffic turning at intersections and traffic lights are required to give way to pedestrians. Though its rarely enforced and not actively taught or advertised. Pedestrians and bicycles are released at lights on the parallel paths with this quote from some of the standards: “As a guide, pedestrian protection is usually unnecessary….”

      Which is where you cross a side road with a green man showing, and have a right turning car run you down because they were only watching for oncoming traffic and not pedestrians coming from behind them.

  4. Michele Piu says:

    I’m sure you already came across it, but this situation reminds me of this study, where they explore the feasibility of implementing some solutions with current UK laws: http://goo.gl/gE4cv2

  5. Ollyver says:

    The UK is filled with Pits of Failure for cycling – follow the system blindly, and you’ll fall into them. Instead, what you want is a system with Pits of Success – follow the rules of the road and the environmental cues, and success (survival) follows automatically.
    I’ve blogged here

  6. Lela Gary says:

    If Paul Luton or anybody else, could modify the following proposed road design that I deputed at Toronto City Council on Right turning cars, which is equivalent to UK’s left turning cars, you may be able to recommend safe commuting for all concerned. If you would look at the pics and adjust transportation Laws accordingly: http://www.ecopolitics.ca/legislation-for-cycling-safety-2/

  7. MJ Ray says:

    What says conflicting greens are illegal?

    A few have been built, but usually highway authority “road safety auditors” (often effectively motoring lobbyists in my experience) will demand changes and get them.

  8. The U.S. approach to “safety” often isn’t much better either.

  9. Pingback: York Street Interchange – nicycles

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