Doubling up

Queuing might be a word with a French origin, but the British have a reputation for it, particularly for doing it in an orderly fashion. But our passion for queuing is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively recent development, arising out of industrialisation and poverty in the 19th century, and especially, rationing during World War II.

I have noticed that this ‘British’ approach to queuing is, sometimes, affecting behaviour on the new cycling infrastructure in London.

The most efficient behaviour while waiting at lights is, actually, to double up, even if this appears to involve ‘queue jumping’. It’s standard practice that you will see at any Dutch junction with separate cycling infrastructure.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-22-18-56Two neat rows of people, making the most efficient use of the space, and ensuring the maximum number of people get through the lights on green.

Generally, I do find exactly the same kind of behaviour at the lights on similar infrastructure in London – although maybe not quite as compact.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-22-45-40But there are exceptions. Very occasionally I will find a queue that isn’t ‘doubled’.


There’s a particularly good example in the @sw19cam video below, at the 5:05 mark, as he emerges out the other side from Blackfriars underpass, waiting at the lights to cross onto the Embankment.

Sensibly, he decides to go right to the front, in what might be seen by some as ‘skipping the queue’. I don’t think he is, at least not in this context. Everyone should be doing this,  especially at this particular location, where there is a notably short green phase.

The question, then, is why do people queue in single file, when it hampers your (and others’) ability to get through a junction? My guess is it might be partly out of politeness; partly out of a belief that, by moving over the right, you might be making a bold statement that you are ‘faster’ than riders on your left; or even that you are ‘queue jumping’.

But ‘doubling up’ really is the best way of ensuring everyone makes it through the lights in one go. Sitting at the back of a single-file queue, and adding to it, just means that you and the people behind you have got less change of making it through the lights.

So don’t be afraid to double up! You’re not being rude, you’re not pretending you’re faster, and you’re not queue jumping. You’re just helping everyone. If you don’t feel you are fast enough, you can just merge back to the left, and let everyone past as the queue disperses through the junction.

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37 Responses to Doubling up

  1. Mazzimo Frascuorno says:

    I think that most of the time is because is more confortable to put the foot on the “step” instead of putting the foot on the floor (so inclining the bike and get off the saddle).

    I personally try to double up as the greens are often very short.

    • Mazzimo Frascuorno says:

      As a proof of that, on blackfriars bridge the step doesn’t exist and the people are doubling up, other parts of the superhighway that do have the step on the side is usually when this happens.

    • marmotte27 says:

      You could be rigth and this may be down to poor stopping and starting technique in a lot of cyclists. Approaching a stop you should down shift, then get completely off the saddle and put one foot on the ground. Then pull up the other pedal until it’s in a 1400 hours position.
      When cycling off, push down on that pedal, while simultaneously lifting yourself onto the saddle. That way you cycle off securely and in a straight line.

      • Paul M says:

        Better still, use a bike with hub gears. Then you can select the best gear for your pull-off and not have to predict and anticipate what gear you’re going to need depending on whether you get past the lights on green or not. I see a lot of people standing on their pedals or wobbling like mad as they pull away (and that wobble was used as victim-blaming defence in at least one recent prosecution of a lorry driver for killing a cyclist at a junction).

        They’re also a lot easier to keep correctly adjusted and require minimal maintenance.

      • MJ Ray says:

        Do NOT pull up pedals unless you like scuffed shoes. Kick the pedals backwards until one’s at 2 o’clock… unless you have s coaster brake, when you should learn to stop with pedals set, or scoot start.

  2. helenvecht says:

    Doubling up might make sense if the cycle track is wide. If it is narrow, encroaching on other people’s ‘wobble zone’ is intimidating and unwise.

  3. IslandDweller says:

    Fully understand the point you’re making. But that 90degree turn (shown in your photos) by the Blackfriars underpass doesn’t have much manoeuvring room, and it’s two way. Could easily descend into chaos….

  4. Jo says:

    I agree with Helen. People who ride bikes all know from experience that a wobble buffer is important to ensure both a safe and relaxed ride, especially when starting from a standstill.

    I think there is an important role for design here. It appears to be quite common that an exit on the opposite side of a crossroads junction can be staggered a little, perhaps only by a metre or so. With plenty of space, this isn’t a problem. The typical widths of the carriageway for motor vehicles provides such a buffer. But with doubled up queuing and confined space for cyclists it is all too common to find yourself ‘boxed in’ with no clear exit as overtaking riders take the most direct route to the opposite exit. Several design solutions present themselves. Not to stagger junctions in the first place is an obvious one. As is ensuring there is plenty of space for wobbling and lateral movement. As is surface colouring of the route across the junction with sufficient width to allow two-abreast throughout.

  5. Related: people not filling up an advance stop box. if anything, I think that’s a much more important example: if you queue single file down the side of vehicles, you are increasing the chance that someone is going to be left-hooked. At least with protected infrastructure, the worst that happens is some people have to wait another cycle at the lights.
    I won’t think twice about going to the front of an ASL if it is safe to do so, no matter how many people are waiting in a line. I’m not risking my safety for perceived politeness.

    • Behold an advance stop box so large, they had to get special permission from the DfT
      It’s on a student cycle route, and there are enough people cycling to justify it. The junction also has advance green for cycling. The road after the junction is too narrow for motor vehicles to pass, so if you’re going straight on (as most are) there is no reason to stay left / not take primary (though barely necessary given numbers cycling).
      Do most people fill the box? Hell no.
      (I’m usually turning left here, so I can’t take up a position on the right, and the advance green isn’t long enough for me to get away from vehicles if people queue down the left when going straight ahead).

      • Matthew says:

        Naturally, that ASL is usually filled with something other than a cycle. Typically an SUV or a taxi. I have very carefully positioned myself in front of such drivers on many occasions.

      • Tim says:

        Also, at the risk of sounding cheeky – you call that a large ASL? 🙂 I know, I know, it’s not a competition. Behold Manchester’s “field of dreams”. Two lanes, spilling magnificently onto the central reservation (cycle crossing). Not quite on streetview yet.

        You don’t often get people in the middle or on the right, unless they’re very confident and turning right slightly further on.

    • Tim says:

      I think this might be due to a slightly different issue. I would agree that we should use the space allocated to us as people on bikes, but usually taking a more central “primary” position often involves putting oneself (or ending up) right in front of a motor vehicle, whereas being to the left doesn’t. And if you’re not turning right and you cant merge back into the queue of cyclists immediately afterwards you end up stuck in front of the car. Either way you might get shouted at, or worse.

      I can understand why people are uncomfortable doing it.

  6. timmorrislw says:

    One thing that is notable about this post, is that there is no chance this type of post – minor thoughts about how to *use* cycling infrastructure – would have been written a year or two ago. A little bit of progress, however slim.

  7. Tim says:

    I’ve noticed the same phenomenon on the new cycle infra on Oxford Road in Manchester. I think it partly relates to the subject of some recent tweets – that the width of the lanes (including the choice to go with uni-directional rather than bi-directional on one side) makes it hard to overtake at any point.

    Cyclists vary widely in our preferred speeds, or the speed at which we’re comfortable at any given time. Also, our (probably very British) politeness can make us feel awkward both about holding people up or about trying to get past people where there isn’t plenty of room.

    I think some people are scared to end up at the front, ahead of other cyclists who may wish to go faster and end up “getting in the way”. Pulling past people at the lights might feel like making promises their legs can’t keep, if you like.

    Equally some people will confidently relish getting to the front, and we could criticise MGIF riders, but it’s surely fair that some people will have faster bikes/legs and/or more urgent missions than others.

    All this awkwardness could be avoided if the available facilities were good enough that there were at least some sections where overtaking were easy (or at least possible), and where we could maybe even ride alongside each other, as mentioned in another post. Then the awkwardness of being stuck at the front, or the back, would only be temporary, and people in a hurry wouldn’t have to veer into the main carriageway to overtake (which is something which also happens often.

  8. Bmblbzzz says:

    Doubling up at a junction on a kerbed lane line the one in the video might make sense because there’s only direction to go. At an ASL you don’t know which way the people already there are going; they might be on the left but turning right, in which case you don’t really want to get to the right of them. Or there might be junctions where the vast majority of traffic, including you, turns left, but if you assume the person already there is also turning left there’s bound to be a time when they’re going straight on.

    • That’s what hand signals and lane position are for IMHO. If I’m turning I’ll always try to ensure I’m on the relevant side of the box and put my arm out (more help if I’m wanting to turn left) to signify to other cyclists and drivers my intentions to try and avoid conflicts.

      • Bmblbzzz says:

        Sure, that’s how it should work. In practice, when stationary, the proportion of cyclists who use signals is far lower even than the amount of drivers who do.

        • You think people should sit with their arm up and out for a full two minutes?

          • Bmblbzzz says:

            It’s simply not reasonable and I doubt there’s really any point. In fact, it’s not even absolutely demanded of motor vehicle drivers with electric indicators: HC contains a provision that drivers can turn their indicator off if they feel it’s dazzling someone behind, but should turn it on again just before moving.

            (OT: if you have Mittelscmerz, I do pity you – GWS! 😉 )

          • HivemindX says:

            I agree this is a bit much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do this. I certainly don’t. I do use road position, if I am turning right I get in the middle of the lane to try and discourage people (in cars usually) who are going straight ahead from pulling up to the right of me. This unfortunately didn’t stop a particularly stubborn person (in a car) who decided they would rather pass me on the inside and then pull diagonally across me at the junction because they also wanted to turn right and as a motorist it was their god given right to do it in front of me.

          • I’ve been known to. More often, a signal as I arrive to make clear my positioning, and another shortly before the lights change for anyone who wasn’t there when I arrived.

            Why wouldn’t I? I expect drivers to have their indicators on while queuing for lights. Not that they do mind, but I expect it none-the-less.

            • I would do similar to you, signal a couple of times before manouvreing.

              However, my response was to Mark Skrzypczyk’s facile remark ‘that’s what hand signals are for. Which suggests we should be signalling the entire time we are waiting for the benefit of cyclists or motorists who join the queue subsequently.

              I don’t think that would be safe or sensible, to assume you can sit in this position, or that any other road user should. Your balance is compromised, and you’d be slower to react if circumstances or your environment changed.

    • HivemindX says:

      I agree with this. In the example image if I want to turn left and I not going to pull up on the outside of all those people, some of whom may be going straight on.

  9. Bmblbzzz says:

    It’s quite something just to see those kerbed lanes and all those cyclists waiting at their own lights though!

  10. What about all the other 64 999 999 old British people who will get mad at you and give you a horrific stare if you dare to queue jump?

  11. Yoav says:

    A couple of weeks ago I was cycling into Eindhoven when it was school home time. Never mind 2 abreast at the traffic lights, it was 20-30 abreast!!!!

  12. Bmblbzzz says:

    On the general subject of the British “love of” queueing, the snake queue – where one long line leads to several windows (or tills or whatever) and you go to whichever window/till/etc happens to be free when you get to the head of the snake – does seem to be more common in Britain than in some other countries where queues are also common (and may be common for similar historical reasons). The advantage of the snake queue is not so much (AIUI) that it reduces overall waiting times as that it equalises them; with a traditional one queue per window system, some queues move faster than others and it’s mostly luck where you end up. Perhaps surprisingly, one common British queueing scenario where the snake system has not been adopted is the supermarket (apart from some small ones with only a couple of tills). I don’t think this is due to the number of tills, as the system is used in situations such as passport control where there can be many desks all served by one long queue.

    It’s hard to think of an analogous situation on the road, simply because, unlike say a post office where every window will do equally well for every customer, at road junctions we tend to have separate lanes for separate actions (turning this way or that). In the traffic context separate lines for separate destinations seems to work be the norm. Perhaps if the CSH (in the vid) were marked with separate lanes, people would double up on queueing? But how then would they behave at that spot when not queueing; would the lanes encourage daft overtaking?

    • HivemindX says:

      Just FYI this type of queuing is common in Ireland too. I find that self service registers have the snake queue system in every case I know of. Perhaps the lack of this system with the main tills is due to the difficulty of manoeuvring a trolley. The worst feature is that in situations where there isn’t a corral you often get people who make a “mistake” and go straight up to one of the registers forming a queue of two and leaving the 10 people at the junction point fuming.

      I’m not sure how easy it is to apply this to traffic situations. A roundabout is quite similar in that there is one long queue which divides out in to multiple exits, but it differs in that which exit you take generally matters, you don’t just take the one with the least traffic. Most traffic queues have the reverse situation to a till, you have multiple streams going to one destination and in that situation the advantage goes to the person who is most willing to bully their way in leading to suboptimal results for the system as a whole.

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