Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Highway Code Rule 153–remember it?

Now I don’t normally write single issue posts, I tend to get carried away with stuff I have read and tuck that in at the beginning of the Post about whatever ride I happen to have been on. Sometimes you have to be different though.

So why rule 153 I hear you ask. Well I was cycling down to the newsagents the other day and a car went past me with inches (or centimetres) to spare at well above the 30mph speed limit. There was room for the car to have moved well over to the other side of the but he didn’t. Now if I had the chance I would remind such drivers of Highway Code Rule 163 on Overtaking matters including:

Overtake only when is is safe and legal to do so. You should

  • “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you  would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-215)”

This is accompanied by a picture of a car overtaking a cyclist with a large 1.5- 2m gap between the car and the bicycle. (Picture Highway Code website)

Highway Code Rule 163 – Overtaking Vulnerable Road Usersdg_070531

Most cars do give plenty of room, but a significant minority don’t and it feels positively dangerous. There are two views of the driver’s motivation – it was either deliberate or accidental – neither give any comfort.

The trouble with this rule is that whilst it is most sensible from a cyclist's perspective there are many reasons for motorists to ignore it, to the point that it gets ignored most of the time.  Clearly the faster the over-taking vehicle the more space should be given. The corollary is not true – a slow lorry passing a cyclist with insufficient space causes significant danger for the cyclist.

The rule also breaks down where there are cycle lanes along the road but there is insufficient width of of cycle lane and vehicle lane. This gives drivers permission to overtake bicycles very closely indeed.

Here is what I consider to be an example of good practice – although the cycle lanes are only advisory they are wide and well marked and the vehicle lanes are also of reasonable width. The result is that motor vehicles co-exist in reasonable (and IMHO) safe harmony. It is Gilbert Road in Cambridge and I feel that the changes have significantly improved this as a route for cycling. It feels calmer and safer.

Gilbert Road, Cambridge, Good Cycle Lanes

And here it is in action, the cyclist can stay away from the gutter, the car can overtake with room – although still not as much as suggested by the Highway Code picture.

Gilbert Road, Cambridge, Good Cycle Lanes

 There are not so good examples of course. Near the Park & Ride car park junction on Newmarket Road we have a very thin cycle lane on a piece of road that barely has room even without the cycle lane.

Newmarket Road, Cambridge, near the Park & Ride – call that a cycle lane

For bigger vehicles there is even less room. What where they thinking?

Newmarket Road, Cambridge, near the Park & Ride – call that a cycle lane

The trouble is this is not a law - so it is only taken into account if an accident occurs. Of course by then it is too late.

Whilst not claiming to have memorised the entire Highway Code I have read it a few times in the last few years. The most recent reading was during the time my daughter was learning to drive. You’d be surprised how often it gets updated and how easy it is not to be current on the rules.

So what is this Rule 153 I hear you ask. Well regular cyclists will probably be familiar with the huge levels of impatience some motorists show when held up by cyclists.

So here is Rule 153 taken from the Highway code (I have added the emphasis):

Traffic-calming measures. On some roads there are features such as road humps, chicanes and narrowings which are intended to slow you down. When you approach these features reduce your speed. Allow cyclists and motorcyclists room to pass through them. Maintain a reduced speed along the whole of the stretch of road within the calming measures. Give way to oncoming road users if directed to do so by signs. You should not overtake other moving road users while in these areas.

This picture accompanies the text. (Picture from Highway Code website.)

As a cyclist I would never have realised that this was a Highway code rule through observation of the behaviour of  motor vehicles when  cycling in such areas. I tend to find that such areas feel more dangerous on a bicycle rather than less. Such methods of slowing down traffic tend to interrupt the flow and since the interruptions can be “random”, depending upon the oncoming traffic they can result in drivers accelerating into “gaps” in the traffic.

An example of this is on the outskirts of Cambridge in Stow Cum Quy, just off the NCN 51 route.  There are three such chicanes in the village. So are all three in the calming area and how would someone unfamiliar now that was the case. So does rule 153 apply here.

You might also notice that there is a gap for cyclists, which is welcome, you do have to watch out for vehicles “nipping” through when there is a small gap in the oncoming traffic and then pulling in and “pinching” you (the cyclist) against the kerb.

View Larger Map

Or does Rule 153 only apply when there is a contiguous system of traffic calming. Here in Cambridge we have several examples, but the Cherry Hinton High Street springs to mind.

Forgive me for being an ungrateful cyclist – however I think that cycling along here is just not pleasant and doesn’t not feel safe. And does Rule 153 apply here or do the Cycle Lanes give permission to motorists to pass with hardly any gap – as if those white lines projected invisible force-fields to protect the cars from getting any nasty scratches.

Cherry Hinton High Street – Approaching the Level Crossing

On the other end of the High Street a better view of the force-fields along with a barrier to stop cyclists from not paying attention.

Cherry Hinton High Street

Indeed in some places it would seem that barriers are created to encourage motor vehicles to swing back towards the cycle lane.

Cherry Hinton High Street

And whilst I am looking at my stock of pictures of Cherry Hinton High Street – here it is again. Just to make sure those cyclists really know there place – ensure the cycle lane is in the Door Zone. (Rule 239 – advice for the door openers and Rule 67 for cyclists – “… Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened …”

Cherry Hinton High Street saving space – combining the Door Zone and the Cycle lane

And why does it matter – well a common motorists’ problem is inability to tolerate any holdups whatsoever or The Tyranny of Speed as Chester Cycling puts it.  The current cycle infrastructure gives far too many mixed messages which coupled with ignorance of the Highway Code leads to tension between two very dissimilar classes of road users.

There are various ethical/moral questions known as the Trolley Problem – well here is mine for the motorists of the IAM – what would you rather be hit by another motor vehicle of a cyclist? In what I feel is a shameless bit of “publicity” the IAM have published a survey on red-light jumping.

The Daily Mail: “More than half of cyclists have jumped red lights to get ahead of other road users”.

The Cambridge News: “Survey on cyclists running red lights ‘only tells half story’”.

The Guardian: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics about red light jumping”.

Our roads work because there are laws, rules and most importantly co-operation I think we need a little more of the latter.  Many years ago a friend had quite a serious car accident, which featured on the local news programmes. As a result he took and passed the IAM driving test. For a long time he “nagged” me to take my IAM test. I have to say there is not a chance of that happening now.

Oops I almost forgot this link – why does it matter:

Daily mail: Caught on camera: the moment woman driver ‘attacked slow cyclist after he held up traffic along country lane’ (Although there might have been a different reason.)

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