Are cycle lanes in the ‘door zone’ better than nothing?

Our Road Justice group has been working with the police on the issue of car doors and cycling incidents. Up to 20% of road traffic incidents resulting in injury to cyclists are the result of motorists carelessly opening vehicle doors.

We had a question from an officer working for Bristol Council saying that there had been only one incident in the past five years at three of the most notorious locations: opposite the BRI on Maudlin St (pictured), Midland Rd and the recent one on Bath Rd. There was a collision in September 2014 on Upper Maudlin Street opposite the BRI due to a passenger exiting a queuing vehicle, not a parked one.

This raises the question of how the painted cycle lanes that form the bulk of what passes for ‘cycle facilities’ in Bristol are being used.

Could it be that Bristol cyclists already understand the contrary and subtle meaning of these lanes? They are not in fact ‘cycle lanes’, but prompts to motorist to be aware of cycles.

The message to those riding bikes is of course ‘Don’t Cycle Here

Our more reasoned response to the Council is as follows:

The Department of Transport and Avon and Somerset Police advise on their websites that cyclists avoid cycling in the door zone. Advice reinforced by safe cycling organisations, including ones funded by Bristol City Council, who recommend that cyclists should cycle “ a door and a bit more” away from vehicles. And for very good reasons, at least 128 cyclists have been injured in Bristol in the last five years by motorists carelessly opening their vehicle doors. 17 of these incidents resulted in admissions to hospital. Fortunately none of the casualties so far has been fatal but cyclists in London have been killed due to such occurrences.

By constructing cycle lanes so as to encourage cyclists to move within this zone clearly runs counter to the very sound advice being given by the above organisations and works to negate the effectiveness of their message. It is widely recognised as an area of danger to cyclists not only from impact with the vehicle concerned but also from cyclists having to suddenly swerve out into faster moving traffic to avoid the offending door or, in often the most serious cases, being knocked into the path of following traffic.

We think it is very difficult to say why a particular location does or does not have a record of incidents, but the lack of incidents to date does not necessarily make it safe for cyclists. We would suggest that the limited number of parking places, 6, and the fact that they appear to be used for one to two hour visits, and pure chance are more likely to be factors than drivers’ heightened awareness of cyclists in such locations. Our picture, illustrating the article showing a father and his young son having to move out into the carriageway to avoid a car door, would seem to bear this out.

We think what is especially disappointing about the cycle lane in question is that the B4051 travelling SW widens from one lane before Lower Maudlin Street to three lanes outside the BRI ( 2 for travelling and one for a small amount of parking). Rather than try and squeeze in a cycle lane and provide 3 lanes for motorised traffic, there was the opportunity to provide a cycle lane either with a buffer between it and the parked cars or segregated from motorised moving traffic by parked cars or some greened space. Some Dutch examples of what could have been done can be seen on the curiously named great gas beetle website.