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Cyclists to be Crowned “Kings of the Road”

A consultation on the Highway Code is underway and prominent cycling groups are lobbying their memberships hard to push through a host of changes that will prove favourable to pedal powered road users. Cycling advocates are arguing that the amendments are long overdue and are much needed in order to improve the safety of cyclists. However, having reviewed the proposals one frustrated motorist pre-emptively crowned cyclists “Kings of the Road” on Twitter.

Recent Cycling Initiatives

The Government have launched so many initiatives to encourage cycling during the Covid-19 crisis that you’d be forgiven for failing to keep up with all them all. Back in March ambitious plans to decarbonise transport by 2050 were released and there can be no doubt that the power brokers in Whitehall intend for bikes to play a key part in that. The cycling community has expanded by over that’s over 3m people since then, as 5% of the population purchased bikes during lockdown. As a result, Westminster has launched several high profile policies to further promote cycling in the UK:

  • The most noticeable policy aimed at creating a cycling revolution has been the requisitioning of much road space. The intention is to encourage cycling during the pandemic as an alternative to crowded public transport. It appears logical that they are also using it as an opportunity to push their long term objective of reducing carbon emissions. Local Authorities have subsequently been given instructions from the Government to hand over lanes and close roads in order to accommodate greater numbers of cyclists.
  • It was subsequently announced in May that cycling is going to benefit from a £2bn investment from the Government. This was already in the pipeline by the coronavirus has fast tracked its implementation.
  • In the last week, 50,000 vouchers with a value of £50 each were made available for cycle owners to have their bikes made roadworthy.
  • In March the Government also announced that a key strategy was to “Keep cyclists safe on the roads.” When you consider that in Great Britain during 2018 over 4,000 cyclists were seriously injured and 99 lost their lives it’s clear more needs to be done to improve safety. As part of this ambition, a new body called Active Travel England has been appointed to oversee the enforcement of measures such as the introduction of effective and safe cycle lanes. Councils will be prevented from building cycle lanes that are deemed not fit for purpose. Active Travel England will be tasked with policing this and advising councils on how to best build their cycle infrastructure. It’s been suggested that they will be able to threaten budgets cuts from other areas if councils fail to deliver on active transport.

These are all reasons for unparalleled optimism amongst cycling’s expanding support base but will be the causes of great concern amongst those that earn their living from driving. With traffic in many cities already moving slower than traditional horse and carts, many commercial drivers whose businesses have been hard hit by the virus will be anticipating even longer delays.

By contrast, sensing a massive opportunity the cycling industry has been working hard capitalise on the momentum by encouraging people to choose cycling as their preferred mode of transport. For example, the #Bikeisbest movement is cajoling people to take a bike for shorter trips. However, changes to the Highway Code are also featuring prominently on a number of the cycling associations’ radars.

Changes Proposed to the Highway Code

The Government is currently consulting on changes to the Highway Code aimed at improving safety on the road for “vulnerable users”. It will be emphasised to drivers that “unsafe speed increases the chances of causing a collision (or being unable to avoid one), as well as its severity. Inappropriate speeds are also intimidating, deterring people from walking, cycling or riding horses.”

Therefore a “Hierarchy of Road Users’ will be introduced under new Rule H1. “This aims to those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to other road users.” The stated intention is not to give “priority to those defined as vulnerable in every situation.” However, the writers were likely to have the seemingly ever increasing number of road rage incidents between riders and drivers in mind when they said that the objective of the hierarchy is “to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users.”

New Rule H2 intends to create clearer and stronger priorities for pedestrians, particularly at junctions, and clarify where pedestrians have right of way. And a further addition Rule H3 will “place a requirement on drivers to give priority to cyclists when they are turning into or out of a junction, or changing direction or lane, just as they would to other motor vehicles.”

These guiding principles will apply in several everyday scenarios and drivers will potentially need to be aware of the following:

  • Junction Priority: vehicles that are turning at unmarked junctions should always give priority to a pedestrian or cyclist going straight ahead as they would have right of way. Cycling UK has produced the below video to highlight their thoughts on this issue.
  • Group Riding: removal of the confusion to state that cyclists can and should cycle two abreast but should move into a single file if a car wants to pass when it is safe to do so. Motorists often become frustrated when they encounter cyclists riding side by side whilst chatting. Though cycle safety groups maintain that riding two abreast, whilst being more social for the pair, also shortens overtaking time (when space permits) for drivers and in turn increases opportunities to do so.
  • Overtaking: new guidance would suggest leaving 1.5 meters if driving under 30mph or 2m if driving over 30mph or if you are in a large vehicle. There are also proposals to make a wider pass mandatory in bad weather and at night.
  • Road position: The changes are likely to suggest that cyclists should ride nearer the middle of the lane to make themselves more visible. Many drivers assume that bicycles should hug the side of the road. However, cyclists argue it’s often safer to be out in the middle of the lane so that they are more visible and can avoid doors opening on them unexpectedly as well as other obstacles.
  • Roundabouts: under the new changes, cars will be asked to give priority to cyclists at roundabouts.
  • Drivers are reminded that no matter how frustrated they may feel when curtailed behind a rider on a road if a specific cycleway is adjacent to them, “cyclists are not obliged to use cycle lanes or cycle tracks.”
  • Weaving through traffic: most cyclists do it and lots of drivers understandably find it annoying when they get too close. However, it could soon be enshrined in the highway code that cyclists can weave through slow-moving traffic if it’s safe to do so.
  • Residential road changes – residents could be given the power to completely banish through-traffic from their roads in favour of walking and cycling. Although all that traffic will surely need to go elsewhere which could then create pinch points.

Cyclists Don’t Have It All Their Own Way

Many drivers feel aggrieved that dangerous cycling such as riding on pavements and jumping lights often takes place, yet goes unchecked. Though the Highway Code amendments do include clarification to cyclists that:

  • When the traffic lights are red, they may cross the first stop line, but MUST NOT cross the final stop line.
  • In certain circumstances “cyclists should watch out for vehicles” “remembering that drivers may not easily see” them.
  • It’s recommended that cyclists give way to pedestrians waiting to cross the road at a side road or junctions
  • Wearing a cycle helmet will reduce your risk of sustaining a head injury in certain circumstances
  • Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older adults or disabled people
  • Not to pass horses “closely or at high speed, particularly from behind.”
  • They should not ride too close behind another vehicle, in case it stops suddenly
  • Inexperienced riders are asked “to consider training, such as Bikeability, and the benefits that it can bring”

Motorists will at least be buoyed by these changes that are clearly attempting to curtail poor riding and anti-social behaviour by cyclists.

Are These Policies Coming From the Top?

The Prime Minister is a self-declared passionate cyclist. Road users should have known what to expect when he took office just over a year ago. He has spoken previously of the need for “wider cultural change” across all road users to achieve his desired cycling utopia. Back in 2012 when Mayor of London he stated, perhaps somewhat simplistically, in his Mayoral Vision of Cycling for London:

“It is my belief that helping cycling will not just help cyclists. It will create better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich. It means new life, new vitality and lower crime on underused streets. It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.”

He followed this up with the removal of road space and the introduction of numerous wide, mandatory cycle lanes that are often fully-segregated in the Dutch-style. Their success remains open to much debate. Following his own near death experience during the C-19 Crisis that was linked to his excessive weight, Boris appears adamant that the nation should get fitter and shed pounds. So it’s likely that cycling will remain high up his agenda as it has done in his previous administrations. Amongst the many other releases, it was also announced that GPs can prescribe cycling to help with their patient’s physical and mental health. The irony will not be lost on many professional drivers in London and other UK cities who have probably felt their blood pressure rising as they’ve queued in traffic as a result of a popular route being allocated to riders following the coronavirus crisis

Is the Consultation a Done Deal?

Many are waiting anxiously for the outcome of the consultation. When viewed in light of the host of other cycling related initiatives that have been launched in recent months, some of which have been pushed through at breakneck speed, it appears likely that the Department for Transport will be under pressure to implement these changes in favour of “vulnerable road users”.

However, the consultation is encouraging interested parties to respond before it closes on midnight on October 27th 2020. The easiest way to do so is via the online response form.

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