Question for Ruth Cadbury MP, chair Parliamentary Cycling Group

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Question for Ruth Cadbury MP, chair Parliamentary Cycling Group

I may have the opportunity to meet Ruth Cadbury MP in a couple of weeks in the context of being my local MP but she is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG)

I wanted to use the opportunity to raise a cycling related issue - I don't expect to achieve anything immediately but it doesn't do any harm to keep the pressure on from as many people as possible.

I was thinking the area of design standards may be appropriate.  I'm aware of the London Cycle Design Standards but this isn't national.

Could someone suggest a few "dummys guide" non-technical "soundbites' about things that should be done on a national level (by the Department of Transport?), but currently aren't?



Kevin Love

My suggestion would be, "why doesn't the UK have a national design standard, like the CROW standard for The Netherlands."

Actually, we would be better off if the UK were to simply adopt the CROW standard.  With necessary changes, such as translating signs and riding on the other side of the road.


Ask them "when will we have a national design standard for cycleways?" not why we don't have one. We stopped allowing every county to do all sorts of mad stuff for motorists decades ago because it does not work - it's time to stop treating cycling as a lowest-class mode of transport.
Kevin Love

My suggestion would be, "why doesn't the UK have a national design standard, like the CROW standard for The Netherlands."

Actually, we would be better off if the UK were to simply adopt the CROW standard.  With necessary changes, such as translating signs and riding on the other side of the road.


Eric D
We should have made drivers aware of the new cycle training standards before launching them (was it in 2009?) The biggest problem is drivers that say we need to learn how to ride, because we are riding 'in the middle of the road'. They often attempt to teach us a lesson with a 'punishment pass'! They could add a section to the Highway Code, and edit the ambiguous bits like 2 abreast on 'narrow or busy' or 'narrow and busy'. They could make driver instruction more bike-friendly
pete owens

In the long term the best way to do this would be to make attaining level 3 Bikability a pre-requisite for anyone applying for a provisional drivers licence - or regaining a licence after a ban - becoming a driving instructor.

I would also make it an essential qualification for anyone involved in highway design.

Alex Bergus

As Kevin says (but does not seem to show up well) why doesn't the UK have a national design standard, like the CROW standard for The Netherlands. Actually, we would be better off if the UK were to simply adopt the CROW standard. With necessary changes, such as translating signs and riding on the other side of the road.

I would also say that the standard needs to be definatly adpoted nationally quite why London needs a different standard I don't understand.

The CROW standard seems to represent best practice so anything else would either be the usual fragmented approach or simply a job creation scheme to the detriment of all of us both cyclists and more importantly potential cyclists.

I have just found the obligatory relevent xkcd post


As someone once said, "The good thing about standards is there are so many to choose from"...

Doing some digging, the Department of Transport standards for trunk roads seems to be the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB).  It only seems to have one section applicable to cycling, TA 90/05.  This section hasn't been updated since 2005, is only 12 pages long and it lumps together cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders under the delightful term "non motorised units" (NMUs).  The bibliography also refers to 2 documents from the US but doesn't contain any references to Dutch practise.  Why they refer to a country with a worse modal share for cycling than the UK is beyond me.

However the DMRB applies to trunk roads, not urban or local roads.

Does anyone know what Department of Transport documents a transport planner would use for design of local and urban roads?

Cliff Matthews

If you want to make a difference to cyclists, changing the design rules for highways will make little difference, designers can still produce awful designs or none at all.

A major priority I would say is to push for presumed liability and for the government to explain the reasoning that those in vehicles should watch out for the more vulnerable road user and that this should apply also between cyclists and pedestrians.

Cliff Matthews

If you want to make a difference to cyclists, changing the design rules for highways will make little difference, designers can still produce awful designs or none at all.

A major priority I would say is to push for presumed liability and for the government to explain the reasoning that those in vehicles should watch out for the more vulnerable road user and that this should apply also between cyclists and pedestrians.

Kevin Love

In my opinion, presumed liability makes little difference.  For example, Ontario and some other Canadian provinces have this.  There is little difference in driver behaviour between the Canadian provinces that do and those that do not have presumed liability.


Yes, I see infrastructure as higher priority than presumed liability.  The reason why facilities are so awful is precisely because of the lack of design standards.

Presumed liability is ultimately just an insurance arrangement and you aren't going to attract more people to cycle by telling them "it is now easier to claim damages if you get injured" and the threat of increased insurance premiums doesn't stop drivers crashing into each other every day.

Cliff Matthews

Of course it is up to you to decide what you want to say to your MP but if you are unclear about what design standards you ought to be asking for then it is a flimsy base from which to try and get your MP to act.

Presumed liability may be an insurance liability issue but it also brings with it a mindset that the less vulnerable road user should take care of those around them.

The best design standards will not do anything at all for cyclists without appropriate investment in infrastructure. 

So if you are not qualified to speak on design standards and do not agree with presumed liability perhaps you ought to be agitating for more investment in dedicated cycling infrastructure.


I agree that as I'm not a practising engineer in this area I shouldn't get into specifics about design standards so a general question about what the DfT is doing to adopt international best practice should be as far as I go. 

Investment is an important point.

As always, with limited time available, I wanted to have a focussed set of points and in addition to the national issues, there is a long list of local constituency gripes as well that will be tough to pick one or two from!  Personally I see presumed liability as lower priority than investment and infrastructure.

Chris Juden

Presumed liability, as applied in Continental Europe (rather than Ontario) is not merely an insurance matter but also impinges upon criminal liability and enforcement. In those countries the fact of a motor vehicle colliding with a person (on foot or awheel) is sufficient evidence already, that the vehicle was not driven carefully enough*. And the penalties for careless driving are much heavier than in English-speaking countries. This motivates drivers to be much more careful around cyclists, for example when turning in and out of side roads across all those cyclepaths that they also have in those countries.

For sure we want cyclepaths 'just like in Holland'. But they won't be 'just like in Holland' until British drivers are just as well motivated to respect cycling priority at all the side roads those paths will necessarily intersect.

Until we apply the same presumptions of operator negligence in the case of motor vehicles, as we do when a third party is injured by any other dangerous equipment (especially equipment so dangerous that one needs a licence to operate it in a public space), our planners will remain justifiably reluctant to give cyclists priority over motor vehicles, and drivers will not reliably respect that priority in the few places where planners are sufficiently courageous to give it. Until then, the only cyclepaths worth using will be those alongside major roads where side turnings are very few and far between.  

*It is nevertheless open to the driver to prove that the victim, by acting in an illegal or wantonly unpredictable manner, was entirely the author of his own misfortune. This does not, by the way, overturn Habeas Corpus. The police still have to prove that a victim was hit by a car driven by a particular driver, just as they have to prove that a particular person was holding the gun, when someone is accidentally shot. 


I don't know where you got your information from, but it is wrong. At least for the Netherlands. Presumed liability is NOT applied in criminal proceedings ONLY in civil cases - that is, who has to pay for which damages.

For example, in a recent case the driver of a garbage truck, driving out after his colleague picked up a garbage can, did not see that he was being close overtaken by a little girl on a bicycle at the time, and drove over her. He was prosecuted, I think for 'death by guilt' (that is, involuntary manslaughter). The prosecutor argued that his mirrors were not set up according to traffic regulations, and that he would have had enough time (about 4 seconds) to see the girl if he had. The man was acquitted, because the judge was of the opinion that prosecution had failed to prove that this mis-setting of the mirrors was actually there.




According to David Hembrow, strict liability was introduced in the Netherlands in the 1990s. Cycle paths were already widely used in the Netherlands for a long time before this, and presumably functioned fairly well without strict liability. 

Whilst strict liability and harsher penalties for careless driving may well both be good things, I am unconvinced by your argument that strict liability is a necessary prerequisite for cycle paths having safe priority over side roads.

Safe priority for cycle paths accross side roads can be achieved by tight radius corners, putting the cycle path on a hump, setting the cycle path back from the road at the junction, making the cycle path a different colour, clear road markings and signs. The appropriate combination of measures will depend on the speed and volume of motor traffic.


Chris Juden

I've been visiting the Netherlands since the 1980s, and I can tell you that even then, the behaviour of drivers towards cyclists was startlingly different, by which I mean almost embarrassingly cautious,  compared to my usual experience of cycling in Britain. I can only guess why that was and still is the case. 

Clearly it has almost nothing to do with the design details of how cyclepath crossings of side roads are built. For back in the 1980s, the cyclepaths of the Netherlands had neither reached today's giddy heights of design perfection as today, nor did they access all areas. And yet: the same remarkable driver caution was apparent, including when one was riding on a general purpose road: drivers would hold back even at junctions where they had priority. 

Germany is nowadays at a similar state of cyclepath development to how the Netherlands was in the 1980s and drivers there exhibit similar circumspection - wherever one rides, on road or on path, they hold back. The only circumstance in which one can expect to be bullied by drivers (in the manner that is commonplace in English-speaking countries) is when one persists in using the road where there is an adjacent, compulsory (blue signs) cyclepath. And I think that's fair enough. Those blue-signed paths are made to a good enough standard. 

What makes German drivers so careful around cyclists and pedestrians? Again, I don't really know. But it can't be the good design of their bikepaths when the same consideration is manifest on general-purpose roads. And it can't be that there's less population pressure (like in France) combined with a slower pace of life (as some have suggested for Spain) etc. etc. For Germany has a similar population density and level of economic development to UK.

I am not an expert on international law, but I do know that one thing all the pro-cycling countries have in common, that is completely different from the anti-cycling countries, is that they inherit a lot of their law from the Napoleonic Code, including the provision of strict liability expressed in article 1384 of the present French Civil Code: "A person is liable not only for the damage he causes by his own act, but also for that caused by the acts of persons for whom he is responsible or of things that he has under his guard."

Perhaps there's something similar in British law. But if there is it obviously isn't being enforced. It seems to me most likely that special pleading by the motoring lobby has so weakened our laws and/or the will to enforce them that one may nowadays completely get away with running down a cyclist upon such a feeble excuse as "the sun was in my eyes". Do you feel that you have the protection of the law when you're out on your bike? I certainly don't! 

So long as British drivers have free reign to bully cyclists into submission, as they clearly do right now, it's hard to blame planners for making cyclepaths yield at every side road. 

But perhaps we should do it anyway. Maybe the slaughter of the innocents, as kids on bikes pour across side roads under the wheels of unheeding drivers, will be bad enough to provoke the public outcry needed to change laws and attitudes!

Someone, no doubt, will point out that laws are less important than social attitiudes. And I would agree. But where do those attitudes come from? An important factor in their formation is surely the public debate that takes place around the enactment and enforcement of laws. These debates are initiated by politicians, that is above all the politician's job. And someone here has the opportunity to talk to a politician... 


... in this case, a backbench opposition politician who has been an MP for 4 months.

Someone* once said politics is "the art of the possible" so something I'd hope to get out of a meeting is feedback on the type of items that could be progressed and what is unrealistic from her point of view.

*Bismark, according to Google.



Hello Michael Robinson

Perhaps you could pick a few local cycling problems and try to highlight the connection between local cycling issues and the bigger national picture. For instance: "This junction here is dangerous for cyclists. It could be changed like this or like this to make it better, BUT... national government... funding... standards etc." That way the discussion is in the context of streets and junctions which you hopefully both know, rather than being an abstract discussion. 

I don't know if that is helpful. Please igonre it if not.

Regards, Stephen


Hello Michael Robinson

Sorry that your original post is getting side-tracked onto something else. I hope this is not annoying for you. I can stop talking if it is.

Hello Chris Juden

Thank you for the long and thoughtful post. 

If Hembrow is correct in saying that strict liability came into force in the Netherlands in the 1990s (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), then surely the pleasant experiences you had there in the 1980s were not to do with either strict liability or modern cycle path design? 

Whenever we venture out of our houses onto the roads, we depend to some degree on the skill, alertness, cooperation, knowledge of rules and willingness to obey them, and so forth, of other road users. This is true of any kind of transport, but especially for cycling. I think the question we should be asking is: Does a situation with separate cyclepaths (with priority over side roads) require more or less of these qualities than one without? I get the impression that you think that separate cyclepaths require a greater level of cooperation from drivers than not having cycle paths. I am not so sure. From a driver's perspective separate cyclepaths mean that interaction with cycles are at fixed points. As soon as there are more than a handfull of cyclists, the total number of interactions with bikes over the course of a journey is likely to be lower. Giving way, in a situation where you have already been slowed by the design of the road, requires less skill than correctly judging an overtaking manourvre on a fast and busy road, in my opinion.

One could speculate at length about all the possible reasons for motorists treating cyclists with more respect in Germany and the Netherlands. I will suggest three possible contributing factors. Firstly, most drivers are also cyclists, or at least have family and friends who are. Secondly, familiarity. The road layout of cycle paths having priority across side roads is quite familiar. Thirdly, and perhaps more controversially, cyclists are not "in the way" of motorists as often. I think UK motorists often misunderstand cyclists riding in the middle of the lane as deliberately being annoying. (Just to be clear, I am not commenting on the rights and wrongs of this, just saying that this may be the way it is). The first two are chicken-and-egg type situations. The third could be helped by building separate cyclepaths beside fast through routes. Have you read what Mark Treasure says about behaviour?

I am pleased that you mentioned Germany, as it is a country I am much more familiar with than the Netherlands. I lived in Berlin for a year, and also went on a tour in Germany another time (Memmingen - Lake Constance - Berlin if you are interested!).

Just to be clear, I am not saying that strict liability is a bad idea, or anything like that. I am, however, challenging the idea that it is necessary to have strict liability before cycle tracks can be constructed which have priority over side roads, or that such a setup requires a much greater degree of cooperation from drivers than the same situation without cycle paths.


Chris Juden

I will concede that there is a 'holiday effect'. It might possibly even tint ones remembered perceptions as rosily as the very similar 'study tour effect'! Before I ever toured in the Netherlands however, I had already spent many more cycling holidays in Britain and other countries. But mostly Britain. And of course I would always choose the quietest roads and avoid rush hours when touring in Britain too. Even so: my experience of touring in Britain was significantly marred by inconsiderate and bullying drivers, in a way that NEVER happened on my holidays in the Netherlands, almost never in Germany or Switzerland, rarely in Austria, Spain or France and so on.

Ireland however, despite having a similarly sparse population and dense minor road network to France, felt not much different to Britain in that regard. And what do Britain and Ireland have in common: a common legal foundation, providing specially lenient laws for negligent operation of motor vehicles, different from the laws applicable to other dangerous machinery, and a common language that soaks our culture in a torrent of Anglo-American-Australasian anti-cycling social attitudes. 

Unlike those going on study tours, I don't have an agenda when I go on a cycling holiday somewhere. I just want to have a nice time. I generally prefer mountain scenery and went to the Netherlands only because in the early 80s I had a bad knee. I expected it to be a bit boring and was most pleasantly surprised. I had a very nice time, and whilst the cyclepaths were even then pretty fantastic, driver behaviour was also not just a bit different but startlingly so. 

Hembrow is plain wrong if he argues that there was no strict liability in the Netherlands prior to the 1990s. Sure they did some tidying up then, but it's a principle deeply enshrined in the legislative foundations of that and many other countries over which Napoleon once exercised a civilising inflence. I regret I cannot now lay my mouse on the article which first advised me of that fact, so here's another I found just now, that seems pretty authoritative. It's rather long, but within it one finds a most thorough description of how 'custodian liablility' actually works in that country. 

Chris Juden

I'm afraid this post seems to have evaporated first time around, so here here goes again.

There's another seldom mentioned reason why the drivers of other countries are better at yeilding to straight-on pedestrians or cyclists, when turning into a side road. And that's because they already get loads of practise, whenever they turn at traffic lights.

In Britain a green light always means simply go, don't worry, there won't be anyone crossing your path. Most everywhere else it doesn't.

If you've ever been abroad as a pedestrian you will, at some point, have been affronted as you stride forth with the walking green, to find some Johnny Foreigner's motor car nosing onto your crossing out of the adjacent road onto your crossing! That's because he's got a green light too, along with all the straight on traffic going the same way as you. That's how they work it abroad: green for N-S, pedestrians and vehicles alike, then green for E-W, turning vehicles proceed with care, giving way to pedestrians - and cyclists too. Because of that, drivers are already habituated to yielding in turns and it's not a big step to persuade them to do so at other side roads too, where there are no lights, no zebra, just a bikepath crossing the entry. 

Eric D

"In Britain a green light always means simply go, don't worry, there won't be anyone crossing your path. Most everywhere else it doesn't." Actually, I don't think that's true - it is a regular cause of nasty accidents in Northampton.

Submitted by Eric D on 4 September, 2015 - 10:55

Edited 13:25

Has a nice video

- main green : give way to oncoming traffic

-filter green arrow : OK to go - oncoming traffic is stopped

I think these situations are being phased out - could be worth asking your MP to act on this, even though not a cycling-specific problem !

Edited 20:55 21/11/2015

There's a website and app that list differences in law europe-wide

Select [ All countries ] [ Traffic lights ]

Most - Green light: drive ; Amber same as UK
Estonia - Flashing green light warns that a change to amber is imminent.
Lithuania - Green arrow beside the red light: you may turn right, but before entering the intersection, you have to stop before the "Stop" line and you must give way to pedestrians and other traffic. UK drivers are dangerous here !
Poland - Green arrow beside the red light: you may turn in the direction of the arrow provided that you shall stop before the traffic lights and shall not cause an obstruction to other participants.
UK - "No specific rules in force."

I'm not sure I would rely on the database  !

There is apparently an EU working-party aiming to harmonise signs and signals ...


Hello again

Firstly, Hembrow's exact words were "The law as it stands now dates from the 1990s... "

If I have misrepresented what he said then I'm sorry about that. However, I believe that the changes made in the 1990s were a bit more than just some tidying. Rather than listening to me havering about it, why not read his articles yourself.

There are a couple of interesting points in the document you posted which I would like to mention. Firstly:

"Contrary to popular belief under lawyers, this does not necessarily result in an injurer taking more care under strict liability than under negligence."


"Until 1992 ... did not provide a separate cause of action for no-fault liability. Hence, omission or negligence on the part of the custodian was required." 

I've never studied law, so I don't want to ramble on about this. What we need is for a dutch lawyer to explain how significant the changes made in the 1990s were.

Whilst a subjective "pleasantness towards cycle-tourists" rating is an interesting thing to know, especially if you are planning a cycling holiday, CEoGB is primarily about cycling as an everyday mode of transport for the masses. Therefore, we can asses how "good" a country is for cycling by the proportion of journeys made by bike. I am aware that there can be problems in comparing countries if they measure this diffferently, but hopefully it is a bit more objective. There are countries with strict liability and a high modal share, and there are countries with strict liability and a low modal share. To be fair, I don't know of a country that has a high modal share and no strict liability. However, something that all the high-cycling (rich) countries have in common is segregated cycle paths on fast, busy routes.

As I'm sure you are well aware, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. After all, one might argue that since all the countries you mentioned with pleasant attitudes towards bikes drive on the right, and the unpleasant ones are on the left, then driving on the right must encourage good behaviour. (Actually I realise this is not completely unconnected, as both strict liability and driving on the right are to do with Napoleon). 

When I lived in Berlin, I would say that cycling was more pleasant than any UK city I have visited. For me, the number one reason for this was the cycle paths. Even with well-behaved drivers, cycling on fast, busy roads would not have been as pleasant. Drivers did what they were supposed to, most of the time. I would say that the standard of driving, from a cyclist's perspective, was somewhat higher than in the UK, but this was not something I was particularly bowled over by. I had one close shave with a van, where it turned right accross my path at a junction. I suppose one close shave in a year of city cycling is not so bad. 

You mentioned the culture of the USA and Australia influencing Britian. However, people in Germany do not live in an entirely separate cultural world. After all, they listen to a lot of the same music and watch a lot of the same films. Programmes like Friends and The Simpsons are dubbed into German. Many young people choose to do a year of school in the USA. I can think of four german friends who have done this, but no one from the UK. I believe Top Gear is popular in the Netherlands.

To be continued...


Regarding your point about traffic lights and giving way to pedestrians who have a green man, the exact same thought has occured to me. However, one should also note that many houses have driveways where they park their cars. In order to get in and out of their driveways they have to cross the pavement and give way to pedestrians. We need to extent this principle to the junction of minor roads with major roads. So it's not an entirely foreign idea to british drivers. Have you looked at this?



Oh, and there is one more thing I would like to ask you, and I am very interested in what you think about this.

Do you think that segregated cycle paths, with priority at side roads, require more or less skill and cooperation from drivers than the same situation without cycle paths?

Chris Juden

Segregated paths mainly require a new skill and different kind of cooperation from drivers, one that British drivers unfortunately were never trained in and don't have yet. 

Passing cyclists on the carriageway calls for the judgement of relative speeds and passing points of three vehicles (including the oncoming one), and that's complex, but it's something drivers already frequently do. British drivers are especially concerned not to hold up the driver behind and afraid of being shunted, and I believe that this perverse social pressure from fellow drivers (rather than crass impatience) is what usually persuades them to take chances around cyclists. They generally have the skill, but lack the motivation to hold back and hence squeeze by in the face of oncoming traffic.

Yeilding in a turn off a main road calls for a not dis-similar judgement of the speed of adjacent bikes, usually in both directions.  But more than that it calls for an awareness of those bikes, which are peripheral to the driver's line of sight, and in directions the driver isn't used to looking in, where there are usually only pedestrians, who can be assumed quasi-stationary. Bikes on the other hand move quite quickly, on average four times pedestian speed. The forgotten bike passed a hundred metres back, even a relatively slow one, may well be up again and 'undertaking' by the time the driver has slowed enough to make the turn. Allowing for all that is not a small skill either. And the social pressure from other drivers, to turn in out the way of following traffic, is worse. The obstacle car is not even moving at bike speed now, but stationary.  

So on balance I think the safe turn across a segregated bike path requires a bit less skill and a bit more consideration. 


Thank you.

I wonder if it is worth distinguishing between situations where there is a car-length gap between the main road and cycle path and where there is not. It is also worth considering whether cycle paths are to be uni- or bi-directional. I believe bi-directional cycle paths should only be used with very careful consideration in urban areas, so I'd like to focus on uni-directional ones. (I realise that some cyclists might choose to use a uni-directional path in the wrong direction. Hopefully it can be made clear from the layout that they are not supposed to do that, so at least they know they are doing something wrong.)

In the case of a uni-directional path which is set back by one car-length, the path of car and bike cross at right angles. At the point where their paths cross there is only one thing which the driver needs to focus on. Because of the car-length gap, a car which has turned left (in UK context) off the main road will not be holding up traffic which is continuing straight on along the main road. Thus there should be less pressure from other drivers to make a rash manouvre. If there is another car turning left then of course it will be held up. 

In situations where there is not a car-length gap then the considerations you mentioned may well be more of a problem.

We have focussed thus far on the differences in one single car-bike interation. It is also important to consider how many such interactions there will be over the course of a journey. Segregated cycle paths would be mainly used on distributor roads. (I know that we do not classify our roads like that in the UK, but I don't think it matters so much for what I am saying). A give-way junction like we have been discussing would be used for junctions between access roads and distributor roads. Junctions between two distributor roads would be traffic lights or roundabouts. Therefore, if we imagine someone making a journey by car from one residential location to another in a city, it is quite conceivable that they would only encounter two give-way junctions like we have described - one when joining the distributor road and one when leaving the distributor road. Whilst on the distributor road they would not have to think about cyclists. Without cycle paths the driver might have to overtake several cyclists on the distributor road, or indeed the same cyclist several times. In the situation with cycle paths the number of car-bike interactions is fixed. Without cycle paths, the more cyclists there are, the more times the driver must correctly perform an overtaking manouvre. For this reason I believe that cycle-paths require less consideration from drivers, at least where numbers of cyclists are significant.

You have talked a bit about familiarity. This is indeed an important point. However, we should not confuse familiarity with talking about which setup is inherently better. If segregated cycle paths are a genuinely better solution, then I do not see unfamiliarity as a reason not to use them. After all, other countries have made much bigger changes to their road system in the past, such as reversing the rules of priority on roundabouts or switching which side of the road to drive on.

Incidentally, I have never been on one of Mr Hembrow's study tours, although I'm sure they are very informative and interesting. When I moved to Berlin I was slightly suspicious of cycle paths, thinking that they were probably quite pleasant, but also more dangerous than riding on the road. My views have changed since then.



Chris Juden

Hello Service 1301

Having read all about how cyclepaths are implemented and function in the Netherlands, via the magazine of the unjustly maligned CTC, of which I'd been a member for 10 years prior to my first Dutch tour, I never harboured any suspicions of  PROPER cyclepaths, properly designed and supported by proper legislation. So when I made that first tour it merely confirmed my positive expectations. True, I'd heard some negatives from sporty types who'd tried to do silly miles per day without spending the cash or study-time on large-scale cycling maps, so they ended riding boring paths beside main roads that zig-zag around and bypass all the cute places. I knew the type already and thought more fool them.

Whatever: if we  build bikepaths only where there's room for a car's length in the turn, we won't build many cyclepaths, far fewer than either the Dutch or the Germans who have lots of paths that work perfectly well without anywhere for the turning car to wait except in the carriageway.  Or (more likely if we were to make this a stipulation in this bike-forsaken country) the British planner will create that space by imposing awful sharp zig-zags on the cyclepath at entry and exit to the side-road crossing, which rob the cyclist of his hard-won momentum just the same as if he has to slow to 5mph in order to check for conflicting cars from three directions at once!

Note: I am NOT speaking from the standpoint of a fast cyclist. I am a LAZY touring cyclist and proud of it! In this I am completely in tune with the presently non-cycling majority, who just like me, will not cycle unless it is not only reasonably safe, but also EASY and more CONVENIENT than the alternatives.  Even if you ride pretty slow, the main effort is in getting the bike rolling in the first place. Every time you have to use your 'energy-wasters' because of some darned obstacle in the bike path, you have to do that work all over again. 

One-way paths both sides of the road are likewise a counsel of perfection, that you rarely get abroad (outside of NL) and can hardly ever expect to see in Little Blighty. Yes I've read the Helsinki studies and  know that opposite-way cyclists are something like nine times more likely to get hit by turning vehicles than those going the same way as the adjacent traffic stream, but that's how it's going to be. Rome, or preferably Rotterdam, cannot be built in a day and we shall have to start with something more like Rothenburg.  

At present we do not have in Britain the legal and social foundation upon which to build PROPER cycle paths. Sure we might build facsimiles of Dutch cyclepath priority side-road crossings, but until they are appropriately motivated and habituated, British drivers cannot be relied upon to respect that priority, and if they cannot be relied upon, one still has to slow to walking pace at every such crossing in order to be reasonably confident that one isn't about to be flattened. And on those terms the cycle-path is an awful hard-work way to travel at anything much more than walking pace, so why bother getting the bike out in the first place! On those terms the only people who will use urban cycle paths (which being urban cross lots of side roads) are those who have no other means of locomotion at all, besides walking, or a strong eco-political motivation not to drive.  

On those terms, which are the terms presently applying in UK, the only place where most reasonable cyclists (discounting the speed freaks) will agree that cyclepaths are undeniably a good thing and happily use them, are as short-cuts where there is no road, and alongside rural main roads, where side turnings are few and far enough between for the inevitable yielding not to be too onerous and which are, by a whole order of magnitude, the most horribly lethal roads to cycle on.


Hello again!

This reply has turned into something of an essay! I hope it rewards the effort of reading. (If you don’t feel like reading all of it, the link to Mark Wagenbuur is perhaps the most interesting bit).

I’m going to start with a number of remarks relating to points brought up at different stages in our discussion. I’m then going to give a summary of the argument I think you are making (and you can correct me if I’ve got it wrong!), follow by a point by point explanation of why I think otherwise.

In your description of overtaking, you note that there are three speeds which a driver needs to judge correctly. In addition, drivers also need to consider the width of the road, and any upcoming junctions, as these may influence the movements of themselves or the cyclist. So in total I would say there are at least five things which a driver needs to consider – three moving and two stationary.

You note that overtaking is something which drivers do anyway. This is true, but I would say that apart from cycles, overtaking moving vehicles in urban areas is rare. (By overtaking I am not talking about where there is more than one lane in the same direction). The place where most overtaking of moving vehicles (other than cycles) occurs is on rural single carriageways, which also happen to be the most dangerous kind of road. So although overtaking is something that drivers do anyway, it does not mean that they are particularly good at it.

Two rules from the highway code which are relevant to what we are discussing are rule 163 and 170 (Give bikes as much room as cars when overtaking, give way to pedestrians who are already crossing side road). These rules are little known and little obeyed. I would suggest that one reason for this is that there are no clues from the physical road environment that this is the behaviour expected. For instance, when there is a central hatched area, it almost seems a bit naughty to drive into it to overtake a bike, although that is the correct thing to do. Similarly, if the pavement stops but the road continues around the corner, then what reason is there to expect that pedestrians should have priority? I mention this because in the case of cycle paths crossing side roads it is possible to make the expected behaviour very clear through the physical road environment, rather than relying purely on knowledge of an obscure little book that someone may have read once.

Your description of strict liability in your first post seems significantly different to how Mark Wagenbuur describes it. Have you read what he says? Do you agree with it? If not, do you have a source (preferably Dutch) to explain why Wagenbuur is wrong?

Whenever I mention some high quality features on cycle paths, you say “what about these lower quality ones”! Now, I understand what you are saying. You are arguing that because the Netherlands and Germany have strict liability, they can have some inferior designs that still work fine. The important thing is the strict liability, not the quality of the junctions. However, how do we know that these inferior junctions work fine? Or rather, how do we know that these junctions would not be made considerably safer by implementing the features I described? For instance, junctions in Germany could be improved to modern Dutch standards.

I don’t see why unidirectional paths are so much more demanding. The total width required may be slightly more, but where necessary I would rather have a safe unidirectional path that had some sections too narrow for overtaking than a dangerous bidirectional path. I’m not the only person who thinks bidirectional paths need very careful consideration in urban areas (see below)! In Berlin I rode on plenty of unidirectional paths but I don’t recall seeing any bidirectional ones.

Something that has not yet been mentioned is that some side roads can be accessed from the other end. Blocking off one end might be desirable anyway, to get rid of rat-running. If a cycle path is being built then it might be possible to kill two birds with one stone – removing a conflict point with the cycle path and eliminating rat-running.

Where space permits, a car-length gap between the carriageway and cycle path is a good thing to have. Whether it is necessary depends on the volume and speed of traffic. Here are some nice diagrams of the different options:

If a car turning into a side road genuinely does not see a cyclist on the cycle path, the speed of impact will be relatively low, due to having to negotiate a tight turn followed by a speed hump. If a car on the carriageway does not see a cyclist or misjudges an overtake their speed could be 30 mph or more. Of course any kind of collision is very bad, but I would suggest in the situation with cycle paths the consequences are likely to be less severe, thus it can be considered more forgiving of mistakes.

I’m not anti-CTC! I know that the CTC does lots of interesting and worthwhile things. There are many points in the ‘Cycle friendly design and planning’ document with which I can heartily agree. There are, nonetheless, some parts I find disappointing, such as the bit about bus lanes.

I agree with everything you said about rural cycle paths!

I don’t know London well at all, but last time I was there I walked along Tavistock Place and saw a great many cyclists on the cycle path. I didn’t ask them about their eco-political motivations, but they seemed like fairly normal people to me!

Here is the argument being made, as I understand it:

1.    Cycle paths with priority at side roads require better behaviour from drivers towards cyclists than we currently have.

2.    Driver behaviour towards cyclists is better on the continent.

3.    This better behaviour is mostly caused by strict liability, therefore we need strict liability before we build cycle paths.

Is that a fair summary of the argument? I will now explain, point by point, why I think otherwise.

Firstly, any road layout will have some kind of interaction between different road users. (Unless we build a separate cycle path to every door and grade separation at every single junction. This would be a ludicrous idea and no one is proposing it!) The question is: what is the nature of the interactions between the different modes of transport? Is it clear what road users are expected to do? Is it relatively easy to do the right thing or does it require lots of observations and concentration? Is the setup forgiving of mistakes? In all these regards I believe cycle paths offer advantages. Of course, if drivers have no regard for the lives of cyclists then this is a problem. However, I do not think we make the problem any less bad by not having cycle paths.

Secondly, I am not sure that driver behaviour on the continent is necessarily that much better. I think it can appear that way due to infrastructure. By infrastructure, I do not only mean cycle lanes and paths, but also the extent and quality of the motorway network. The difference in speed limit between motorways and other roads is also important. If the speed limit on the motorway is significantly higher then it makes sense for drivers to take a longer route using the motorway, rather than razzing along country lanes. From looking at Wikipedia, it seems that Britain has the smallest difference of any country in Europe. 30 or 40 km/h would seem to be normal. I found only one other country with a difference of less than 30 km/h, which was….. Ireland!

Thirdly, if driver behaviour towards cyclists is better, I am not sure that strict liability is a particularly big contributing factor. I would concede that driver behaviour in Germany is indeed somewhat better than the UK, although not by an enormous amount. I believe this has a lot to do with drivers frequently also being cyclists. To put it another way, I think empathy with other road users (or lack thereof) is a more important driver of behaviour than fear (of financial consequences in the event of a collision).

What I am saying is that if cycle paths were ubiquitous and well-designed, they would be sufficiently well-respected to provide significant benefits to cyclists, under current liability rules. You are saying that they would not. Ultimately, both of these positions are conjecture, since cycle paths are not ubiquitous, and the few that do exist are not necessarily well designed! The only way to find out, as far as I can see, is to build them and see what happens. Rome may not have been built in a day, but surely it would not have been built at all if they hadn’t started somewhere?!


'm no expert but I've often been struck by  1) The bad design of some cycling  road planning 2) the differing approach in various localities to the same problem.  I once queried this and was informed that this was a Council issue over which the Government had no control. So I consider a National Design Standard or At least a Code of Good Practice which local Planners/Engineers should follow is not only desireable but essential.



I agree with most of the comments here that state a set of national design standards or at least guidelines is required to remove design ambiguity and poor quality cycling infrastructure.  This with significant funding could make a huge difference in terms of mobility shift, especially in cities.

I suspect the argument/excuse the government is likely to use is that this does not meet their localism policy, when the real reason is that they are nervous about the cost implication by backing themelves into a corner by mandating a set of design standard which they don't want to foot the bill for.  Fundamentally this government and the DfT do not see the benefit to business of supporting cycling infrastruture and as a result are not willing to fund it because they can't see the direct link to suporting business/enhancing trade. (there is a whole different argument regarding whether governments should/should not be funding infrastruture projects that they do not see a direct return from).  They would appear not to interested in funding this for the health and social benefits as the benefit is not directly attributable to cycling and they probably can't see the forecast numbers of trips by bike increasing significantly (it might be worth checking the government position on this). The token amounts of funding currently provide while welcome are not going to deliver the change required.

I suggest other sources of funding and business models are looked at if signficant change is wanted.  For example approaching philanthropists, a crowd funding model in association with a local council or possibly even a a pay for use approach.  This would also possibly have a benefit of being able to influence the design somewhat developing a design standard by stealth.

Good luck speaking with the parlimentary cycling group, I would be interested to hear what they have to say.



Just a note on the desire for national standards. It does appear there are plans from Highways England for an Interim Advice Note to cover cycling on(or adjacent) trunk roads, Google 'Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network'.


Hello Michael Robinson

Did you have the meeting in the end? How did it go? Is there anything interesting to report back?



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