If you build cycle paths we will be banned from cycling on the roads

This page is a draft and has not yet been endorsed as official Cycling Embassy policy.

Summary of the claim

A commonly cited fear from many existing cycle campaigners is that asking for dedicated cycle infrastructure will result in cyclists being prohibited from using the main carriageway. This claim is partially driven by the misconception that what the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain wants is merely more of the sub-standard infrastructure1 we already have in place, and which still continues to be built regardless of the wishes of existing cyclists and further confounded by the misconception that the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is campaigning for cycle paths to be installed on every street.

This argument is an example of the “Slippery Slope Fallacy” commonly used to derail discussions regarding the provision of separate facilities for cyclists.

Example sources

Cycle journalist Carlton Reid once stated his concern that “[The] CTC, like myself, is worried that local councils will instal sub-standard infrastructure and then force cyclists to use it, banning them from roads.”2

Summary of responses

  1. Sub-standard cycle infrastructure continues to be built, despite the objections of many cyclists. Whilst it’s use remains discretionary, cyclists who chose to use the main carriageway are often subject to abuse for doing so.
    1. It is better to engage with the process of the construction of separate cycle facilities so that they can be designed in a manner which increases the safety and convenience of cyclists.
  2. Much of the current road network prioritises the needs of motor traffic so much so as to create an environment so hostile to cycle traffic as to represent as De facto cycling ban, even to many existing cyclists. Separate cycle paths would re-open these roads to both existing cyclists and the many millions who do not cycle at all currently due to the lack of subjective safety.
  3. If cycle paths are built to an appropriately high-quality standard, as in The Netherlands, they will be a natural choice for cyclists to use, without legislation being required to make is compulsory
  4. Other transport modes provided with their own separated facilities are not compelled to use those facilities. Examples include pedestrians (who are free to use the main carriageway if they so choose) and operators of buses, taxis and cycles, with respect to Bus Lanes, where they have been constructed.

In more detail

For many years, local authorities (LAs) have been constructing sub-standard infrastructure1. This type of cycle infrastructure is often inconvenient, poorly designed and even dangerous to those who use it. Whilst there is not legal requirement for cyclists to use it, in many cases cyclists who shun sub-standard infrastructure are subjected to abuse and intimidation from motorists who are ignorant of the problems with such sub-standard infrastructure. At present, this type of infrastructure continues to be built regardless of whether cyclists actually want it.

It is also worth considering that much of the main-road network has been for many years designed to prioritise high volumes of motor traffic, facilitating the movement of this traffic at high speeds even in towns and cities. This is particularly evident on inter-town and inter-city A roads and dual carriageways, where a nominal speed limit of 50 mph or higher is routinely flouted by motorists, and on many urban roads. Whilst cycling is permitted on these roads de jure, there exists already a kind of de facto ban on cycling, produced by the sheer hostility of these types of roads to cyclists. This can be observed by the fact that most people, including many regular cyclists, do not feel that these roads are safe enough to cycle on. The fact that cycles are legally permitted on these roads is little comfort to those who are effectively banned from cycling on these roads due to the lack of subjective safety. High-quality cycle paths with appropriate priority at junctions and side roads, provide the level of subjective safety needed for the average person to feel that they can cycle on these roads, lifting the existing de facto ban on cycling on these roads which are preventing the average person from cycling on them today.3

Cycle paths, built to an appropriately-high standard, will be a natural choice for cyclists over the main carriageway, without the need for legislation to make it mandatory. A common misconception about The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is that we want cycle paths on every street. Instead, what we argue in favour of is separation which “scales-up” with the speed and volume of motor traffic carried by the main carriageway. The degree of separation needed would vary from none whatsoever on quiet residential and access roads (carrying low volumes of traffic), up to a completely separate path adjacent to fast-inter-city A-roads and busy or fast urban roads (from which most cyclists are currently excluded from by a de facto ban). The degree of separation required is specified by set of Separation Principles4, similar to The Netherlands and Denmark. Some on-road cycling will always be inevitable on roads where low traffic volumes/speeds make separate cycle facilities are unnecessary, meaning there could never be an issue of a blanket ban on cycling on the road.

The United Kingdom is a long-established nation, with an uncodified constitution due to a political system which evolved over time. Unlike many other countries, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders have the right to use the road by statute. This is reflected in the lack of a jaywalking law in the UK, despite such laws being commonplace in many other nations. There are examples of other transport modes being provided with infrastructure for their exclusive use; pedestrians and buses (bus lanes actually being permitted for the use of buses, cycles and taxis).

Pedestrian infrastructure; The pavement, is a long established part of our road network. Despite the extensive infrastructure which has been provided for pedestrians in the UK, pedestrians have yet to be banned from using the main carriageway. Few choose to exercise their right (similar to cyclists with respect to their right to use fast A roads) to walk on the main carriageway due to the more attractive option offered to them in the form of the pavement, but it remains their right to do so if they choose.

Bus lanes have proved to be a useful tool to reduce peak road capacity (and hence ease congestion), whilst making bus travel more competitive with personal motor travel at peak times. Despite this, where “Bus lanes” are installed, there exists no legal compulsion for the operators of buses, taxis and cycles to use them.


1 Warrington Cycle Campaign: Cycle Facility of the Month

2 Cycle journalist Carlton Reid expresses concern that dedicated cycle infrastructre will force cyclists off the roads.

3 Middle Age Cyclist: 15 cm from death

4 Separation Principles (Denmark)

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