Wednesday 8 July 2009

Know your rights (and lefts)

It's a well known fact that one of the main concerns facing people who are considering taking up cycling is a lack of clear understanding of what cycling actually involves. We all know that it's some sort of old fashioned hobby involving two wheels, one often bigger than the other and protective clothing such as the "top hat", but beyond that it's difficult to know where to look to find more informaton. Simple quandries such as "where am I meant to cycle" are often raised by potential newbies and seasoned pros alike. So in an effort to address some of these issues we'd like to provide the first in a short series of guides to cycling in Bristol. First up, that very quandry, where should you cycle?

As we all know cyclists don't really have a right to use most roads as they don't pay road tax, so often ample provision is made to keep them off the streets. These provisions are often subsidised through proper road users road tax in an initiative known as Carbon Upsetting. The facilities that these funds provide are often easily recognised by the bike shaped markings on the ground such as the one pictured below for the underpass linking Jacob Street to Broad Plain. It should be noted if you're new to cycling that this is an especially useful route to know as it links the centre of Bristol with the world famous Railway path. Useful not only for fun (if you've ever been Spelunking you'll know that the excitement of navigating an underpass comes a close second to some of the best, darkest caves in the world) but also for that essential commute to and from your city job.
The bike symbol markings on the ground on the left, along with the line down the middle of the route, provide important information indicating that if cycling you should keep to the left, much as a car would on the road. So it's a safe bet if you're in any doubt on any shared path, keeping to the left should be the correct thing to do. Just as the rules of the road have a language and continuity to them, so does the rules of the cycle lane / shared use pavement. Important to remember however that if you're travelling the other way then you should keep to the right. Sounds confusing? It's really not. I like to remember it using the catchy phrase "keep to the left and you'll be in the right, but sometimes keep right and make sure there's space left on the left". Armed with this knowledge you should always know where you can cycle on shared use pavements and cycle paths.

Shared use pavements are, as their name suggests, for the use of both cyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrians are always more than happy to share the pavement with bike riders as they are always aware of the shared use status due to frequent use of bold blue signs indicating this, such as this one pictured at the end of Leander Way in St Philips.
Note the symbols of both bikes and people. This is because the upcoming pavement is for use by both bikes and people, an amazingly innovative system praised by pedestrians and cyclists alike.Shared use pavements also have a lot in common with contraflows in that they will both be clearly marked with bike shaped symbols on the ground. Contraflows are a last resort measure used when no other off road facilities are possible and are one of the rare exceptions to the rule where cyclists have some rights to use a bit of the road. The other exception is use of "parking lanes", sometimes to referred to as "cycle lanes" which bikes are allowed to use when there is insufficient room on the pavement and no vehicles need the space for parking. Sometimes contraflows can also be parking lanes but there is generally no hard a fast rules about this with status changing from day to day. It's usually left to the discretion of the driver to decide, another of the rights they have earned through payment of road tax. Contraflows differ from off road facilities however in that they will also always have a white line marking their boundary against the oncoming traffic (NB. There are some circumstances where they don't have the white line. These can often be easily identified by the lack of a white line). The line is there to provide protection from the oncoming traffic as no motorised vehicles are allowed to enter this lane by law and as a result none will dare. Contraflows are lanes for cyclists allowing access the wrong way up one way streets in situations where the street is wide enough to be safe for bikes to travel the opposite direction from the cars, free from the danger of needing to be directly in the path of oncoming traffic, such as this one here pictured on St Marks Road in Easton. In areas where there isn't enough space for a contraflow they simply aren't installed. There are strict rules and regulations in place to ensure that no cycle facilities are installed that may encourage cyclists into danger or confrontation. Good to know for your peace of mind.Note the presence of the bike shaped symbol once again.Another example can be found here on Cobden Street in Redfield.As is clear once again the lane is marked with a solid continuous white lane indicating a lane that oncoming vehicles will not enter. These lines are not only important for safety but also to let the vehicle drivers coming towards you know that you are allowed to be cycling the wrong way up a one way street. As a result the driver of a grey van will not hurl abuse at you for " going the wrong way you cyclist c*%& " as he hurtles round the corner from Morley Street as he'll be able to clearly see the markings as he turns the corner illustrated in the picture below taken from his perspective.Ignore the way it looks like the road is worn in a long curve towards the contraflow. This is not likely to be caused by drivers cornering at speeds in excess of the 20mph zone and most likely to be a result of the road camber and increasingly hot rains caused by global warming from excessive production of cycle helmets and the dyes used in hi-viz clothing.

As with all practical exercises its also important to have a grasp of road theory too, so we'll leave you with one last mathematical exercise. If you're cycling south on a contraflow at 10mph and a grey van is travelling north at 40mph, what time is lunch in A&E?

So there you have it. Know where you're meant to cycle, or more importantly where you're not, and you're all set to start enjoying the refreshing and delightful experience of cycling around Bristol.

Join us next time for handy hints how to lock your bike outside Spike Island without accidentaly locking up someone elses bike too that happens to be sharing the same stand, so they don't have to spend an hour walking around the building asking if anyone owns a silver Dawes Hybrid.


Quercus said...

Spike Island eh?

Had a space there for four years.

I've had the same problem - dippy UWE students every time (but they are nice, so no real problems except when you're trying to leave to get a train...arghhh).

Anonymous said...

My goodness, when I was in the UK all I had was shabby white lines with barely visible bike symbols, if anything at all. How society moved on in ten years.
This guide is a great idea, I think I'll add my ownb 'tourist guide' to my home town in the same way to help those poor, hapless, non-tax-paying bicyclists get around.

James King said...

Brilliant article and I look forward to the next installment.

However I think I've spotted an omission: shared use pavements and cycle/parking lanes can also be easily identified by a liberal coating of broken glass, and/or dog mess.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Slug said...

Note in the first photo - cyclists are expected to zig zag around the barriers whereas pedestrians get a nice straight passage through the barriers. I'm afraid if there are no pedestrians around I always go through the side without the zig zag barriers that catch on my pannier.

(How do you submit photos for this site?)


SteveL said...

@Linda, submissions by email to bristol.traffic at With upbeat commentary please!

Downfader said...

Hmm local cyclelanes here in southampton have been known to have builders barriers, witches hats, bits of car.. you name it. Perhaps they think we commute by horse and can "event" jump it. LOL

alice said...

That's the attitude Downfader. "Turn that frown upside down" as our American friends would say. What used to be a problem (objects in your way on your daily commute) can become a fun and welcome addition adding excitement, challenge and a feeling of achievement to your journey.