Wilmslow Road Cycle Lanes

Many people may have recently seen the video from Casey Neistat in New York complaining about blocked bike lanes.  If you haven’t, you should.  It’s very funny and rather tragic.

Now I’m not about to injure myself on Oxford Road if I can help it (although it has happened – see point 8 below), but it occurred to me on the 14th June to take some pictures of the bike lanes on my way home through Rusholme and Fallowfield.

Before the photos and points below, I should clarify that I think cycling is great.  Despite my concerns I think if you cycle carefully and confidently it can be relatively safe and actually improve your health.  But I also think that for inexperienced cyclists on busy roads it can be pretty scary and that puts a lot of people off.

a) Along the curry mile

 

b) Another curry mile blockage

 

c) Stopping on a junction

 

d) Unsuspecting Fallowfield pedestrian

 

e) On the bike lane at the junction

 

f) Popping to the shops

 

g) A tight squeeze

 

h) Making the most of the space

 

Now some observations.

1) Timing of photos
Firstly I’d like to explain that all these pictures were taken in a ten minute window at about 18:00 on 14th June 2011.  I only decided to take the pictures on the spur of the moment.  While I did cycle down to Fallowfield (Sainsburys) and back up the other side I did not wait around for obstructions.  I didn’t need to because it’s like this pretty much all the time.  That’s the problem.

2) Types of bike lane
I think it’s worth mentioning that the lanes shown in Rusholme are advisory (dashed line), which means drivers can’t park, stop or drive in them, unless it’s unavoidable (according to the highway code).  However there is no clarification of what the vague term “unavoidable” means, so in essence they should be thought of as just suggesting where drivers and cyclists might like to go.  Drivers can legitimately drive and stop in the cycle lane and cyclists can ride outside it, which is lucky because often the lanes are dangerously located – see point 8.  Hence advisory lanes are pretty pointless and just provide more space for vehicles to double park, making cycling more hazardous.  This is why Cycle England state “Advisory lanes are not recommended if they are likely to be regularly blocked by parked vehicles”, but obviously nobody took any notice of that.
In contrast, the lanes in Fallowfield are mandatory (solid line) so cars cannot legally drive, park or stop in them, but mandatory is sometimes restricted to operation at certain times if nearby signs say so.  Of course nobody ever looks at the signs, but for the record there are a couple of signs on the Fallowfield section of Wilmslow Road explaining the lanes are in operation on Mon-Sat between 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm.  Only 6 hours out of 24, but they were in operation when I took the photos.  Except sometimes exemptions are made for loading.  So again, I’m not sure what the point is.

3) “I’ll only be a couple of minutes!”
I’m sure many drivers would argue that they aren’t parking, just waiting for a moment.  They probably have their hazard warning lights on and everything.  I don’t care.  As a cyclist it makes no difference whether they’re there for a minute or an hour, because they’re there when I need to get past, and if they do leave they will doubtless be replaced by someone else very quickly (see point 1).  In fact the constant comings and goings make things worse, not better.

4) Partial blockages
In a couple of cases – the red civic in (a), the bus in (g) and the Micra in (h) – the lane is only “slightly” blocked.  Well, now consider that the CTC and Cycling England recommend a width of 2m for cycle lanes and a 1.5m minimum.  The lanes in the photos are tiny and leave no room for clearance, considering that bikes get wider the higher up you go – unlike cars which get narrower and buses which stay the same.  Even a slight obstruction like those pictured renders them unusable.  In the case of (g), after taking a picture I tried to squeeze past to get to the advanced stop line (green box for cyclists – ha ha).  Halfway along the length of the bus, the light changed and the bus lurched away, heading further to the left and forcing me into the waterlogged gutter and against the railing.

5) Tiered kerbs and pavement parking
In Fallowfield there is an interesting system of staggered kerbs – see photo (h) – to separate the cycle lane from both the road and the pavement.  Apparently this is to avoid vehicles creeping into the bike lane as in photo (g).  It might be a good idea except for two things.
- All the pavement parking means that cars need to be able to get back and forth across the cycle lane.  To provide a very small number of drivers with a parking space the cycle lane is now a parking access lane and cars creep onto the lane from both sides.
- Again cars park/wait in the middle of the cycle lane with apparent impunity most of the time – no photos of this today though!.  The police tell me it’s the traffic wardens’ job to stop them and the traffic wardens tell me they work limited hours.  And once a cyclist is forced off the cycle lane to go around a waiting car it’s difficult to get back on it because of the angle of the kerb.

6) Mounting the pavement
In a couple of places the lane mounts the pavement completely (draining all your momentum) and is eventually segregated from vehicular traffic in a narrow partially-obstructed way.  But…
- Often you can’t get onto the pavement because access is blocked by a parked/waiting car in the pre-kerb section of cycle lane.
- If you do get onto the pavement, you are inevitably mingling with pedestrians.  As in photo (d).  Imagine the shock of the poor chap, texting away, not a care in the world, when I almost ran into him.  He had no idea he was walking in a cycle lane, and I don’t blame him.  You can see how the pavement has just gone from grey tarmac to green paint right under his feet.
This kind of lane makes pedestrians dislike cyclists and vice-versa, when the planners are the ones to blame, but they’re long gone.  Often cyclists just ignore the instruction to get on the pavement like the cyclist in the photo.  I don’t blame him either.

7) Bus lane weaving
So far no mention has been made of the fact that this stretch of road is often described as “the busiest bus route in Europe”.  Aside from the parked cars, cyclists have to negotiate the buses pulling in and out of the stops, much to the annoyance of both cyclists and bus drivers (although you can guess who comes off worse in a crash).  Often they share a lane.  I have no idea who first thought buses and bikes were so compatible they should share a lane but I’d love to meet them to discuss it.

8) “Getting doored”
As another aside, please note that some of the cycle lane pictured – photos (a), (b) and (h) – is directly within reach of car doors opening from parked cars – referred to as “the door zone”.  The one injury I have had along this road was when a driver opened his car door in my face along the curry mile.  I was in the cycle lane at the time but I don’t use that cycle lane any more and I ride more slowly and more carefully along the curry mile, so watch out for that.  This is often called “getting doored”.  It really hurts and you’re lucky if you don’t get knocked under a bus.

In conclusion, the cycle lanes along this stretch of Oxford Road are a farce.  Either they’re advisory (pointless) or they don’t apply most of the time (pointless at those times) and aren’t enforced even when they do apply (so pointless then too).  While drivers can park like this with apparent impunity the cycle lanes will often serve to make things more dangerous, rather than less so, for cyclists.

I think it’s worth a mention that at the northern end of this stretch of road are the first and second largest Universities in the UK by student numbers* (as well as the city’s largest hospital trust, one of the UK’s largest aquatics sports facilities and of course further along the city centre itself).  At the southern end are the majority of the student halls and residences.  The road is flat and and an ideal length for an easy bike ride.  Which is why it makes me so sad for Manchester when I go to cities like Oxford and see how popular cycling can be when people can cycle short distances without fearing for their lives.

I would welcome any comments or thoughts you may have – although I won’t publish anything which I don’t feel adds to useful debate – e.g. “Well cyclists don’t pay road tax anyway!”**.

 

* Not including the Open University.

** Once again so everyone’s clear: There’s no such thing as road tax, and there hasn’t been since 1937.  Roads are paid for out of general taxation.  There is something called Vehicle Excise Duty which is charged according to how much your vehicle pollutes.  Bikes don’t pollute so cyclists don’t pay it.  I own a car and drive it sometimes, so I do pay VED, despite the fact I prefer to ride my bike.

8 comments

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  1. Tejvan Pettinger says:

    Nice photos!

    funny you cycle on Oxford Road, when I live in Oxford. Here in Oxford we do have a Manchester college.

  2. GS says:

    The cycle lane on Sackville Street in the city centre has a solid white line with double yellow lines too. Taxis constantly block it in the evenings. It’s a one way street so any cyclist who leaves the cycle lane faces oncoming traffic. There’s also a hump in the road due to the bridge across the canal. There’s going to be a very serious accident one day. This has been reported to the city council twice but still it continues.

  3. Diane says:

    Have you asked the local councillors what can be done about it? The local police should have regular public meetings where you could go along and meet them to share your very real concerns.

  4. Lewis says:

    This road is appalling! Do planners of cycle lanes and paths think before they design these things?

    Your comment on the cycle lanes making this road a more dangerous place for cyclists (when, ironically, the inclusion of these lanes is supposed to make them safer for cyclists) is a very poignant one. The few cycle lanes in my town are almost as narrow as my shoulders in some places and next to parked cars (less than a metre lane in the door zone?). I would prefer the lane just wasn’t there.

  5. Toni says:

    this is the first blog I have read that actually explains the true hazards of city cycling!

    I moved to manchester 4 months ago and this is the route I cycle every day. Not only is it interesting to say the least, but adventurous! Dodging around pot holes and badly repaired bumps, and constantly trying to avoid all the hazards you mentioned above.

    I must come close to fatal accidents at least 2-3 times a day caused by motorists pulling out into me, no indicators, talking on their mobile phones or simply just not looking out for cyclists. And thats using the cycle lanes – in the daylight. Night cycling is another story.
    How is it that motorists are fined for using/parking in bus lanes and yet they continue to drive/obstruct the cycle lanes, it is more than dangerous for us cyclists.
    Then there are the cycle lanes off road. I understand some pedestrians may not realise they are for cyclists although the huge white painting of a bike and large cycle lane signs surely must be a slight give away? I do not understand why they walk with their backs to cyclists blocking the width of the path, appearing annoyed when you request to pass. I am sure they would not do this on the main roads. Although saying that, i have had a few blatantly walk into the road across my path without looking, so I guess they would. maybe they live on the edge. i however just want to get to my destination in one piece.

    I love cycling, it is exhilarating and great exercise as well as fun, although I just wish people would try to be more considerate and courteous to some of us cyclists as we are to them. it would make it a hell of a lot safer for all of us.

    1. admin says:

      Hi Toni,

      I’m glad you liked this post. For more news about cycling developments in Manchester I would recommend Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester.

      There have been developments regarding Oxford Road relatively recently with the bus priority scheme plans continuing apace:
      Oxford Road changes
      Unfortunately these changes will only affect a short section of Oxford Road north of where these photos were taken. The curry mile is one of the worst sections and there are no planned improvements there.

      In the longer term the council has managed to win a large grant for its city wide “velocity” scheme.

      It’s still early days but I honestly hope that things are improving, and that Manchester can eventually become better for everyday cycling, and therefore a more livable and civilised city.

      In the mean-time we need to keep the pressure on when it comes to local councillors and our MPs, as well as the police, etc.

      I’m also a supporter of the Cycling embassy of Great Britain who campaign for protected space for civilised cycling in the UK.

  6. Polly says:

    Just a quick question relating to photo (g), as a car driver do you drive up the side of lorries either at junctions or roundabouts or do you give them due respect and let them have the road rather than finding yourself boxed in because you are unsighted?

    1. admin says:

      Polly, I’m not sure how the two are comparable. In the context of driving what does “driving up the side of a lorry” mean?

      Motor vehicles are generally relatively wide and have lanes, and each lane is designed to take one motor vehicle at a time. Changing lane is a distinct manoeuvre. So, as a driver absolutely I will generally continue if my lane is clear (possibly “up the inside of a lorry” if one is in the lane to the right of me). If I waited because a lorry was somewhere ahead in the lane to the right I’m pretty sure someone would beep their horn at me before too long. And if a lorry is turning left, it shouldn’t be in the lane to the right.

      Notably bicycles are much smaller and more manoeuvreable than cars. They can easily fit between motor vehicles, although often it may not be wise to do so. Cyclists are able to negotiate their way around obstacles and other cyclists in much the same way that pedestrians do – this is well demonstrated at the dutch junctions where all the lights go green at the same time for cyclists although the cars have separate phases, similar to the “green scramble” phase you often get for pedestrians in the UK. See here: http://www.streetfilms.org/groningens-green-phase-for-cyclists/. Either way, in photo (g) there is a cycle lane leading to the ASL, and it’s clear of cyclists – although the bus is hogging it with some poor road positioning, as drivers often do. Note that if a driver positions their car a few inches into the adjacent car lane it’s lazy, but it only takes up a few percent of that lane and leaves room for another car. Sadly many cycle lanes are only the width of a bike handlebars, so a driver invading that lane excludes the users it was intended for.

      Is your point that you feel cyclists should not try to filter through traffic? Perhaps you think that because so many drivers choose to sit alone in their cars in traffic queues taking up the road, cyclists should have to wait in line as well? Should pedestrians have to stop on the pavement until the cars and lorries are moving? Your talk of giving lorries “respect” sounds a little like you’re comfortable that “might is right” is a reasonable way to organise inner city infrastructure.

      Of course it may often be safest not to “undertake” a stationary bus (and the same applies even more so to lorries, or when there are railings cutting off an escape route). It’s generally well-known that ASLs with filter lanes are not good infrastructure ( compared to completely separated facilities), and they can encourage dangerous manouvres but in this country that’s usually all we get. That, and some stickers on the buses, to make it clear it’s the cyclists fault if they get run over, not the road layout or the person in charge of the massive awkward vehicle.

      So, as a cyclist, going up the inside of the bus in the photo I took a gamble on whether I would get ahead of the bus before the lights changed. On reflection it was a poor gamble because the lights did change, and the inconsiderate driver made her bad road position worse. I might choose differently if I was in the same position again, but bear in mind I knew exactly which way the bus was heading – ie not turning left – and I do know that buses don’t usually move directly sideways so I wasn’t in any real danger.

      Sorry for the long answer to a quick question. :)

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