The cycling infrastructure in the UK comes in three basic formats: Unsegregated (shared with pedestrians), on-highway (lines on the road), and segregated. It is worth noting that there is no legal requirement for a cyclist to use the cycle lanes provided, so cyclists are free to choose the cycle lane or the road.
The best option – Segregated Cycling Routes
Segregated cycle routes are by far the best. Expensive to implement but the only option that really works. Protected from motorists by a physical barrier, with right of way over other vehicles at side roads and cycling specific traffic lights at junctions. These routes are suitable for use by cyclists of all speeds and abilities, as they offer a safe and efficient route through the urban environment. Often they bypass roundabouts and traffic lights that affect the main road route, so can offer a more efficient route to faster cyclists too.
Unsegregated routes (shared with pedestrians) offer an off-highway route, away from the dangers of motoring traffic, these are best suited to the least confident cyclists. Sharing with pedestrians can be difficult as it risks conflict with slower moving users: dogs, prams, people who are often more focused on mobile phones and runners with headphones in unable to hear you behind them.
The responsibility for navigating these obstacles safely lies with the cyclist. Another drawback to these routes is the inefficiency at junctions and roundabouts as the cyclist must give way at every junction and road crossing to the road traffic.
Cycling on the road
On-highway routes are lines painted on the road surface, providing division between motor vehicles and cyclists that is purely visual, there is no physical barrier to prevent overlap.
These routes are up to 1m wide from the kerb to the outer line, essentially in the gutter. These routes offer a visual reminder to motorists that there will be cyclists on the road, but suggest that cyclists will be entirely in their own lane, a lane that is barely wide enough and often contains debris such as broken glass, branches, drains and potholes. Forcing cyclists into the gutter in these lanes encourages motorists to overtake when there is no room to safely do so.
As there is no physical barrier motorists still drive in these lanes when it suits them; taking a more direct line at roundabouts and to pass vehicles waiting to turn right for example. Vehicles often park in them too and protrude into the lane where they fail to stop at the junction’s stop line.
The safest way to cycle on routes like these it to ignore them and cycle as if it were a normal road, cycling about 1m away from the kerb to give plenty of room to swerve slightly towards to kerb (instead of into traffic) to avoid any obstacles. Motorists will pass when it is safe to do so.
City Cycling Guides:
Read our other guides for cyclists who commonly journey through cities:
What clothing should I wear while cycling in the city?
Following the highway code while urban cycling
How Can I Keep My Bike Safe in the City?