Since the launch of the London Cycle Superhighways in July 2010, the number of cyclists using the first four routes has risen by more than average of 77 per cent during peak periods, according to Transport for London (TfL). It has also been estimated that in just the last 12 months, nearly a third more cyclists are using UK roads.
At the same time as cyclist numbers rise, Transport for London figures indicate that cyclist fatalities increased by 10 per cent from 107 in 2011 to 118 in 2012, with serious injuries rising for the 8th year in a row, this time by 4 per cent to 3,222. As a result, personal injury and bicycle accident claims have increased as more cyclists find themselves riding on busy, congested city centre routes.
Cyclists at greater risk of an accident
The cycle superhighways run from outer London into central London, and are intended to provide the present population of cyclists with a safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city, especially for the daily commute to work and back.
Yet concern is being expressed that far from being a part of a shift in road user culture, cyclists may actually be in danger of putting themselves at greater risk when riding on a superhighway because of inadequate, confusing line markings and a ‘false sense of security.’
In July this year a 20-year-old woman was struck by a lorry on Cycle Superhighway 2 outside Aldgate East station. Just this month a coroner described the superhighway as an "accident waiting to happen" following the death of a 58 year old experienced cyclist who was fatally injured as he followed the same route into the path of a HGV turning right at a roundabout in Bow in October 2011.
According to Caroline Pidgeon, from the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, the initial superhighways were "flawed" as they were "little more than blue paint put down on the road" and recently called for “widespread segregated cycling lanes and junctions that are safe for all road users."
Cycling organisations have repeatedly warned that the first Cycle Superhighways may simply not be good enough and point to cycle lanes which are segregated from both the main highway and the pavement as being the safest solution. However, it is almost impossible for cyclists not to engage with other road traffic at specific points in a journey, for example at junctions, bus stops and at turns in the road.
Safety issues on Superhighway 2
Their increasing concerns appear to be given further support as the coroner submitted a report to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, which point to a number of safety issues on CS2, the superhighway running from Bow to Aldgate.
Foremost among the key issues are the ‘unbordered’ blue strips, which are painted on some roads and cause confusion to both cyclists and motorists simply because they are unaware that a blue strip without a white line border (broken or unbroken) is not a cycle lane.
Not only do cyclists wrongly assume that they have priority but are also lulled into a false sense of security, despite not being necessarily in the correct position in a particular circumstance, such as navigating a roundabout. For cyclists, the adoption of a path towards the middle of the road is safer than the inside left lane position where they are more vulnerable to being ‘blindsided’ by overtaking HGVs and other vehicles.
While a motorist’s awareness of the possible presence of cyclists may be raised by the presence of blue lanes, at the same time they also expect cyclists to restrict themselves to riding on the blue strips, which may not be the safest option if cyclists need to occupy the safest position, particularly when going round a roundabout.
In addition, motorists could get into the habit of driving over blue or other coloured strips and simply no longer notice when they are actually bordered by white lines and thus, designated cycle lanes.
With five more superhighways due to be opened by 2015, the submission of the Report should be seen as timely and urgent in its conclusion that, “action should be taken to prevent deaths” and looks towards the Mayor and Transport for London, who “have the power to take such action.”