On reengineering the Lanark Road

In my last post (about bus lanes), I talked about the Lanark Road, and described the fast and scary descent. Scary not because it is steep, but because of the attitudes and behaviour of a minority of impatient drivers. As I said, the road is four lanes wide at that point, so in theory there is plenty of space for cycle lanes. So I thought I would have a go at rearranging it.

The uphill side is easy. Pavement, then cycle lane, then car parking, then one lane for motor vehicles. It is a reasonable hill, so no one will be cycling up very fast, and the lane will of course be wide enough for a faster cyclist to overtake a slower one.

It is the descent side that I wonder about. The obvious thing would be pedestrian space, then cycle space, then parked cars, then the lane for motor vehicles, just like the uphill side. You definitely need car parking on the downhill side, as there are flats with little or no off road parking. The problem is the fact that it is downhill, and bikes go fast downhill. Well, slow down, I hear you say. But it is not that simple. Really slowing down on a long fast descent like this means being hard on the brakes all the way down. That is hard on your hands and wrists, and wears out brake pads and wheel rims. I guess that under current conditions my Wonderful Boyfriend doesn’t touch his brakes at all during that section, unless he has to. I tap mine, to scrub the very top speed off, and I’m still hitting 25 mph. I’m really not convinced that having bikes doing that sort of speed right next to pedestrians is at all safe. On the other hand, I suppose I am thinking of the very narrow lanes we are used to in this country. Maybe a good wide lane, with really obvious dividers, so that it is clear that there is a hazard there, would be the way to go. I do think you would need plenty of space so that it was easy for pedestrians to take the crossing in two stages; look for bikes, cross the bike lane, stop, look for cars, cross the road.

I’m not totally convinced, though, that my response that cyclists can’t slow down is the right one. I don’t think we’d take it from the drivers of motor vehicles. At this point the usual question would be “What do the Dutch do?” Now one of the things that is pointed out about the Dutch when it comes to cycling is that they don’t have hills. The person who is saying this is usually trying to imply that people in the UK won’t cycle uphill. But the (alleged) lack of hills in the Netherlands also means that they don’t have downhills and therefore don’t have the “problem” of people being easily able to roll at 15 – 20 mph without effort (if it is a problem, of course). I do think that Dutch cyclists go more slowly. Any photo you see, they are all pootling along on those lovely, solid, heavy Dutch bikes. But pop them all at the top of the Lanark Road and I’m sure they’d speed up.

There’s another thing. The speed limit on my hypothetically rearranged road will obviously come down from 40 to 30. At 30, the faster cyclists (the ones we currently have) won’t be going much slower than the motor traffic. So they’ll probably use that lane anyway. I probably would. And then you are back to the problem of the minority who think that doing less than the speed limit is terrible. But at least if there is only one lane in each direction it should feel a bit slower and opportunities to pass will be less. What about taking the limit down to 20? Well at 20 the fast cyclists are going faster than the cars – and speed limits don’t legally apply to bikes anyway. So I’m sure you’d get people on bikes trying to overtake people like me doing exactly 20 in a car. They’re the same kind of people who get really cross with me for driving at less than 30 in a 30 just now. Which all goes to say that human nature is a problem that can’t easily be solved. To go back to the Dutch for a moment, I understand that their philosophy of road design is to use the infrastructure to make things as safe as possible for everyone; but it is beyond my (non-existent) skill as a road designer to apply that to the Lanark Road.

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