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Column 23rd March 2022

When is a cycleway not a cycleway?

Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, issued a statement earlier this month following the tragic deaths of two young women killed while cycling in or near Oxford.

In the statement she suggested that ‘their legacy will be a radical commitment to a transport network where we take a zero tolerance attitude to having anyone else killed or seriously injured.’

Cyclox (a group campaigning to put cycling at the heart of Oxford’s future) has been warning the County Council for years about the safety of cyclists in Oxford.

They have frequently objected to the designs (and re-designs!) of many roads, but the priority has always been to keep traffic flowing.

As they point out, cyclists and pedestrians are given no extra space on roads or at junctions.

We understand exactly what they mean when they say that ‘it has often felt like we have been whistling in the wind.’

All of our local councils say that they are supporting the government’s ‘active travel’ policy but this often appears to be lip service.

For example, there is a cycle path on Newlands Drive in Grove – let me rephrase that.

There are lines painted on Newlands Drive 1.2m from the curb which purport to designate a cycleway.

The normal minimum width of a cycleway is 1.5m but that wouldn’t leave enough space for cars.

As one expert cyclist told me – this 1.2 space is more dangerous than not having any markings because it suggests to car drivers that they can drive straight on and don’t have to pull out to overtake a cyclist.

One important part of the recent changes to the Highway Code is to outlaw close pass overtaking of cyclists, something that is unpleasant, threatening and dangerous.

The experience, or fear of a close pass, stops or prevents many would-be-cyclists from riding on the road.

The previous advice was ambiguous, but the Code now clearly states that when travelling under 30mph, drivers should leave at least a 1.5m gap when overtaking, and if traveling over 30mph, that gap should be at least 2m. Large vehicles should always leave 2m.   

So being able to report that we have a cycleway along Newlands drive is a good example of paying lip service to the policy – it would be safer for cyclists if it didn’t exist.

When the markings provide such a narrow cycleway, drivers are still overtaking a cyclist and should pull out as though the markings weren’t on the road.


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