blog | 25.06.2019 | David McArthur

When is a bike lane not a bike lane?

Cycling on UK roads can be daunting. Bike lanes are intended to provide a safe space to ride for all cyclists. However, Britain’s cycling and walking commissioners have been critical of those that are just painted on, arguing that they can make people less safe when sharing our roads. In this blog, Dr David McArthur highlights UBDC research that provides further evidence for their argument.

A recent article in the Guardian reported on a letter sent by Britain’s cycling and walking commissioners to the transport secretary. The charge? That councils have wasted millions of pounds painting bike lanes onto roads; something the commissioners say is little more than a gesture.

So, what does the evidence have to say? The consensus seems to be that cycling infrastructure does indeed encourage cycling, but that the quality of the infrastructure matters. Cyclists prefer fully segregated infrastructure and they are willing to travel further to use it. Our own work in Glasgow using crowdsourced data (available from the UBDC) supports these conclusions. We have recently completed two studies where we can see this.

In a recent paper in the journal Transportation, we use data from the Strava app to investigate whether four new bike lanes introduced around the time of Glasgow’s hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games had a positive effect on cycling. Three of the lanes increased cycling, with monthly volumes up by around 12% to 18%. However, on the fourth route, we saw a slight decrease in volume compared to the average trend. The routes which experienced growth were segregated lanes close to the city centre, while the other was a painted lane on a road shared with other traffic.

In a second paper published in the Journal of Transport Geography, we use data from Strava to examine how cycling commuters choose their routes. We compared the volume of cycling on a route to the volume we would have expected to see if all cyclists had taken the shortest routes to or from work. We used this to make a map of Glasgow, showing popular routes (in red) and unpopular routes (in black).

Map of popular routes

Some clear patterns emerge. For instance, although cycling along major arterial routes like Argyle Street would make people’s journeys shorter, people prefer to cycle along the river. Not surprising given that the river bank provides cyclists separation from motorised traffic. There are some more surprising results. For example, Duke Street isn’t used as much as one would expect given its location. It is also recorded as having a bike lane. However, when we investigated this we found that the bike lane is a part-time bus lane which cyclists can use. Based on our results, cyclists don’t seem to be impressed. The picture below shows the bike/bus lane. Note also the cars parked in the lane as the photo was taken when the bus lane wasn’t in force.

Photo of cars parked in a cycle lane

So, with the evidence at our disposal, we can return to the original question: when is a bike lane not a bike lane? When it isn’t segregated.

David McArthur

Dr David McArthur is the Associate Director for Training and Capacity Building at UBDC and is a Senior Lecturer in Transport Studies at the University of Glasgow.

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    @Dave H. Argyle Street does seem to be avoided. It will be interesting to see whether Glasgow City Council's new public realm investments (the Avenues) will make a difference. I believe Argyle Street is next in line.

  • 4 months ago
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  • David McArthur

    Argyle Street is piecemeal & fragmented, as is Howard Street-which like Argyle is always blocked by parked cars despite both having mandatory contra-flow painted lanes. The riverside has the residue of the 5 metre riparian strip which had the status of a common right of access until (in 1950's (?)) Glasgow Council acted to revoke the conditions in the titles of riparian land. Many European cities have preserved this corridor along their main river with welcome results.

  • 4 months ago
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  • Dave H

    Very interesting. Congratulations. Best regards Marcio Pinheiro

  • 2 months ago
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  • Marcio Pinheiro

    Very interesting. Congratulations. Best regards Marcio Pinheiro

  • 2 months ago
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  • Marcio Pinheiro

    Argyle Street is piecemeal & fragmented, as is Howard Street-which like Argyle is always blocked by parked cars despite both having mandatory contra-flow painted lanes. The riverside has the residue of the 5 metre riparian strip which had the status of a common right of access until (in 1950's (?)) Glasgow Council acted to revoke the conditions in the titles of riparian land. Many European cities have preserved this corridor along their main river with welcome results.

  • 4 months ago
  • |
  • Dave H

    @Dave H. Argyle Street does seem to be avoided. It will be interesting to see whether Glasgow City Council's new public realm investments (the Avenues) will make a difference. I believe Argyle Street is next in line.

  • 4 months ago
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  • David McArthur

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