Give cyclists more freedoms on London's roads
by Ben Rogers
In selecting these, we have identified policies that are:
- Significant ideas that would make a substantial contribution to tackling London’s challenges;
- Practical – could be introduced over the next four years, before the next election;
- Cost-neutral – could be introduced without significant increased spending
- Innovative – new ideas that have yet to be widely proposed;
- Broadly devolutionary – in keeping with our belief that Parliament should continue to devolve more responsibility to the GLA and downwards to local government.
PROPOSAL #5: FREE-UP RESTRICTIONS ON CYCLISTS BY ALLOWING THEM TO TURN LEFT ON RED LIGHTS AND GO AGAINST THE FLOW ON ONE-WAY STREETS.
Cycling is on the rise in London, in part because other modes of transport have become increasingly slow and expensive, but in part because of policies which actively encourage it, including cycle lanes, bike to work schemes, increased availability of bikes racks and most recently Boris Bikes. We believe, however, that a simple change could significantly increase the attractiveness of cycling in London and encourage more cyclists on to our roads, without compromising safety.
London’s road system is largely designed to promote mobility of pedestrians and motor vehicles, while keeping them both safe. Under this approach, cyclists tend to be placed in the same category as motorists. They are expected to follow motor vehicles around long and unpleasant one-way systems, and wait alongside them at traffic lights. While pedestrians are allowed to cross at traffic lights, even when red, or move from pavement to road, as they see fit, cyclists can be fined if they don’t follow the rules laid down for motorists.
Yet cyclists are in most relevant respects more like pedestrians than motorists. First, they tend to lose in any encounter with a motor vehicle. ‘Lorry and cycle collide. Driver badly injured but cyclist unhurt’ is not the sort of headline we often read. Second, we want to encourage more people to take up walking and cycling, and minimise the use of motor vehicles. Third, both pedestrians and cyclists are powered by their own energy and have a fairly clear view around them. For these reasons they resent being made to take indirect routes or having their discretion and initiative overly-curtailed.
We think there is a strong case for introducing a number of modest reforms that would in spirit treat cyclists as less like motorists and more like pedestrians. First, we should allow cyclists to turn left at red traffic lights, while recognising that pedestrians have right of way. Second we should introduce the principle that cyclists can go against the traffic in one-way streets unless they are explicitly prohibited from doing so. In the long term, there is a strong case for taking a more fundamental look at the Highway Code as it applies to cyclists, and giving cyclists many of the same rights and privileges currently accorded to pedestrians. And these reforms are very much in keeping with London government’s support for cycle paths and ‘shared space’ designs.
It is important to say that cyclists should obey the rules of the road as they currently stand, no matter how irksome or ill-founded they can seem. It is also imperative, in any scheme, that cyclists respect other road users, especially pedestrians. But many cities, including Paris, have already trialed these reforms, without compromising safety. Indeed, in encouraging more cyclists on to the roads, they might well make cycling safer.