Over recent years, and particularly since hosting the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014, we have seen a real boom in the number of cyclists in Leeds, both for leisure and commuting purposes. Cycling is increasingly seen as an affordable, convenient way to get around and recognised not only for the benefits it offers to the health and well being of the person cycling, but also to communities (improved connectivity and more social than sitting in a car) and the environment (reduced congestion and improved air quality). A great deal of work is being undertaken in Leeds to increase levels of cycling, to improve infrastructure and tackle road safety issues.
Leeds City Council’s Influencing Travel Behaviour team carry out work all year round to improve cycle safety. During the ‘cycling season’, resources are more targeted at initiatives that attempt to educate drivers and raise awareness of considerate driving around people on two wheels. Much of the focus is on those who unwittingly drive too close, placing them in danger. After all, when you’re on a bike or on foot, you don’t have the protection of a metal cage that you have when in a car.
One such initiative is the close pass initiative, run in conjunction with West Yorkshire Police and based on the highly successful model developed by West Midlands Police. Operations run from late Spring until early Autumn, and recommenced in West Yorkshire earlier this month.
Locations are selected by identifying areas where cyclist casualty rates are particularly high or those where high incidences of ‘close passes’ are reported. During the operations, roadside education and information is offered, by the Influencing Travel Behaviour team, to drivers who have been identified by a police cyclist as passing too close (within 1.5 metres).
In the first operation in east Leeds, 11 drivers were stopped after passing too closely and received the educational input. This covers why it is important to offer as much space as possible when overtaking and the reasons why cyclists might position themselves in certain places. This can include, for example, moving more centrally in the lane if they don’t want a car to overtake them, perhaps when the road is narrowing or there is a left turn ahead that they don’t want a driver to cut in front of them to turn into (a major cause of cycling casualties).
Use of the ‘close pass mat’ is also made at community and city wide events, such as the Leeds ITU Triathlon World Championships and Tour de Yorkshire, to get these key messages out to the general public. By letting people know how intimidating and dangerous close passes can be for a cyclist, the events aim to raise the public’s awareness that a few moments of patience will not impact significantly on their overall journey time. This year, we will also be making use of VR goggles to show the Cycling UK ‘Too Close for Comfort’ film to drivers, so they get some idea of how it feels to be overtaken closely by a car when you’re on a bike. Another ‘analogy’ that is often used is standing on the edge of a station platform when a high-speed train passes by – not a very pleasant experience!
So, what does the Highway Code say?
There are two sections relating to overtaking and safe passing in the Highway Code. Firstly, Rules 162 – 169 cover overtaking generally, but rule 163 is key: ‘Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car’.
Rules 211 – 213 give more guidance relating to driving around cyclists and motorcyclists, with Rule 212 stating: ‘When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room’ – sounds obvious, eh? Rule 211 is also crucial, particularly looking out for cyclists and motorcyclists when turning through standing or slow moving traffic.
This article is clearly focused around overtaking cyclists, but while we’re on the subject, why not remind yourself about the advice for passing other road users too, including those on horses?
Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs)
When I took my driving test (too many years ago to mention), I don’t remember there being those funny boxes with a picture of a bike in at traffic lights! So what are they? Advanced stop lines are designed to offer more space to cyclists at traffic lights, so that they can move away safely. They’re meant for people on bikes only, even if you arrive at the lights and there are no cyclists in there. This link gives more info about ASL’s and how they should be used:
So what can you do?
While the Highway Code doesn’t mention a specific distance, 1.5 metres (about the width of a small car) has become the accepted ‘norm’ when you are driving at 30 mph. Anything faster than this and more space is advised. Chances are, if you’ve given the recommended 1.5 metres, you’ve crossed well over into the oncoming lane. So why not move right over into it, give the person on the bike plenty of space (you never know what they might need to swerve out to avoid) and then tuck back in when you’re well past them?
When talking to the general public, people often mention about cyclists ‘hogging the lane’. Now in cycle training terms, we call this taking the ‘primary position’. If someone on a bike has moved out into the middle of the lane, it’s usually for good reason. They may have seen an obstruction or car door opening that you can’t yet see, they’re about to turn, or they don’t want you to overtake them for some reason (possibly the road narrows ahead and they don’t want you to squeeze past them). If you’re driving behind someone when they do this, a few moments patience goes a long way. They don’t want to hold you up, and they’ll move back in once it’s safe for them to do so.
We’ve all got somewhere to go, whether it’s work, to meet friends or getting back home to have tea with our partners and kids. We know the roads are increasingly busy, and there are many distractions out there. But by looking out for vulnerable road users, including cyclists, double checking at junctions (where the majority of cycling collisions occur) and giving plenty of space when overtaking, you could help make sure we all get to our destination in one piece and contribute to reducing the number of casualties on Leeds’ roads.