Thursday, 30 August 2012


If you really have nothing better to do than to spend your spare time reading bicycle blogs, it doesn't take too long to come across a phrase called "vehicular cycling". As I understand it, it refers to a series of techniques for dealing with an environment built primarily for the fast movement of motor vehicles. As an example, "taking the lane" refers to the practice of moving to the centre of a traffic lane so that (theoretically) drivers behind can see you and do not cut you off at the intersection or roundabout or other pinch point that you are approaching.

Some of the techniques are worthwhile in a hostile environment as survival techniques. I think they become a problem when they are sold as the best way for keeping people on bicycles safe as opposed to designing the environment in such a way that conflicts between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are avoided. When I say design, I do of course mean proper design rather than designs that end up making things worse - which does happen from time to time.

A good tongue in cheek critique is here.

My own experience is that the problems with techniques such as taking the lane are twofold. First, you are putting your safety into the hands of the person behind you and how is in control of a very large and potentially lethal piece of machinery. The fact that you are in front of them does not guarantee that they will see you. Second, most people do not know what taking the lane is. It can be perceived as arrogant or anti-social when a person in a car, for no reason apparent to them, is greeted by a padded, lycra-clad backside in front of their windscreen. They will not necessarily try to kill you as a consequence but people have been known to make dangerous manouvres in an attempt to get past.

One of the best tips I was given for surviving hostile roads is to assume you are invisible. So for example, when you are approaching a junction with a road to the left where it is obvious cars coming from that direction have to give way to you, do not assume (a) they know that and (b) that they have even seen you. Very often they have not because their focus is on where they expect cars to be rather than where bikes will be.

Vehicular cycing, bicycle driving or whatever you like to call it suffers from the obvious drawback that nobody else knows about it. A perfect illustration is in this (frankly appalling video):

The cyclist is doing everything right. She has right of way but is totally ignored. Had she acted like a vehicle she would be under a vehicle.

Most people do not wish to harm others but setting up a system like that where road users with very different sizes and speeds are required to mix is a recipe for disaster. Unsurprisingly, only a small number put themselves in that position. It means the road toll is lower - not because it is safe but because they are so few people who put themselves in positions of risk.

As Dr Behooving so eloquently put it, "Designing out risk is so much better than expecting humans not to make errors”

No comments:

Post a Comment