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London mayor floats plan for cyclists to turn on red – and why it won't work

Mayor's red light plan for cyclists dismissed as kite flying exercise...

Yesterday Boris Johnson London's 'cycling mayor' floated a proposal to let cyclists ride through red lights when turning left – in a bid to cut down the number of accidents at junctions involving cyclists and lorries. Judging by the response they are already stopped at red.

No formal proposal has yet been put forward but the Mayor has written to the Depart for Transport (DfT) to suggest a trial scheme allowing cyclists to turn left at red lights so long as they give way to pedestrians. Any such scheme would require a change in the law, so were it to happen in London the way would be open for such a change to be rolled out nationally. However, given that parliamentary time and will would be required to make such a change it is not likely to happen any time soon.

The theory behind the proposals is that cyclists would be able to negotiate left turns at junctions ahead of cars and lorries. The latter are a particular cause for concern, as has been mentioned on last week HGVs are responsible for a disproportionate number of the cycling deaths on British roads and these fatalities are particularly concentrated in cities. In 2007 HGVs were involved in the deaths of 32 of the 136 cyclists killed on British roads despite only accounting for only 6.5 per cent of the vehicle miles travelled on British roads, and most of that mileage is travelled on the motorway network. In London the situation is more extreme nine of the 13 cyclists who died on the capital's streets were hit by HGVs.

We spoke to the CTC and London Cycling Campaign and both were fairly under-whelmed by the plans. While welcoming anything that would increase safety for cyclists they saw this more as kite flying exercises rather than a concrete proposal for change.

It was also pointed out that while Boris was fond of headline-grabbing initiatives such as this one and doing away with bendy buses funding had been cut for infrastructure projects which would make a real difference to cyclist's safety in London.

Speaking to the Guardian, Roger Geffen, the campaigns and policy manager of the national cyclists' organisation CTC, said: "I would be happy for cyclists to turn left on red if there was a way in which it could be done by meeting pedestrians' needs, but it doesn't make any sense dreaming up policies that are never going to happen."

From a practical point of view letting cyclists turn left on a red light doesn't seem to take account of the way traffic behaves.

  • Allowing cyclists to filter left will potentially put more of them in the danger area at junctions, when the lights turn to allow the rest of the traffic to turn left.
  • Left turning cyclists will need to be on the inside of the junction or face either getting to the front of the queue and having to turn left directly across the queueing traffic – now knowing when the lights are going to turn allowing that traffic to move forward or;
  • having to turn much further out into the junction and contending with traffic that is already moving through the junction on green or;
  • not being able to turn at all because the traffic moving through the junction is going too fast.
  • Drivers and cyclists moving through busy intersections on green will also have to be on the lookout for cyclists turning in to their stream of traffic from the left – given that cyclists will all be occupying the same road space this is likely to be more of a problem for cyclists moving through junctions than cars, lorries or buses.

Back to the drawing board Boris!

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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