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Hedge-blog: cyclist passing distance signs

18th July 2014

Cyclists passing distance sign

The French have a road sign which asks drivers to give a specific amount of space when passing cyclists. The one in the photo above is in the countryside, and the passing distance is 1m50. The distance in towns, where the speed of vehicles is lower, is 1m. Could we adopt a British version of this sign?

We know from a recent BBC poll that 52% of people in the UK believe that roads in their local area are too dangerous to cycle on, and 64% say that roads in their local area are not well designed to be safe for cycling. 

There is no substitute for proper investment in cycling infrastructure in the long term. British Cycling's Time to Choose Cycling manifesto earlier this year said that current funding from government is around £2 per head of population. In the Netherlands, cycling funding is £24 per person. Current funding is woefully inadequate, and will not make the transformative difference to cycling infrastructure that we need. There is an opportunity for the political parties to promise proper cycling funding in their manifestos for the next general election.

In the meantime, there is something else we can do to improve conditions for cyclists. Close passes are one of the main reasons that cycling on the roads in traffic can be so intimidating. As can be seen from the BBC poll, fear of traffic deters a majority of people in Britain from cycling.

It is very rare that close passes are malicious. When it's easy to leave a lot of space, a large majority of drivers do. When it's more difficult, on narrow roads, with oncoming traffic, blind bends, or blind rises, too many drivers decide to overtake even though they can't leave an appropriate amount of space. I also believe that many drivers just aren't aware of how much space they should leave, and don't realise how intimidating it can be to pass close and fast.

As an interim measure - not a silver bullet, or a substitute for proper infrastructure - we could adopt a version of the French cyclist passing distance sign pictured above. It might help a bit. It could be introduced with a round of interviews from the cycling minister, helping to make people aware of the rules and best pratice when passing cyclists.

The introduction of the sign could accompany a change to the provisions of the Highway Code relating to overtaking cyclists. British Cycling's manifesto says (paragaph 6): 'The Highway Code contains many useful safety provisions but there is a clear need to strengthen overtaking standards and to remove unhelpful advice.' They recommend adopting the French standards. 'The Highway Code needs to be updated to include a law similar to that in France requiring drivers passing cyclists to allow a minimum of 1.5 metres in non-urban areas.'

Close passes are a big problem for cyclists in Britain. Every time I go for a ride on the roads, I experience one or more close passes. They are intimidating and mentally bruising. Close passes are likely to be deterring many more potential cyclists. The main long term solution is infrastructure, but clarifying the rules on overtaking, and introducing cyclist passing distances signs would be a worthwhile (and relatively cheap) interim measure, which would improve conditions for people cycling on the roads.

Cyclist passing distance sign

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