Footway buildouts at pedestrian crossings

Published: September 1996.

Statement of Problem

Footway buildouts have recently been added to a number of pedestrian crossings in Cambridge, thus restricting the width of the main carriageway. This width restriction causes a serious hazard to cyclists using the carriageway, as bicycles are forced out into the line of motor vehicle traffic. It is Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s position that any new pedestrian crossing schemes should not include footway buildouts and that existing crossings should be modified to remove the danger caused by buildouts. Footway buildouts have been incorporated into the majority of new or modified pedestrian crossing schemes, including:

  • Chesterton Road near Jesus Lock bridge
  • Trumpington Street
  • Regent Street near Howes Cycles
  • Short Street near Wesley Church
  • New zebra crossing on Emmanuel Street
  • Maid’s Causeway near Fair Street
  • Trumpington Road

Chesterton Road (1)
Chesterton Road (full picture 82Kb)

Carriageway Width Restriction Problems

Where the carriageway is of sufficient width and traffic speeds are low enough, motor vehicles can safely overtake bicycles without changing lane. There is enough width for a separate cycle lane even if one is not marked. The bicycle traffic and motor vehicle traffic can flow along the road at different speeds without problems, Figure I. However, a footway buildout forces bicycles out into the path of motor vehicles, Figure 2. This causes a conflict which results in a serious hazard to the cyclist.

Figure 1 - Figure 2

Motorists may not realise that a road narrowing is coming up at a pedestrian crossing and so may not allow for it when overtaking a cyclist. These narrowings are not marked by warning signs as used in other situations where the carriageway narrows. Many motorists will fail to appreciate that a cyclist will have to move out to avoid the build out and will therefore not slow down to allow the cyclist to do this, instead continuing to overtake in an unsuitable place.

Experience shows that motorists are frequently prepared to overtake cyclists in inappropriate and dangerous situations. The limitations of buildouts are recognised in the joint DOT, CTC and IHT guidelines Cycle-friendly Infrastructure [1] which state (Paragraph 7.6.3):

Motorists may attempt unsafe overtaking manoeuvres if they are likely to be delayed behind a cyclist. Narrowings on fast or heavily trafficked roads can cause particular problems for cyclists.

The cyclist is treated as an obstacle to be passed at all costs.

Cyclists may be divided into two groups, those that ride assertively and those that ride non-assertively. The majority in Cambridge are in the non-assertive group. Assertive cyclists maintain their right to use the road on an equal basis with other road users by appropriate positioning in the traffic lane, and will try to move position in the lane in plenty of time to avoid hazards. This is not possible where unexpected road narrowings occur and the cyclist is forced to swerve out into the line of motor traffic to avoid hitting the kerb. This is even more of a problem at night when the footway buildout is less visible. When the cyclist is aware of the road narrowing, pulling out in plenty of time to avoid it can lead to harassment from motorists.

Non-assertive cyclists are less willing to position themselves in the main flow of traffic. This often results in the cyclist often riding very close to the kerb and being placed in difficult and intimidating positions at obstacles such as a sudden road narrowing. Thus the road narrowing caused by footway buildouts places both assertive and non-assertive cyclists at risk. Hazards such as this do nothing to encourage new cyclists, despite this being the stated goal of Local and National Government policies.

Chesterton Road (2)
Chesterton Road (full picture 78Kb)

Minimum Specifications

The joint DOT, CTC and IHT guidelines Cycle-friendly Infrastructure set out minimum width specifications for carriageway width restrictions and cycle lanes. Cambridge Cycling Campaign believe that the County Council should adopt these minimum specifications on all new road schemes and modify existing designs that do not meet these minimum specifications.

To allow bicycle traffic and motor vehicle traffic to flow along the road without conflict, traffic lanes without separate cycle lane markings should be 4.25m wide [1,2]. In general, Cycle-friendly Infrastructure specifies that cycle lanes should be a minimum width of 1.5m and 2.0m wherever possible.

Specific recommendations are given for road narrowings. Provision should be made for cyclists to bypass road narrowings. Such bypasses should be 1.0-1.5m wide. If bypasses are not possible, the recommended width of the road at the narrowing is 4.0-4.5m for one way traffic [1,3]. If advisory cycle lanes are used at the narrowing Cycle-friendly Infrastructure states that these “… should be a minimum of 1.2m, and preferably 1.5m, so as not to encourage unsafe overtaking within the narrowing.” (Subsection 7.6.4 Recommendations for Pinch Points, Build Outs and Central Refuges).

Advisory cycle lanes at pedestrian crossings can be unclear as the lanes are marked with zig-zag lines. This results in the cycle lane being poorly defined. This can be clearly seen with the current markings at the Chesterton Road zebra crossing.

Trumpington Street
Trumpington Street (full picture 77Kb)

Justifications for Road Narrowings

One reason cited for the width restrictions at pedestrian crossings is that the buildout increases the visibility to motorists of both pedestrians waiting to cross at the crossing and the crossing itself. Whilst the buildout does place pedestrians further into the field of view of motorists, this is often negated by car parking in the vicinity of the crossing restricting the line of sight. This can clearly be seen at the Trumpington Street crossing where car parking is allowed right up to the buildout. At pedestrian crossings with traffic signals, the visibility of pedestrians to motorists is less of a factor as the road traffic movements are controlled by the traffic lights. It is only during the flashing amber phase that a conflict may arise. This can be improved by changing the flashing amber phase to a red and amber phase. The conspicuity of the crossing itself is served by the traffic lights in the case of pelican crossings and by the Belisha beacons in the case of zebra crossings.

Another reason given is that the pedestrian crossing time is reduced. This is of no benefit to the pedestrian as the distance walked is still exactly the same, as is the time spent waiting. The benefit is to the motorist whose waiting time is reduced. This is not a valid reason for incorporating width restrictions into crossings. Cambridge Cycling Campaign believes that the safety and mobility of pedestrians and cyclists should have priority over the convenience of motorists.

Other reasons offered for width restrictions involve traffic calming measures. Whilst being narrow enough to cause problems for cyclists, the width restrictions at these crossings are not sufficiently narrow to serve this purpose. Ways of slowing motor vehicles which are not hazardous to cyclists must be used.

Any design must recognise the fact that cyclists are entitled to use the main carriageway and must take cyclist safety on the main carriageway into consideration, even if alternative provision has been provided away from the main carriageway. The needs of both assertive and non-assertive groups of cyclists must be provided for in infrastructure design.


The carriageway width restriction due to footway buildouts at pedestrian crossings causes a serious hazard to cyclists. No new crossings should incorporate carriageway width restrictions and existing crossings must be reviewed with the aim of removing the danger to cyclists. New designs should follow the minimum specifications given in Cycle-friendly Infrastructure.

The County Council should seek ways of increasing both pedestrian and cyclist safety. Slower motor traffic speeds would give motorists more time to see pedestrians waiting at crossings, increasing pedestrian safety, whilst at the same time increasing cyclist safety. Enforced parking restrictions in the areas of pedestrian crossings would benefit both pedestrian and cyclist safety.


1. Department of Transport, Bicycle Association, Cyclists’ Touring Club and Institution of Highways and Transportation, “Cycle-friendly Infrastructure: Guidelines for Planning and Design”

2. Wilkinson W., Clarke A., Epperson B., and Knoblauch R., “Selecting roadway design treatments to accommodate bicycles”, Federal Highway Administration, Report No. FHWA-RD-92-073, Washington D.C., 1994

3. DOT Local Traffic Note 2/95, “The Design of Pedestrian Crossings”