This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 111.
Shared-use paths can be a cheap and convenient way to provide facilities for cycling, away from motor traffic. However, this is most successful where both cyclist and pedestrian use is low, such as on long leisure routes like the National Cycle Network. In the urban environment, especially in Cambridge where cycling levels are high, it is a recipe for confusion, conflict, and dissatisfaction for all users.
By shared-use provision I mean primarily the conversion of previously pedestrian-only space by the side of roads to permit cycling, or, colloquially, shared-use pavements. Everything below applies whether there is painted separation of the shared-use path or not: the creation of two very narrow lanes does not give anyone the space required, and observance of painted lines is low by all parties. This is distinct from the level-separation on routes such as the Coton path, where plenty of space is provided for all users, and the kerb separation is highly successful in keeping pedestrians and cyclists in their allocated space.
Shared use is not fair to pedestrians
Pedestrians don’t want to occupy the same space as faster-moving bicycles, any more than cyclists want to share with motor vehicles.
Pavements are already cluttered with bins, signs, lampposts and other street furniture. Pedestrians’ limited dedicated space should not be further reduced by having to share with cyclists. This is a particular concern to those using wheelchairs, pushchairs or walking with children, to whom space on the pavement is valuable. There are also issues for partially-sighted people moving around obstacles and who may not be able easily to see cyclists coming at speeds above walking pace.
Shared use is inconsistent and confusing
There is little consistency is what in designated for shared use. Some wide pavements are designated pedestrian-only, other narrow pavements are shared despite obvious, even dangerous, potential for conflict.
Pedestrians become annoyed with cyclists using shared-use pavements, believing them to be breaking the law when they are not. At other times cyclists inadvertently break the law because one pavement looks and feels exactly like adjacent shared-use provision. It is hard to justify cracking down on pavement cycling because of the danger to pedestrians, when in other places cycling around pedestrians is endorsed. Shared-use provision risks encouraging pavement cycling, which the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is against.
Shared use is not good for cycling
In order to use shared-use facilities responsibly cyclists have to slow down, sometimes to walking pace. The advantage of speed that in part causes people to choose cycling over walking is reduced or lost on shared-use provision.
Shared-use facilities cannot be enforced as one-way. This creates additional pressure on the available space and increases the chance of conflict between users. It also means that cyclists travelling against road traffic have no obvious and safe way to re-join traffic when the shared-use provision runs out. Even with traffic it is common for the cycle lane to stop abruptly and cyclists are expected to negotiate their own way back on to the road, often just before junctions, where the chance of collision is highest.
Shared-use facilities have no priority over side roads. Whereas a cyclist using an on-road cycle lane can expect an uninterrupted journey on the same basis as motor traffic on a continuous road, cyclists on shared-use pavements must stop at every junction, look for traffic and wait to cross. Every driveway also slows the cyclist, as visibility may be poor, and exiting drivers are not necessarily expecting anything travelling faster than walking pace. This increases the length of journeys and also increases the number of hazards faced. As shared-use provision is more likely to be used by less confident cyclists, it is a terrible irony that they actually have more potential for conflict at crossings and driveways than cyclists on the main carriageway.
I do not propose that we should start ripping out existing shared-use provision where there is no safe or dedicated alternative for cyclists. However, the councils should start planning this, and use every opportunity for upgrades that achieve this. I do propose that in Cambridge we should not be creating or endorsing any new shared-use schemes. It is time to move on from the sub-standard solutions of the past and start creating a cycle network without built-in conflict with pedestrians or with motor vehicles. It is time for our cycle facilities to be both convenient and safe for all ages and abilities.