This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 116.
Anyone who cycles along Newmarket Road will know that the bus and cycle lanes there are constantly abused by drivers. Somehow, many drivers seem to think if they are turning left into the retail parks it is fine to dip into the bus lane and jump the traffic queue.
To try to reduce this problem here and elsewhere in the city, the county council is proposing to use cameras to police the lanes. We’ve supported them in doing this.
However, we were rather alarmed to find the road markings were being changed in many locations, replacing ‘Bus and [cycle symbol] Lane’ with just ‘Bus Lane’. Many of those markings were installed at our instigation when bus lanes first began to be used seriously in Cambridge, many years ago now, specifically because the wording led to harassment from drivers (especially bus drivers) thinking cyclists had no right to be there. We were and remain concerned that removing the markings now will lead many bus drivers to think cyclists were being explicitly excluded from bus lanes and intimidate cyclists because of that.
It is not, of course, the case that cyclists are being excluded, and the remaining smaller signage ought to, but does not really, make this clear in an environment where drivers of all kinds are looking for opportunities to put cyclists in the wrong. The problem is that the Department for Transport (DfT) is very prescriptive as to how signs and markings are presented: apparently only ‘Bus Lane’ not ‘Bus and Cycle Lane’ is permitted. That would not be a problem in itself, except that lots of drivers have been using that technicality to have their convictions overturned, and in some cases councils have returned all bus lane infringement fines because the markings were not precisely as required by the DfT. Clearly, Cambridgeshire County Council did not want the cameras’ effectiveness to be undermined by incorrect markings.
We have discussed this with the county council. They have paused in making these changes as the matter has to be referred to a committee now (though we withdrew our formal objection, there are others). They have agreed to use some extra non-statutory (yellow) signs to emphasis that cyclists are permitted in the bus lanes, and to apply to the DfT for permission to use additional cycle markings on the road in bus lanes throughout the county. They also agreed to approach the bus companies to make sure drivers were aware that cyclists continue to be legitimate users of bus and cycle lanes, and to reinforce this through the media.
We had hoped that the round of changes to signs currently being consulted on by the Department for Transport would be an opportunity for the signage requirements to be relaxed more generally in bus and cycle lanes, but the DfT’s idea of consultation does not apparently extend to accepting suggestions and they refused to accept this as a submission!
It does, however, seem that the whole scheme had a narrow escape when minister Eric Pickles made another ‘stop the war on motorists’ attempt to ban using camera enforcement altogether. A howl of protest apparently led to a rapid U-turn on that. It is so strange that in every other sphere, politicians want to seem tough on crime and have a ‘lock-em-up-and- throw-away-the-key’ approach – except when it comes to driving, when they seem keen to overlook or downplay motoring offences.