Recent changes to the UK’s highway code caused a deal of controversy when they were introduced in January 2022. This was partly because they passed largely unannounced, by largely because of their introduction of extra protection for cyclists. With conflict between motorists and cyclists already part of the everyday driving experience in Britain, this was ratcheted up in the eyes of many motor vehicle users, who feel they are becoming second class citizens on roads they pay to maintain. This situation has been made even worse on part of the English south coast, where a local authority has introduced measures which leave many motorists confused, frustrated and very angry.
The measures in question have been imposed in the south coast town of Boscombe, which is part of Bournemouth. They were ordered by the area’s local authority, which is Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council, a unitary authority in eastern Dorset.
The A35 is one of the arterial roads crossing the area, which straddles Poole Harbour and the English Channel; it is this road which has been the focus of efforts to encourage cycling, many would say, at the expense of motorists. Certainly, BCP Council make no apology for taking steps to make “their” roads more cyclist friendly; they say they are firmly committed to making their borough as clean and green as possible, for the benefit both of residents and the essential tourist industry.
There are already two seven foot wide dedicated cycle lanes on part of the A35, painted blue and segregated from the rest of the road by six inch high kerbs. These cost BCPC a total of £102 million, which was offset by about a third by the UK taxpayer, in the form of an Emergency Active Travel grant worth £312,000. This grant is awarded in order to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists at “key transport locations”. These lanes were already in place before the changes to the highway code were implemented in January 2022; and they were already controversial, as motorists said the kerbs mean they can’t pull over to let emergency vehicles pass, and can cause damage that fails the MOT test.
State of Emergency
At a meeting in 2019, BCP Council declared a climate emergency. It also voted to act on this emergency by setting a target of net zero carbon emissions for its own activities by 2030; a full twenty years before the rest of the UK. This decision was behind its successul application for emergency active travel grant, which funded the cycle lanes on the A35. Certainly, removing 14 feet of width from an A road is designed to discourage motorists from using that road; although whether these same motorists leave their vehicles at home, or find other routes to get to where they’re going, is another matter. It is definitely the case, however, that the highway code says cyclists should use dedicated lanes wherever possible.
When the Code changed in January, however, BCP council decided to take another “proactive” stand to promote cycling. As the changes advise cyclists to use the centre of lanes on quieter roads and / or in slow moving traffic, the council took the decision to paint cycle lane markings in the middle of the A35 and other roads. In doing so, BCP interpreted the new highway code without reference to traffic conditions; as far as motorists are concerned, it gives cyclists permission to treat the entire road as theirs. The fact is that, apart from the cycle lanes, the A35 is not a cycle path, any more than any other road in the country. Cyclists have always been entitled to make use of the road, and ride two abreast if necessary; if anything, painting a cycling symbol in the middle of the carriageway goes against the spirit of changes to the Code.
The UK government is committed to making the country a net zero carbon emitter by 2050. This is an established fact, with which every road user will be familiar as the time comes. The rollout of electric vehicle charging points and ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles after 2030 are obvious landmarks on this route, as are changes to the MOT test system which needs to keep up with the appropriate technology. No part of the highway code has ever been designed to encourage conflict, however. If British road users want to help themselves as change is imposed, a them-and-us attitude will benefit nobody.
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