Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cyclists: how to stay safe on London's roads

First of all, as a daily bike commuter in London town, I would encourage anyone to consider cycling to work. Yes, there are inherent risks, and I have seen many close calls since I ditched the Tube for the bike (coming up to 10 years now!). However, if you keep your wits about you, you can really enjoy a safe, stress-free experience on the road. 🚴😎

The internet is full of helpful tips on cycling in the city, so I am not going to go into details here, but it is worth reminding yourself every now and again to:

  • be seen - wear high-viz or high-contrast clothing
  • light up - don't forget your lights, especially during winter mornings
  • signal - let other road users know your intention
  • be assertive - hold your position and don't get pushed to the pavement
  • look behind you - be aware of the traffic around you 
  • not jump the lights - traffic lights are there for a reason

Instead, I would like to focus on a few scenarios that can lead to potential accidents.

Beware of slow traffic 1 (oncoming traffic turning right)


When traffic starts to slow down, watch out for gaps developing.

Imagine this: on a two-lane road, you are cycling along the left-hand-side bus lane, and to the right, cars are starting to go slow, maybe even slower than you. Suddenly a car in front stops to let another car in the opposite direction turn right. While waving "thank you" to the friendly driver, the right-turning driver step on the accelerator and drive straight into your path - they just cannot see you.

Oncoming traffic turning right

Bus lanes do not make you invincible, so be extra careful when you are undertaking slow/queuing traffic. Reduce your speed, and watch out for gaps (as well as kamikaze pedestrians).

Beware of slow traffic 2 (traffic ahead turning right)


OK, so undertaking is dangerous, what about overtaking by filtering between opposite lanes? I mean, motorcyclists do it all the time, right?

Remember, you are only fast enough to overtake traffic if cars are slowing down. Why do cars slow down? A car in front maybe waiting for an opportunity to turn right (hence holding up the traffic behind). The driver may then have spotted a gap and, without noticing you, they drive straight into you.


Traffic ahead turning right

If you want to overtake traffic, be extra careful and watch out for cars turning right. Again, reduce your speed, and do not assume that drivers will always signal.

Don't blindly go into a bike filter lane


Finally, bike lanes and filter lanes give a false sense of security. While the traffic light is red, do not automatically think you need to cycle down the left of the waiting cars to get in front of them. Yes, the filter lane is designed to help you get to the front. However, there is no guarantee that, when the light turns green, the driver next to you is going to spot you (they may want to turn left and drive straight into you).

If you don't know when the light is going to turn green, it is probably safer to stay behind the cars.

Final words


Slow traffic is a bit like the calm before the storm. One minute, you are happily filtering past traffic; another minute, a car is going to appear out of nowhere, before you can slam on those brakes.

Stay safe and ride on!