The point of pedestrian refuges – or traffic islands – is to slow traffic and prevent overtaking, with those with a gap in the middle providing a crossing point for those on foot to tackle crossing one lane of a road at a time.

However, one group they don’t 
necessarily help is cyclists. We’ve all had those moments: you’re riding past a traffic island, the road narrows and you have to either take the whole lane or face getting friendly with the kerb as a vehicle, reluctant to slow its speed, cuts in or squeezes past.

Head of training and development at Cycle Training UK (CTUK), David Dansky, says where the road is wider than 4.2m cars and cyclists can safely share. But below 3.5m it’s obviously not safe to overtake. He adds: “The problematic ones are those between 3.5m-4.2m where drivers think there should be room to pass and cyclists [are trained] to move to a primary position to ensure they don’t. Any untrained cyclists hugging the kerb may get passed too close for comfort.”

In October, experienced cycling campaigner Nigel Sherwen broke a bone in his right hand after being squeezed by a driver at a traffic island near Bath. He said: “[The driver] forced her way past the group of fellow cyclists causing sharp braking. I was caught with no place to go and fell onto the pavement. She sped past us cyclists as we turned and did not stop.”

Sherwen was off the bike for more than a month.

There are alternatives for traffic calming which take cyclists into account and sustainable transport charity Sustrans says it is essential calming measures don’t force them into conflict with motor vehicles. Cycle bypasses near the kerb could help protect cyclists from the squeeze that occurs at traffic islands although there needs to be enough road width for additional segregation.

According to Dansky, who has seen Transport for London’s forthcoming design standards for cyclists, the traffic islands issue is being taken into account in its new improved guidelines for cycle-friendly infrastructure. With any luck, these more cycle-friendly designs will spread elsewhere across the country.

This article was first published in the January 9 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!

  • Andrew Crinson

    Round my way they tend to position an island so that there is a drain cover near the exit which forces cyclists out into the already narrowed road. Either that or bumping over a 1 1/2 inch deep drain with a car right on your elbow. Just plain stupid.

  • Robert

    One of the most depressing things about this issue is that traffic management professionals have been fully aware of it for decades, and yet they still insist on creating pinch points that endanger cyclists. For example, Traffic Advisory Leaflet 1/97 “Cyclists at Road Narrowings”, which was published 17 years ago, noted that “at least 70% of drivers will attempt to overtake a cyclist within or close to a 3.5m narrowing”. So much for only a ‘reckless minority’ of motorists being willing to put a cyclist’s life at risk in order to save a few seconds!