Painted cycle lanes result in more close-passes by drivers, study finds

More segregated bike routes are needed to increase cycling, researchers say

Painted cycle lanes are not the solution to keep cyclists safe as drivers are more likely to close-pass riders using them, research has found.

The university study, exploring how common dangerous overtaking is, found that drivers would pass closer when a cyclist used an on-road marked cycle lane.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers gave 60 cyclists devices called a ‘MetreBox’ that measured the distance drivers give when overtaking.

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While measuring more than 18,500 overtakes from 422 trips, the study found that one in every 17 overtakes came within one metre.

Lead author Dr Ben Beck, from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said: “We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation.

“Our results demonstrate that a single strip of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes.”

The study, conducted in partnership with the Amy Gillett Foundation, funded by the Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and a Transport Accident Commission (TAC) Community Road Safety Grant, involved measuring journeys carried out by the 60 cyclists in Melbourne.

According to the research 123 passing events came within less than 60cm, while in higher speed zones (above 60km/h) almost one in three passing events was a close pass of less than 150cm.

There were around 1.7 overtakes closer than a metre for every 10km travelled.

Dr Beck explained why painted cycle lanes saw an increase in close passes: “When the cyclist and driver share a lane, the driver is required to perform an overtaking manoeuvre.

“This is in contrast to roads with a marked bicycle lane, where the driver is not required to overtake.

“This suggests that there is less of a conscious requirement for drivers to provide additional passing distance.”

Dr Beck added that to improve safety and increase cycling participation, more investment is needed in providing segregated cycling infrastructure that protects cyclists with a physical barrier.

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Many parts of Australia have started introducing minimum passing distance laws to keep cyclists safe, with drivers required to pass at a minimum of one metre at 60km/h or less, and 1.5 metres when the speed limit is higher.

But in Victoria, the state where the study was carried out, there is no legal passing distance with drivers advised to leave a one-metre gap when overtaking cyclists.

In the UK, drivers can been fined for passing within 1.5m of a cyclist with some police forces even utilising undercover tactics to target motorists who flout the rules.