Blackspot: Cathays Terrace

Strap yourself in.

This is the big one. This is Roath’s grand-daddy paradise for close-passing enthusiasts. Another part of the utterly unmourned Enfys network, superseded after the 2013 Active Travel Act by a concerted move toward a new strategic network, which has recently been bearing fruit, the Council having taken opportunities presented by successive Covid lockdowns to accelerate implementation,

The Cathays Terrace ‘cycle lanes’ present perhaps the best examples of the utterly mystifying approach to cycle provision that characterized Enfys (and indeed continues to characterize the majority of other ‘cycle lanes’ throughout the UK). This amounts to a dashed white line, about a meter away from a line of parked cars. The major innovation (I remember this being announced with some fanfare in 2012 or thereabouts) was to remove the centre white line, which was intended to incline drivers using the road alongside cyclists to behave with caution.

Of course, this didn’t work.

Problems with this kind of lane design were already widely known by then throughout the UK. I emailed the long-suffering Cardiff Council cycling officer to describe the inevitable issues I and others were experiencing with the new design.

The cycling officer responded by quoting the again utterly unmourned Cardiff Cycle Design Guide (PDF, since superseded by the Active Travel Design guide, which actually draws on experience from the Netherlands, and other nations, of cycle lanes that are genuinely safe), as shown:

So the here publicly-documented approach was essentially to put cyclists in the door zone on Cathays Terrace, as in many other locations throughout the city (Cowbridge Road East was a particular joy). The wild hope here was twofold. First, it was assumed that drivers would somehow just remember to respect Highway Code rules 163 and 213, which stipulate (admittedly unclearly) the amount of space a driver should leave a cyclist when overtaking them, in order to not pose them any risk of injury. Secondly, it was assumed that, seeing as how Cathays Terrace is a residential street, that drivers wouldn’t be opening their doors randomly into the cycle lane too often.

Which is not much of a comfort when it happens to you, as it did to a friend of mine on Cathays Terrace in August 2016 (and indeed to me, while cycling with my infant son in a bike seat, on a different Cardiff road back in 2007).

The universal problem with cycle lanes of this kind – which are known as ‘paint-on-road’ lines, or more accurately ‘murderstrips’ (translated from the Flemish) – is that they solve absolutely nothing, and create more problems into the bargain. Previous to having them on a busy commuter route like Cathays Terrace, the sensible thing for a cyclist to do was simply to wide clear of the door zone. Given the relative narrowness of the carriageway, an overtaking driver would simply have to wait for a space in oncoming traffic to overtake. Now of course, back in 2010-2011 and earlier, many drivers didn’t have the slightest clue how to do this safely. So to ‘encourage’ drivers to do better, the Cardiff Cycle Design Guide recommended that dashed white lines be used to mark out space for cyclists on the carriageway. Which, as I already pointed out earlier in this post – and indeed in 2013 – was essentially to put cyclists in harm’s way.

And here’s the interesting part.

If someone on a bike were to take responsibility for mitigating the risk of being doored by doing as they would have, pre-‘lanes’ and simply cycling clear of the door zone, they would be very likely to receive abuse and/or a punishment pass from a driver, incensed that this uppity cyclist was refusing to make use of the ‘cycle lane’ generously provided for them out of the public purse.

So the Cathays Terrace lanes (and every other lane like them, throughout the UK) immediately made everything worse. To ‘encourage’ cycling, by showing everyone that cyclists had ‘a place on the road’, they did the opposite of actually enabling people who wouldn’t otherwise cycle to cycle, by making the experience of riding a bike both subjectively more unpleasant and objectively more risky.

The Hobson’s choice such ‘infrastructure’ presents a cyclist with is pretty plain. Stay well to the left within your ‘lane’ or central, and risk getting killed by someone opening a door into you and knocking you off into traffic. Or cycle safely clear of this risk by keeping close to the white line – or even out in the lane – and then enrage drivers.

Thankfully this situation will (hopefully) be resolved soon – by the new protected cycleway Cardiff Council will be building from Allensbank Road down Cathays Terrace to join up with the Senghenydd Rd lane. Of course, some are already opposed to it. Join local groups on Facebook or Nextdoor and you’ll see all manner of objections to the plan – occasionally constructively engaging with details, but often of the ‘cyclists are all lawbreakers and won’t use it anyway’ variety.

To which the only reasonable response it to post again my favourite example of an objection to cycle lanes – where someone on Nextdoor objects to the idea of a protected lane on Cathays Terrace by using a photo of someone bravely using the current ‘cycle lanes’ to argue that people don’t cycle in them.

Post from nextdoor.co.uk accusing cyclists of not using cycle lanes

No, me neither. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Have you experienced an incident while cycling or walking on Cathays Terrace? Post in the comments below – include a link to any videos you have if you can.

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