James Daley: Cyclotherapy

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The Independent Online

Adebate has been raging about the worthiness of so-called Advance Stop Lines (ASLs) over the past few months. ASLs are those little (usually green or red) boxes designated for bicycles, which have been popping up at the front of city traffic junctions all over Britain in recent years.

Although ASLs were designed to protect cyclists – putting them out in front of the cars where they're clearly visible, and handing them a head start when the lights change – many claim that they have the very opposite effect, turning bikers into sitting ducks who are engulfed by vehicles from every side as soon as the drivers get a green light.

The secondary argument against ASLs is that other road users rarely take any notice of them. According to the Westminster Cycling Campaign, only 51 per cent of vehicles bother to stop behind an ASL in London. With motorbikes, it's just one in four. Many motorcyclists think it's fair game for them to sidle up alongside pushbikers in the boxes. But this only leaves cyclists with one more danger to think about as the lights turn green.

I've always thought ASLs are a good idea in principle. But, in practice, they leave you feeling rather vulnerable, knowing that you've got an impatient line of cars about to try to buzz past you as soon as the lights change. On Kennington Lane in London, for example, on my route to work, an ASL sits in front of two lanes of traffic – but the road narrows into one lane immediately after the junction. Once the lights turn green, the two cars behind me race to get ahead before the road narrows, and often end up forcing me on to the pavement.

One additional danger with ASLs is that they're usually accompanied by a feeder lane that runs down the left side of the road, encouraging cyclists to come up the inside of the line of traffic to take their position in the box. If the lights change before you make it to the front, you find yourself in danger of being cut up or hit by left-turning vehicles that don't see you.

This is one of the dangers of city cycling. When traffic is backed up at a junction, it's natural to try to get to the front, but you don't know how long you've got until the lights change. It would be no bad thing for traffic lights to have countdowns on them – as some do in America and India.

Also, cyclists should be given their own green light, five or 10 seconds before the rest of the traffic. This would give cyclists time to get across the junction before the cars and motorbikes.

Don't get me wrong; I'd rather have ASLs than not. But, with a little lateral thinking by urban planners, they could be much more effective.

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