Making Pinch Points Safe for Cyclists


We have all been there: cycling towards a central refuge with a vehicle rapidly approaching from behind.

  • Will they wait or will they try to get past?
  • Is there room?
  • How should I react?

It can be very frightening.

On several occasions I've seen the driver divert round the opposite side of the refuge, and on one occasion go straight over the refuge shattering his engine sump!

The Department for Transport's Cycling Infrastructure Design guide give the following advice.

  • Refuges and islands can create hazardous pinch points for cyclists. If they are introduced and it is not possible to provide a cycle bypass, the width available should either be sufficient to allow vehicles to overtake cyclists safely, or narrow enough to discourage overtaking altogether.
  • Gaps of between 2.75 metres and 3.25 metres over any distance should be avoided, as car drivers may attempt to overtake even though there is insufficient room to do so safely. Conditions at roadworks (and other longer length restrictions eg bridges) require a minimum gap of 4 metres.

BCC policy seems to support the installation of more pedestrian refuges, often with traffic calming benefits, some on relatively narrow roads which reduce the single lane width to between 2.75 and 3.25metres - the width to be avoided according to the DfT advice.

The cynical observer might conclude that the policy is designed to reduce the risk to motorists of their speeding & unwise overtaking. Who cares about pedestrians & cyclists? After all, they don't pay Road Tax.

Here are some examples of Council's designs to tackle this occurrence.

  1. Do nothing. Ignore the advice and expect cyclists to look after their own safety.
  2. Paint a hatched area to indicate a reduced width, encouraging the cyclist to take a wider position. However, because the hatched area is at the kerb side not at the refuge side it does not indicate to drivers that they should not overtake.
  3. Paint a cycle lane through the restricted area. Traffic Advisory Note 1/97 covers research that found the addition of a cycle lane is unlikely to discourage a driver from overtaking a cyclist within a narrowing. However, a cycle lane may still be of value as it can serve to increase the separation width when cycles are being overtaken by motor vehicles. Cycle lanes (minimum width 1.5metres) may also aid speed reduction by giving the appearance to motorists of a reduced lane width.
  4. Put in a short cycle lane off the carriageway to (nominally) by-pass the restriction. This involves construction costs and, unless carefully designed, the deviation requires the cyclist to do a complicated manoeuvre and give way, so it is unlikely to be used.
  5. Construct an inline bypass that gives the cyclist a safe and continuous route. DfT Research shows that this is cyclists' preferred option provided it is well constructed and maintained/cleaned.

Should PushBikes organise a survey of pinch points to show how bad things are? Send us your comments

Advice to drivers in the Highway Code

  • 153. Traffic-calming measures. On some roads there are features such as road humps, chicanes and narrowings which are intended to slow you down. When you approach these features reduce your speed. Allow cyclists and motorcyclists room to pass through them. Maintain a reduced speed along the whole of the stretch of road within the calming measures. Give way to oncoming road users if directed to do so by signs. You should not overtake other moving road users while in these areas.
  • 163. Overtaking. Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.
  • 167. DO NOT overtake where you might come into conflict with other road users where the road narrows.

What policy should PushBikes adopt when advising the Council?

  • Refuges are not suitable as traffic calming measures.
  • Where new refuges are needed as pedestrian crossing points they should always be designed to meet the Cycling Infrastructure design criteria.
  • They must incorporate either a cycle lane or cycle bypass.
  • Existing refuges must be assessed and prioritised to bring up to these standards.

How should cyclists behave when cycling towards a restriction?

It is the cyclist's responsibility to ride safely at all times , including the line of approach to a pinch point.

  • You may take advantage of any designed features for the benefit of cyclists but you are not obliged to do so.
  • If you feel in any additional danger from following vehicles you should indicate that you will be moving further toward the centre of the narrowing - the 'primary cycling position' and that the vehicle should not overtake.
  • Once clear of the narrowing immediately move to a normal cycling position.