By Graham Smith.

RIDING over Folly Bridge, heading to the city centre, I had the frightening experience of being ‘clipped’ by a car driver. He’d started overtaking at the narrowest part of the bridge. Traffic was quite slow.

Perhaps he didn’t expect cars coming around from the traffic lights at Thames Street.

He tried to cut back in when he spotted them but there wasn’t space for this to be safe. I didn’t expect the car to come so close, his wing mirror hitting my handlebar but, thankfully, it was at a low speed and no damage was caused.

The driver stopped to let me by and, around the corner, he stopped and apologised profusely.

Near-crashes like this are all too common.

What should happen where the road is narrow? Oxford’s examples include: Folly Bridge, St Clements, Cowley Road, Hythe Bridge St, Longwall St, Botley Road west from the rail-bridge. In these narrow sections incidents don’t necessarily cluster but while drivers might feel obliged to get past, cyclists will worry if a driver passes when there isn’t enough space.

Road markings don’t always help. Even in congested Oxford the roads aren’t always full so overtaking happens almost everywhere.

The Highway Code is clear. Double white lines, Rule 129 says: “You may cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to pass …or overtake a cycle, …if they are travelling at 10 mph or less.” Rule 162 includes: ‘Before overtaking make sure there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake.” Rule 163 includes: “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.”

But what if the road is narrow and you could, just, overtake a cyclist? There is ample guidance about designing roads and an increasing amount about designing for cycling. The County has a new ‘Design Guide for Cycling’. But nothing covers narrow roads. There was general advice that reducing traffic speeds and volume should be considered before asking cyclists to share the pavement.

But for narrow roads the footway is usually too narrow for sharing. And it’s not easy to simply reduce speeds and volumes in all narrow sections. What is needed is for these narrow sections to ‘look different’, for a different driver behaviour to be required. It seems to me that there are these choices: p Physically narrow the traffic lane to make it all but impossible to overtake a cyclist. This would be more efficient and safer for all.

This is what is done in the Netherlands in those few places without separate bike paths.

  • Narrow each carriageway to be tighter; could use paint (not usually enough). Could use ‘plastic wands’, or cobbles or a raised area running along the road centre.
  • Narrowing could be achieved by the cycle lane running through at a standard width, and colouring, even when the remaining carriageway is reduced to a small amount. Clearly indicating to drivers that they will have to use the cyclist’s lane.
  • Make a formal ‘no overtaking cyclists’ area. This needs a new Traffic Order. We use these already but only at temporary roadworks.

We need this new sign!