Well they certainly aren’t useless in their design. The idea behind them is bold but it’s hard to find one that isn’t already occupied.
I have two issues with ASL’s, the first being that motor vehicles often breach the law on stopping at the first stop line and the fact that 99% of them force you to filter on the left side of the cars to legally enter them.
I’ll start of with filtering to the ASL. The ASL is designed to give cyclists the chance to take control of the traffic lane they are in by taking a central/primary position. This means they have the space they need to get started when the lights change and not get caught by traffic that is turning or moving around them.
This sounds great, but first you have to get to the ASL. To do this legally, you will more often than not have to filter up the left hand side of the traffic. This is generally a bad idea for many reasons, including passengers exiting cars whilst stopped and not looking and the chances of getting caught out and having a car turn left in front of you or being squashed towards the kerb.
I very rarely filter up the left side of traffic when approaching a junction, I will often filter on the right hand side much like a motorcyclist, this has many pro’s including the fact that motorcyclist do this and drivers are more likely to be aware something in that position.
The main issue is the problem with motor vehicles breaching the ASL and stopping in the ASZ. With the knowledge that an ASL is at a set of traffic lights, cyclists filter to the front only to find that there are cars stopped in the ASL and there is no room to position them selves safely. This either leads to cyclists jumping the red light and riding through the junction, the cyclists crossing the last stop line (which is technically RLJing), staying in a position which is unsafe or stopping in a gap between cars.
The main problem is that ASL’s are rarely a subject covered in the driving test and since their introduction in 1986 there has been little information provided to road users about what they should do.
It doesn’t help that the police do nothing about vehicles that cross the first stop line when the traffic light is red. It is a punishable offence with points and a fine but it is deemed to be a minor offence and is often overlooked. What may be a minor offence in one persons eyes, is an offence in another persons that causes an expensive cycling facility to be a waste.
I’ve decided to do a minor study to see how many vehicles I come across stopped in the ASZ’s over a few days. I shall included all modes of transport that by law, should not be in the ASZ. It may be that they entered it perfectly legally when the light was green but due to traffic they could not progress further. I shall report back on my findings in the next week or so.
In the mean time, there are some figures to have a look at from the Westminster Cycling Campaign. Their research at 4 junctions shows that in 2009 53% of drivers stop before the ASL when the light is red or amber, which is the same as in 2002. So over a 7 year period, and with an increase in cycling traffic on the roads during that time, the drivers where not any better. I did miss out that in 2003 60% of drivers stop before the ASL when the light was red or amber. But that number is still awfully low. TFL worked on the bus drivers understanding the ASL from 2002 to 2009 and we can see an increase from 59% stopping in 2002 to 92% stopping in 2009, why can’t something be done with all drivers?