Do ASLs help cyclists?

May 27, 2011 — 17 Comments

As I was cycling home the other day, I was looking at how other cyclists use the ASLs and filter lanes. Do they help us in situations where there are vehicles waiting at the lights.

The ASL is meant to provide cyclists with the space to take a controlling position in the lane and be in a position where they can easily be seen by the driver behind them. Providing them with safety whilst they set off .
But there are several issues with this;

  • There are often other vehicles in the ASL
  • Most of the time there is only one legal way to enter the ASL
  • The filter lane is often on the left of vehicles
  • The filter lanes can often be blocked
  • Most cyclists don’t understand where you should position your self

The first 4 points are self-explanatory but what do I mean by cyclists don’t understand where to position themselves? As I said further up, the whole point of the ASL is to let cyclists position themselves in a position where they are in control of their lane as they set off and they are in a position to be seen. I see far to many cyclists that use the filter lane and ASL to get in front of the traffic but then stop on the left by the pavement. This means you can get the usual close pass when you start again.

I also see issues when using the ASLs on the Cycle Superhighways. The amount of cyclists that you can have around you whilst you are commuting is approaching 40. Even with half that number you will have issues as people don’t use the whole length and width of the ASL. If you get 2 or 3 that stop on the left then the entry to the rest of the ASL will be blocked and lots of cyclists are stuck next to vehicles, which is the worst place to be when setting off in traffic.

The ASL has one major flaw, have a look at this image and see if you can see it.
The blind spot of the lorry is highlighted in black and that shape looks a lot like an ASL and feeder lane.

The ASL should be avoided if there is a large vehicle at the front of the queue!

I’ve had a few problems recently where I need to hold a primary position for quite some time after the ASL. This can often anger drivers, even when you are going near 30mph! And it can result in a dangerous situation.

In some cases I will filter to a point where I can fit into to traffic, several cars from the front. This will mean that I can take control of the lane, get through on the next phase and it will be easier to prevent an overtake from the behind vehicle if I keep up with the vehicle in front.

It is certainly possible to live without the ASL and I think in some cases it is a cause for concern as many cyclists have the ‘must get in front’ mentality, putting them selves in a dangerous situation because the lights have changed or because they stop somewhere they shouldn’t.

What do you think about ASLs?

Gaz

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Gaz is one of the well known cyclists in a growing community of those using cameras. With over 20,000 Youtube subscribers and more than 3,000,000 online video views, his channels and videos are among some of the most popular of their kind. Gaz has spoken on Radio, TV and in national cycling campaigns about the use of cameras and the power of videos.

17 responses to Do ASLs help cyclists?

  1. They can be useful, but I’m not a big fan of them. They often encourage people to filter dangerously to the front when stopping a few cars back from the front is safer. They tend to be full of cars anyway!

  2. I’m not really seeing the point of ASL. Yes, assuming that you managed to get in to it you have maybe little less fumes to inhale, and can make a turn without getting hooked – that is if you got far enough ahead to avoid HGV blind spot. Going ahead I’m sure faster traffic behind you will appreciate the extra time they have to relax before moving off at the junction. Naturally they will be overtaking you only seconds later.

    OTOH if you failed to reach ASL before traffic starts moving you’ve got yourself in a bit of a problem. Especially if you were filtering on left and want to turn right on two lane road (not the best of ideas, but that’s what the lane markings are inviting you to do.)

    Can’t help but think the only situation where ASL might make sense is when the road after the junction is not wide enough for cycle and car to go side by side. But even then the approach would be a mess. And if the road after the junction is wide enough to go side by side then you could easily have a cycle lane all the way across the junction.

    I think rather than ASL I’d like to see more/longer/wider filtering lanes to provide guidance for good positiong going straight and right rather than lead to get stuck on left turn only lane. IMO an advisory cycle lane that puts you in the middle of the lane (i.e. does not start from the kerb) would be better than 1m cycle lane that puts left turning cars to your right. I’m not seeing many car lanes where turning is designed to cut across another lane, you generally have to merge first – why is that so common with cycle lanes?

  3. Think you’ve covered off my view of them fairly well Gaz, the theory behind them is OK (i.e it appears they are trying to provide something for cyclists…..) but ultimately it can create more problems. The whole “must get in front” mentality can mean you’ll not only get cyclists flocking to the ASL and having to wait in an unsafe manner but it can also result in slower cyclists positioning themselves just off the front solid line (usually after everyone else has arrived and queued!) which then causes even more hold-ups. This is of course coming from a similar position as yourself, a fairly experienced and confident rider who is able to make a fairly quick start. Unfortunately not all other riders are the same which is where the problems can come in.

    Also not sure if you’ve noticed it recently, but I’m spotting a lot of ASLs appearing (invariably after roadworks or “improvements” at junctions) that don’t actually have a legal way to enter them as they don’t have a feeder lane :-)

  4. mikey2gorgeous May 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Firstly there’s zero enforcement of ASLs by the Police.
    Then there’s the already mentioned problems of HGV blind-spot and inadequate cycle lanes to reach them. Any lanes we do have will be advisory (not that compulsory lanes deter vehicles!) but the majority of ASLs in Bournemouth have no lane approaching them!
    Most of the ‘good work’ to promote cycling by our council consists of providing ASLs. No segregated, desirable, prioritised, arterial cycle lanes. Just £1000s spent ‘improving’ junctions (to get a few % increase in traffic flow) and ASLs to ‘prove’ how committed they are to bikes.
    It’s pathetic.

  5. They are super useful in north America for making left turns on busy streets, but I seem to remember the lane layout and traffic signaling at junctions in London being different in a way that would not make them as useful for right turns there

  6. Is there an official source of the point of asls? I have tried to figure them out on the fly and have come with the idea that if I’m going right then use the box, if straight on then use the normal traffic lane. Timing getting to the front is also a pain get stuck half way and you can be in a terrible position.

    Which all means that I will use a box on my commute home ( the right turn going north onto edgeware road by edgeware road tube) and know what I will be using it for but tend to ignore unfamiliar boxes and just ‘take the lane’ as appropriate.

  7. Maybe they’d work better if they were like the ones in Portland USA where they write “WAIT HERE” so there’s no mistaking that you have to wait at the first line:
    (image from my helmetcam…):

  8. ASLs have two benefits that I see:

    a) they help cyclists in heavily congested traffic. From the positive points you mentioned about being visible and lane control.

    b) they help cyclists on hills. in Southampton has one at the lights and I find it most beneficial because its so steep.

  9. The interpretation of the photo with the yellow banded area around the cab is totally wrong. That banded area is the area that the driver of any large lorry first registered from 2006 MUST be able to see. Many older lorries have been brought up to this standard. Keltbray, the company owning the lorry in the picture, have these areas marked out in their lorry park. If the driver cannot see all the area before starting out then he/she must adjust the mirrors to make it visible.
    The discussion about ASLs and blind spots is incorrect. The dangerous blind spot that does remain is caused by high cabs with relatively small windows. This blind spot begins about 1.5 metres to the left of the cab and can continue for another 7-8 metres for the highest cabs. This area, well outside the marked area, is hazardous because large vehicles move to the right (left in Europe) before making a tight turn to near side.
    The very high level of mis-information on this matter is not helping cyclists, or the transport industry. It has not been helped by the over dramatic posters produced by TfL, based on a misunderstanding of the research into blindspots.

    • If a mirror on a HGV gets knocked whilst it is on the road, will the driver fix it? Who knows. I am right in saying that area is the blind spot of a lorry if it doesn’t have the correct mirrors. And lets be honest, not all pre 2006 LGV’s or HGV’s have the correct mirrors.

    • To add.
      The filter lane towards the ASL is still a problem with the blind spot area you refer to. How many cyclists use an ASL as it should be? Not enough, I still see far to many sit in the feeder lane of the ASL, which is in that area you refer to, and leave them selves in a dangerous position, not just to lorry drivers but to all vehicles surrounded by metal.
      I’m not trying to pin the blame on the cyclist, just that perhaps the cycling facilities we are being provided are not as safe as they could be for the environment that we cycle in. Should we be encouraging people to filter to the front without caution. As that is what I see near daily.

  10. I am firmly against any segregation. The best way to promote cycling is to educate all road users that cycles have equal priority and have equal rights to the road. This must include educating drivers that cycles are not slow and are perfectly entitled to hold primary position. Spend any available money on repairing the appalling condition of the road surface.

  11. ASLs give a permanent, unambiguous signal to motorists that cyclists have (a) the right to be on the road and (b)the right to be in front of them! It’s for that reason that motorists will ignore them – subconciously they’re making sure that we don’t get above ourselves by assuming a position in centre lane in front of them. They do more good than harm – there are plenty of other aspects of the cyclist/motorist interface to get upset about!

  12. I’ve never had to use one living where I do down in Dorset, but I have certainly seen many videos of them. Quite honestly I think they are the worst thing ever invented for so called cyclist safety. Barely any motorist, including police cars, even seem to acknowledge they exist but instead seem to treat them as their own advanced line.

    Instead of wasting money on ASLs they should have installed cyclists traffic lights giving all cyclists a head start.

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  1. Cyclist fatalities due to left-turning lorries | As Easy As Riding A Bike - June 5, 2011

    [...] put themselves in the most dangerous positions possible around unsighted HGV drivers (see here and here for the desperately tragic symmetry between the layout of an ASL and that of a lorry blind [...]

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