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Road User Hierarchy

June 9, 2011 — 11 Comments

At present the UK is very motor vehicle orientated. A large proportion of the population drives, in fact I drive in situations where cycling is not more practicable than taking the car. But because our road system is orientated around vehicles like the car, the drivers behind the wheel seem to think they own the roads. Some drivers believe that everything else should get out of their way and that we should bow down to them and kiss their feet (slight exaggeration).

For me there has always been a hierarchical system on the roads, a pecking order or food chain. The system which I believe is often thought of by the motorists is as follows (with 1 being the most important)

  1. Me (the motorist in question)
  2. Other Motor vehicles
  3. Buses
  4. Cyclists and Pedestrians

As you can see my list puts the self-centred motorist at the top. I see everyday, be it on bicycle or by car, drivers are often very impatient and won’t let people merge into their lane or they tailgate the vehicle in front of them if they don’t think they are going fast enough.
My hierarchy would be as follows (with number 1 being the most important)

  1. Mobility impaired pedestrians
  2. Pedestrians
  3. Cyclists
  4. motorcyclist
  5. Public Transport (buses, trams etc..)
  6. Cars
  7. LGV’s
  8. HGV’s

My system puts the most vulnerable road users at the top and the least vulnerable at the bottom. Things like Public Transport should have road space allocated to them specific and people should let them go as they carry many more people than other forms of transportation. The ones lower down on the list should look out for those higher up. But let us not forget that even HGV’s have requirements on the road and as cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle drivers we must look out for them and provide them the space and time they need.

Take a look at the below video of a single junction in NYC that was filmed over several hours. It shows how all road users make conflicts and issues with each other. I suspect that the US has specific issues with ‘road’ users Vs pedestrians as they have specific jaywalking laws.


Roads are often used by many types of transport, often all at the same time. But the way they have been built suits vehicles such as cars the best. From my point of view this causes conflict when you get pedestrians who want to cross the road. In an ideal world a vehicle on the road would stop for any pedestrian as they are near the top of the hierarchy but in reality this hardly happens. As a vulnerable road user we should look out for them and look after them but even our councils seem to do a poor job of managing where they cross and how long they have to wait.

Too much has been given to the motor vehicle over the past 50 years. It’s time we started claiming back our safety on the roads and making them a safer place to use!

This is a response to David Hembrow’s post ‘Delays at traffic light controlled crossings’

Crossing roads in the UK as a pedestrian or as a cyclist is generally a pain! The roads really are aimed at the traffic traveling along it. Pedestrians are often forced to wait a substantial amount of time after they have pushed the button to cross the road and even then, you might not have much time to cross.

For example, the video below shows the traffic light sequence at hyde park corner, plenty of cyclists and pedestrians use this daily.

As we can see from the video, pedestrians and cyclists have 6 seconds on green to cross, 8 seconds of no light and 82 seconds of red light. Pushing the button actually has no effect at this junction as the phase is designated and is based on the traffic light sequence on constitution hill.

David Hembrow shows us what it could be like!

As David says in his post. The delay caused to motorists for this ‘priority’ to pedestrians and cyclists is actually very minimal.

I cycled the route for the up coming Barclays Cycle Superhighway Route 8 that will be launched in July. Work is being done on the route at the moment but it takes advantage of some already in place facilities. These facilities include several traffic light controlled crossings and the time you have to wait at these is very different to what cyclists and pedestrians expect in the Netherlands.

The first crossing is a 24 second wait. No so bad but could be better. The second crossing however is appalling, we waited nearly 50 seconds but nothing. And we both decided it was best if we cycled across the junction whilst no traffic was coming.

This act of crossing whilst traffic isn’t coming is actually very common in the United Kingdom. Because pedestrians are often forced to wait a large amount of time to wait. This actually has a repercussion on the traffic using the road. As the crossing request from the pedestrian is not cancelled, the lights will change at some point and there may not be anyone there to cross, so vehicles have to stop for nothing.

This also has an effect on cyclists when these types of crossings are involved with building off-road routes, they become a pain to use as they can take several times longer to travel a set distance when comparing it to using the road.

For example the Vauxhall Gyratory has an off-road cycle path that goes all the way round, but again pedestrians and cyclists are forced to wait long traffic light phases. I can cycle around the gyratory and leave the exit i want in under 30 seconds but using the off-road route takes over 5 minutes in the test run I did! [The video is 1min 47 seconds long and is sped up by a factor of 4.]

With crossings like these, off-road cycling routes are hardly appealing to cyclists. I personally know that I would, and do, prefer to cycle on the road where I can get to my destination in a reasonable time!

Bicycle bells are now attached to the handlebars of bicycles sold in the UK, but do they work?

The answer to the above isn’t that straight forward. Bicycle bells are designed to be used to warn people of your presence, this basically means you can use it on two road users, pedestrians and cyclists. I personally have never found my self in the situation where i need to use a bell, if I need to make someone aware of my presence i will use my voice. It has the advantage of you being able to control the volume easily and being able to use a polite tone, such as ‘Good day, please may I pass’

That doesn’t mean the bell doesn’t have it’s use. Look at the video below, a bicycle bell is used by a pedestrian on pedestrians and he films the results. It’s amazing to see how people move out-of-the-way but in reality, how many cyclists have had this experience? I expect only a handful

Clearly the bicycle bell has its place, but is that place on the handlebars of every bicycle sold in the UK?

With the current boom in cycle commuting, I would guess that most bikes sold are either going to be used off-road or on the road during commuting. This will mean that most interaction with pedestrians will be whilst they are around roads and whilst they are walking to and from work.
This means that if you are trying to get the attention of a pedestrian or cyclist during this time, the sound of your bell will be competing with traffic noise and the music that some pedestrians will be listening to. I would expect that the bell won’t be heard and you will be wasting your time by dinging it, It’s certainly not a sound I hear often and I spend many hours on the road around other cyclists every week. A question to ask, is how does the dopler shift affect the sound of the bell when using it on a pedestrian that is about to step out in front of you.
I’ve also seen some cyclists try to ding their bell at vehicle drivers, it really isn’t loud enough for them to take notice, and they certainly won’t react in time to avoid any danger. If you wish to use something against a vehicle, I would suggest using the aizround which punches out about 115db compared to around 80db for a bicycle bell. It’s also a sound which vehicle drivers are more aware of.

The bicycle bell has its place, and that is on the handlebars on some bikes, the ones which are taken on shared footpaths by considerate owners who wish to be polite to other users of the footpath. The government think that putting a bell on a bicycle will change the behaviour and attitude of cyclists towards pedestrians, the bell will not achieve that.

In conclusion, I suggest to ditch the bell, use your voice but above all, look out for people more/as vulnerable than you. Take care when cycling around pedestrians, as they can move unpredictably.