Road User Hierarchy

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!

11 thoughts on “Road User Hierarchy

  1. That video was just terrifying! I’d say you could spot the couriers a mile off, some of that filtering was suicidal (but extremely skillful!)

    If you compare it to this road in India, admittedly it’s a slightly simpler layout but it does go someway to showing people CAN get along sensibly on busy roads, even when using different forms of transport

  2. 4 people are killed or seriously injured every day?! Is it any wonder watching that video, I thought London was bad but clearly our road layouts beat the grids of NYC, it’s like every man for themselves.

  3. I think it also depends on the mindset of the people at your locale. I note far more courtesy extended to other road users in more remote parts of the UK. So, is discourtesy a function of population density? In general terms also, this seems to apply.

    1. Without a doubt. Cities have the problem that you have lots of people in a small space, so impatient drivers normally stand out. I would say you probably get the same percentage wise in remote areas, but they don’t stand out so much as there is less dense traffic.

  4. Gaz, have you missed out PSV’s, i.e. buses. I think these should come in above cars. Cars often have one person in them. Buses are a much more efficient method of transport and should be rewarded as such.

  5. Too true Gaz. Brighton is stupidly car-orientated too. There are dozens of crossings masquerading as puffin and pelican crossings. Pushing the button has no actual effect on the light phasing, with the pedestrians getting the green man as part of the normal phasing. Alternatively the green man takes so long to appear, waiting until a red light wouldn’t hold up traffic, that it often only appears due to another red light further up the road, causing more stopped traffic in the process with an empty crossing. Cue cyclists jumping these red lights and sometimes almost running into pedestrians. Stupid.

  6. Back in the 1990’s, my own city of vancouver established a hierarchy of how transportation policy should be shaped. They came up with:
    1. walking 2. biking 3. transit 4. goods movement 5. single-occupancy vehicles

    The hierarchy is still used today by city council, although in practice the roads often feel more like your first list.

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