Road Design Challenges for People on Bikes (1) – Cycling on Busy Roads


Research has found that the majority of people think it is too dangerous to cycle on roads, with nearly two thirds of all people feeling this way and 48% of people who already cycle agreeing. This road danger is felt more strongly than most by women and as people get older (1).

It is clear that the design of our roads, and this perception of safety is the single biggest factor on how roads and streets are used. Here in Glasgow, we might think of Buchanan Street as being a place full of people moving around on foot or by wheelchair, Great Western Road as a place full of fast moving cars, Union Street as busy with buses, and Byres Road having a combination of all three. Unfortunately at the moment, there is nowhere in Glasgow that could be described as busy with bicycles. In the first of three blogs on the design challenges people on bikes face, our member Rachel is going to focus here on the challenges of cycling on roads that are busy with cars and buses.

Cycling on roads busy with cars and buses feels dangerous for many people and heres why:

  1. Design of Roads

Roads such as Great Western Road and Clyde Street have been designed for fast moving motor traffic with straight wide lanes. There is a 20mph speed limit in the city-center however roads such as West Nile Street and St Vincent Street feel considerably faster than that, and the width of the lanes means that cars often overtake people travelling by bicycle very closely.

On Great Western Road for example, there is no space for people travelling by bicycle. There are four lanes of traffic and yet someone travelling at 10-12mph is expected to mix with a car travelling much faster. Heavily congested one way streets like Union Street encourage cars to speed between traffic lights and are especially intimidating for people travelling by bicycle. The one way system in Glasgow’s city centre makes the area very difficult to navigate safely on a bicycle, and often takes you on long detours.

   2. Speed of Traffic

Linked closely to the point above, fast moving vehicles are intimidating for people travelling by bicycle. People on bikes have to constantly look over their shoulders to check that theyve been seen.

   3. Volume of Traffic

Again linked to the two points above, a recent count by Glasgow City Council demonstrated that an average of 1,000 cars an hour use Byres Road (3) and looking at Great Western Road, the estimated average daily flow in 2016 was 19,687 travelling by motor vehicles and 306 people travelling by bicycle (3). Using the guide to type of provision below (4) both these roads should be candidates for segregated cycle lanes or tracks.

Table 1: Approximate guide to type of provision (5)

Flow 85th percentile speed
Below 20 mph 20 to 30 mph 30 to 40 mph Over 40 mph
Less than 1500 vpd, or 150 vph Cycle lanes or tracks
15003000 vpd, or 150300 vph Cycle lanes or tracks Cycle lanes or tracks
30008000 vpd, or 300800 vph Cycle lanes might be appropriate Cycle lanes might be appropriate Cycle lanes or tracks Cycle tracks
800010,000 vpd, or 8001000 vph Cycle lanes Cycle lanes Cycle lanes or tracks Cycle tracks
Greater than 10,000 vpd Cycle lanes or tracks Cycle lanes or tracks Cycle lanes or tracks Cycle tracks



1 vpd = number of motor vehicles in a 24 hour weekday.

2 vph = typical number of motor vehicles in a typical morning peak hour.

3 Where traffic speed/flow is low, the designer should aim to avoid the use of signs or markings specifically for cyclists.

4 Cycle lanes used in the higher speed/flow situations should provide good separation between cyclists and motorists. Wide cycle lanes or hatching can help here.

5 Where cycle lanes or tracks are shown in the table, cycle lanes should be considered first.

6 In congested areas cycle lanes can be useful even when traffic speed is low.


   4. Parked Cars

On many busy roads in Glasgow, kerbside parking is also often provided for motor traffic, for example on the west end of Argyle Street, and on Byres Road. This adds another dimension of complexity for someone travelling on a bicycle. The “door-zone” created by this parking creates a constant chance of a car pulling out of parking spaces, across you into a parking space and of having a car door opened into your path. Parked cars on the kerbside, particularly parking near junctions and pedestrian crossings, reduces visibility for people crossing on foot, and cars emerging from side roads. Cars often have to pull out too far from side streets to see if its safe to turn, and potentially endangering any oncoming people travelling by bicycle who may be nearer the edge of the road. Pedestrians are often forced by the parked cars to walk out into the road to see oncoming traffic, again endangering themselves and any oncoming people on bicycles.

In the end:

Chris Boardman sums up the challenges of cycling on the road I am constantly doing risk assessments. Im looking at parked cars, seeing which way wheels are turning, everything thats going on around me. Its just exhausting. (6)

Lots of people would like to cycle, but dont feel safe on Glasgows roads. Internationally we have seen demonstrations of roads built that allow everyone to travel safely regardless of their mode of transport. The Netherlands pioneered an approach called sustainable safety, which has reduced the number of road deaths by approximately 30% (7), and Glasgow needs to learn from the areas like the Netherlands to create the liveable and inclusive city that Glasgow is very capable of becoming.


(1) 2013, Natcen, British Social Attitudes Survey, accessed 15 April 2018

(2) Figures from Byres Road Count, 2017/18 Department Regeneration Services, Glasgow City Council


(4) 2008, Cycle Infrastructure Design, page 13,

(5) 2008, Cycle Infrastructure Design, page 13,