- - Road Markings and White Lines: The Role of Paint and Cycling Infrastructure

Road Markings and White Lines: The Role of Paint and Cycling Infrastructure

article by Ceri Woolsgrov

Markings on cycling infrastructure play an essential role in safer cycling by mitigating risks, enhancing visibility and overall enforcing a sense of safety for cyclists.

A major road safety obstacle for cycling safety is crashes with motorized vehicles, around 83% of cycling fatalities come about in crashes with cars, trucks, vans and other motorized vehicles. However, single-bicycle vehicle crashes (crashes with no other partner) are also a very important obstacle to overcome. They can be the cause of many serious injuries and even fatalities. These crashes often come about due to bad infrastructure, poor vision, slippery surfaces or sometimes poor decisions when riding. In terms of infrastructure, an important though often overlooked component is the markings on the cycling infrastructure itself.

Median markings running down the middle of bidirectional cycle paths help cyclists follow the route and clearly see the direction in which the cycle path is heading. They can also warn bicyclists against bollards that protect the cycle path from becoming a parking place or a shortcut for cars. In the Netherlands, wide blue median lines are also tested on and near bicycle crossings, as a way to improve the recognisability of the crossing.

Edge markings help to recognize the verge of a rideable surface.  At night, colors are not as clearly recognizable and the asphalt or concrete pavement might be quite similar to the surface next to it.  Clear white edge markings can prevent cyclists from running off the road (and losing control of the bicycle after entering the uneven surface). This is particularly useful in curves.

If the cycle path runs next to a wall or is delimited by a high curb, edge markings can be used to indicate the space where bicycles can ride safely without the risk of hitting the wall or curb with the handlebars or pedals. Similarly, if the cycle path runs directly adjacent to the roadway, the markings can create a buffer zone, which cyclists should avoid to not get hit, for example by a car mirror, or be sucked into the slipstream of a car passing on the roadway.

Infrastructure markings are particularly important for older people, who often do not have as good peripheral vision or contrast sensitivity, and for busy routes when riding behind someone restricts the forward view and does not allow a clear picture of the situation ahead.

Cycle lanes on roadways, as opposed to segregated cycle tracks, can provide a sense of safety for cyclists. However, in faster-moving dense motor traffic, it is always better to segregate cyclists. Another issue is running cycle lanes next to parked cars, too close and this means actual and perceived safety takes a dive!

A recent bicycle consumer report from CIE (our bicycle industry colleagues) states that painted road infrastructure can increase feelings of perceived safety, with 57% of the respondents claiming that Painted markings on the street “has encouraged me to cycle more.” While the figure is lower than 69% for segregated cycle tracks, painted cycle lanes can be done much quicker and cheaper, and sometimes it is better to provide an imperfect solution now, than wait years for a perfect one. It should however be noted that the figure fell to around 29% in a recent UK Government report.  

An important factor might be the width of the cycle lanes. In terms of perceived safety, cyclists rated wide cycling lanes next to parked cars only slightly less safe than drivers did, and almost equally safe in the absence of parked cars. On narrow cycling lanes, there is little change in drivers’ safety ratings, but a severe drop in cyclists’ safety ratings. Unfortunately, many of the existing cycle lanes are barely wide enough for a bicycle, and do not provide a safe buffer for overtaking. But, if done right, painted infrastructure can still be a useful tool in carefully selected areas and positions on the roads.

In conclusion, painted signage and marking on cycling infrastructure can be an excellent safety tool and can also provide some feelings of safety on mixed roads as long as it is implemented wisely.


*This article was reprinted with the permission of the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) 

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