Cycling in Scotland – the pros and cons of bike lanes

With the Scottish Government aiming for 10% of all commuter journeys to be made by bike by 2020, installing bicycle lanes to help meet this target is currently underway in most Scottish cities.  

  But how do cyclists feel about this approach to improving cycling conditions in Scotland? 

  While some cyclists strongly feel cycle lanes increase comfort and safety levels, others are firmly opposed to dedicated cycle areas on the grounds that they actually increase collisions. 

  In this blog, we’ll examine the pros and cons of bike lanes in an attempt to reach a clearer conclusion on whether or not bike lanes benefit cyclists. 

 Cycling Routes in Scotland

 There are approximately 2,371 miles (3,815 km) of National Cycle Network routes in Scotland, including 644 miles of traffic-free routes. These include:  

  • Disused railways  
  • Canal towpaths  
  • forest roads 
  • Shared-use paths  
  • Segregated cycle lanes 
  • Predetermined rural footways. 

Between 2011and 2015, 330 miles of newly constructed walking and cycling infrastructure was created (both Community Links and National Cycle Routes), with a further 95 miles upgraded or resurfaced. These are set to increase even further with a planned £18 million infrastructure investment scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019.  

 The rest of the cycle network is located on road: where possible it uses lightly-used rural roads or quiet urban streets. Where there is no practical alternative, it may use or cross more major roads, but the government strives to keep such sections to a minimum. 

  To view the National Cycle Routes, including Sustrans routes, please follow the links below:

The purpose of bike lanes

 A bike lane is a section of a road marked by painted lines in order to separate cyclists from other road users. The idea behind bike lanes is simple – they’re intended to make cycling safer and easier in order to reduce road traffic, cycling on pavements and bike accidents. 

 Requirements of bike lanes

 Bike lanes have many physical requirements in order to be safe. The most important being bike lanes need to be placed in areas where road width is adequate to allow for a bike lane that’s 1.5m wide. If this condition is not adhered to, it could lead to serious safety concerns for all road users. 

  If the white line at the edge of a bike lane is solid, it means that the lane is ‘compulsory’ and drivers must stay out of it during its time of operation, which means they can’t park or drive in it. Cyclists, however, don’t have to stay within it. 

 If the white line is dotted, it means that drivers are advised not to enter the lane, but it isn’t an offence if they do.  

Do bike lanes make cycling safer?

 While being inside a car could physically prevent a driver from harm in the event of an accident, a cyclist is protected by nothing other than their cycling skills and a helmet. This combined with the fact cyclists are harder to spot on the road, means they run a higher risk of being injured. 

 To that end, some cyclists suggest the implementation of bike lanes will offer them increased protection. They feel bike lanes result in drivers becoming more aware of the presence of cyclists, which makes drivers pay closer attention and reduces the chances of collisions. 

 However, others argue that bicycle lanes only protect cyclists from rear-end collisions and increase the likelihood of collisions while changing lanes at intersections. 

Is cycling easier when using a bike lane?

 Many cyclists believe that a protected bike lane makes cycling on busy roads easier. Statistics also show that having dedicated cycle lanes reduces the perception of danger, making cycling a more accessible choice of transport for everyone.  

 However, others would argue that separate lanes allow cyclists to be treated as second-class road users, giving drivers a sense of entitlement, which can, unfortunately, lead to accidents. 

Even experienced cyclists state that they encounter trouble from separate bicycle facilities as it encourages motorist resentment. 

Cycle lanes increase the number of cyclists in Scotland 

 Many people feel that bicycle lanes increase the number of cyclists. In turn, this raises overall cycling rates and encourages people who otherwise wouldn’t even consider cycling to get out on their bike – either for pleasure or commuting. This, in the long run, has a positive impact on the environment, as an increase in journeys being made by bike instead of motor vehicles reduces carbon emissions. 

 The National Cycling Charity CTC explains that “the more people cycle, the safer it is for each individual cyclist since places with high levels of cycling are associated with lower risks”. 

According to CTC’s “Safety in Numbers” campaign possible reasons for this include: 

  • Drivers are more aware of cyclists
  • Drivers are more likely to be cyclists themselves
  • There is the greater political will to improve cycling conditions, such as building infrastructure, reducing speed or increasing enforcement of traffic law

 While bike lanes might increase numbers, which in turn makes cycling safer, accidents can and do still happen. 


 While there are clearly two opposing opinions to the benefits of cycle lanes, even properly designed bike lanes can’t prevent accidents. 

Bike lanes are only part of the solution to safer and easier cycling routes in Scotland. Education of both cyclists and motorists may be the answer to alleviating the dangers cyclists face. We’ve previously discussed safer cycling tips in previous blogs. 

These tips, along with having respect for all road users, can reduce tensions between road users, which in turn could reduce accidents. 

 However, if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a bicycle accident, contact an experienced personal injury solicitor as soon as possible. Being involved in an accident is a traumatic time for anyone.  

 Watermans Solicitors can look after you from start to finish. You have up to three years to make a cycle accident claim in Scotland, and in most cases, you can claim for loss of earnings and damage to any bike or cycling equipment.