The Guardian Bike Blog asked the other day "How can safety at Advanced Stop Zones be improved for cyclists"?
Well, it might be rather jolly if the average motorist, and indeed motorcyclist, took the first bit of notice of them.
There are differing opinions on the ASZ, and I wouldn't say that they are the panacea to all cycling woes - but they are useful for getting some distance between yourself and motorised traffic, and are good for when you are filtering. I tend to use them when traffic is heavy and I am filtering, or if I going to turn right at a junction where the ASZ allows me to position myself correctly. I rarely bother with them if the traffic is light, preferring to stay behind the vehicle in front of me.
But the ASZ has to be one of the most abused rules by motor vehicle users, outside speeding infractions. Scooters seems to be almost drawn to these zones as if they have some kind of strange magnetic attraction. Maybe some kind of seductive siren call emanates from the traffic lights - a call only heard by scooterists?
The ASZ is, hardly surprisingly, barely policed. In fact the closest I have seen the police take an interest in the ASZ are the couple of times when they themselves have rocked up into it whilst I have been waiting for the lights.
I also think that there are significant tranche of motorists who have no idea what an ASZ is, why cyclists need to use them, and why drivers shouldn't. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a significant number of drivers who have no idea on the rules of the ASZ and, indeed, that encroaching it on red is illegal (theoretically carries a £60 / 3pt fine). And why should they? Their function has hardly been publicised, and the policing of them is non-existent.
Secondly, there are the drivers who simply know that no-one cares about the ASZ and use them anyway - I guess to get "ahead" of other lanes, or simply to try to push away filtering cyclists. I have heard comments about how silly it is to let cyclists "push in front" to "slow down" traffic, normally from people who have no concept of the average speeds one can attain as a cyclist in London in comparison to those in vehicles.
So, to answer the Guardian's question, one could make ASZs more amenable to cyclists by making sure drivers knew how to act around them, and to enforce them in the first place. I always think that ASZs lend themselves to being used with cycle only lights - if something is in the ASZ then cycle only lights turn green for a time to allow cyclists to clear the junction. And enforcing them with red light cameras. One can only speculate at how quickly drivers might learn not to encroach an ASZ if they realise that doing so adds on another lighting phase to their wait...
So I leave you with the current state of ASZs. Another video taken recently, on the A10. Note the van changing lanes to undertake the traffic. Note how the driver goes right into the ASZ on red. Note also the cyclists waiting at the ASL who now have a large van "cuddling" up to them. Some may say the cyclists were over too near the kerb, but that misses the point, which is that someone licensed to drive several tonnes of machinery shouldn't be so moronic as to try to push past a cyclist at a red light. If I was the Bromponite waiting at the front, I would have gone on the pedestrian phase and jumped the lights simply to get away from the van - which may have been turning left for all I knew.
When this type of driving results in prosecutions then the ASZ will be respected. Until then I will resign myself to making close acquaintanceship with vans, lorries, buses, scooters, cars and motorbikes - all of whom seem to want to join the ASZ party.