Monday 22 February 2010

One way streets in the UK and the Netherlands

This excellent bridge is one of many small bridges which provide cyclists in Assen with a more direct route than they would have by travelling by car. As you can see, it's the usual width for cycle facilities here, giving 4 metres width for bicycles and an additional 2 metres for pedestrians.

This bridge is a small facility in itself, and it's what has been done with the residential roads which link with it which I find really special.

While there are quite a lot of resident's cars parked along these streets, there are very few moving cars. These streets only provide through routes for cyclists, not for drivers.

You would only travel by car along these streets for access to properties on them.

The one way system exists in order to give cyclists greater permeability through the city. It makes cyclists journeys shorter and more convenient, and bridges such as the one shown help to make sure that only cyclists and pedestrians can benefit from these shorter routes.

There is no "rat running" in a location like this because driving here leads to longer and slower journeys by car. These roads do of course all have 30 km/h speed limits.

Due to the almost total lack of motor vehicles, the effect is of a segregated cycling experience without any actual separate cycle paths.

The map shows how it is useful. My marks in red show a cycle path which is part of my route in the top left corner and the bridge at the bottom. The pinkish line shows part of my route that day on these residential roads. You'll see that virtually every one of these small roads is one-way to motor vehicles. Every single one has an exception for bicycles. While there very many roads which are one-way for motor vehicles in this city, I have yet to find a single one which has the same restriction on cyclists.

This shows a fundamental difference in the thinking behind one way systems in the Netherlands vs. that in the UK. I can't claim to have seen every Dutch one-way system, but I've seen a few now. And they don't have the same emphasis that I've seen in Britain.

Rather, British one-way systems tend to look like this one, which was sometimes part of my cycle commuting route when I lived in Cambridge:

This is a race-track for cars. While it's right in the middle of the city, this is an A road - the busiest classification of road in the UK except for motorways.

There are several sets of traffic lights, the speed limit is 30 mph / 50 km/h and high levels of acceleration are the norm. There are always at least two lanes heading in any one direction, and as many as four at the North Eastern corner. It was difficult to ride around this on a bicycle at a sufficient speed not to feel in danger when changing to whichever lane you might need for whichever direction you were heading in.

A few skimpy cycle lanes around it didn't do much for cyclists. You can zoom in on the map and take a look for yourself. Or indeed, have the thrill of "cycling" along it yourself using Google's street view. Remember to turn right into Croft Holme Lane, and right again into Victoria Road. Look out for pot-holes as you go, as well as the cyclist in the terrifyingly narrow cycle lane outside the Portland Arms:

View Larger Map

Lately there was an addition of a way to cycle on the pavement through the middle of this mess in a North-South direction, which I found quite relaxing after years of negotiating the roads. However, it is far from perfect. It manages to increase an 80 m straight line route to about 110 m in length, and it includes no fewer than 3 traffic light controlled crossings (+ one zebra which pedestrians have priority at, but not cyclists) and a couple of rather too tight bends into this short distance. What's more, the part of the pavement marked for cyclists to use varies between 1.5 and a maximum of about 2 metres in width even though it's for bidirectional use. This is very far from adequate.

There is another type of one-way street in the UK. The type which exists in residential areas. An example from Cambridge is below. It may initially seem similar to what happens in the Netherlands, but it is not:

The emphasis here is on maximising car parking space at the expense of pedestrians. Cars are encouraged to park half on the already narrow sidewalk, leaving little space for pedestrians. Such streets have to be one-way for drivers as clearly there isn't room for cars to travel in both directions. However, they are also generally one-way for cyclists - meaning that cycle journeys to these houses are longer than they should be. In any case, travelling in the opposite direction on a bike leads to conflict with oncoming drivers. It is again an example of a one-way system which is designed to convenience drivers, and while this particular street has a 20 mph speed limit, drivers frequently exceed it.

On such a road it is no longer possible for pedestrians to comfortably walk on the sidewalk. People pushing babies in prams often have to walk in the road due to the obstruction of the sidewalk.

In the UK, permission has only just been granted for "except cyclists" signs to be tried out on one-way streets (follow the link and read the comments beneath to get a flavour of the usual anti-cycling vitriol which accompanies any such small step forwards). However, while road design remains biased towards motoring, this change will not be as useful as it should be.

The crossing shown in the first photo never makes cyclists or pedestrians wait more than 8 seconds. If I cycle this way into the city centre, this maximum 8 second delay is the only traffic light that I meet.


townmouse said...

It's more than just creating racetracks & more parking spaces - the one way systems in towns in the UK usually serve to funnel all traffic onto the main roads (usually ring roads) and turn all the quieter streets into feeder streets for a few big routes around town. Lovely for the residents (rat runs eliminated) but if no exceptions are put in for bicycles, really difficult to negotiate without breaking the law.

Anonymous said...

One way streets are very much a car thing and in the UK cycling against the legal traffic flow is an incredible trigger for agressive and violent, life threatening, behaviour from car drivers and others. The death threat comments on various blogs and forum pages are very real. I can only think that this comes from some form of perceived pecking order with the car driver believing that the cyclist has stolen something from him or her. My preference is for all one way streets to be made two way streets as they once were, not so long ago. The effect would be to disadvantage larger vehicles and that in turn would lead to an increase in walking and cycling.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

freewheeler said...

The problem in London is that one-way streets are growing in number, as highway engineers seek to "ease congestion" and accommodate increasing levels of on-street car parking.

The convenience of cyclists who want direct routes is sacrificed for the sake of drivers and the growing number of households who choose to purchase second and third vehicles while having nowhere to park them.

Even when one-way streets are in 20 mph zones they are hostile and unpleasant places to cycle, simply because there are large numbers of drivers who cannot bear to be behind a cyclist and either vent their frustration by blowing their car horn or by recklessly overtaking just inches away.

The visions of London as a mass cycling city seem to me to be built on sand. I simply cannot see high levels of cycling as long as motor traffic and parking continues to be prioritised over the safety and convenience of cyclists.

jrg said...

On the subject of rat-runs, I came across this article today about a piece of research "on the effects of cul-de-sacs in neighborhoods in King County, Washington" ( which essentially discovered that cars had to travel further in areas with lots of "no through roads" (well, duh!)

Good to see plenty of opposite-views on the findings in the comments.

David Hembrow said...

We live in a cul-de-sac. However, with normal Dutch practice there are through routes by bike and foot. Of course the overall effect is very much to encourage cycling in this city.