An association of transportation experts of 15 major US cities (NACTO) recently published new guidelines for bicycle infrastructure. They claim they are ‘innovative’ and ‘state of the art’ and based on ‘an extensive survey of expert knowledge, [and] existing guidelines from countries and cities around the world’. Some US planners do indeed visit the Netherlands to look at Dutch cycling infrastructure as David reported in yesterday’s post. But looking at the new NACTO guidelines we doubt they have too.
Just focusing at track widths we read on the NACTO website: "desired width for a cycle track should be 5 feet. In areas with high bicyclist volumes or uphill sections, the desired width should be 7 feet". This is actually very narrow, 5' = 1.5 m and 7' = 2.1 m. The standard width for one way cycle paths in the Netherlands is a minimum of 2.5 m ( 8'). Wider ones are not uncommon. For bidirectional use the minimum is 3.5 m (11 '), but most modern cycle paths are 4 m (13 ') or more. Although Dutch sources like CROW are quoted as references the Dutch standards were certainly not adopted.
The biggest problems with these guidelines lie in the intersection designs. For instance, NACTO states "typical international best practice is a two-stage turn". We couldn’t disagree more! The shown queuing boxes are a terrible solution. They not only slow cyclists down but put them in a very dangerous position in the middle of the junction where cyclists have to wait while motorised traffic passes on all sides. This is something that you will never see implemented in the Netherlands!
|NACTO bike lane / turn lane design|
The advised construction of ‘bike lane / turn lane’ is a way to maximize conflict between cyclists going straight on and drivers turning right. Again, this is something you very rarely see in the Netherlands. This type of design was tried, tested and deemed undesirable. The Dutch stopped building lanes like that a long time ago. A few do still exist (I know just one remaining junction approach like that in Utrecht) but they are phased out as soon as possible. Junctions like that seem more usual in Denmark and David has already criticised one such junction in an earlier post.
So what then is the Dutch solution for the junction approach? Where is a Dutch cyclist positioned on a junction and how do the Dutch create a safe left turn? The Dutch standard junction design solves all those issues at once. So you can ask: would this solution at all be possible in other countries? We believe it is and with the help of the NACTO drawings including their advised widths of car turn lanes we were able to create an animation of a Dutch style junction in the US situation.
If anything, this animation makes clear the space is there! But what's far more important: this type of junction eliminates conflict in turning and crossing movements far better than the advised solutions. So we question where NACTO looked for this "European best practice" which is actually nothing at all like what is implemented in any city in the Netherlands.
|Standard Dutch turning lane / bike lane design|
However, of course "Europe" is not one place, and to talk of copying "Europe" is rather meaningless. No other country has the same standards as the Netherlands does, nor does any other country have the same participation in cycling that the Netherlands does. As David would tell you: "copying 'best practice' from the UK, for instance, would get you no-where at all".
7th April update
It has become clear that because details of the timing of traffic lights were omitted in the above post, some aspects of this design are causing confusion to some readers. With this design:
- Cyclists can always turn right on a red traffic light, and are protected from any interference from motorists as they do so. Motorists cannot make a right turn on red. Each cycle path is a minimum of 2.5 m wide, and conventionally they will expand in width at busy junctions, so there is space for cyclists to pass each other to make the maneuver.
- With or without cycling infrastructure, Dutch traffic lights avoid conflict in a way that those in other countries do not. Many traffic lights at a cross-roads in the UK and USA simply have two states. i.e. N->S and S->N are green simultaneously while W->E and E->W are red and vice-versa. Drivers can go straight on, left or right and those approaching in opposite directions will have to cross each others' paths. However, in the Netherlands it is normal for the turns to have their own traffic lights which have different timings so that conflict is avoided.
- Synchronization with cycle path traffic lights works in the same way, maximumizing throughput while keeping danger at bay. When motorists have a green light for going straight ahead, cyclists also can ride straight ahead without right or left turning motorists having permission to cross their paths. However, when motorists are given a green light for a right turn this is separated in time from the cyclists' straight on green so that conflict is avoided.
- You may sometimes have to wait twice to make a left turn. However, you don't have to wait at all to make a right turn. On average, this cancels out and cyclists are not disadvantaged.
- At the other popular design of crossing, with simultaneous greens for cyclists, who go in all directions at once, you still can make a right turn at any time, and only ever have to wait once to make a left turn. Cyclists then have an advantage over drivers.
In general, the timing of traffic lights does not disadvantage cyclists on the cycle path. In fact, in some instances, cyclists get a green light twice as frequently as drivers do. This is only possible to do if the modes are separated and have their own traffic lights.
A note from David
Please note that while this is referred to as a "standard" junction design in Mark's text above, the word was used to mean "unexceptional", not to indicate that this is a standard which is worked towards. Junctions which exactly resemble this design are not actually common in the Netherlands. Only one junction in Assen closely follows this design and that's already planned to be replaced with a more modern and more convenient (for cyclists) design as used in the rest of the city.
A footnote about experts
It appears that several members of the consulting team responsible for the NACTO design standards work for the same company as was responsible for both the lacklustre design standards for Ontario and the inadequate plan for Los Angeles. Better "experts" than this need to be consulted if progress is to be made.
Update 2014: NACTO adopt a similar design
It appears that NACTO took these criticisms on the chin and are adopting a design of junction very similar to Mark's sketch above. Be careful that it is not over-applied. This needs to be one of a range of solutions, amongst better solutions, not the solution or the best solution alongside lesser solutions.