Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Default to Green: cyclists have priority while drivers wait for the lights to change

Assen has 28 sets of traffic lights. Three of them are set up in such a way that they default to green for cyclists. i.e. their usual situation is showing a green light for cyclists and they will only switch to red for cyclists and green for motor vehicles a sensor leading to the junction is triggered by the motor vehicle.

Red shows cycle-paths, blue shows the direction from which cars are leaving the motorway at this junction. X and Y are two junctions which default to green. The video was made at position X.
The area covered by this map is only about 500 m wide. Cycling infrastructure has to be built at a very high density in order that it is useful. At the western end, the cycle-paths link with little used service roads. To the east they are unbroken to the centre of the city.
The junction featured in this blog post is one of two very close together on a secondary cycle route in an industrial area in the west of Assen which give priority to bikes.

The roads in this area all have 50 km/h (30 mph) speed limits and with this being an industrial area you might have expected that most cyclists would be adults. However, even in this location, cyclists are provided with separate infrastructure from the road and are prioritized on those cycle-paths. There are good reasons why. Cycling has to be efficient and subjectively safe in order to be an attractive means of transport. Cycling also needs to be a "go anywhere" mode of transport to make it a default method of getting about rather than a "some journeys" mode of transport. If the cycle-path network did not reach into the industrial area, this would be a "no go" area for many people and what's more, if there were many places like this then cycling would no longer be a mode which could be relied upon to take you to any destination in comfort. As a result, fewer journeys would be made by bike.

If you want a high modal share for cycling then you need good infrastructure everywhere. When there is a tight grid of high quality cycle provision over the entire country it becomes possible for the whole population to cycle to any destination. Distances become less of a barrier if the experience is pleasant and that is why the Dutch do not only make shorter journeys by bike but are also more willing long distance cyclists than the people of any other nation. This wouldn't be true if the infrastructure didn't make it attractive.

On the way to junction X on the map above I first had to ride past junction Y. This young girl was riding alone in the industrial area next to a motorway junction. It's not a route used by many school children because it's not really a direct route for them between school and home. Perhaps she was riding to her parents' workplace or to a dentist further along here? However, the point is that whatever her destination, it's safe for her to get there by bike. It is an error to only try to provide good cycle facilities in town centres, for short journeys or only close to schools and housing. Unless cycling is made to be safe and convenient everywhere, it will never become a mode of transport used by everyone to make a large proportion of their journeys. For a high cycling modal share, a grid of high quality provision needs to go everywhere.
Why so few bikes in this video ?
This video has been six years in the making. That may sound ridiculous, and of course I'm not claiming that I've spent six years sitting there with a camera. However, this junction is particularly difficult to demonstrate because it reacts to both cyclists and drivers and normally there are either too many people using the junction for it to be demonstrated or it's the middle of the night and you can't see anything.

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This was the first time that I've found myself in this location with my camera and with little enough motor and cycling traffic that the timing of the traffic lights could be recorded. At more popular times you simply can't see so clearly what these traffic lights are doing. This is the reason why we show you a different default to green traffic light on our study tours.

Traffic lights which work like this are almost exactly the reverse of many pedestrian and cycle crossings. e.g. "Toucan" crossings in the UK. As it happens, we have three of those in Assen as well, and they have also been made efficient for cycling.

1 comment:

Arjen Haayman said...

From an energy-saving point of view it would be better if the cars didn't have to wait for green if there aren't any bicycles around. If the sensor would react more quickly to the cars, they wouldn't have to brake and accelerate again