|This was part of our walking route to|
school in Cambridge. The van fills
both the narrow cycle-lane and the
Ten years ago, guidance in the Netherlands called for cycle-lane widths of 1.8 m to 2 m wide with an absolute minimum of 1.5 m permitted where space allowed no more. These suggestions were considered to be adequate only where there were relatively small flows of cyclists. With higher usage, the lanes were to be built wider. Segregated cycle-paths were considered to be preferable over cycle-lanes where speed limits were 50 km/h (30 mph) or higher and on main roads with 80 km/h (50 mph) roads, cycle-lanes were considered not to be adequate at all. If there was no other possibility on an 80 km/h road then any lanes built should be widened by one metre. That's an extra half a metre to allow for bicycles to safely overtake other bicycles and another half a metre to give more space between motor vehicles and cyclists. The same guidance suggested a minimum 0.75 m wide gap between parking bays and cycle-lanes in order to reduce the chance of "dooring".
The Netherlands now has around 37000 km of cycle-path and just 5500 km of cycle-lanes. It is clear that on-road cycle-lanes are deprecated in this country. They are not the preferred solution. There are far more new segregated cycle-paths than there are new on-road lanes. Current advice in the Netherlands requires that on-road cycle-lanes should made of distinct red asphalt and be 2 to 2.5 m wide, with an absolutely minimum of 1.7 m. Such cycle-lanes must be red. All these are "concrete" absolutes. It is also now suggested that there should be a 0.5 m gap between cycle-lanes and car-lanes, the exact form of which is currently still under discussion. On roads narrower than 5.8 m, a fietsstraat (bicycle road) is the preferred solution. Note that such an arrangement requires a low speed limit (30 km/h - 18 mph) and for through motor traffic to be removed in order to be successful.
Note that the Dutch guidelines refer to what is considered to be reasonable practice in this country, where maximum speeds of cyclists are determined mostly by how hard they push the pedals and not by how quickly they can descend a hill. Where there are hills, cycle-lanes heading up-hill should be as suggested above but those heading downhill should be wider. More space is required to keep control of a bicycle at higher speeds. Extra space is also required to make safe the overtaking of one cyclist by another at higher speeds. This is analogous to how Dutch guidelines suggest wider cycle-lanes are required in the presence of faster motor vehicles.
These are examples of where problems which could have occured with on-road cycle-lanes have been avoided by careful implementation. It's a short list and several of the examples below work well precisely because they exist in the absence of motor traffic.
|These "cycle-lanes" are 1.7 m wide on either side of a 2.7 m wide carriageway. But these are not really cycle-lanes and this is not an ordinary road. This is a bicycle road which cannot be used for through journeys by motor vehicle and on which cyclists have priority. The only reason why any motor vehicle is driven here is to access about half a dozen houses along this section of the bicycle road.|
|These cycle-lanes are only 1.5 m wide but this is again not a normal road. This is a nearly car free street in the city centre. The junction ahead was once the busiest in Assen, but now has very light motorized traffic because this not longer serves as a through route by motor vehicle. The street allows two-way use only by bicycle and that is what is made clear by the painted lanes.|
|In Groningen, this busy cycle-route goes over an older bridge which does not have adequate width for a segregated cycle-path. The cycle-lane splits from the road after the bridge and before a busy simultaneous green traffic light junction.|
|Cycle-lane becoming a cycle-path immediately before a roundabout so that the junction can be negotiated safely by bicycle.|
|This cycle-lane through a 1950s residential area in Assen does not really function as a cycle-lane. This street works well by bicycle because the road is no longer used in the same way as it was originally designed. While some streets in this area are busier than others, this street is considerably more pleasant than it once was due to unravelling of motor vehicle routes from bicycle routes. This is no longer a useful through route by motor vehicle and bicycles dominate. The width of the cycle-lane is almost completely irrelevant. Children can ride home from school five-abreast in comparative safety.|
Sadly, most cycle-lanes come into the "bad" category. They're too narrow, they're not safe or they give an inadequate feeling of subjective safety to result in people wanting to cycle more. While the majority of these examples are in the Netherlands, bear in mind that these form less than ideal links within an overall infrastructure of very high quality. There are also very often alternative routes which are of better quality.
Several of these examples are in Groningen. Like all cities which have many students, this demographic group, who are relatively easy to attract to cycling for a variety of reasons and will cycle more given any particular conditions than other demographic groups, helps to mask the problems with infrastructure. There are also examples from Cambridge, where the same applies. If you're trying to grow cycling in a place which does not already have a high cycling modal share, the infrastructure that you build needs to be better than this. To attract people from all segments of society to cycle, you need very high quality over a very fine grid.
|Narrow cycle-lane combined with pinch point in Groningen. That buses use this route makes it more unpleasant and more dangerous. The speed limit here is 50 km/h. This infrastructure reduces subjective safety of cycling. Where it is common, the more vulnerable members of society will not use by bicycle. This is very far from best practice in the Netherlands. Pinch points are usually designed out.|
|1.1 m wide cycle-lane in a 30 km/h zone in Assen. The cycle-lane is hopelessly inadequate in width. This couple riding side-by-side here do not both fit within the lane. This is a moderately busy road, though not on Sunday when this photo was taken. Like most of the bad examples from the Netherlands, this one is very easy to avoid when cycling. Much better infrastructure runs in parallel with this (a video shows how I usually go another way into the city). Note that there is one good feature. The parking bay does actually have a divider between the car and the cyclists. This should prevent "dooring" incidents.|
|A street in Groningen which has recently been reworked, but which has kept very narrow cycle-lanes despite 50 km/h speed limit and use by heavy vehicles. It's really not good enough for the 21st century. This is not safe and it leads to a low degree of subjective safety, which can cause people to stop cycling.|
|Cambridge in the UK. A cycle lane measuring barely over a metre wide on a busy road with a 30 mph (50 km/h) speed limit. There was clearly never a good reason for the cycle-lane to have been so narrow because in a few metres, right as it goes over a bridge where there might have been the excuse of there not being enough space, this lane widens to accommodate buses. From this point onwards, cyclists are supposed to ride in a combined bus/bike lane. Bikes and buses should never be combined in one lane as they are fundamentally incompatible forms of transport. Bikes need to travel at a constant speed while buses must necessarily stop and start, with a higher peak speed but a similar average speed. The result of this combination is that bikes impede buses just as much as buses impede bikes. This leads to dangerous overtaking manoeuvres and conflict. There really should be a completely separate bus lane or bus road here, and proper bus stop bypasses.|
|Trumpington Road in Cambridge shows how not to construct a cycle-lane which passes parked cars. Parking is allowed on both sides of this busy road. The cycle-lane is narrow, badly surfaced and keeps cycles far too close to the "door zone". The volume of motorized traffic here is far too high for such a dangerous layout to remain.|
As was explained at the beginning, while well engineered cycle-paths are beneficial to cyclists, on-road cycle-lanes are really only a last resort measure. They should not be common in new developments because there is almost always a better alternative. They should not be used where there are high volumes of motor vehicles or high speeds. Where they are used they must be wide and junction design must remove potential conflict points. One of the "good" above shows how a lane cane become segregated at a traffic light junction. Where cyclists join and leave on-road lanes there are always potential conflict points.
In the Netherlands there are now relatively few on-road lanes because better alternative designs are used. Existing cycle-lanes are being upgraded into cycle-paths. This is how it should be in other countries as well. Why implement the equivalent of 1980s Dutch or other inferior designs of infrastructure when you can instead copy more recent and successful designs ?
This section includes examples of where the Dutch have recently made bad choices, where other nations are making copying from less than good examples and making bad choices and of some common problems due to cycle-lanes.
|Inexplicable bad design in Assen as part of a new development. There is plenty of room here for a proper bus stop bypass rather than encouraging bikes and buses to clash. Assen actually did better than this in the 1980s. Have the good ideas been forgotten by a new generation of planners ? The only redeeming part of this design is that it's appeared on a route which is not well used by bicycle. That's by design. This is where motor vehicles are sent to keep them out of the centre of the city. As I often point out, just because something can be found in the Netherlands, that doesn't mean it's best practice. Don't copy this.|
|London has been struggling with making its ambition for "cycling superhighways" truly "super" ever since the idea was first mooted. This illustration from 2010 shows how limited that city's ambition for cycling is. These cycle-lanes are extremely narrow. They're narrower than any real life example above. This is simply not good enough. London's progress has not been helped by campaigners actually asking for infrastructure like this. On-road lanes still feature in many of London's designs. They are still planning to build them too narrow and they're still appearing on roads with far higher traffic flows than any of the Dutch examples above. What's more, they're still being combined with poor quality junction designs such as Advanced Stop Lines, which appear even in brand new infrastructure.|
|Another example of an incredibly bad idea from London at a junction designed in 2013. The orange line shows what TfL think cyclists ought to do, while the red line shows what people in a hurry will actually do. This does not support either less confident or more confident cyclists well. Both are required to do something unreasonable and both are required to make a choice between safety or convenience. If someone is late for work, convenience is likely to win. A well designed traffic light junction would have been both safe and convenient for all modes.|
|In the past, Assen had other examples of bad design such as this: a cycle-lane in-between two car lanes. This type of design requires cyclists and drivers to swap or merge lanes at junctions and it was never safe. This junction was removed from Assen decades ago. Proven bad ideas like this should not be part of new designs for cycling infrastructure. Junctions with similar features continue to kill in those places where they are still implemented. Well informed planners should be aware of this danger and avoid it. However...|
|The dangerous situation that we got rid of in Assen decades ago is part of a new plan for Cambridge in the UK (in fact, they've actually already built junctions like this in this decade). This is just one of several criticisms that I have of these new plans.|
|Here it is again in the Christchurch New Zealand cycling design guidelines. Don't do this. Don't repeat mistakes. This is a dangerous design.|
|A similar idea as proposed for Ontario in Canada. Just one of the many problems with Ontario's new Bicycle Facilities Traffic Manual.|
|Another collection of bad design ideas, this time from Southampton, providing a false choice between efficiency and safety because even the "safe" option to make a right turn is not really safe. Cyclists are encouraged to remain on the left to reach a turning box while drivers are encouraged to turn across them to make left turns. This design has proven to be lethal. The design also includes a bus stop which maximises conflict between bikes and buses. The implementation was actually worse than the design, but the design shows remarkable ignorance of best practice|
|Update: When I was working on writing this blog post to illustrate what not to do with regard to on-road cycle lanes, Sustrans in the UK were simultaneously working on the Sustrans handbook for cycle-friendly design which promotes many of the same bad designs as I warn against. I've included here three examples of how they actually recommend bad practice, but more bad ideas can be seen in my review of their handbook. This first example shows a cycle-lane in the centre of the street. As explained above, this particularly causes conflict between cyclists and left turning cars.|
|The second example shows Sustrans recommending the old-fashioned, inconvenient and proven to be lethal two stage turn design. They describe this as an "Innovative Cycle Facility".|
|Cycle-lane widths recommended by Sustrans for new construction are very much narrower than are recommended in the Netherlands. As you'll read above, ten years ago the Dutch recommendation was already a width of 1.8-2 m with an absolutely minimum of 1.5 m. The new recommendations (detailed at the top of this blog post) require lanes to be somewhat wider in the Netherlands.|
|The route which children in Oostrum have to take to get to school. There have been crashes here between children on bikes and overtaking cars. This manoeovre is difficult to perform without error every time. Sustainably safe conditions require that people can make minor errors without resulting in injury. This is simply not adequate. It's an example of how fears that a cycle-lane can keep cyclists in the wrong position on the road to make a safe turn are realised, though the best solution is proper segregated infrastructure which makes it clear who should be where and when, not simply to delete the cycle-lane.|
|When there is snow, a cycle-lane is more difficult to clear effectively than a cycle-path (see examples of effectively swept cycle-paths). What's more, the consequences of a cycle-lane not being properly swept are more serious than they are for a cycle-path. The dirty ice and snow from the road builds up at the edge of the cycle-lane near the parked cars. This can be slippery, it can hide obstacles (kerb, litter, stones, manhole covers) and it effectively narrows the cycle-lane from the outside towards the traffic side. Note how the bicycle symbol is no longer in the middle of this lane, which is 1.9 m wide in summer time but somewhat narrower in winter due to the conditions. In the event of a fall, the cyclist could end up under a vehicle being driven on the road. Similarly, road sweeping tends to accumulate debris at the side of the road. The cycle-lane is a good place to get a puncture.|
|The same bicycle road as featured in the second main photo from the top. The two postal workers wearing yellow and heading towards the camera show up very well in the snow. However, there are also two cyclists heading in the opposite direction who have nearly disappeared. We should not rely upon people wearing special clothes in order to show up in varying weather conditions. In any case, the same clothes do not work best in all conditions. This is a safe situation only because these "cycle lanes" are not really cycle-lanes at all. It's a bicycle road on which there are almost no motorized vehicles except those which belong to residents used for access. Segregation removes the danger associated with not being seen whatever the weather conditions.|
|Another example from Ontario's lacklustre design guidelines. This treatment of a road narrowing is very dangerous. The designer left out any means of keeping cyclists from being hit by motor vehicles as they attempt to move left into the main traffic lane. This creates the same dangerous situation as does the truck in the photo above, but it does so permanently and by deliberate design. This is an example of extraordinarily bad design. I added the red line to show the route of a bicycle and the blue triangle to represent a means of forcing motor vehicles to the left where cyclists are expected to join the lane. In the Netherlands we would expect there always to be such an alignment in order that this most obvious of conflicts would be avoided. Design guidelines which include such bad advice as this are simply not worth the paper they're printed on.|
It's only substandard infrastructure which really has a cost. If it's substandard then it won't be used and that means that there is a cost but no benefit. Really good cycling infrastructure has benefits beyond its cost.
Conclusion. Paint is never enough
On-road cycle-lanes are not the best way to keep cyclists safe. They are also rarely, if ever, the best way to improve convenience for cyclists. If on-road lanes are a preferred option in your part of the world then your planners are aiming for something rather lower than the best standard possible. Aiming for a lower standard of infrastructure means aiming for a cycling modal share which is lower than the highest possible given your demography and geography. You set a ceiling on what is possible by building inadequate infrastructure.
If your infrastructure is being designed to a lower standard than that of the Netherlands, why is this so ? Are your cyclists less valuable and less important than Dutch cyclists ? Do you want fewer people to cycle than would cycle in the Netherlands ?
In the worst examples, cycle-lanes can be very unsafe. Bad junction designs greatly exacerbate this problem. It can also be worsened by bad weather, bad lighting or inadequate maintenance.
There are very few on-road cycle-lanes which can truly be categorized as "good".