Sunday, 23 November 2014

Shared Use Paths create conflict and cause complaints about "speed"

Many countries build combined infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Wherever these shared-use (aka multi-use) paths exist, there are complaints due to the conflicts which occur. Many of the complaints are from pedestrians who find the speed of cyclists unacceptable on paths which they use for walking. This is a wholly avoidable problem.

The cyclists in the video above demonstrate well how most take extraordinary care around pedestrians. Every cyclist in the video has his or her journey made inconvenient by the presence of the pedestrians but they all slow down, even slowing so far as slowing to walking pace to climb an incline, a situation where cyclists naturally would like to keep their momentum as it requires less effort to climb without braking first.

What you see in the video is quite typical behaviour for cyclists anywhere in the world when they encounter pedestrians, but taking care in this way isn't enough to stop there being complaints. Cyclists are still likely to be regarded as a problem because their behaviour is different to that of pedestrians. Cyclists appear to invade personal space around pedestrians, to "squeeze past", to wobble and to swerve in and out. Even when taking care, their behaviour seems aggressive and unpredictable to many pedestrians. Complaints about excessive speed of cyclists on shared paths are often a result of perception by pedestrians rather than being due to cyclists riding past pedestrians at genuinely high speeds.

A short distance away from the location
in the video there is separate
infrastructure for pedestrians, but
unfortunately not yet for cyclists.
A few metres away from the bridge there are roads much like those in many countries on which motor vehicles routinely and legally travel at considerably higher speed than any cyclists in the video. Pedestrians rarely complain about excessive speed of motor vehicles on roads like this because those vehicles are driven on infrastructure segregated from pedestrians. Unless drivers leave the road and drive on the pavement (sidewalk), there is no invasion of pedestrian space and no close passing. Conflict between pedestrians and motorists is reduced by separating them.

Pedestrian zone in the centre of Assen
with a "road" for cyclists. A language
which everyone understands. This
design reduces conflict and complaints
All countries seem to understand how to build roads to cope with the speeds of motor vehicles and also how to build separate infrastructure for pedestrians to reduce conflict. The benefit of giving different and incompatible modes of transport their own space and not expecting them to share are understood widely. Why is there a blind spot when it comes to cycling infrastructure ? The aim is the same. Cyclists are neither car drivers nor pedestrians and should not be treated as if they were identical to either of these other two groups.

The only place with "sharing" in Assen
city centre is a central square. It's a
destination not a through route.
And its size .
The requirements for cycling infrastructure are not even particularly difficult to meet. Even the fastest of cyclists make their journeys at a fraction of the speed which can be reached by a car and the much lower mass combined with that speed presents a fraction of the danger of motor vehicles. Cycle-paths do not need to be so wide as roads for cars and infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels do not need to cater for such large vehicles or large weights as equivalent infrastructure for motor vehicles.

Where conflict between cyclists and pedestrians occurs, it is almost always due to cyclists being forced to use infrastructure which is not designed for them at all.

Infrastructure on which cyclists and pedestrians are expected to share equally does not properly take the requirements of either group of users into account and creates conflict situations.

The Jeremy Vine incident

A Royal Parks spokesman suggested
later that the speed limit perhaps
should not be applied to bikes
An incident this week in London gave a good example of what happens where there is a pretense that pedestrian infrastructure can also be used by bicycle. Radio presenter Jeremy Vine was stopped by police for speeding when cycling. How did he come to be stopped ? He was exceeding a speed limit of just 5 mph (8 km/h) on a path through a London park. The police saw this as a high enough priority that police officers were in the park to stop errant cyclists.

Despite considerably hype from the city, London is still a very difficult and dangerous place for cycling. Paths within parks in the city are well used by cyclists because they offer a rare opportunity for cyclists to make part of their journeys away from traffic. They also can offer relatively direct routes. Extremely low speeds might be acceptable for some cyclists making recreational trips but anyone trying to get somewhere at a speed competitive with other modes of transport needs to travel at more than jogging pace. 5 mph is much slower than a normal cycling speed. Almost anyone on a bicycle will exceed that speed without trying. It's clear that such a limit makes no sense for cyclists.

There followed some debate about whether or not the law applies in this specific case, but that's not really the point. Whether or not it's legal to cycle here at above 5 mph, there's still a problem: Infrastructure in parks in London which supposedly allows cycling is not good enough to make for safe and convenient journeys at normal cycling speeds. The shared nature of paths like this is itself a very large part of the reason why there is conflict. Police were present to stop cyclists in this park because there have been complaints in the past due to previous conflicts. Trying to impose an extremely low speed limit on one of the slowest means of transport is not a solution to the problem. What needs to happen is that proper consideration is made of why conflict occurs and action taken to improve infrastructure to the point that the conflict is reduced. In a city there will almost always be too many pedestrians and cyclists to allow them to share paths without conflict. Shared-use paths don't make sense in crowded cities.

Blaming victims of bad design
The idea that "speeding cyclists" are a problem which needs addressing is not new. Low speed limits to control cyclists are also remarkably common. Glasgow, for instance, wanted a 5 mph limit like that in London "to ensure other parks users’ safety" while allowing motor vehicles to travel at twice the speed. San Francisco discussed a 10 mph limit for cyclists crossing the Golden Gate bridge (the speed limit for motorists is higher of course), Sydney has a 10 km/h "advisory" speed limit over a bridge. Christchurch is planning for 15 km/h on "major cycleways".

Yes, the Sydney Morning Herald actually sent a reporter to check whether any cyclists crossing this bridge might perhaps exceed a 10 km/h advisory speed limit. Are drivers anywhere in Sydney expected to go so slowly ? If not, then why cyclists ? (and yes, it's that Sydney. The one where drivers apparently hate cyclists)
The video from Sydney is worth watching. Note first that the bridge really is very wide. It could easily allow for normal cycling speeds if only there was a separate area marked for cyclists to reduce conflict (this should preferably look like a road as in the Assen photo above to reduce confusion). Also note that the fastest cyclist was travelling at just 23 km/h. 23 km/h is not fast at all for a regular cyclist. It's well within the range of normal speeds for cycling, a speed which in my experience is exceeded by many Dutch people on standard town bikes when going shopping. Participants on one of our study tours earlier this year may remember following a young student in Groningen who was applying her make-up while cycling at a consistent 27 km/h on a normal upright Dutch bike. I don't actually believe that speeds above 10 km/h are considered to be high speeds in Sydney except when the people under observation are cyclists. Perhaps Sydney residents can tell me whether there is any place at all within the city where drivers of cars are expected to observe a 10 km/h speed limit on one of their main through routes.

Ignoring the real danger
Each year, there are more than 1.2 million deaths across the world due to crashes involving motor vehicles and tens of millions more people are injured. Cyclists and pedestrians are often the victims of such crashes. There are no similar figures for deaths and injuries due to cyclists because the scale of the problem is infinitesimally smaller. Despite this, it is cyclists who are emphasized as a risk. You may wonder where these attitudes come from. What type of organisations would support such a notion as that cyclists go "too fast" and cause danger when it's so clear that morgues and hospitals the world are full of the victims of motor vehicle crashes, not of bicycle crashes.

A code of conduct for cyclists consisting
almost entirely of asking the users of paths to
compensate for the problems caused by low
quality design
of those very same paths.
Sustrans. For 'cycling' but against cyclists ?
Sustrans is a British organisation which claims to be interested in "enabling people to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys" and which is behind the UK's "National Cycle Network". Unfortunately, in a scramble to be able to claim to have a large quantity of cycling facilities they long ago forgot about the importance of quality and as a result they are now in the position of defending inadequately designed shared-use paths which make up a significant proportion of their network. Many people, including myself, have criticised the inept designs of infrastructure which Sustrans still approves of, pointing out that they create conflict and danger. Sustrans' reaction to conflicts caused by the design of their infrastructure has been to publish a "code of conduct" for cyclists.

In their code of conduct, Sustrans point out themselves that their paths "aren’t suitable for high speeds" and suggest that "if you wish to travel quickly [...] this is better done on quiet roads". For all their claims about having provided a network of cycling infrastructure, they're actually admitting that this network is not suitable for cycling. All the emphasis is on cyclists being told to modify their behaviour except for just one clause each regarding dog walkers and pedestrians. When not telling cyclists to go elsewhere than to ride on the cycling infrastructure, Sustrans tell them to "slow down", "be patient" or use a "sensible speed" in order to work around the needs of other path users.

But what is a "sensible speed" for cycling ? That rather depends on one's perspective. If Sustrans were genuinely building routes for "SUStainable TRANSport" then these routes would be usable at normal cycling speeds. If Sustrans' National Cycle Network already truly met "the highest possible standards" then there would be no complaints, no reasons for Sustrans to tell cyclists to go elsewhere and no reason to impose limits.

Cyclist speeds cannot compete with motor vehicle speeds. The speed of cyclists is naturally limited by the limited power available from a human body. The highest speeds achieved by cyclists are comparable with the lowest speed limits imposed on motor vehicles. Countries which have no difficulty in building an extensive network of roads on which motor vehicles travel at 50-120 km/h shouldn't have any difficulty at all in building cycle-paths which can cope with cycling speeds which on the flat are seldom consistently above 30 km/h and peak speeds rarely above 50 km/h.

It's an absurdity for cycling infrastructure to be designed such that it is unable to cope with the relatively modest speeds which even fit cyclists achieve on their everyday journeys.

A photo chosen by Sustrans to illustrate their National Cycling
Network shows why there are problems with it. The cyclist
has to ride on the wrong side of a narrow path facing any
oncoming cyclists because the path is narrow and full of
pedestrians. Any path with that many pedestrians on it is not
a cycle-path. This pattern of usage on such a narrow path
guarantees that conflict will occur.
Sack-cloth and ashes
Sadly, Sustrans representatives have been repeatedly vocal about cyclists being "a menace that needs taming".

You might wonder how other cycling organisations in the UK reacted to an organisation which puts such a point of view and publishes a code of conflict which puts emphasis firmly on their members, fellow cyclists, as being a cause of trouble rather than pointing out that planners had done an inadequate job. Surprisingly, the answer is that many other organisations joined in. British Cycling gave its support and CTC endorsed the Sustrans code of conduct.

What's more, spokespeople from CTC and Sustrans got together to ask other cyclists to pick on an "anti-social minority", requesting that people "take action by pointing the finger" at other riders. It seems they'd all rather encourage a minor form of vigilantism and create an out-group of cyclists to blame instead of addressing head-on the problem of inadequate infrastructure which causes the conflicts to occur. It's hardly a secret that Sustrans' shared use paths are inadequate as even the photos chosen by Sustrans to illustrate their network actually demonstrate the problems with it.

With friends like this...

A meandering network
There's nothing wrong with building a network of meandering walking routes for people to enjoy by foot. But call it what it is. That's not how you create a network of convenient cycling routes which provide a realistic alternative to driving a car to make journeys. There's something very wrong indeed with pretending to have created cycling infrastructure or indeed an entire cycling network if actually cyclists are only welcome to use this network at a pace which makes cycling inconvenient.

If your cycling infrastructure can't cope with the speed of bicycles then it's simply not of high enough quality. A bridge which divides instead of connecting is not a success.

Racing cyclists, children, pensioners, we all need the same
efficient grid of go-everywhere infrastructure.
What's really required
To encourage people to cycle, cycling must be fast. It is important that cycling journeys are made efficient and safe as otherwise cycling does not compete with other modes of transport. The Sustrans representative draws false equivalences with the Netherlands and Denmark as being places where people cycle slower, but it's simply not true. No-one has time to waste on inadequate infrastructure which slows them down. There is no demographic group in this country or any other which wants their journeys to take longer than they have to and no excuse whatsoever for building infrastructure which has that result.

Infrastructure which requires cyclists and pedestrians to use the same paths can be acceptable where there will be almost no usage by one of the groups but it will always leads to conflicts in any place where numbers of users are high, especially when there are large numbers of pedestrians. Normal Dutch practice is to build cycle-paths without separate pedestrian paths between towns where distances are relatively large and there will be few pedestrians, but paths inside villages and towns should almost always have separate paths for pedestrians. This avoids the need to built a separate pedestrian path in places where there will be little if any conflict due to the low numbers of users, but also avoids conflict where we know there will be many users.

The first video was made in Norway a few weeks back but the problems demonstrated by it are are common to anywhere that cyclists and pedestrians are forced to mix.

Sadly, the main Dutch campaigning organisation has also fallen into the trap of campaigning against cyclists rather than concentrating on where real danger comes from.


Bob said...

I couldn't even get all the way through your post without first piping up here. (I'll go back and finish, I promise)
The "hype" is the thing that I find the most nauseating. The city planners/officials/whatever like to pat themselves on the back and say they've done a good job, when in fact they've only presented yet another means by which pedestrians can get annoyed at cyclists. When there really should never ever be that opportunity. Gah!

SFB said...

This is an outstanding article. All of the issues raised are the regular, if not the overwhelming subject of conversation when it comes to cycling where I live (in Princeton NJ). Bike facilities are almost non-existent, cyclists use the sidewalk, pedestrians complain, and people write letters to the paper about 'outlaw cyclists' and openly discuss the idea of somehow shaming them by an organized blame campaign. It is a debased conversation.

Of course, the reason why we have no proper bike facilities is because 'there isn't enough space' . I suspect this is the 'reason' for inadequate facilities in the UK too.

On the other hand, do you think there is ever sense in mixing pedestrians and cyclists? Like in a 'shared-space'-type concept?

David James said...


This is not far from where I live and it has only been "live" for a few weeks at the very tail of the regular cycling season. It isn't a multiuse path in the absolute sense, but I think it's getting close from a practical point of view. What it is is a segregated cycle track that's flush to the adjacent sidewalk:

Dutch Design in the Nation’s Capital: Churchill Ave, Ottawa

The author is claiming it as "Dutch design", which I somewhat question, but since he's Dutch himself I'm not exactly in a position to dispute it. What do you think? And let's just ignore the traffic signal issue for the time being since it is wrapped up in disputes about provincial traffic legislation over which the city has no control (i.e. it's a deficiency but not one that the designers could do anything much about).

I frequently see pedestrians using the entire flush surface, which seems a recipe for the same confrontations we get on multiuse paths. From my unfortunately brief recollection of Dutch cycling infrastructure (and from Google Streetview tours), Dutch cycling facilities are generally at the same level as the roads.

One final point is that no rationale for this particular design of raising a separated bike lane to the sidewalk was ever provided in public, but it now seems to be Ottawa's de facto standard for future separated bike lanes.

David Hembrow said...

Hi David, thanks for sending that link. I also have doubts about how "Dutch" it is. The side-road crossing design has all the same faults as a similarly flawed one which I saw in Norway and I expect it will have the same dangerous result. In particular, the corner radii are simply far too large, encouraging drivers to enter the side-road at far too high a speed. Also the set-back from the road is almost non-existent in your example (i.e. not like this one). Your path also looks extremely narrow. It should be over 2 m wide for single direction use as otherwise it's difficult ever to overtake another cyclist.

Oh, and at the traffic lights (I know you said to ignore that) it's especially lethal, requiring drivers to behave perfectly in order that cyclists don't die. That's not really the Dutch way of doing things.

Cycle-paths in the Netherlands are not "generally at the same level as the roads", actually this varies. They're sometimes the same level as the sidewalk like your example. I don't think this is a particularly important point, they can be made safe at either level.

The colour difference is at least quite obvious, and pedestrians may learn not to walk on the cycle part of the path, but if the path isn't wide enough for pedestrians to walk next to each other (or for cyclists to ride next to each other) then you're going to have conflict.

As you know, I criticised the Ontario design standards a while back. This sort of looks like an improvement, but looking at the results I can't help but think they've sought out the wrong type of Dutch "expert" to help them.

David James said...

The setback varies a bit depending on which side of the street has the onstreet parking. We don't have parking "bays" like in the Netherlands due to snow clearing considerations so some of what you're seeing is actually onstreet parking - indeed snow clearing considerations (and fire truck design) result in a lot of street design features being passed over and the imposition of elements like large turn radii.

According to the design documents, where there is parking, there's a 1.0 m road-bike lane separation and where there isn't it's a 1.95 m separation. The bike lanes are 1.5 m, the sidewalks 1.8 m. The travel lanes are 3.5 m (pretty typical for streets with designated bus routes). There's also a 2.4 m parking bay in the cross section on one side, which space is also used for bus platforms. The remaining metre or so in the 20 m cross section is used for retaining walls, fire hydrants and hydro poles.

Sidewalk width becomes an issue when there are more than two pedestrians walking together, which mainly happens when school children are walking home.

So the only real way to increase bike lane and sidewalk widths to 2.0 and 2.5 m, respectively, is to remove the 2.4 m parking bay. Once that is done, there is no room left to increase the separation from the road. As it is, parking has already been removed from one side.

On traffic signals, that may change soon. The Province is coming under heavy pressure from the cities to update its rules, and establishing "facts on the ground" like this is part of that pressure. Still, they could have employed standard-sized regular traffic signals on an interim basis, strange as it would look.

Terry said...

I'd suggest sending all the shared space advocates to visit a "shared space zoo" where there are no cages and everything's running about free, let's see how well that works.
There's a reason why they don't put mice in the same enclosure as big snakes and it's the same reason why cycling on the road is horrible and why shared use paths should be forgotten. Segregated infrastructure works better, is a pleasure to use and isn't expensive.

David Hembrow said...

SFB: Sorry I overlooked your question. I don't think there is any good reason to consider 'shred space'. The safety record of these places is atrocious and they disenfranchise the vulnerable. Quite unaccetable. Don't cnfuse shared spacewith the much older and more successful autoluwe concept.

David Hembrow said...

David: The huge corner radii are th most obviously bad detail. Cars and bikes don't cross at anything like 90° and this will make it difficult for drivers to see cyclists at the same time as encouraging them to keep up an overly high speed though the corner.

1.5 metres is far too narrow. I can't think of any cycle-path near here which is so narrow, even relics from the 1980s are wider than that.

It's quite common in NL for road lanes to be 3 m wide (buses still fit) and for parking bays to be narrower than yours as well. So there is enough space there.

charlie_lcc said...

Hi, the path through Hyde Park where Jeremy Vine was stopped by police is a segregated cycle path. It is very crowded and peak hour flows are well over 1000 cyclists an hour. Campaign groups have lobbied for cycling to be allowed on more paths and for safe junctions allowing easier access to the roads where cyclists can easily cycle as fast as they like.

The segregated path causes problems by encouraging cyclists to go too fast, speeds of 25-30kph are not uncommon. Under English law there is no method of ensuring pedestrians don't walk on the cycle side of the path and as the Royal Parks cyclist code of practice says: pedestrians have priority. The police action was in response to children being injured by reckless cycling on this path. It would work much better as an un-segregated path, similar to the route through Vondelpark in Amsterdam Perhaps a 20kph speed limit would help. Speedy cyclists should be encouraged onto the parallel roads by better provision there.

David Hembrow said...

Charlie: If you think there's no separate provision for pedestrians in Vondelpark you really should go and take a closer look. Paths there are wide and suitable for far higher speeds than 5 mph by bicycle.

The problem in Hyde Park is inadequate provision for everyone. Cyclists and pedestrians alike are squashed onto a path which is far too narrow and has "segregation" by means of nothing but paint. It's rubbish.

I'm rather disappointed to find that on behalf of LCC you're joining in with the sack cloth and ashes approach, blaming cyclists and suggesting that they should be elsewhere. Cyclists don't need "friends" like this.

charlie_lcc said...

David, thank you for your kind words.
My experience of cycling in Vondelpark is that most pedestrians and cyclists comfortably share the tarmac paths for getting around. If the pedestrians are meant to only use the gravel paths they happily ignore that advice much of the time.
I think my views on Hyde Park are closer to yours than you imagine. The current system doesn't work, I am not proposing that cyclists go elsewhere rather that they be allowed to go everywhere. The path by Rotten Row then could be returned to shared use to encourage comfortable sharing as in Vondelpark.
Pyrmont Bridge is an interesting example, in the morning rush hour some segregation on the bridge would be better for cyclists and commuting pedestrians. In terms of access and exit the north side of the bridge would be better. During the day, the evening peak and at weekends the bridge becomes a massive tourist/leisure location, most of the pedestrians preferring to be on the north side with views over the harbour. It is difficult to reconcile both situations so the current layout might be the best compromise. As signed cyclists are directed to give way to pedestrians, which is good but the 10kph speed limit is far too low and likely to lead to indiscriminate enforcement.
Happily after the police fiasco in Hyde Park last month we were able to establish that the 5mph (8kph) speed limit is not applicable to cyclists and should not be enforced.

Paul said...

hi there,

Thank you very much for your blog - it's very impressive! I was wondering if you could help me - I'm trying to understand whether cycling's modal share has plateaued (sp?) in NL or if it's continuing to increase. Are there any english-language sources that cover this? I've had a scan through some of the sources you link to, but couldn't track it down.

many thanks,


David Hembrow said...

Paul, there is little if any published research on this. However, policy in the Netherlands now is nowhere near so friendly towards bicycles as it was 10-15 years ago. I think the Netherlands has peaked. Sadly, the country has started to substitute marketing and BS for actual engineering where cycling is concerned.

Andrew K said...

Same rubbish about 'dangerous' cycling on shared use paths in Australia:


Restlesstablet123 said...

It is a criminal offence in England to recklessly or intentionally interferes with the safety of a person. Does this mean that we could make a citizens arrest on the DfT and TFL bosses who tell their engineers not to add cycle infrastructure because the excuses they make don't add up, cost, road width, congestion causing, confusing, etc, and because they haven't cared enough about the consequences of this on people? And present the list of excuses you wrote up, and the emails and designs made by people like Maidstoneonbike, Rantyhighwayman, Schrodingers Cat, even you David, to show that they could not claim ignorance because the information is easily out there and even a weekend in the Netherlands would be enough to see how it worked, and TFL isn't a poor organization nor is the DfT and you've even offered a tour for free to Boris or his engineers, or both.

Restlesstablet123 said...

What do the Dutch call the pathways in rural and exurb areas where pedestrian volumes are very low and the pedestrians walk where the bicycles do, and if there is a bicycle path next to the road, designed of course like a bikeway, continuity at junctions, priority over minor side roads, smooth, wide, subject to bicycle signals not pedestrian green mans, what is that called to a Dutch eye? Shared use paths almost seem the correct thing in English, but it feels wrong because it feels like shared use means that cyclists become pedestrians at junctions, they have to dismount for the most minor of obstacles, and being very narrow, and located where pedestrian and bicycle volumes would be high.

David Hembrow said...

Cycle-paths in the countryside on which you have to walk because there is no separate provision for pedestrians are called cycle-paths. This is exactly analogous to how roads in parts of the countryside where there is neither a cycle-path or a pedestrian path are called roads. I explained this a year ago.