Tuesday 13 April 2010

When you need a cycle path and when you don't

Mark Wagenbuur has recently uploaded several new videos, one of which shows those situations in the Netherlands where you have cycle paths vs. those where you do not:

Mark explains it all, but I think some clarification and emphasis is still needed for readers from other countries. Minor roads without separate cycle paths have a much lower level of use by motorized vehicles than you might expect. In fact, it is quite normal to not see any motor vehicles until you leave residential areas. These residential streets are in almost all cases not through roads for motor vehicles, so you'll find that the only drivers using them are those accessing properties along the roads. "Rat-running" is a phenomena which is very rare in the Netherlands because in almost all cases there is no advantage to a motorist in using minor roads. Also note that these roads have 30 km/h (18 mph) speed limits. Sometimes the speed limits are lower still, even walking pace. These are roads for locals, and for through use by cyclists.

Once you leave the confines of the residential road and are on roads which do have through traffic by motor vehicle, the design changes. Another of Mark's videos shows a quite typical layout for a road with a 50 km/h ( 30 mph ) speed limit:

And a third video shows an urban dual carriageway, still with a 50 km/h ( 30 mph ) speed limit:

In these cases you see complete segregation of cyclists from motorists. This is what is required to make for a sufficient level of subjective safety that the entire population will cycle. It's what you need if you want parents to allow their children to cycle. Cycling children grow up into cycling adults.

Note the width of the cycle paths. A minimum of 2.5 metres wide for single direction use and a minimum of 3.5 or 4 metres wide for bidirectional use. Also note the separate provision for pedestrians, because sharing space between pedestrians and cyclists never works, that cyclists get priority over road junctions, and that there is a large space between cycle paths and roads. The majority of almost any journey will be in conditions like this.

It can't be emphasized enough that such quality of infrastructure is not optional - it's required for cycling at the level at which it is seen in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is the world's top cycling nation because infrastructure like this is the norm.

These videos were all made in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch. However, they show what is typical across the whole of the country.


Anonymous said...

One thing that has really surprised me since starting to ride a bike in Portland, is how much of the automobile traffic gravitates to arterial streets.

Most of inner Portland is on a pretty strict grid layout, with larger arterial streets about every 5-6 blocks. I can ride one block off of an arterial almost all the way across the main part of the city and only see maybe 1-2 moving vehicles (parked cars are another thing), except where I have to cross another arterial street.

In general, people don't use these streets much at all, so if you ride a bike and you simply know to avoid the arterial streets, you can have a very pleasant ride almost anywhere in the city.

I think it would be great to see cycle paths like this, or at least cycle tracks separated from moving traffic by car parking on the main arterial streets so that cyclists could conveniently use these streets. Currently, obviously, only the "strong and fearless" usually venture out on them.

J.. said...


You may be right about the sidestreets not being crowded in Portland, but I think you missed the point of the first video.
I took a look at these downtown sidestreets (yay google streetview!) and I can tell you that traffic volume is not the problem there. Compare them to the Dutch residential streets shown in the video. Your sidestreets are not streets at all, they're mini highways.

What makes for a good mixed use street? Two words: Low Speed. And it's not good enough just to put up a sign that says 20mph, because if you make a street that looks like a highway and then impose that sort of speed limit, you're just going to piss off drivers and cause them to ignore it. It's human nature.

The street itself has to inform you of what kind of speeds are appropriate. The streets in the video are paved with bricks, they have short, tiny speedbumps with markings, they're narrow and deliberately twisty. There's an entire vocabulary of traffic calming measures at work. Contrast this to the Portland streets. They are wide, straight multilane tarmac strips. You complain about the parked cars, but that's just about the only good thing I can see there. Parked cars slow down moving cars and can be used as a barrier between cyclists/pedestrians and motorized traffic.

So the bad news is that cycling in downtown Portland sucks. The good news is, it's relatively easily remedied: Make the street narrower by shifting the parking bays to the middle and install cycling lanes in between the parking and the sidewalk. Get rid of the tarmac whenever possible, and install traffic calming measures. Make sure there's bicycle crossings with lights to help cross the arterial roads. That's your ticket to a 10% cycling mode share right there.

Greg Raisman said...

Thanks for this post, David. It's been a while since I've checked in. I hope life has been treating you well in Assen.

I agree with Mr. Portlandize that our urban form is quite different than many other bicycle friendly cities due to our small grid (200 foot grid).

This creates challenges and opportunities for various bikeway designs and access.

I think you may enjoy this presentation I've been giving on the subject of residential traffic calming lessons from Europe (and Canada). http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=34816&a=267721

Greg Raisman

Anonymous said...

I wasn't complaining about parked cars, I was just commenting that there are a lot of them, in contrast to moving vehicles.

In fact, not in the strict downtown area, but in many inner Portland neighborhoods, the streets are only wide enough for one vehicle to pass at a time, with the street parking. Few of them have room to allow two vehicles to pass easily (that is, they can pass, but must pass with caution) with the street parking. Also, many of the neighborhood streets are not paved with asphalt, but still have concrete, stone block or even macadam paving, which is rougher and causes slower movement. Many streets have round-abouts, speed bumps and traffic diverters as well, which also helps to make speed less of an issue.

This again is not true of the main arterial streets, and why I think it's most important to do something about bicycle travel on those streets. Yes, it would be great to move street parking out from the curb and install cycle tracks on many neighborhood streets, but given the street layout and the volume of traffic on non-arterial streets, I just simply don't think it's that high of a priority.

Crossings at major arterial streets could still use a lot of help in many places, as it can be quite difficult given the volume of traffic on those arterial streets. I sometimes have to wait upwards of 3-4 minutes to cross a main street, or ride several blocks out of the way to find a traffic signal (which is usually on a high-volume arterial street).

In the strict downtown area, I think there are a number of streets that could benefit from cycle tracks like the one installed on SW Broadway, especially as we have some decent hills in downtown, and it can be quite difficult to keep up with motor vehicle traffic in those places. It seems that the downtown area would benefit from these more than many other places.

Paul Peterson said...

Check out the 3rd video around 1:15 and catch a glimpse of the kid riding a wheelie on a Dutch bike.

David Hembrow said...

Paul: He's pretty cool, isn't he :-) Infrastructure like this keeps even the irresponsible safe. And that, of course, is exactly what is needed if you want to be able to send your kids out on bikes and have them survive. "Sensible teenager" is an oxymoron.

Anneke said...

Haha, oxymoron indeed! (is it an etymological joke that moron is part of that word?)

In any case, I have never encountered a responsible teenager, they ride three abreast, they carry five people on a bike, they do wheelies in the middle of the street... Basically, I'm glad there are bikepaths. :D