When it comes to cycleways and talk of how we fit them into the urban landscape when we have busy multi-functional roads, it’s common for people not to be able to imagine how it can be done. And it’s not for want of trying but for the simple fact that we’re not very good at doing it in the UK due to being too single minded and not looking at the bigger picture so we don’t have much practical knowledge to draw upon.
Cycleways are often looked on as either an afterthought to be squeezed into a design as a box ticking exercise or as an individual addition to an existing streetscape. This always leads to a poor implementation as the cycleway conflicts with the other requirements of the space.
Instead, cycle provision needs to be an integral part of the design, but not just for the sake of cyclists, but as a benefit for all users of the space. Let’s look at how.
Above is a typical (if highly stylised) urban road layout. We have a main through route running north/south on the left hand side and a local residential street on the right. Running east/west, again we have a residential street at the top and a main through route to the south.
We might assume that since this is an urban environment, the through routes act out a multitude of purposes; as a busy through road, a bus route, a shopping street. Since the first rule of Sustainable Safety is to have mono-functional roads, we’re obviously in for a tough time of things. There’s a number of options depending on the lay of the land and budget.
Ideally we’d move the through traffic to somewhere else via a by-pass. By-passes have a bit of a bad name for themselves, but being pragmatic, if we have traffic that isn’t going to magically go away, moving it away from people into it’s own dedicated space is a good idea. The key is to not add the by-pass to increase capacity, it must just move the through traffic out of the way, so traffic reduction techniques must also be used on the old street we are trying to free up.
If a by-pass is not an option, then we can try to move the other uses of the street, for example by encouraging shopping on a parallel street by improving it’s environment.
Realistically, in dense urban areas at least, these options will not be realistic, so we’ll have to deal with the multi-functional nature of the street as it is the best way we can which will mean some compromises. The best compromise would be to remove any on-street parking so as to free up space for pedestrians and cycles and provide convenient off-street parking.
Let’s presume we’ve found a way to fix (or at least compromise on) those problems.
So here we have added cycleways to our main routes, pretty simple standard things, at least for the Dutch.
Where the two main roads meet, we introduce a standard traffic controlled junction with separated cycle and pedestrian provision.
Moving away from the main junction, the introduction of the cycleways introduce the need for a treatment where they cross side roads. The CROW manual gives us two options, depending on the volume of traffic and the space available.
We either move the cycleway away from the roadway at the junction so as to create a buffer space for turning motor vehicles and to add give way road markings. Or we move the cycleway closer to the roadway so that sight-lines are improved and the cycleway in effect becomes a curb separated cycle lane.
So far we’ve just looked purely at adding cycleways to the main through routes, but we can do better. If we think beyond this, we can improve the local area for all users.
First off, we’ve adjusted the residential access junctions to improve its gateway function. Gateways are borders between road types that act as an indicator that the user is moving from one road type to another, they should slow traffic right down via calming measures such as steep gradient changes and surface texture and colour.
This example above is common in the Netherlands, it continues the pavement across the gateway, giving a zero radius to the junction as well as a steep vertical deflection and a stark visual impression that pedestrians have priority and that motor vehicles are entering a different type of road. The Ranty Highwayman recently looked at such set-ups and whether they could be implemented in the UK (spoiler alert - the answer is yes).
Secondly, we’ve also closed off our second residential area entrance on our east/west through road.
A problem with the original street layout is that as soon as the main north/south road gets busy and congested, the residential road will be used as a rat-run to relieve the through route. Something which will be a detriment to all other users of these streets, something which the streets were not designed for, and something which we should try to stop.
The best way to do this is to simply close off the area to the possibility of through traffic either by closing off roads completely or by clever use of one-way streets (in either case pedestrians and bicycles should be able to continue to use the road).
This also has secondary advantage. Conflicts on our roads occur not on the straight bits but at the bits in between, the junctions. So junctions should be where we concentrate on safety, Sustainable Safety says a good way is to ensure that when vehicles of differing masses meet, the difference in momentum is kept to a minimum by keeping speeds low, by separating vehicles in time or space (traffic lights vs bridges and tunnels), or by removing the junction all together.
So the less junctions we have, or at least, the less junctions on roads with high speeds (anything over 20mph is considered high speed when talking about pedestrians and cycles), the safer our overall system will be. By removing a junction that is replicated elsewhere, we not only stop rat-running between these two junctions, but also make the road that contains the junction safer for all while encouraging walking and cycling by making those modes more attractive with shorter distances.
In conclusion, what I guess I’m trying to say is that it’s not just a case of chucking in some cycleways and hoping they work (and giving up when they get complicated), the whole local area needs to be looked at as a complete network as simple network changes can have big positive impacts on how people can use the available space.