Sunday, 27 March 2016

Cycle lanes

Cycle lanes are something often used in North America to try to encourage cycling. I say try because it's not working well. But the Dutch have several thousand kilometres of cycle lanes and yet they have lots of cyclists. So what do they do differently?

The width of the cycle lanes is a factor. Their cycle lanes are usually wider than ours. We sometimes have 1.2 metre wide cycle lanes in some areas, although 1.5 metre wide cycle lanes are also common, and in Edmonton, is the minimum width. 1.8 metre wide cycle lanes are getting more popular, and is the standard width for new implementations in Edmonton. 2.1 metre wide cycle lanes are sometimes prescribed depending on what is needed for comfort and how busy a cycle lane might be. We can also add a painted buffer, between .5 metres and 1.5 metres, and we can add this buffer between the parking lane and cycle lane if there is parking, between the motor vehicle lanes and cycle lanes, or both if there is parking.

They used to prescribe 1.5 metre wide minimums for bicycle lanes. Now that minimum has increased to 1.75 metres. The standard width is 2 metres, although some 2.1-2.5 metre wide cycle lanes exist. It should be normal to provide a .5 metre wide painted buffer (or possibly textured buffer) when possible, and a buffer between the parking lane if present should be used so as to prevent dooring.

We are able to colour our cycle lanes. In North America usually we pick green, and in the US this is required by their manual on uniform traffic control devices. The UK has a variety, some reds, some greens, some more bright than others. Not very uniform. in the Netherlands, they use red, consistently. In fact, modern guidance says that it is required on cycle lanes and where cycle paths cross roads, and many cycle paths use it for midblock sections as well. We tend to use paint or thermoplastic for the colouring, and generally apply it, if we even do, at intersections, either when crossing a right turn lane, a bike box (ASL), or a two stage queuing box, sometimes at the intersection crossing.

The Dutch when colouring their cycle lanes, do so by dying the asphalt. Red works with black asphalt because red is the only colour that works with non clear base asphalt. This dyed asphalt approach makes it much longer lasting, and also this approach is not too expensive, and by doing it once every time the surface needs repairing as opposed to once every few years that we usually need to do with our methods.

Parking next to the cycle lanes is avoided near commercial parking zones, due to the higher frequency that people will cross the bike lane to park or get back into the traffic, and more door openings and closings. Cycle lanes also are not used on roads where there is more than 1 lane in each direction, as this would mean a much busier road, and would be unsuitable. Beyond 50 km/h, cycle lanes are also unsuitable.

Sometimes you will see combinations of cycle lanes where they make up combined around half of the road and a single lane width black asphalt stripe between the two cycle lanes. These are traffic calming elements, used on access roads that are busier but don't need cycle paths.  They also help in encouraging a safe passing speed.

Cycle lanes are also supposed to be bypassed with the normal bus stop bypass method, this ensures that buses do not cause a conflict. Intersections also ensure that the cycle lanes are continuous across the junction. Much of the time here, our cycle lanes end, either in a right turn lane with sharrows if you're lucky or just disappear. Sometimes you might get a right turn lane design where the cycle lane has priority to cross into a cycle lane to the left of the right turn lane, sometimes you get a bike box. The Dutch would simply continue the cycle lane across the junction along with some elephants feet markings and make the side street into an access road gateway if the side street is a gateway, otherwise transition the cycle lanes into separate paths at distributor road-distributor road junctions, using roundabouts, sign control, the protected intersection or simultaneous green design.

A big difference that makes their cycle lanes work is that they are much less common than cycle paths, about 6-7 times as many kilometres of cycle paths as compared with cycle lanes. They are not considered the desirable option for a distributor road, even relatively low volume ones. We consider cycle tracks at volumes above 10k vehicles per day. They have a far lower threshold. Many cycle lanes are being redesigned as separate cycle paths. A few old distributor roads without any cycle provisions get cycle lanes, like what a suburb in Utrecht a few years ago got.

They do have an interesting design called the advisory cycle lane, well, advisory in the sense that cars are not prohibited from using it if it is needed for the vehicle to proceed and after checking such lane for cycle traffic first, and after yielding to them, you can enter the cycle lane. This allows their use on some narrower distributor roads where otherwise cycle provisions could not be created.

Also know that their network is much more dense than ours, and they have extensive 30 km/h zones to link up with cycle lanes, and many cycle paths as well to connect larger roads. This makes that you will be able to get from the cycle lanes to your intended destination without any gaps.

Their cycle lanes are much more comfortable to use (when properly designed) than ours are for the reasons listed above. But even the Dutch consider most cycle lanes old fashioned. And they do what they can to use cycle lanes only as a last resort. This I think makes the key difference in design between the Dutch and us. Why not  use their cycle lane design manuals for the few places where we do need cycle lanes?

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