Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Bike boulevards, fietsstraaten and neighbourhood greenways

The title reflects how we in North America have a wide range of terms for something that should be more clear. A freeway is understood as a 4 lane grade separated divided highway with shoulders and is the first thing that comes to mind. What does a bike boulevard mean to you? How about the term neighbourhood greenway? You will know this if you're Dutch, but to the rest of the people who aren't Dutch, what does fietsstraat mean to you? For clarity, I will use the term fietsstraat.

However what do I mean by fietsstraat? It is the Dutch word that means bicycle street. A more precise definition is where a cycle route is an on road cycleway on an access road. In the Dutch hierarchy of road classifications, access roads are the lowest classification, and has the least amount of traffic and the lowest speeds in their environments. 30 km/h in the urban areas and 60 in the rural areas. The fietsstraat as it would look from the perspective of one of its users would see a cycle path that cars just happen to be allowed at a slow pace on provided that they are local traffic that needs to be there. There is a carpet of smooth red asphalt, the actual speed of motor traffic is low, it has priority over other access roads and should connect with distributor roads in the traditional manner (although if priority is possible then this is a nice thing to have), and motor traffic volumes are very low, but cyclists outnumber cars at least 2 to one, preferably 4 to one so as to ensure that cyclists dominate the flow of traffic.

Rural fietsstraaten (yes, this is how you make it plural by Dutch grammar methods) are pretty uncommon, and in general what you might call a rural fietsstraat is created when you allow tractors or motor vehicles on an otherwise cycle exclusive path for access on that very block alone. This can be done in the urban areas too for the same reason.

There are certain things that make Dutch fietsstraaten different from bike boulevards or neighbourhood greenways or whatever else you wish to call them. One is that the Dutch pave the access road in 3.5-4.5 metres of smooth, red asphalt, sometimes with a grey textured area in the middle to discourage overtaking by cars or optically narrow the road, sometimes with bands of brick on the outer edge so as to provide extra space for motor vehicles without looking like this is what you have done. This makes it so that the access road looks visually like cycling space, not hard to imagine that you are actually riding on a normal cycle path. Sometimes the markings are even the same as those on cycle paths. This carpet of smooth red asphalt also helps in navigation. If the cycle route must take a bend as can happen in the maze like nature of access roads, then the red asphalt also makes that turn around the corner.

Fietsstraaten also have priority over side streets. In North America this is generally referred to by saying "rotating the stop signs to face the side street". While this will help the bike boulevard, it doesn't remove the problem altogether, as cyclists coming onto the cycle route will legally need to stop. There is no real lack of safety by having yield signs instead of stop signs.

There is extensive traffic calming, but mainly the things that limit speed are limited to gentle raised tables. This is because it should be an easy place to cycle and so bumps are not nice to ride over. Narrow lanes also help to enforce the 30 or 60 km/h speed limit.

These cycleways are also having one more critical difference. They are not used as a replacement to cycle tracks on the main distributor roadways. They are an addition to these cycle tracks. Fietsstraaten can also be found on service streets next to distributor roads, as these have low volume and the route would be well used by bicycle, a fietsstraat is a logical choice.

Overall, this should culminate in a design that looks like these examples (all from Mark at BicycleDutch).

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