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Segregated cycle facilities
There are various types of cycle facility and different countries use differing, often legally defined, terms to distinguish them. In essence, segregated cycle facilities fall into two categories; "Off-road" and "On-road". The term "cycle path" is sometimes used as a blanket term for any off-road device. Caution is required when approaching discussions of the topic. Some of the claims and counter-claims regarding cycle facilities might be best interpreted as competing ideological doctrines rather than established engineering truths. The use of such devices has been a source of a great deal of controversy since the 1930s and some commentators inaccurately use various terms interchangeably. In some cases this is done out of simple ignorance but in other cases this may result from deliberate attempts to confuse matters that involve serious accusations related to fatality, injury and legal culpability. Even the use of the word "facility" is controversial and is disputed.
Off Road: Cycleways/Bike trails
The term Cycleway (UK & Ireland) or Bike Trail ("Class 1 bikeway"; U.S.) is generally used to denote a roadway dedicated to cycle traffic on its own separate right-of-way. This may include a separate pedestrian zone or path. In some cases, pedestrians and cyclist traffic are expected to share the same road section. In the latter case, the term multi-user path or recreational path may sometimes be used instead.
Off Road: Cycle track/Sidepath
A Cycle track (UK & Ireland) or Sidepath (U.S.) is used to denote a footway or sidewalk type structure that has been designated for use by cyclists and is attached to an existing roadway. In the UK, the term Cycle track can also include a marked portion of a roadway for bicycle operation i.e. a Cycle lane, as well as a separated bicycle way see UK Department of Transport Legal Definition. In Ireland the legal term Cycle track also covers Cycle lanes marked on the carriageway but only if accompanied by a specific sign. The US term Sidepath does not include bike lanes.
On Road: Cycle lanes/Bike lanes
A Cycle lane (UK) or Bike lane ("Class 2 bikeway"; US) is a traffic lane marked on an existing roadway or carriageway and generally restricted to cycle traffic.
Explanatory note: Terminology
For the purpose of accurate discussion this article observes the following conventions.
- Cycleway : Road dedicated to cyclists on separate right of way.
- Cycle track/Cycle path : Sidepath/converted roadside footway type structure.
- Cycle lane : Lane marked on existing carriageway and designated for cyclist use.
At the start of the 20th century, the bicycle was well on its way to becoming a mass form of transport in North America and Europe. This created pressure to improve the existing, often poorly surfaced, roads and tracks for use by cyclists. Simultaneously concerns arose regarding conflicts between cyclists, horse traffic and pedestrians. This led to sections of routes being upgraded to provide smoother surfaces and/or separate portions for distinct groups.
One example of an early segregated cycle facility was the nine-mile, dedicated Cycle-Way that was built in 1897 to connect Pasadena, California to Los Angeles. Its right of way followed the stream bed of the Arroyo Seco and required 1,250,000 board feet (2,950 m³) of pine to construct. The roundtrip toll was US$.15 and it was lit with electic lights along its entire length. The route did not succeed, and the right of way later became the route for the Arroyo Seco Parkway, an automobile freeway opened in 1940.
Post motorisation (Pre World War II)
With the advent of the motor car, conflict arose between the increasingly powerful car lobby and the existing population of bicycle users. By the 1920s and 1930s the UK and German car lobbies initiated efforts to have cyclists removed from the roads so as to facilitate motorists and improve the convenience of motoring. In Germany, the National Socialist regime was committed to promoting the mass use of private motor cars and viewed the bicycle as an impediment to this goal. For the National Socialist authorities, the exclusion of cycle traffic from main routes was viewed as an important pre-requisite to the attainment of mass-motorisation. Accordingly, a mass program of cycle track/cycle path construction was implemented see Expansion of motorised traffic. In addition, new laws were imposed to force cyclists to use segregated cycle paths. In the UK, similar moves were initiated but ran into trenchant opposition from cycling groups. In particular the Cyclists' Touring Club organised mass meetings to reject the use of cycle tracks and any suggestion that cyclists should be forced to used such devices see 1935 mass cyclists demonstrations. The CTC was successful and the use of cycle tracks largely fell out of favour in the UK. In Germany, cyclists' organisations were outlawed. However, it is not clear if this was due to disputes over transport policy, or wider political disputes.
Post World War II
Post-war German governments chose to continue the transportation objectives of their National Socialist predecessors, hence cyclists were viewed as an impediment to motorised traffic to be excluded and restricted whenever feasible. These policies eventually resulted in Germany largely eliminating cycling as a significant form of transport. In the UK, little use of separate cycleway/cycle track systems took place except in the so-called "new towns" such as Stevenage and Milton Keynes. From the end of the 1960s in Nordic countries, the Swedish SCAFT guidelines on urban planning were highly influential and argued that non-motorised traffic must be segregated from motorised traffic wherever possible. Under the influence of SCAFT guidelines cyclists and pedestrians were essentially treated as a homogenous group to be catered for using similar facilities. The SCAFT guidelines strongly influenced cities such as Helsinki and Vasteras to build large cycle path networks. By the late 1960’s and 1970’s, with the cyclists mainly gone, many German towns actually began removing the cycle tracks so as to provide more car parking capacity. Increasing traffic congestion and the 1970s oil shocks contributed to a resurgence in cycling in some countries. However, outside of SCAFT inspired developments in Nordic countries, the use of segregated cycle facilities was mainly confined to University towns with established populations of bicycle users.
1980s and 1990s
The 1980s saw the start of experimental cycle route projects in Danish towns such as Arhus, Odense, and Herning. In addition, the 1980s saw the Netherlands begin a large program of cycle facilities construction as part of the so-called "bicycle masterplan". Following the "bicycle boom" of the early '80s, German towns also began revisiting the concept. The use of segregated cycle facilities is a central dogma of many organisations associated with the environmental movement. Accordingly, the rise of the "Green" movement in the 1990s has also been accompanied by vocal calls for the construction of "cycle networks" in many countries. This has led to various high profile "cycle network" projects examples of which can be found in Montreal, Dublin and other cities.
The safety of segregated cycle facilities
The issue of the safety of segregated cycling facilities has been one of extreme controversy since the 1930s. Since that time, the established cycling lobby has taken a critical and measured view of their utility and value. On the other hand, the proponents of segregated cycling facilities frequently proclaim them as being necessary to the provision of a "safe" cycling environment. However, in many cases their proponents have no established interest or expertise in cycling promotion and may include representatives of various interests such as the motoring/roads lobbies, traffic engineers, the environmental lobby, political parties, the health sector etc. In contrast to such claims, reviews of the international literature suggest a predominant finding associating the use of roadside urban segregated cycle paths with increases, some significant, in the rate and severity of car/bicycle collisions see Cycle Path Safety Summary of Research. The argument has two sides involving both direct and indirect safety.
The source of the direct safety problem lies in the nature of the predominant car/bicycle collision types. The majority of collisions on urban roads occur at junctions and involve conflicts between turning vehicles. Rear-end type collisions are only a major factor on arterial or interurban roads. Accident analysis suggests that there is merit in providing segregated space for cyclists on arterial routes with few junctions to minimize the number of collisions. For urban roads, with many junctions, accident analysis suggests the opposite, that segregated cycling facilities are likely to increase collisions. These conclusions are supported by the experience of countries that have implemented segregated cycling facilities. In the US1, UK2, Germany, Sweden3, Denmark4, and Finland5, it has been found that cycling on roadside urban cycle tracks/sidepaths results in significant, up to 12 fold, increases in the rate of car/bicycle collisions. At a 1991 European conference on cycling, the term Russian roulette was openly used to describe the use of roadside cycle paths.
In Helsinki, research has shown that cyclists are safer cycling on the roads mixed in with the traffic than they are using that city's 800 km of cycle paths See Finnish Research. The Berlin police reputedly came to a similar conclusion in the 1980s. In Berlin 10% of the roads have cycle paths but these produce 75% of the cycling casualties Overview of Berlin situation (in German) In the UK town of Milton Keynes it has been shown that cyclists using the "off-road" cycleway network have, on a per journey basis, a significantly higher rate of fatal car-bicycle collisions than cyclists who simply cycle on the ordinary unsegregated roads Milton Keynes Redway study. Cycle lanes / bike lanes are less dangerous than cycle paths in urban situations but even well-implemented examples have still been associated with 10% increases in casualty rates. However particular concern attaches to the use of cycle lanes in specific urban situations, especially large roundabouts. For adult cyclists, the standard safe cycling advice for handling roundabouts is to try to maintain a prominent position while circulating (Franklin 1997). The use of cycle lanes runs counter to this advice and places cyclists outside the main "zone of observation" of entering motorists; who represent the overwhelming source of risk (50% of collisions)(Layfield and Maycock 1986). In 2002, cycle lanes were removed from a roundabout in the British town of Weymouth after 20 months because the casualty rate had increased significantly (CCN 2002). German research has also indicated that cyclists are safer negotiating roundabouts within the main traffic mix rather than on separate cycle lanes or cycle paths (Schnull et al. 1992).
Rural / Arterial roads
The use of appropriately designed segregated space on arterial or interurban routes does appear to be associated with reductions in overall risk. In Ireland, the provision of hard shoulders on interurban routes in the 1970s reportedly resulted in a 50% decrease in fatal collisions. It is reported that the Danes have also found that separate cycle tracks lead to a reduction in rural collisions.
There is robust evidence that one of the main factors influencing the individual safety of cyclists is the base number of cyclists using the roads. See safety in numbers effect. Therefore it is arguable that if a segregated cycle facility does genuinely act to create a more attractive cycling environment, and actually attracts more people to cycle, then this effect should contribute to an overall increase in safety. In addition it has been shown that the health benefits of regular cycling significantly outweigh the risks due to traffic danger. Therefore, any measures that promote cycling should produce an overall societal health benefit. However given their historical purpose, a positive relationship between the use of segregated cycle facilities and increased cyclist numbers cannot be assumed.
The "safety in numbers" argument can also be used to explain the apparent success of cycle facilities in some cities. In most cases, the most prominent examples of "successful" cycle networks were implemented in towns that already had significant numbers of cyclists. It can be argued that in such cases this existing large cycling population already exerted a strong "safety in numbers" effect, which continued to operate despite their diversion onto off-road tracks. Conversely cycle-network sceptics argue, that when imposed in low cycling environments, similar measures will have a greater tendency to increase danger by attenuating whatever limited effect the existing cyclist population was exerting.
Various remedial measures have been developed in an attempt to solve the identified safety problems of segregated cycle facilities. Examples include the addition of a separate system of traffic signals for bicycle traffic. This can get extremely complex, particularly if there are already separate traffic signal phases for pedestrians, motorised traffic and public transport modes such as trams and/or buses. The need for a separate system of traffic lights also means that building a functioning, completely segregated, cycle path system is a non-trivial exercise in terms both expense and engineering effort. In addition, various road markings have been developed in an attempt to remedy the issue of increased junction collisions. Examples of these include the use of special road markings e.g. “elephants footprints” and special coloured treatments using red, green or blue coloured tarmac. Although such treatments are often proclaimed as safety "improvements" in many cases the actual intent is to restore the level of safety that existed before the marking/construction of the segregated cycle facility.
Segregated cycle facilities and transportation cycling
The use of cycle facilities as a means of promoting motoring at the expense of cyclists’ access has established historical precedent. Despite this, it has become customary for certain commentators, particularly those associated with the environmental and/or motoring lobbies, to proclaim segregated cycle facilities as the "measure of choice" for restoring cyclist access to western cities. Perhaps understandably, this is highly controversial and is a source of, occasionally quite bitter, dispute. See also cycle path debate. In contrast, in 1996 the Cyclists' Touring Club and Institute of Highways and Transportation jointly produced a set of guidelines which placed segregated cycling facilities at the bottom of any hierarchy of measures designed to promote cycling 6.
Internationally, the evidence of cyclist numbers does not appear to support claims for such an inherent cycle promotion effect. Between the late '80s and early '90s the Netherlands spent 1.5 billion guilders (the equivalent of US$945 million) on cycling infrastructure. However, this vast investment failed to produce any practical increase in cycling levels 7. In the UK, a ten year study of the effect of cycle facilities in eight UK towns and cities found no evidence that they had resulted in any diversion from other transport modes to cycling 8. Similar findings had been reported for Denmark in 1989, where it was found that cycle facilities produced no increase in cycling unless accompanied by active traffic restraint measures: a finding that immediately provokes speculation as to the primary reasons for people switching back to bicycles. In Denmark as a whole, cycling levels have stayed roughly stable with minor fluctuations since 1975, this is despite the huge cycling infrastructure that has been established in the intervening period. The Dutch experience is broadly similar. In contrast, in the late 1970s and early 1980s cycling underwent robust growth in Germany, the UK and Ireland with little or no investment in cycling infrastructure. Most recently, the construction of 320km of "Strategic cycle network" in Dublin has been accompanied by a 15% fall in commuter cycling and 40% falls in cycling by second and third level students.
Cycle facilities vs. facilitating cyclists
A key criticism made by the opponents of such schemes is that the focus is often on constructing "cycle facilities" rather than "facilitating cyclists". It is acknowledged that there are many cities that have extensive cycle networks and also high levels of cycling. However, the most prominent examples tend to be compact, often mediaeval, university cities. This common theme suggests that other underlying factors are driving the levels of cycle use. Possibly best that can be said, is that in various cities, the safety of cycling, and the number of cyclists present, will result from a complex interaction of spatial planning, population density, legislative environment, and wider traffic/transportation management policies. Within this mix, segregated cycle facilities can play either a positive or negative role, but this role will be secondary to other factors.
Cycle facilities in promoting recreational cycling
The use of separate cycleways or bike trails as a means of promoting recreational cycling is much less controversial and in Northern European countries, extensive interurban cycleway networks can be found: Denmark has had a national system of cycle routes since 1993. These may use roads dedicated to exclusively cycle traffic or minor rural roads whose use is otherwise restricted to local motor traffic and agricultural machinery. In Northern Europe, cycling tourism represents a significant proportion of overall tourist activity. The UK and US have recently implemented similar programs such as the UK's National Cycle Network. In the US, the Rails-to-Trails program seeks to convert abandoned railroad beds to recreational trails.
- Cycle tracks for the expansion of motorised traffic
- On the decline of a mass means of transport
- The 1935 mass cyclists demonstrations
- Getting rid of the Cyclists: Frank Urry and the 1938 DoT Advisory Committee
- History of Cycle Paths
- Cycle Path Safety a Summary of Research
- California's Great Cycle-Way
- Vassar Street critique - a detailed look at a sidepath design in Cambridge, Massachusetts
References and further reading
- 1 USA: Risk factors for bicycle-motor vehicle collisions at intersections, A. Wachtel and D. Lewiston, Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, pp 30-35, September, 1994.
- 2 Two decades of the Redway cycle paths of Milton Keynes, J. Franklin, Traffic Engineering and Control, pp. 393-396, July/August 1999
- 3 Sweden: "Russian Roulette" turns spotlight of criticism on cycleways, Proceedings of conference 'Sicherheit rund ums Radfahren', Vienna 1991.
- 4 Denmark: Junctions and Cyclists, S.U. Jensen, K.V. Andersen and E.D. Nielsen, Velo-city ‘97 Barcelona, Spain.
- 5 Finland: The safety effect of sight obstacles and road markings at bicycle crossings, M Rasanen and H. Summala, Traffic Engineering and Control, pp 98-101, February, 1998.
- 6 Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure: Guidelines for Planning and Design: Institution of Highways and Transportation, Cyclists Touring Club, 1996.
- 7 The autumn of the Bicycle Master Plan: after the plans, the products, Ton Welleman, Dutch Ministry of Transport, Velo-city conference Basle, 1995
- 8 Cycle Routes, Traffic Advisory Leaflet 5/95, UK Department for Transport, 1995
- Canada: Toronto bicycle commuter safety rates, L. Aultman-Hall and M.G. Kaltenecker, Accident Analysis and Prevention (31) 675–686, 1999
- Collection of Cycle Concepts, Danish Roads Directorate, 2000.
- The Bicycle: A Study of Efficiency, Usage and Safety, D.F. Moore, An Foras Forbatha Teoranta, Dublin Ireland, 1975.
- Chapter 1000 Bikeway Planning and Design, Highway Design Manual, Caltrans, California, USA, February, 2001.
- The bicycle, a study of efficiency usage and safety., D.F. Moore, An Foras Forbatha, 1975
- CCN 45 Cycle lane withdrawn after casualty rise, Cycle Campaign Network News, page 5, Issue No 45 March 2002
- Franklin J., Cyclecraft: Skilled Cycling Techniques for Adults, The Stationery Office Books, UK, 1997 ISBN : 0117020516
- Layfield R.E. and Maycock G. Pedal Cyclists at Roundabouts, Traffic Engineering and Control, June 1986
- Schnüll, R., Lange, J., Fabian, I., Kölle, M., Schütte, F., Alrutz, D., Fechtel, H.W., Stellmacher-Hein, J., Brückner, T. & Meyhöfer, H. (1992). Sicherung von Radfahrern an städtischen Knotenpunkten. Bericht zum Forschungsprojekt 8925 der Bundesanstalt für Strassenwesen BASt Nr. 262. Bundesanstalt für Strassenwesen BASt, Bergisch Gladbach.
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