On-street parking and cycle tracks are not incompatible; in fact, quite the opposite. Parked cars – where on-street parking is necessary, and/or allowed – actually provide a useful barrier between the cycle track and moving traffic.
Take this example from Utrecht.
The wide cycle tracks run outside of the parked vehicles. This is subjectively safer (it feels much calmer cycling along with what amounts to a barrier between you and passing vehicles) but also objectively safer – the risk of ‘dooring’, when drivers open their car doors without looking, is decreased, for a number of reasons.
- The cycle track passes on the passenger side of the vehicles, where the doors are less likely to be opened.
- Cyclists will tend to be on the far side of the track, nearer the pavement – a safe distance away from any opening car doors (note also a separate kerbing strip).
- If, heaven forbid, a cyclist might be hit by a car door, the collision will be in the relatively safe area of the cycle track and the pavement. The cyclist will not be propelled out into the road where they risk being further struck by passing vehicles.
Could this arrangement be used in the UK? Of course. Biltstraat is no wider than a typical UK street. The space for the cycle tracks has come at the expense of needlessly wide vehicle lanes. On Biltstraat, the lanes are still wide enough to accommodate two buses or HGVs passing each other.
Compare Biltstraat, again, with (for example) Kentish Town High Street.
The essential difference is the width of the carriageway in Kentish Town, vastly wider than on Biltstraat. Move the parked cars seen on the right of the picture out, narrow the carriageway, and you have space for wide cycle tracks on both sides of the street, with the added bonus of the calming effect on traffic speeds from slender vehicle lanes (Biltstraat has a 30 km/h (18 mph) limit, but this is, to an extent, self-reinforcing due to the narrowness of the carriageway). The cyclist seen in the picture above would no longer be trundling along between parked cars and overtaking vehicles.
Here’s what cycling on Biltstraat is like.
Peaceful and calm, and isolated from the large vehicles passing on the street itself.
There are plenty of other streets in North London which could have the same treatment. To pick a few –
And outside of London, a couple of examples from Horsham.
Converting these streets in this fashion would obviously be a major operation, and would cost money. What is essential, therefore, is that when streets are redesigned and ‘improved’, the design is right. If cycle tracks and associated cycling infrastructure is put in as part of those redesigns, there is zero extra effective cost. We need to get things right on Leith Walk in Edinburgh, where £5.5 million is being spent redesigning the street (a very wide street), but, at the moment, without any apparent concession for cycling.
Interestingly enough, there are proposals for a redesign of several areas of Horsham, one of those areas being Albion Way – a major dual carriageway carrying traffic through the centre of town.
The consultation document [9mb pdf] suggests converting this thoroughfare into a single carriageway road, with cycle tracks protected by parking, on the continental model.
This is very promising, and I hope that any redevelopment in the future doesn’t ignore these recommendations.
Obviously there is an enormous amount of width to play with on this particular road in Horsham, but the principle of using on-street parking, as and where it exists, to keep cycle tracks separated from passing traffic is a sound one. On-street parking is obviously not necessary for safely designed cycle tracks; you can separate in other ways. But there is no inevitable conflict between on-street parking and cycle tracks, provided they are arranged correctly, and the street width is allocated properly.
These kind of lanes were present when I used to cycle from London to Uxbridge as part of my commute. In this case, they didn’t work as there was a lack of differentiation between pedestrian footpaths and cycle lanes.
Cycle lanes would go between bus shelters and the road, meaning that there could be a big surge of people moving across the bike lanes with no notice – the cyclist is facing the wrong way to see the bus. The Uxbridge road is a busy thoroughfare with buses every few minutes, so this comes into play more than you would at first think on many roads.
Also, pedestrians naturally sprawl out across the space they have available. A cyclist might turn a corner and have no room for manouvre.
For cycle commuters travelling more than 10 miles, the name of the game is efficiency. Slowing to a crawl or higher risks of hurting pedestrians means that fewer people would see cycling to work as a viable option.
I believe that bikes should be allowed their space on the road, and not the pavement. Ample provision and demarcation on the road for bikes is good, encouraging, safer. Vehicular traffic needs to treat bikes like they belong on the road, and pedestrians too need to feel safe on the pavement.
However, on the road, car doors are still a problem. Unless you live in certain parts of Portugal… When cycling there, I was impressed to see car parking spaces in the centre of carriageways, with walkways to the nearest crossings. Car doors were no longer a worry, and a kerb without hazards means less swerving and a better use of space.
To me, the dangerous part is the red box for cyclists in front of the other road users at traffic lights. I hear of cyclists killed or injured when next to a lorry turning left at the lights. However, when the lights are red, cyclists are encouraged to move to the front of the junction. When the lights quickly change, sometimes there can be little room for manouvre. I prefer to stay in the column of traffic, keeping to the left if turning left, and waiting in the centre of the lane if going straight on or turning right.
But will VC create mass cycling as we see in the Netherlands? Answer: it hasn’t, and it won’t. Just because the cycle path you used had flaws doesn’t mean the whole Dutch concept is broken.
Quite by chance, I’m on holiday in the Netherlands right now, staying in Utrecht in a hotel just off Biltstraat. I rode up and down it last night and I’ll do so again today, rather than mix with the cars on the main carriageway. This is because I am one of the vast majority of people who want to ride a bike to get from A to B, whereas VC appeals only to a tiny minority of people who are prepared to ride on roads designed for fast-moving motor vehicles.
Last night I saw young children and elderly people, families, women and men of all ages and abilities using the cycle path on Biltstraat, which surely proves that it’s the right way to get people riding bikes.
When done right, cycle tracks are fast, too — Biltstraat has at least one point where motor vehicles are held at red while cycles proceed straight on (no traffic light for bikes there at all, in fact). I’ve been constantly amazed at how far you can cycle in cities here without stopping — it’s very easy to cover so much ground quickly thanks to the well-designed cycle facilities.
The sooner the UK starts considering bikes as a separate and important mode of transport, the better. It’s the only proven way to get more people cycling.
Now, I’m going out on my bike into a safe, calm environment where I know I won’t be threatened by lorries or hassled by taxis — and hundreds of thousands of other people will be doing the same thing around me, too. Who could argue against that?
The differentiation and width are obviously very important components of a successful cycle track, and pavement. What you are describing, on your commute, sounds to me like a rather poor cycle track. If pedestrians are crossing it in numbers from bus stops, it’s in the wrong place. If pedestrians are spilling out onto it, the pavement is too narrow.
Whether a cycle track is ‘on the road’ or ‘on the pavement’ is really a matter of semantics, if the cycle track is designed and built to the correct standards, with proper separation from motor vehicles, and clarity between pedestrian and cycling areas, of sufficient width. If you are having to slow to avoid pedestrians – outside of the very central areas of a city or town, where pedestrian movements are naturally high – something is not right.
The video is somewhat unrepresentative, being on a street close to the centre of the city. Cycle tracks on a long commute of around 10 miles will, for the most part, be much wider. The radial cycle tracks in and out of Utrecht were, in my experience, much more like roads for bikes. Take a look at the video and pictures in this post.
Certainly the idea has merit but I would have a couple of concerns which relate to cycle paths situated like this rather than the parking specifically.
Conveniently there are very few pedestrians and very few junctions in the Biltstraat video. In the UK I could imagine problems with both, as illustrated on this route I often use: http://goo.gl/maps/Mpckw
Pedestrians: Despite the wide pavement people generally walk on the cycle lane/path. There are no kerbs on the cycle path and maybe they could help – I’d love to know for sure. Also, maybe increased numbers of cyclists would improve things but you can’t rely on that. Personally I’d rather risk hitting an errant pedestrian than being hit by a car (or a car door), but it is annoying.
Junctions: Of course the road I’ve linked to doesn’t have parking, so maybe it’s a bad example, but this junction is a pain – the cycle lane is just far back enough for it to be awkward – and I think that, unless the priority was clearly changed, parked cars would only make things worse.
On this route, a lot of people just ignore the off-road on-pavement cycle path and ride on the road, probably because of the pedestrians and the awkward junction. It’s maybe 50/50.
That looks like a very poorly designed track. One of the principal problems seems to be that the cycle track and the pavement are the wrong way round. Pedestrians prefer to walk further away from motor vehicles; from what I can see, that probably explains why they are walking on the track. It’s more pleasant to walk there. The cycle track should be next to the road, and the pavement against the buildings – a more ‘natural’ arrangement.
Further problems – the cycle track, beyond the paint, doesn’t look sufficiently different from a pavement. And finally, the lack of priority across the side roads means the cycle tracks aren’t all that appealing, compared to cycling in the road – hence few cyclists on the track, and no ‘presence’ means people are happier to walk there. At a guess!
I’ve cycled on very busy streets, both with pedestrians and cyclists, in Dutch cities, and there just aren’t these kinds of problems. Partly that’s probably because bicycles are a lot more prevalent, but most likely it’s because the tracks and the pavements are designed properly, and aren’t a half-arsed compromise.
This seems mostly right, but you don’t mention “pedestrian” once and pedestrian provision is only seen in that concept — and those pavements in Utrecht seem a little narrow if indeed it is a shopping street. It would not be completely surprising if someone misinterpreted this and took space away from pedestrians.
I assume that this 30km/h street is not a “mixing street” because it is a through route.
I spent – in total – seven days in Utrecht last year, in two trips, and I only cycled on one of those days (the day the video was taken). The rest of the time, I was a pedestrian. I didn’t really have any problems at all with walking about. Indeed, it’s probably the best place I’ve ever experienced, for the sheer pleasure of walking about.
In some places, the pavements are narrow, usually because of parked bicycles, but it’s not really a problem to walk in the cycle track. Bear in mind that cycle tracks in the Netherlands are used by mobility scooters; their use is acceptable for walkers. There’s not really a concept of ‘being in the way’ in the Netherlands. People are far more relaxed about getting from A to B.
Biltstraat is not a through-route in the proper sense – IIRC, there’s only entry on to it for private motor vehicles from one direction, despite it being a radial route into the city. But buses do use the road, which makes separation essential.
Important that the pedestrian pathway is uncluttered & good quality though – in your pic 2 of Biltstraat above the pavement seems blocked by parked mopeds which won’t help. Also in UK there is this thing about putting textured paving strips across the pedestrian lane to encourage wheeled transport onto the cycle lane which tends mostly to encourage buggies, wheelchairs, high heels… all onto the cycle lane as this is easier for them.
Pedestrian straying onto the bike lane can also be affected by colour – its good to highlight the difference between the two lanes, but small children and many adults are just drawn to walking on the brightly coloured lane – a problem on Brighton seafront in particular, both for cyclist and parents of small ones…(not sure of the best solution for this) So yes – that type of arrangement can work but a good pedestrian environment, good surface and management of obstructions is as important as quality of route for cyclists.
I agree with all of that. The design has to be right. An important part of the clarity is not just a different colour, but a different level. Dutch cycle tracks are (generally) not at the same level as pavements.
I did find parts of the pavements on Biltstraat, and other streets nearby, quite cluttered and narrow, especially outside supermarkets, where there were lots of parked bikes. But like I said in the comment above, there’s no problem with walking in cycle tracks to get around obstructions. You won’t be ‘in the way’.
See also Drayton Park in North London (http://www.icag.org.uk/2012/connect2-drayton-park/) a road with ample space for high quality cycle lanes of the type you describe above. This street soon will be redesigned. If the plans are anything to go by, the opportunity to create a decent environment for walking and cycling will be lost.
Good post and good comparisons. What amazes me is just how similar so many Dutch and English streets are – width, architecture, etc.
Yes, the Kentish Town Road solution has been suggested before, and is indeed a no-brainer. This would extend the very successful “Somers Town Route” that runs from Bloomsbury, where it intersects with the Bloomsbury segregated cycle route, via filtered permeability roads in Somers Town and the Royal College Street segregated cycle track. The conceptual problem with extending this further north has always been getting it through the gyratory system of Royal College Street, St Pancras Way, and Randolph Street, and then the junction with Kentish town Road. There would need to be at that point a transition from the two way cycle track on Royal College Street to two one-way tracks on Kentish town Road. Alternatively, perhaps better, this transition could be effected further south by taking northbound cyclists up a track on Royal College Street beyond Georiana Street, and southbound on a track on St Pancras Way, extending the existing segregated track there northwards. In either case, some careful separation of cycle and motor flows using signalling would be necessary. But the huge advantage is that it would all be just extension of existing infrastructure in a similar pattern, that has already been proven to work for cycling in this area since 2000.
Those correspondents who comment on the “pedestrian interaction problem” are obviously not aware that the “problem” is fully solved not only in the Netherlands, but already in the existing Camden segregated cycle tracks. I’ll point again to my year-old blogpost on these. Copying Dutch designs and doing the job (reasonably) well allowed Camden to avoid all such problems. This works in two ways. Firstly, if the differentiation between track and pavement is absolutely clear, and pedestrians have adequate space of their own, pedestrians will not want to walk on the track, and secondly, if the track and whole cycle route is well-planned, large numbers of cyclists will use it, and this will make it even more obvious to pedestrians that it is not where they should be (just as pedestrians don’t randomly wonder on to busy roads).
If the problem is “fully solved” in the Netherlands, why is the pedestrian lane (pavement) in the photo from Biltstraat which you use as illustration blocked by parked mopeds and advertising boards, and where will the pedestrians go at this point if not into the cycle lane? Unless this detail of real life management and enforcement is resolved to provide a high quality pedestrian environment also then the usefulness of the cycle lane and pavement will be compromised.
It doesn’t look completely blocked to me. It is partially blocked, but to a similar extent that pavements in the UK where we have no cycle tracks are routinely blocked by such obstructions. Where they are, pedestrians may have to walk into the road, and then they may obstruct cyclists cycling in the carriageway UK-style to the left of the motor vehicle flow. So this problem occurs anyway. Enforcing pavements is a separate issue from construction of cycle tracks.
Pedestrians ARE cyclists in the Netherlands. This is one major challenge to the bloggers and campaigners – to have that mindset take root in the UK – instead of this endless (and useless) tribal bickering.
@AsEasyAs… love the Biltstraat/Kentish Town High St juxtaposition.
See the comments by Koen and Piet van der Fiets. Obstruction of pavements (which is actually quite rare) is not so important because cycling basically replaces walking for short urban trips in the Netherlands. Obviously this is going to be a hard sell in the UK, where short urban trips are mostly made on foot. It’s going to require a conceptual shift.
(The other point, as I’ve made above, is that it is fine to walk in cycle tracks, for short periods, to get around obstructions. The tracks are wide enough to accommodate people walking, and people passing them on bicycles. I got in the habit of using the cycle track as an extension of the pavement, when I had to, albeit a bit of the pavement where I should expect bicycles).
Over the last few months I’ve come to a sea change in my views on vehicular cycling vis-a-vis Dutch-style cycling infrastructure. Originally my opinion was largely coloured by the piecemeal shambles which passes for cycle infrastructure in the UK, where one is constantly running the risk of punctures; collisions with pedestrians; and cycle paths and lanes which frustratingly peter out after a couple of hundred yards (if your’re lucky). Small wonder then, that many cyclists see segregated cycling infrastructure as beyond the pale. However, blogs such as this one have convinced me that, when correctly implemented, the Dutch solution is vastly preferable to the status quo in the UK, and the only way to convince the great British public to take up bicycling en masse.
Nevertheless, in order to get this utopian vision adopted by our blinkered and intransigent politicians and local planners, we need to appeal to their highly developed sense of self interest, i.e. how to make it a vote winner. What is needed is the compilation and dissemination of statistics which demonstrate the financial benefits (NB not how nice it would be, but how it would save money and generate income) which accrue from having a viable national, regional and locally joined up cycle network. If the cycling lobby is to be taken seriously we need, for example, detailed costings of building a network of cycle paths throughout the country; demonstrable savings arising through lower road maintenance costs (resulting from lower levels of motor traffic); savings in health costs arising from lower obesity rates and improved levels of fitness; cost savings associated from lower vehicle emissions; additional tourist income arising from our towns, cities and countryside being more attractive to visitors; balance of payments improvements arising from lower fuel consumption.
Much of the data needed for these projections is already available from organisations in the Netherlands and Denmark which (e.g. costs of cycle paths per mile; healthcare costs per capita; petrol consumption per capita, etc). However, I fear that without this approach to engagement with our elected leaders, we are going to continue to be a fringe lobby, at best preaching to the converted.
Waaay ahead of ya buddy: My letter to the Leader of the House of Commons (my MP)
Dear Sir George
I have been talking with some Dutch and Danish colleagues and have come to the the frankly amazing conclusion that the government is throwing away around £9Billion in potential NHS savings, as well as a few £Billion more in vehicle congestion reduction.
Currently the UK spends less than one pound per head per annum on c
ycling infrastructure. The Netherlands and Denmark spend around £25 per head. As a result, they save around 8-10% on their health budgets alone, not to mention having more-or-less traffic-free streets, much more attractive cities and towns, and healthy, happy citizens.
As I’m sure you can see, a saving of around 8% on an NHS budget of £110Bn is around £9Billion. Mr Cameron claimed traffic congestion ‘costs’ the UK £7Billion a year. Shifting 50% of journeys onto bikes and off roads would drastically reduce congestion.
All this, with an annual investment of only £1.5Billion on dedicated, Dutch/Danish-grade cycling infrastructure. About 0.2% of the overall UK budget, that will benefit every single person – on a bike or off.
And ‘investment’ it is – we will get back far more in savings and benefits than the up-front cost.
All the above figures are well-known, solid and backed up by research from Cycle England, the Dutch and Danish governments, etc.
My question to you is: Why is your government not grabbing these savings with both hands, right now – this year? Where is your funding to local councils and an explicit instruction to copy the Dutch and Danes, in building proper, separate cycling infrastructure? You have announced £10Billion in road spending – why not spend just 15% of that, to then have another £7.5Billion to spend elsewhere?
What possible excuse can there be not to realise these savings? Surely the UK is capable of replicating the amazing success of the Dutch and Danes. It can’t be beyond the wit of UK PLC to make these savings our European cousins find so easy.
I trust given the core Conservative value of fiscal responsibility, the offer of a £7.5 Billion net gain, year-on-year will be too good to pass up. I look forward to hearing how your government will implement the construction of cycling infrastructure on par with that a few hundred miles away over the channel.
We can’t afford not to.
He replied, saying he’d ‘pursue your imaginative suggestions with my ministerial colleagues and let you know how I get on”
But I’m one nutcase. This needs weapons-grade robustness, with incontrovertible government-backed fiscal proofpoints.
For “imaginative suggestions” read “you’re a nutter”. I know. It’s tough.It’s going to be tough. But economics is the only way of getting through to these fruitcases.
I work near the segregated route in Bloomsbury mentioned above, and there the issue of pedestrians wandering onto the path is addressed by it clearly being a different colour than the pavement, and at road level, not pavement level – so in order to step into it, you have to take a noticeable step down, as if you were stepping off the curb. This is much clearer than the usual ‘shared space’ pavements, where you can stray into a bike lane without really noticing. Also, as David mentions, it’s so popular that there’s a steady stream of bikes most of the time, reinforcing the fact that it’s a vehicle lane, not the pavement. As a cyclist, I really like it, even if it could stand to be wider, and I’d like to see more lanes like it.
One caveat – this is except for the bit at Byng Place, which has had the expensive granite pavement treatment, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish!
As regards the issue of turning conflicts at junctions, I think the best solution to this would be either separate light phases, so cars are held at lights when bikes are going straight on, and vice-versa, or making turning traffic yield to traffic going straight across. On double lane roads you would have a filter light for turning traffic, which would be preferable, as I suspect that not every driver is likely to yield, even if straight-ahead traffic has priority.
Why are Dutch sidewalks so much narrower? Because we tend to take the bike for every 200 or 500 metres. As a consequence there are much less pedestrians, and, as ‘Piet van der Fiets’ said, pedestrians usually are cyclists too, often on the same trip. Plus that it’s a lot easier to carry heavy stuff on the bike than walking a mile with it to the bus or tram, get on, get off and walk again. Quicker, too, and much more fexible in choice of routes and destinations.
That observation struck me during my visits to Amsterdam and the surrounding area – pedestrian traffic is less than it would be if it were not for all the bicycles. In Amsterdam, at least, the most common obstruction on pavements is – a parked bicycle!
In response to Liz’s comment on separate light phases: the principle should be, where separation is needed, if it not possible to separate in space, separate in time.
From Google Maps it looks like buses don’t use the section of Biltstraat depicted, but do use a section further along, where parking disappears and (as far as I can see) one of the cycle lanes becomes advisory. A few of the North London roads you mention (Upper St, Kentish Town Road, Caledonian Road) are heavily trafficked by buses and have bus lanes along sections (though not the ones shown). Wouldn’t narrowing the road to one lane each way mean that buses get stuck in traffic more often? I wonder whether converting some of these roads to one-way for private traffic but two-way for buses and bikes might be better.
One thing I really do like about the Biltstraat picture and something I wish we would do more of in the UK is how they put parking in the same line as street trees, bike parking, lamp-posts and so on. In this country we typically have a footpath which includes a line of trees, lamp-posts post-boxes etc with pavement in between, space which doesn’t really get used for anything since you can’t walk along it in a straight line. Moving the parking into those spaces would free up space on the road for a protected bike lane, though it wouldn’t have the benefits you mention of an off-road lane.
Its completely bizarre to me how no matter how crap it is in the UK, people will still find ways to insist that something that is clearly better still isn’t up to standard, as if that were genuinely an argument in favour of maintaining the status quo or something.
Whist mopeds parked on pavements can certainly be mildly annoying, it can’t compete with the sheer obnoxiousness of cars parked on pavements.
That part of Biltstraat looks like its out in Wittevrouwen, which certainly feels quieter (a lot of the stores/businesses there tend to be more comparison than convenience which helps there too). If you follow that route into the centre, the street gets narrower, buses are more frequent (albeit one way for much of it) and they still have a cycle lane there. My understanding is that cars are now blocked from using that route, at least out as far as Wittevrouwensingle, which effectively means there is no longer private motorised traffic flowing through the centre of Utrecht any more. What access there is for locals means meandering along old one way streets where you mix with cyclists and are lucky if you can hit 20 kph. And unlike London (or Amsterdam for that matter), the street layout of central Utrecht actually is mediaeval.
Sir Velo describes this as a ‘utopian’ vision. Sorry to be pedantic but utopian implies impossibility. The vision is reality in the Netherlands and other parts of continental Europe. It’s not as perfect as some imply in the postings, but it works extremely well. Not only are there many, many more cyclists than in Britain, but also there is a much better age profile of cyclists with more older and younger cyclists, and crucially a balance of genders. Rather than being some unattainable utopia – it is simply so much nicer and more attractive to cycle on such networks. When will Britain wake up?
Wonderful blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for
a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any recommendations? Appreciate it!
Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail.
I’ve got some suggestions for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.
I clicked on a random bit in Google StreetView and found this
Why would anyone choose to use the cycle lane rather than the main part of the road ?