Service roads – an easy win for cycling

Cycling infrastructure isn’t just about the ‘conventional’ design of protected tracks alongside main roads. Good cycling conditions can also be achieved with other measures, particularly through the use of roads that have very low motor traffic levels.

Typically this will take the form of access roads in residential areas, away from main roads, designed in a way that ensures motor traffic is only accessing these streets, rather than passing through to somewhere else. But there’s another form of this kind of ‘low traffic street’, one that runs parallel to main roads – the service road. While protected cycleways and filtered streets are now part of the cycle campaigning vocabulary in Britain, the service road really hasn’t featured much, at all. Which I think is a pity, as they really are an ‘easy win’ for cycling; they already exist alongside many main roads that aren’t suitable for cycling, and would only need a small amount of work to adapt them as good cycling environments.

I was reminded of this as I was sat on a (rail replacement) coach from Harwich into London, having coming back on the ferry from a visit to the Netherlands. The coach essentially followed the A12 into central London, and for stretches of the A12 in Dagenham, there are service roads alongside it.

They would be perfect for cycling infrastructure, a way to travel along this pretty horrible main road in relative peace and security. Unfortunately they look like this.

The service roads are blocked off – which is the right thing to do, in general terms, because you don’t want people buzzing along them in motor vehicles, instead of using the main road. A service road should only be used by a small number of motor vehicles, accessing a small number of properties along it – that’s why it’s called a ‘service road’, after all.

But they’ve been blocked off in a way that blocks off cycling too. The barrier should go, and be replaced with something that allows the easy passage of walking, cycling (and other mobility aids) while still preventing motor traffic from passing through.

This would really be an easy win – there’s no need for a huge amount of re-engineering of the street, and it wouldn’t present a great deal of political difficulty, because the service road is already blocked off, so motorists aren’t losing anything. And I imagine much the same is true for many, many other service roads across Britain.

We were shown a good example on an Infrastructure Safari during the Cycling Embassy AGM in Newcastle a few years back. The Great North Road (the old A1, before it became bypassed) north of Gosforth was built with a service road.

As is clear from the photograph, this is a very relaxed, comfortable cycling environment, alongside a fast (40mph) dual carriageway, composed of four lanes. Only a small number of properties (those on the left) are accessible by this road. It’s in a better condition for cycling than the Dagenham example, with better transitions between the sections of closed off service roads, although at the end it does die a death, without considering cycling. The plan was (or is!) to make it part of a cycle route running north out of Newcastle – I confess I’m not up to speed on what’s happened since we visited but, just like the Dagenham example, this would be another easy win. The cycle route is effectively already built – it just needs a little tidying.

Perhaps the best example of a service road I’ve encountered, however, is of course in the Netherlands, in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It’s the one described in this post by Bicycle Dutch, with an accompanying video.

Note that the ‘upgrade’ that has taken place is really just an improvement of the surface, and with a change in colour to make it more explicit that this is a cycle route. The basic building blocks of a good service street for cycling – smooth transitions between the sections of service road and cycle path, and filters to stop people driving all the way along the main road in parallel – were already in place.

This particular service road featured as a Good Facility of the Week. Because service roads don’t touch main roads, it’s also easy to convert them into good walking environments, with continuous footways across the side roads.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 16.58.57

This service road transitions easily into cycle path, and back into service road again (my one very minor criticism here is that the post may not be not be necessary, given the width of the path – it’s unlikely drivers will attempt to drive down here, although I could be wrong).

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 16.59.26

Where the service road meets a major junction, drivers are prevented from continuing along the main road. The two sections of service road on either side of the junction are only ‘joined up’ for walking and cycling, which helps to keep motor traffic levels low on the service road.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 16.59.06

The final advantage of service roads is that – because they are relatively wide – they can easily be used for two-way cycling, on either side of the road (or both sides, if there are service roads on each side). Here’s an example in Assen – two-way cycling is allowed on this service road. Note that there is also some (fairly old) ‘light segregation’ on the other side of the road, in the form of concrete blocks, which allows (one-way) cycling on that side too.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 17.09.30

Of course the Dutch still get things wrong (or haven’t got around to putting things right yet). Here’s a fairly strange example of cycle lanes on a fairly busy road in Zwolle, when there’s a good service road on either side, going unused.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 17.12.04It would be better to take cycling off the main road, removing conflict with motor traffic, and placing the cycle route on the service road, which has a bumpy service at present, but could be upgraded to smooth asphalt.

I’m sure I’ve seen this same mistake being made in new UK cycling schemes – painted lanes being proposed on main roads, when there is a service road alongside – although I can’t quite remember where! Perhaps you can remind me in the comments, along with other examples of service roads that could be easily ‘upgraded’.

Service roads certainly shouldn’t be overlooked as cycling infrastructure. They are much better cycling environments than painted lanes alongside motor traffic, and most of the physical engineering – the separation from the main road – is already in place. They only require a small amount of adjustment to make the transitions easy, and as I’ve already said the ‘political’ cost is minimal, given that driving isn’t made any worse (and arguably better if encounters with people cycling on the main road are removed).

This entry was posted in Infrastructure, Service road, The Netherlands, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Service roads – an easy win for cycling

  1. S says:

    Im not entirely sure that this does in fact work, but section 1 of the E-W CSH extension (Westbourne Terrace) has some major flaws (e.g. the merging of cycle lanes with left turn motor traffic lanes). Could the service roads either side not be used instead?

  2. Why do I feel like I have memories from somewhere about this very topic? Arg, deja vu, why do you make me think I have knowledge from some place I don’t!?

  3. SteveP says:

    Is this what we can call passive anti-cycling, or just stupidity? You can see why through motor traffic is discouraged, but cycling?

    Then again, I think I have pointed out this route just north of the A40 in Paddington. It leads from the new Westminster College to a residential street and connects with the subway under the A40 and then over the canal to Paddington station. Most of it is cyclable, but despite the bollards preventing motor traffic you see in the foreground, it was considered necessary to place chicane rilings as well to make it difficult for cycling (and prams, and wheelchairs, and mobility scooters.

    Not sure why, as there is plenty of space for a shared use path. I suppose it is to inconvenience those killer pizza delivery mopeds?

    • paulc says:

      “Not sure why, as there is plenty of space for a shared use path. I suppose it is to inconvenience those killer pizza delivery mopeds?”

      apparently the Police don’t like them as it means drug dealers and other lowlifes can easily evade them by riding their mopeds/scooters through the gaps…

      anyway, here’s one I use most days:

  4. Funnily enough I was having a conversation about a local example earlier today. A few years ago the council proposed using the service road for cycling to help improve road safety outside a school where there were lots of young cyclists, pedestrians and cars pulling in and out to pick up and drop off kids. I don’t know the details of the scheme but apparently, when the residents along the service road got wind of it, there was near unanimous objection because they wanted to be able to continue use the service road (public highway) for parking their cars and as a general extension of their gardens. The scheme was dropped.

  5. Paul Luton says:

    The main problem is that service roads were not designed to be a transport link and so can’t always be linked into a continuous route. There are places around here where the service road connects into a side road and gets used as a rat-run.

  6. esde84 says:

    Just to update on the Newcastle Service Road:

    Newcastle Council recently did some engagement on the route that includes the service road in the post. Including improvements to the links at either end of the service road.
    NewCycling’s response is at:
    And the original council engagement webpage is:

    The scheme is not the final design, and the council are improving it before going to the next stage of consultation.

  7. S says:

    The Enfield MH 1010 scheme appears to do a pretty good job of using service roads alongside busy main roads (see page 5 of

  8. James Barker says:

    Shared use pavement down Humberston Road when there is a service road next to it.

  9. Jitensha Oni says:

    An older example of lanes on a main road with service roads available alongside is this in Ickenham:

    Note also how the lane directs you towards parked cars on the main road in the distance before disappearing.

  10. I use this service road every day:,-1.2328253,3a,75y,205.29h,87.11t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1siIY8QZAMXPbjyzvNlb4w6Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    It’s fairly pleasant for cycling, although sometimes people drive surprisingly fast. It’s certainly much better than the main road on the left, which is really very busy. There are signs at each end of the service road, saying that no motor vehicles are allowed, except for access. I’m not sure how widely these are noticed and respected, but as it’s not a particularly useful shortcut it seems to work reasonably well.

    The only tricky or unpleasant part is where another road joins the main road:,-1.2387598,3a,75y,241.29h,85.54t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s1eWTfQmbC5BhO7E6FHYgwQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    It’s tricky because you have to cross the whole road in one go, and cars appear from lots of different directions. I can think of at least two ways it could be improved:
    1. Provide a refuge island so the road can be crossed in two stages.
    2. Create a short stretch of cycle track going to the existing pedestrian crossing, which could be used as bike and pedestrian crossing (and converted from two-stage to one-stage).

    I guess in the scheme of things, this junction is hardly the most pressing issue facing cyclists in Loughborough!

  11. Matthew says:

    Commonwealth Ave in Boston (along the Allston/Brighton segment) has service roads that are used by bicycle riders, but they are generally regarded as highly dangerous ways to travel.

    Now there are several factors which render Comm Ave service roads much more dangerous than the Dutch examples: (a) they were built to the worst of 1950s standards, (b) they have angled parking (on both sides in some cases), (c) the junctions are complete disasters all around, (d) there’s nothing to stop rat-running.

    But I think there is some dread of service roads in Boston cycling, as a result… and the redesign of that street will feature a segregated cycle track.

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