The makings of a successful cycle street

The ‘cycle street’ concept is a familiar one to cycle campaigners – a street where, it is claimed, cycling has priority, and ‘cars are guests’, sometimes with added rules about ‘no overtaking’.

I think it’s easy for British campaigners to get excited about ‘cycle streets’ primarily because the concept corresponds largely to existing cycling behaviour on busy British roads. Wouldn’t it be great – they might think – to cycle along this road without drivers attempting to overtake, and with those drivers knowing that they are ‘guests’ on it.

But the most successful ‘cycle streets’ don’t have any of these kinds of rules. The key ingredient is simply ensuring that the street in question isn’t a through-route for motor traffic. Markings, rules and signs are largely superfluous – indeed unnecessary – when this key condition is met. In fact they often aren’t even ‘cycle streets’ in any formal sense.

This is Buitenwatersloot in Delft.

It’s a busy route in and out of the city centre, running westwards from it. From this photo it might look like a ‘cycle street’, but it is in fact just an ordinary Dutch street, with no specific road design – just a blank asphalt surface – and with no ‘cycle street’ related signs.

All we have here is a sign telling drivers it is a dead end after 200m, and telling people cycling it isn’t a dead end for them. It isn’t a dead end for buses either – there is a bus gate, which forms the barrier for private motor traffic after 200m.

Drivers can obviously still use this street – there’s one doing so in this photograph below – but they will only be accessing properties along it, and on the handful of side streets, not going anywhere else.

This road is just part of a small ‘cell’ for driving, shown in red, while forming a direct route for cycling in an east-west direction. The green arrows also show that this cell is permeable for cycling to the south.

This street forms a high-quality cycling environment not because of any road markings, signs, or instructions to drivers, but because it will only ever have very small numbers of drivers using it. It might be nice to mark this street as a ‘cycle street’, but it’s not necessary.

And indeed we should be wary of emphasising markings, signs or instructions to drivers, because they are very easy to implement without changing anything else. It’s very tempting for highway authorities to stick up signs and splash down some paint without addressing through-traffic problems (hello the Quietway programme). ‘Cycle streets’ and ‘Quietways’ can be created with signs and paint, but in reality, it’s the through-traffic issue alone that defines whether ‘cycle streets’ are comfortable, safe and attractive cycling environments.

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14 Responses to The makings of a successful cycle street

  1. Adam A says:

    Another great post, thanks.

    One other notable difference between this street in Delft and any similarly sized street in the UK is the complete absence of on-street (or on-pavement) car parking. In the UK, parked cars tend to dominate almost any street scene, even when the street is not a through-route. Is that something that is specifically addressed in Delft?

    • Gerrit van Oord says:

      Open google maps en search for buitenwatersloot. in satelite mode you wil find parking around the corner. All dedicated parking spots, spots for disabled, garbage collection etc. Even playgrounds for the children.

      • Adam A says:

        Thanks, that’s interesting to see.
        It’s frustrating that on-street parking is so normalised in the UK that even when facilities exist, people just continue to park in the street anyway.

  2. Ollyver says:

    Our campaigning group’s repeated refrain to the council: it’s not a Quietway if it’s not quiet! So restrict the through traffic to main roads, and give us a quiet way.
    The message seems to be getting through, but whether that will translate to concrete change…

  3. Paul Luton says:

    It is sad that this happens in the UK mostly where temporary road works create an obstruction for through motor vehicle flow but cyclists can squeeze through. I can think of a few deliberate permeable closures but, as has already been pointed out, the roads are littered with parked cars anyway.

  4. paulc says:

    “The key ingredient is simply ensuring that the street in question isn’t a through-route for motor traffic.”

    not my experience, even in dead end residential streets they will insist on overtaking just to get in front and arrive at their drive a few seconds earlier.

    • USbike says:

      Such a treatment may prevent overtaking, but of course that ultimately depends on the individuals’ behavior and consideration for others. What it does most certainly do is eliminate virtually all cars from entering an area where those drivers have no business to be in. I live in a small fishing village called Yerseke in the SW Netherlands. While a lot of people cycle here in this small quite town, you also see some of the most reckless driving that I’ve ever seen from an otherwise-orderly western country (I’m excluding Italy, France, etc.). My Dutch colleagues who come from all over the country, also make similar remarks. Even the ones from Amsterdam think the drivers here are more crazy.

      I often hear comments from people who haven’t been to the Netherlands that “Dutch drivers are much better behaved, and this and that”. That’s not entirely untrue. Since so many people cycle here and most drivers are also cyclists, you don’t really get the road rage incidents that are all too common in places like the US. Such as when some drivers shout at you, purposely try to squeeze you off the road or throw objects at you. But the driving here is not saintly in the least. People are so comfortable driving around cyclists that many of them pass very closely and quickly. It’s a minority (mainly teenagers and youngsters) that drive recklessly, but even they usually follow the rules and yield when they have to. But somethings that requires them to come to a screeching halt when they realize a cyclist with priority is crossing the intersection, etc. Still, the cycling experience here is the best of anywhere I’ve ever experienced. But in the end, give some people a powerful, fast machine, and they will push limits and abuse that privilege.

    • Steven Edwards says:

      not my experience, even in dead end residential streets they will insist on overtaking just to get in front and arrive at their drive a few seconds earlier.

      In which case further measures such as road width restrictions, repeated in sections best suited to the length of the route, would be needed.

      The post in itself illustrates perfectly something that needs to be considered across all urban areas. Why have those with the comparitive ease (and utter extravagance) of a machine powered engine, be the ones entitled to a vast oversubscription of parallel route after all?

      I suggest campaigners and respondents to consultations begin drawing attention to this.
      Where there are four of five parallel east-west routes for example in an area, restrictions to through access for motors needs to become the norm.
      At TfL in London, one of the more forward thinking representatives have already suggested that “London has a perfectly good cycling grid”….”it just happens to have a lot of cars all over it…!”

      Speaking of London, the lack of movement by the current mayor suggests that LCC perhaps needed to be more specific, rigorous and detailed in its requests (Sadik Khan’s ‘agreeing to the tripling of hte number of cycle routes’ perhaps was too vague, too open-ended, with no time-frame agreed to – other than his four year term).

      Every borough of London (and eleswhere) could begin to recommend their own ‘grid for through traffic’. These should be put to TfL more assertively and robustly, since the proposals they have put forward even for their own priority 25 capital-wide routes suggest
      there is some real shoddy thinking going on, meaning even greater delays to the progress that had been assumed under the new mayoralty.

      A wholesale through-traffic grid (referring back to previous years/decades where similar, if then smaller scale, visioning may have occurred) – would be a hugely desirable way ahead.

      • Paul Luton says:

        Agree that a limited “through motor traffic grid” would be the ideal way of looking at the problem. (bikes are traffic too ). The problem is that even relatively progressive councils get twitchy at the idea of restricting car movement and voter backlash ; and then we get to Kensington and Chelsea …. TfL have limited say over most roads and even they are not all of the same mind.

      • Jitensha Oni says:

        “Speaking of London, the lack of movement by the current mayor suggests that LCC perhaps needed to be more specific, rigorous and detailed in its requests…”

        tl;dr – been tried, came to nothing

        A few years ago, LCC, via the borough cycling campaigns, tried a “ward ask” approach, where they suggested a few “easy wins” per borough – a couple of bollards here, a dropped kerb there, etc. Cheap and effective, at the uncontroversial end of motor-calming/reducing interventions – or so you’d think. It got nowhere. I’m still struggling to understand why, through UK councillors’ general incomprehension of cycling is surely a major factor. For too many in the UK, to mangle L.P Hartley, the future is a foreign country, and, for want of a CROW manual, it’s simply not British to “do things differently”.

        It’s bloody depressing 😦

        • Rangjan says:

          “tl;dr – been tried, came to nothing”

          With respect you then went on to describe something different.
          I think the lesson for LCC is that when you bang into a brick wall, keep banging. Louder. Don’t pretend that you (might) be on route to making progress when clearly you aren’t: you are being thrown classic TfL stalling tactics.

  5. Pingback: The makings of a successful cycle street) As Easy As…

  6. awjreynolds says:

    Reblogged this on CycleBath and commented:
    Cycle streets/filtered streets/modal filtering are key to achieving more liveable environments. The counterargument is that you are making people drive further creating more pollution, but the reality, as shown by Walthomstow Mini-Holland scheme which boils down to 14 filtered streets is 10,000 less car journeys a day and a modal shift to walking and cycling.

    It’s key to realise that in many cases it really is simply a couple of planters and a Dead End Sign or two. They can also be really quickly and cheaply implemented using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders and trialed between 1-18months.

    More expensive rising bollard systems can also be used where more flexible access is needed, for example commercial vehicle access is needed at certain times of day. The city of Nijmegen in effect created a car free zone in the city centre using ‘cycle streets’ https://vimeo.com/225412908#t=220s

    You are simply stating, if you are here in your car on this street you are here because this is your destination not just a convenient rat run.

    I’m really surprised many of councils are just picking up on this.

    • Paul Luton says:

      Unfortunately many councils (Such as Richmond uT) want to promote walking and cycling but not to affect driving in any way. The concept of modal shift seems to be beyond them.

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