25 April 2008

Bring it on

Three Abreast
The beautiful wide bike lanes of Copenhagen. On this stretch they are wider than normal to accomodate the 25,000 bikes that pass each day. At intersections the bike lanes are painted Copenhagen Blue for visibility.

Segregrated bike infrastructure is the foundation of any sustainable bike culture. Over the past 40 years, since Copenhagen started developing our modern bike culture, nobody, anywhere, has managed to think up any feasible alternative for creating a safe bike culture for the masses.

Dozens and dozens of European cities know it and 100 million Europeans ride each day on such infrastructure. Paris knows it and is rocking the bike culture world as we speak. Portland, Oregon - city of visionaries - knows it. New York City is learning it thanks to Jan Gehl. If you build it, they will come.

Sure, there are wacky theories out there about how bikes should be regarded in traffic, but then again there are people who actually buy the idea of Intelligent Design just as there are still members of the Flat Earth Society. Unfortunately for all the above, science and statistics don't back their claims. The are and remain, quirky 'roll-your-eyes' addendums to everyday life.
The arrows on the ground indicate which lane you want if you are heading straight on or turning right. Segregrated from the motorised traffic by kerbs. High heels and skirts, optional.

Bring on the bike culture. Copenhagenize the planet.


Anne said...

Yes to Real Bike Infrastructure!!

If I hear one more wrongheaded "bike activist" here in the U.S. blather on about "vehicular cycling", I shall screeeeeeeeam. Bring on the segregated bike lanes!! Painted blue? Even better!! Green is okay too!!

Hopefully between Jan Gehl and our own visionary Department of Transportation boss Janette Sadik-Khan, we'll get more and more of this sort of thing here in New York City, which has the potential to be one of the world's Great Bicycling Cities.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Indeed! NYC has everything it needs to be great. Especially the high profile. I'm looking forward to seeing what Mr Gehl can do.

greg said...

I'm not against separated facilities in theory - there are some in Seattle that are okay. (There are also a lot of door-zone bike lanes that I wouldn't ride in if you paid me, but I'm guessing you're arguing for well-designed facilities :-)

However, realize that most bike commuters in places like Portland have to ride "vehicularly" for at least a good portion of their trip if they want to get anywhere. (Something like half of my 18 mile Seattle commute is on normal roads - and the most fun part is on lake washington blvd - which requires that I take the lane at various point.)

That's where you may not understand the impact of what you're saying. Cause the "bikes don't belong on the street" msg makes life harder for those of us who need/want to be there. Some of the most aggressive anti-cyclist driver behavior I've dealt with has been riding on the streets which *near* separated cycle paths. So there's some real experience behind the resistance to "the separated way is the *only* way" idea.

Someday, everywhere may be as nice for cyclists as the best places are today. And the isolated separated facilities we have today in the US are great for getting folks comfortable riding.

But global warming, peak oil, the obesity crisis are *now* and we need to get as many folks riding as we can *now* and that means we need them on the streets. *All* the streets.

(By *all* I mean of course *most*. But it doesn't exactly have the same rhetorical ring, eh? :-)


Anne said...

greg, agreed that we need as many folks riding as we can, but the obstacle for most people who don't ride now is that they have no desire to mix it up in urban traffic. cities with great bike culture didn't build the bike lanes AFTER so many people started riding, they built the lanes and that motivated people who wouldn't ride otherwise to do so.

Anonymous said...

My friends from Europe that now live in the USA prefer to bike than drive. However, due to the lack of infrastructure and drivers' poor attitudes, many have chosen to use cars instead.

One doctor and his family from Germany has decided to move back since they view our culture as having lower standards of living especially in daily transportation. The mother and children use to ride their bikes to school with my sons and that companionship ends in May.

Local appointed advocates preach VC but fail to appreciate their lack of representation and created alienation. Bike lanes alone will not cure all the problems but are an important part of a fair and democratic system.

Andy B from Jersey said...

Basic VC skills are useful if not even critical for both the expert as well as novice cyclists alike; like riding predictably, on the proper side of the road, using hand signals, etc. However in many situations dedicated facilities, including segregated facilities could really help. Unfortunately many bike facilities here in the US are poorly designed and that is particularly true with the segregated type. I still think that segregated facilities should only be used as a last resort on only the busiest and most dangerous streets where such a facility could really help. Even still, I think its preferable to calm streets into woonerfs or bicycle boulevards to the point where even the most timid cyclists feel that they can comfortably take the road in what is in essence a vehicular position.

As a side note, the organization for bicycle and pedestrian design professional here in the US (of which I'm a member) might be coming to some consensus on segregated bike facilities that is pretty much like my opinion above. Even the founding father of Vehicular Cycling, John Forester himself sounds like he might be softening his outright opposition to them.

Either way, bicycle facilities whether segregated or otherwise along the road, send the message that bicycles belong and that they are legitimate transportation. This is something that drivers here in America need daily reminding. All that needs to be done is to design the facilities properly, so that they do not have any "built in" hazards and are equally useful to the expert and novice alike.

From my own personal experience, I feel that Davis CA comes very close to this ideal; maybe in some ways even better than the most bike friendly places in Europe.

Andy B from Jersey said...

Oh yeah, BTW!

A good example of bad bicycle facilities can be found in Paris like some of the pictured in "Vélo Voilà!" blog entry from the 24th April. Look at that first picture! Do you really want to be forced to ride in that very narrow bike lane, on cobbles, through the puddle with bollards so close that they could hook your handlebars at any moment?!?! This is a perfect example of a bad if not very dangerous design.

Even the bollards in the second picture of the two-way cycletrack can cause a crash hazard. The curbs in the background are much better.

For a really good example of VERY BAD segregated bike facilities one only needs to look at Montreal. With two way bicycle traffic on only one side of the street, bikes "pop out" into intersections in places that drivers don't expect them because half the cyclist are forced to ride on the wrong side of the road. Now granted the Montreal lanes were designed in the 1970's but they keep on building news ones much the same way today despite the obvious hazards of the design.

Be careful what you get in the name of "Real Bike Infrastructure."

Zakkaliciousness said...

The cyclists in Paris using the bike lane are riding casually, not muscling their way along, trying to make some macho point. That lane is perfect for what it is used for and for how it is used.

The mere mention of the 'dangerous' bollards is foreign to me. If a cyclist is so dreadfully bad at cycling that they could hook their handlebars, then they should be taking the bus. :-)

The statistics in favour of segregated bike facilities are overwhelming. This odd resistance will fade with time.

The good thing is that so many good, well-designed facilities exist around the world that it is easy to choose the best ones for usage in other cities. Jan Gehl is doing his bit for bike culture 'over there'. It's not like you have to invent the wheel... it's been done for you, you only have to choose the best design.

If bike lanes and facilities can be implemented in ancient European cities with narrow streets, then it'll be a piece of gateau to do so in North American cities.

peteathome said...

Above is the link to the English translation of the study. The original document had some nice pictures of the facilities.

peteathome said...

I guess my original comment didn't make it.

I have no strong feelings about segregated facilities.

But most car/bike collisions take place in intersections. Many bike facilities force bikes to ride to the right of traffic, making them less visible at intersections to traffic and thus increasing their risk.

Copenhagen recently published a before/after study of streets as they put new bike facilities on them.

They found that most of the facilities increased the collision rate (the likelihood that a bicyclist would be hit by a car), some of them rather significantly.

But the bicyclists felt safer on them anyway. Streets with the facilities had more bicyclists. It's not clear if the facilities increased bicycling or simply redirected them to the enhanced streets. I suspect the latter as Copenhagen bicycling is pretty saturated.

The study concluded that the increase in cycling by the facilities outweighed the increased collision rate caused by them.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Thanks, Pete. I know the study well. It has been misquoted and exploited by all the wrong people. :-)

But the most relevant thing about it is this, found at the end of the report:

It should be noticed that blue cycle crossings, retracted stop lines for cars and pre-green lights for cyclists have been used in only very few places on those streets where cycle tracks have been constructed in Copenhagen in the studied after periods. More extended use of these safety measures would very probably have improved road safety.

And as we posted about earlier here, such measures have been implemented now. In the post i linked to Copenhagen's most dangerous intersection had on average 15 serious accidents involving bikes each year. That has been reduced to one. One serious accident out of 6,500,000 bikes crossing the intersection each year.

peteathome said...

Does this mean that Copenhagen bike facilities have been less safe than regular roads until very recently?

In any case, the study clearly shows that bicyclists' perception of safety does not reliably correlate with actual safety.

Many of these facility designs have been driven by perceptions of safety rather than by scientific traffic engineering. Rather complex add-ons have been needed on these designs to bring them back to the safety levels of regular roads.

I think there is a very strong lesson here for other countries.

Andy B from Jersey said...


Please don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of separated facilities when done well and in the proper locations. But like Pete, I have my concerns about some of the problems these designs can sometimes create if not well though out. I'm quite sure we can all agree that in most cases, making safe bicycle facilities should also come from taking away some of the road from cars, particularly in urban areas.

As for the bollards (and then I'll shut up. Promise!), they can cause problems for even slow speed cyclists. Imagine that you are cycling around 20 kph along that path shown in the second picture in the entry "Vélo Voilà!" All of a sudden a child (or a clueless American tourist) runs out from the promenade on the right. You swerve to avoid the child and hit the bollard before you can stop. It could and will happen at some point. If not at this exact location then somewhere else along the many hundreds of kilometers of cycle paths and lanes in Paris. And the hazard here could easily be eliminated if only some curbing was used instead, like what can be seen farther down the cycle path.

Also many Parisian bike paths require cyclists to pass between bollards after crossing streets. Not a problem most of the time but trying to thread a bicycle between them could be quite difficult after a sudden emergency maneuver or even if you are traveling at modestly fast speed of about 25kph, let's say. And things could get really interesting at night because those black bollards sure don't show up well in the dark.

I hope you understand where I'm coming from. I'm not trying to be one of those crazy American safety mongers (In fact I really can't stand those types) but I also believe that things should be made as safe as reasonably possible. And often with French bicycle facilities in particular, I see many easy and reasonable places for those improvements.

Zakkaliciousness said...

i get your points, lads.

it just feels like there are so many people out there who are madly obsessed with inventing the perfect, failsafe, accident-proof infrastructure that they are wasting valuable time in getting people to cycle.

There is no perfect system. There are very good systems, in use and boasting hundreds of thousands of cyclists a day. but the perfect system is impossible.

taking the exisiting systems, adapting them to local condition and cultures would seem, to me, to be a more fruitful way to approach things. and speed up everyone's goal of increasing cycling.

pete... were the streets more dangerous before or were the safe streets made even safer? is the glass half full or half empty?

i'm not being testy at all... just a little cheeky.

but you're right... humans often react differently to theories in planning. letting the people decide where they want to go and how they get there - and adjusting accordingly - seems better than implementing designs and forcing people to stick to them.