03 June 2014

Explaining the Bi-directional Cycle Track Folly

Rooftop View in Copenhagen

If this was 2007, I'd expect some confusion and misinterpretation regarding Best Practice for bicycle infrastructure. It was a brave, new world back then. This blog was a lone voice in the wilderness regarding bicycles as transport in cities, with only testosterone-driven, frothing at the mouth sports and recreational cycling blogs for company in the woods. Now, there is a chorus and the voices are getting louder and more harmonious day by day.

Many, many people know better now. Knowledge has spread and the message is more unified.

One thing that baffles me, however, is why on-street, bi-directional cycle tracks are actually being promoted and implemented.

For clarity, when I saw "on-street, bi-directional" I mean the creation of one lane for bicycles separated by a line, allowing for two-way traffic - on city streets. I am not referring to a two-way path through a park or other areas free of motorised vehicles.

In Denmark, the on-street, bi-directional facility was removed from Best Practice for bicycle infrastructure over two decades ago. That in itself might be an alarm bell to anyone paying attention. These two way cycle tracks were found to be more dangerous than one-way cycle tracks on each side of the roadway. There is a certain paradigm in cities... I'm not saying it's GOOD, but it's there. Traffic users all know which way to look when moving about the city. Having bicycles coming from two directions at once was an inferior design.

This was in an established bicycle culture, too. The thought of putting such cycle tracks into cities that are only now putting the bicycles back - cities populated by citizens who aren't use to bicycle traffic makes my toes curl.

There are bi-directional cycle tracks in Copenhagen. They are through parks and down greenways, separated from motorised traffic, and on occasion they are on streets with no cross streets on one side. At all times they are placed where they actually make sense, to eliminate the risk of collision with cars and trucks. Cycle tracks are like sidewalks... you put them on either side of the street, except you keep them one way.

Sure, Denmark has developed an incredibly uniform design for bicycle infrastructure, with only four types of infrastructure for bicycles that creates uniformity, easy wayfinding and, most importantly, optimal safety.

You hear the same excuses in emerging bicycle nations and cities... "But I saw them in the Netherlands?!"

Yes, you might have. But I asked Theo Zeegers at the Dutch national cycling organisation, Fietsersbond, about this issue and he said,

"Bi-directional cycle tracks have a much higher risk to the cyclists than two, one-directional ones. The difference on crossings is about a factor 2. So, especially in areas with lots of crossings (ie. builtup areas), one-directional lanes are preferred. Not all municipalities get this message, however."

Fortunately, the Dutch are used to a constant flow of cycling. They're not new at this. They also have space issues in many of their small city centres that few other cities on the planet have. The bi-directional tracks you may see there are sub-optimal solutions.

In the recently published OECD report about Cycling Health and Safety you can read much of the same. Bi-directional are not recommended for on-street placement. One way cycle tracks on either side are the Best Practice that should be chosen.

It's really not a newsflash all this.

Imagine removing a sidewalk on one side of the street and forcing pedestrians to share a narrow sidewalk on only one side of the street. You wouldn't do that to pedestrians (sure, stupid examples exist but hey) so why on earth would you do it to cyclists?

The bi-directional cycle tracks we see in emerging bicycle cities can't possibly be put there by people who know what they're doing or who understand the needs of bicycle users or who really want cycling to boom. You can also see that in the width that many of them have. Incredibly narrow, making passing oncoming cyclists a lip-biting experience and making passing cyclists heading in the same direction a bit too hair-raising.

Another excuse oft heard is, "Well... it's better than nothing" - often spoken in a defensive tone. It is a flawed argument, lacking vision, commitment and experience.

This isn't about building stuff out of asphalt. We are planting seeds in the hopes that lush gardens will grow. We have the seeds we need. They are fertile, natural and ready to grow with minimal maintenence. Instead, people are choosing bags of GMO seeds from traffic planning's Wal-Mart. Limited fertility, modified for the simple needs of visionless gardeners. Potted plants instead of gardens.

If someone advocates infrastructure like this and actually believes it is good, they probably shouldn't be advocating bicycle infrastructure.

17 comments:

John Stevenson said...

"testosterone-driven, frothing at the mouth sports and recreational cycling blogs"

Way to piss off potential allies and come across like an inverse-elitist twat.

BBnet3000 said...

Count me as a "frothing at the mouth sports and recreational cyclist" (who also bikes to work/school/stores that are too far to walk to) who also wants cycling infrastructure safe enough for people of all ages and backgrounds to use comfortably and safely.

I happily share the road with people carrying children, children on their own bikes, the elderly, cargo bikes, women in skirts, and so on. This is only a problem if the infrastructure isnt designed with sufficient width to allow for comfortable passing.

BBnet3000 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christof Damian said...

Obviously there can be only one true cycling blog.

Otherwise a good article though, made me wonder what Barcelona was thinking while introducing all the new bi-directional lanes.

marven said...

I would agree that the "we saw it in The NLs" (or to be fair, Copenhagen) argument is flimsy. One thing that can definitely be lost in translation is the context of a given treatment. I hope that planners aren't just picking up the NACTO then trying to rely on what they remember of Amsterdam from spring break when they were in college.

Also, the rush to throw a cycletrack on every street is also a folly in itself. Many streets don't need such a treatment, they simply need their vehicular traffic reduced.

Joseph Singer said...

I'm a bit confused here. When you say you oppose bi-directional bicycle infrastructure are you referring to just painted lines on street or are you also referring to bicycle infrastructure where bicycles are protected by a line of cars or other things?

Jon said...

Perhaps in Denmark, bi-directional cycle lanes are not on, but in North America we need to start somewhere. A bi-directional lane can be converted to unidirectional once it has reached cycling capacity and another unidirectional can be put either on the same street or elsewhere. Perfect cycling infrastructure doesn't spring up over night and you have to account for the growth of cycling culture along with cement tracks.

Daniel.RC8 said...

There is a case to be made for bi-directional cycletracks in one-way streets. In some cities 90% of the streets are one-way, and a bidirectional cycletrack allows cyclists to move in either direction.

Ideally streets that are wide enough to be bidirectional (virtually any street) would not be one-way in the first place, but where they are - and where car speeds are relatively high - it makes sense to implement the bidirectional solution.

It is far from optimal, but it beats having a unidirectional bike lane and no way for cyclists to move in the opposite direction. Treating bicycles as if they were cars (and limiting them to one-way traffic) is a ridiculously stupid concept on 99% of streets and grids.

jputnam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jputnam said...

Seattle's latest addition to the bidirectional cycletrack fad vividly illustrates the many hazards of putting half the bicycle traffic the wrong way on a city street.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SZc8sPKiI

Mike said...

The Prospect Park West (Brooklyn) cycle track has been a huge success. And it was the only realistic option.

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Jon said...

Here's an interesting reply to your article - http://velodrone.ca/copenhagenize-my-ass/

anton40786 said...

I completely agree with you.

But: I heard here in Montreal another excuse for the bi-directional lanes:
Snow removal in winter! Since some bike lanes are really nice cleaned after a snow storm (yeah!, usually with the rest of the street, after a heavy storm it's after 24h at latest nice), it is necessary to have a minimal width and hard (=beton) limits on both sides, to be able use the standard machines. And it seems there are really only this bidirectional lanes cleaned...

I guess there must be a better solution (smaller snow removal machines?), but snow free bike lanes are worth quite much. As I lived a while in Denmark (not in Copenhagen, was in Aalborg): You don't have winter... So, 5 months of the year (mid-November to mid-April the past winter) is snow removal important for me, since I cycle also when it's -25°C or in a heavy blizzard...

Alaa said...

hi jon, i read the copenhagenize my ass article, well some things are true, but things are not that binary , i totally agree with the learning process things but when you have somebody who did the work beforehand and it is proven to work maybe it is interesting to follow, rather inventing the wheel again and again, and things work simultaneously: better infrastructure increases the cycling share as well

although i do not agree with the author on many of is ideas but to be fair he is not imposing any model on any city and in many instances the author criticizes copenhagen and demands to follow other cities,

Joseph Singer said...

The only problem I see with this YouTube video is that people do not respect the bikeway and put no parking A frames and people parking their vehicle in the lane. There's nothing in the video that makes any fault to the design of the lane. It's no more dangerous than riding on a street that has two-way traffic.

Tim said...

I'm from the UK, and I'm interested and certainly no expert, so I'm open to persuasion.

But your sidewalk comparisons don't stand up. Cycle tracks are NOT like sidewalks. Sidewalks are always bi-directional. And you create a straw man argument by referring to narrowing the sidewalks - a bi-directional cycleway does not have to be narrower?

Surely if we were to use 2 metres as a width for a single direction cycle path, then our bi-directional will be 4m, and provide extra opportunities for overtaking.

You freely admit that bi-directional is fine away from roads, so how near does it have to be before it magically stops working?

I do see the point that pedestrians might not expect bikes to come from both directions, but at the moment pedestrians in the UK do not expect cyclists at all, so it's all a learning curve in that respect.

As I say, I'm open to persuasion and I get that (some) current experts prefer not to go bi-directional, but considering your passion for the subject your arguments fail to hold water. Most of the article reads like "it's bad because I say it is".

I can imagine bi-directional has advantages - takes less space, costs less, wider for cleaning, etc. So I feel you need to make a better case.