Editors Note: The following guest article was written jointly by Professors Hank Weiss, Director of the Injury Prevention Research Unit at the University of Otago, and Kay Teschke, from the University of British Columbia, School of Population and Public Health. They are responsible for its content.
When the Dunedin City Councillors unanimously passed a resolution last in 2012 asking the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to take action to protect cyclists on the SH1 one-way system in central Dunedin, New Zealand, they not only requested “immediate temporary safety measures” but also agreed with SPOKES’ Call for Protected Bike Lanes. The resolution specifically requested “a high level, long term plan that includes separated cycling facilities.” This timely post describes what such facilities are, what they might look like, and introduces some of their design, safety, economic and policy aspects.
What is a protected (separated) cycling track?
Definition: The terms “protected”, “segregated” and “separated” are often used interchangeably when describing a special kind of cycling infrastructure. They are also sometimes called separated bike lanes, separated bicycle facilities (SBF’s) or just “cycle tracks”. All of these terms indicate a cycling facility that has some level of physical separation (not just paint) between the cyclists and motor vehicle traffic (Ottawa Facility Selection Decision Support Tool, 2011). The use of the term “cycle tracks” is used in this post for conciseness and to avoid confusion with unprotected “bike lanes.”
The separation called for may take a large variety of forms and structures. Many of these are portrayed in a recent U.S. guide to state-of-the-practice cycle infrastructure solutions (NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2012) in their chapter on cycle tracks:
NACTO Cycle Track Guidelines and Examples
The proven appeal of cycle tracks to both current and potential riders (Winters & Teschke, 2010, Monsere et al., 2011, Buehler & Pucher 2012) make them a smart choice to encourage people of all ages, interests and skill levels to ride beside the fast and busy one-ways. Surveys have consistently shown that most people would NOT choose to ride on a painted bike lane on a fast busy street and in Dunedin’s main corridor there are few viable alternatives. While properly designed bike lanes can provide defensible and comfortable space where there is low traffic volume, few traffic lanes, low traffic speeds, and little turn-over in parking, that is not the situation on the one-ways. That is a large reason why Dunedin’s cycling mode share is so low. Without safe infrastructure designed to appeal to the broader population, it is likely to remain so, despite well-intentioned long-term but failed efforts to promote cycling (see 2004 Dunedin Cycling Strategy).
Cycle tracks have been used for a long time in other parts of the world. Their use is currently undergoing a renaissance in North America. Prof. Peter G. Furth, of Northeastern University, discusses the design of Ottawa’s first protected cycle track in the video below. Much of this discussion applies to the situation on Dunedin’s one-ways.
In this next video, we see how Ottawa’s cycle track actually looks and works in the real world:
Another informative video, this time covering Vancouver’s Dunsmuir cycle track, also shows how they work:
Lastly, this video about Portland Oregon’s efforts to expand their cycle tracks, is worth a watch.
Cycle Tracks Q and A
Q. What is the evidence that cycle tracks are safe?
A. The strongest evidence comes from European countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, where cycle tracks have been in use for years and are used daily by literally millions of cyclists. Those countries have the safest record of cycling in the world.
Some of the latest research on the safety of cycle tracks has come from North America. The papers by Teschke et al., 2012 (reviewed here by SPOKES) and Harris et al , 2013 report on research in Toronto and Vancouver, while Lusk et al., 2011 looked at Montreal’s experience. These studies are consistent with earlier evidence with less detailed route categories that bike-specific infrastructure and quiet streets improve cycling safety.
Teschke et. al. found much greater safety on the studied cycle tracks when compared to cycling on major streets with only painted bike lanes or no bike infrastructure at all. They found, for example, that cycle tracks were about six times safer than bike lanes with parked cars and nine times safer than streets with parked cars and no infrastructure. Their findings are summarized below:
It is worth noting that the Teschke and Harris studies used a special study design that allowed for better risk assessment and control of confounding than previous attempts to elucidate changes in risks between different types of cycling infrastructure. They also focused on the more serious events leading to hospital visits, not just crashes, and so are more meaningful from a public health perspective.
Q. Haven’t some studies showed cycle tracks are more dangerous?
A. One of the most quoted articles cited as evidence of cycle tracks/separated lane hazards was by Wachtel & Lewiston, 1994. This 20 years old California study investigated whether intersection crashes were more likely if cyclists were riding on the road vs. on sidewalks (footpaths). Their data showed an excess risk for sidewalk cyclists, but sub-analyses showed that the excess risk was to riders who arrived at the intersection in the direction opposite to traffic. Furthermore, Lusk et. al. point out that their data indicates that when the combined risk of intersection and non-intersection crashes is considered, there was no increased risk overall to riding on the sidewalk. For those riding in the same direction as traffic, riding on the sidewalk carried half the risk of riding in the road. Harris et al (2013) in their further analysis of the Canadian study, found the same increased risk when cyclists arrived at an intersection from the opposite direction to traffic in two-way situations.
This all suggests that separated cycle tracks are not an additional intersection risk (in fact they were protective in the Canadian studies); rather, the direction of travel was where some problems occurred.
Therefore, intersections are not foreseen to carry any more risks than they currently do on the one-ways since all cyclists and vehicles would be moving in the same direction. Improved design elements can increase their current level of safety even more.
Q. What are the limitations of the research that has been done on the safety of cycle tracks?
A. Surprisingly little published research about the safety benefits of specific cycle infrastructure is available. Until 2009, in fact, there was little peer-reviewed English language literature on the efficacy of cycle tracks on straightaways, though there was some evidence about the risks and benefits of cycle tracks at intersections with roundabouts (Reynolds et al., 2009).
Although the new Canadian studies (Teschke et al., 2012, Lusk et al. 2011) both found that cycle tracks improve safety along major city streets, there are remaining questions. Vancouver and Montreal have their own specific cycle track designs, downtown settings, and cycling cultures that may have influenced results. Both studies grouped all styles of cycle tracks together, because tracks were not in extensive use yet. In Northern European countries with more established cycling infrastructure, there are many different cycle track designs. Whether and to what degree these differ in safety performance would be valuable to study. It is also noted that the injury severity outcomes studied in different research projects often vary greatly. Some outcomes measure only crashes, others any injury or serious injuries. But the best studies measure crashes and the risk, nature and severity of injury. Ultimately, the most important safety aim is to prevent serious injury and death, but low numbers of fatal events using any one route makes it difficult to conduct such studies.
Because no single cycle track design standard exists, like most cycle infrastructure, perfect comparisons are hard to come by. Ideally, comparisons need to account for differences and similarities in elements such as cycle track widths, one way versus two way tracks, one way versus two way traffic, traffic and cycle speeds, cross traffic give way rules, turn on red rules, cross street traffic control techniques (stop signs, lights, give way, bike specific controls), signage, pavement markings, surface features (e.g., tracks and cobble stones), frequency of intersections, driveways and other junctions, road and cross traffic volumes, intersection treatments, parking and parking turnover, pavement types, rider experience, gender and age, type of cycling (commute, recreation, utility, racing), climate, topography, and more.
While the lack of consistency between evaluated tracks on these details means caution in interpreting and applying the few studies available, any new implementation should strive to learn from years of best practices based on international experiences. The Netherlands and Denmark have very low cycling injury and fatality rates, so their designs are a wonderful place to start.
Q. What is the evidence that people want to use cycle tracks?
A. There is very strong evidence from several recent studies (Portland Center for Transportation Studies, 2011, Winters & Teschke, 2010, and Buehler et al., 2012) that people do want to ride on them! Focusing on cheaper ‘paint’ solutions does not get many more riders on the road, whereas most studies have documented substantial increased use of cycle tracks when they are put in (Pucher & Buehler, 2008, Vanderkooy, 2011, Teschke et al., 2012). The figure below (source: Bice study) shows that cycle tracks are both high in preference and the safest.
Q. But I have heard some expensive cycle tracks don’t get used very much. Is that true?
A. No, not usually. In fact, in most cases, they are very popular. But that can happen, if inadequate attention is paid to connectivity (do the cycle tracks end abruptly and require cyclists to negotiate traffic at either end?), if the routes are out of the way (do the routes go where cyclists are going?), and if they are not designed so people of all ages and abilities feel safe (are intersections marked and controlled so cyclists are seen by drivers?).
The one-ways in Dunedin shouldn’t have this problem as they are near two busy campuses and student housing, near downtown, there are few other convenient routes across town, they would eventually be well connected to other bike routes and would be on the streets with the fastest most direct route through town. That is after all, why the one-ways are part of SH1!
Q. What are some of the options for intersection considerations and design?
A. Intersection considerations and treatments are important for all cycle infrastructure. Cycle tracks may or may not have added complexity since tracks that approach intersections usually become more like an on-road path with cycles again sharing space with turning cars. With anticipated higher volumes and opportunities to improve intersection design, new guidelines (NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2012) and other ideas from around the world have many suggestions for NZ planners to consider (North American driving conventions shown in the gallery below):
There are some key concepts to consider to improve all cycle intersection crossings (source: adapted from Cycle Toronto):
- It is important to mark bicycle crossings through intersections (just as crosswalks mark the pedestrian path).
- With years of trial and error, many consider the Dutch Junction design state of the art.
- For unsignalized intersections, where the cycle track is running along the priority road, it can help to keep cycle track and sidewalks elevated at the sidewalk level through the crossing.
- At signalized intersections, (1) traffic signals can be used to limit conflicts between cyclists and turning cars. Where those conflicts are not entirely eliminated, (2) use of geometric measures such as tight corner radii and medians can help ensure that turning traffic that is permitted to conflict with cyclists moves slowly.
- Making the cycle tracks continuous around each corner keeps the street communication loud and clear.
- Limiting the number of minor intersections, where possible, is always a good strategy.
- Modern technology allows bike signals that can control the cycle track when the time that it is safe for bikes to cross differs from the time that the parallel traffic phase is green.
Q. Will parking need to be removed?
A. If safety is considered paramount, and SPOKES and most others would agree it is, this can best be optimised by removing parking on one side of each one-way. In general motorists when surveyed support the use of cycle tracks, but people who may lose parking in front of their house or business may be inconvenienced. Though some parking is lost, more cycle use will eventually reduce traffic and the demand for parking which we are now learning is a good thing for the economic health of cities. This is because if we make too much room for cars we risk not leaving enough for people and end up hollowing out what used to be more friendly and intimate space for social interaction.
Another way to look at the issue is to consider this: SH1 is a major transport corridor for a city the size of Dunedin. It is the key, most direct North/South route through town, bearing a large portion of such traffic. It should be used for safe transport first, not as a parking facility, when so many other spaces are available. Keep in mind, too, that motorists benefit from separating cyclists from traffic lanes just as they benefit from not sharing the road with pedestrians. While cyclists who choose would still be able to cycle on the one-ways, most would choose the separated infrastructure making travel through the corridor safer and more comfortable for everyone.
Allowing parked vehicles along busy street cycle routes is well known as a key factor for mid-block crashes and removing them is one of the most important safety steps that can be taken along busy cycle routes, whether it is a bike lane or a cycle track. In a New Zealand modeling paper, Turner et. al., 2009, the authors concluded that removing parking can achieve a reduction of up to 75%, in mid-block crashes. Looking at it the other way, keeping parking along any busy route increases mid-block cycle crash risk up to 75%. One wonders why the actions to gain that margin of safety are so difficult to achieve if safety is really paramount in the operation of our multi-modal transport system.
Q. But won’t more pedestrians have to cross a busy one way after parking on the other side?
A. The occupants of a few parked cars represent a tiny proportion of all pedestrians using the one-ways. If it’s not safe for them to cross after a cycle track is put in, the location has bigger problems than worrying about the small number of added pedestrians.
Q. What about drive-way hazards?
A. Drive way conflicts should be little different than the current situation with bike lanes. Removal of parked cars from along side the cycle track side will reduce that hazard even more by opening up sight lines between cyclists, pedestrians and cars pulling out of drive-ways. More frequent use of the protected track may also lead to higher expectations of cyclist presence by drivers (which may be part of the safety in numbers phenomena).
Q. Will overtaking slow cyclists by other cyclists be a problem?
A. It depends on the design and width of the cycle track. If a parking lane is removed, there should be plenty of room for one cyclist to overtake another so that more cyclists are drawn to using the track. Also, a cycle track of this width will allow friends and family members to ride side by side, adding a social dimension that is taken for granted when people walk or and drive together.
Q. What about buses and pedestrians waiting and disembarking?
A. Any type of cross traffic needs thought, design consideration and sometimes compromises. Modern design treatments include raising the protected cycle track and signage of the potential conflicts so both cyclists and passengers recognize the situation. With regards to the roadway, the old design meant buses blocked most of the cycle lane; this was unfair and hazardous to cyclists. Now there are several choices.
If the cycle track and bus are on the same side, it is possible to have the cycle track go around the bus stop so that stopped buses don’t block the cycle track. A pedestrian platform could be provided between the cycle track and the curb where the bus stops so that pedestrians don’t disembark onto the cycle track. That’s a standard part of cycle track design in the Netherlands and Montreal.
If the road is not wide enough, the bus can stop in the traffic lane as they do in many cities. A platform to use for entry and disembarking is helpful in this setting. While this slows traffic occasionally, it prevents bus pull out conflicts and slower speeds are a safety advantage. On one-ways, the bus stop might also be moved to the other side of the street like New York City does with attention paid to improved pedestrian crossings. Lastly, bus route changes can be considered.
Cycle tracks can be more expensive than painted bike lanes, especially if the existing street needs some reconstruction. But there are also versions that are quite inexpensive (e.g., plastic bollards). Choices between these styles involve the balance between attractiveness and more kilometers of cycle tracks elsewhere (and therefore connectivity of a large cycling network that encourages cycling). When comparing painted bike lanes to cycle tracks, we like this quote from Kevin Mayne, Director of Development at the European Cyclists’ Federation:
“If you’re given a fixed amount of money do you do one thing well or lots of things badly? You do the one thing well. If you spend every penny you’ve got on a high-quality segregated lane it will attract people and you can build confidence on that route.”
They are also a smart investment. According to USA Today: “A study last year by the New York City Department of Transportation found that small businesses near protected bike lanes installed in 2007 saw sales grow much more sharply than the borough average. Another study by Portland State University found that people in Portland who drove to local businesses spent more money per visit than bicyclists, but cyclists visited the same businesses more often and spent more overall.” University towns, like Dunedin, especially gain from making these investments because modern bike infrastructure may better help them keep their highly educated and valued young people in the city after graduation.
Lastly, investments in cycle infrastructure need to be approached by looking at the BIG picture, as well. Investments in cycling are not just about transportation because they clearly have much broader impacts. Recent modeling work in the U.S. (Maizlish et. al., 2013) has estimated that increasing median daily walking and bicycling from 4 to 22 minutes can reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 14% and decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 14%. With improved cycle safety of the magnitude the Canadian studies say is achievable, this can occur without raising the traffic injury burden. Earlier but similar research in New Zealand calculated that a shift of 5% of vehicle kilometres to cycling would result in a net of $200 million dollars a year in savings (Lindsay et. al., 2011). These savings would be even higher with safer cycling infrastructure.
In its Safer Journey Strategy, NZ has adopted the ‘Safe System’ approach to road safety which recognises that humans, both drivers and cyclists, are fallible, will make mistakes, and that we should avoid penalizing people with death or serious injury when they make them. “Given that mistakes are inevitable, we need the system to protect people from death or serious injury.” The Safe System approach requires a transport system that reduces the risk of crashes by dividing traffic types and designing ‘forgiving’ road environments. For vulnerable road users such as cyclists, designing away conflicts is fundamental to achieving these goals. It is clear from real world experience, that all too often unprotected cycle lanes fail to account for many of the vagaries of human behaviour. Protected cycle tracks builds in the Safe System approach and reduces the opportunities for human failure.
It is important to point out that road and cycling infrastructure, no matter what its intent, can be implemented well or poorly. The SH1 bike lanes may not have been a bad idea for their 20th Century setting, but they were often implemented poorly resulting in a reduced margin of safety. For modern cycle tracks too, the setting, barrier design, pavement markings, signage, intersection treatments, signal timing, maintenance, and methods of accounting for cross traffic and bus stops, are all part of what will make them a wonderful and successful cornerstone to Dunedin’s growing cycle network and its identity.
More and more transport/cycling professionals (Furth) and other cycle advocates in NZ, AU, US and the UK are calling for cycle tracks in urban areas. These designs virtually eliminate door hazards, sideswipes and run-on type conflicts, while greatly appealing to the full range of current and potential cyclists. Recent research suggests that separated cycle tracks are much safer than painted bike lanes, and equally important, are much more popular.
Modern cycle tracks makes perfect sense for the one-ways. They need to be implemented alongside other solutions across the City for promoting appealing and safe routes so that Dunedin achieves a connected cycle network with safe and inviting choices for all types of cyclists for major destinations.
From the Editor:
This is how and why SPOKES urges the various levels of government to approach the task of improving cycling infrastructure and the cycling experience in Dunedin. As we have said before:
The era of simply painting lanes on busy roads to create pseudo-cycling routes must now draw to a close. The task of retrofitting existing unprotected bike lanes on busy roads to what we know are safer and friendlier designs must be quickly begun.
U.S. Multi-City Green Lane Project
1. Agerholm N, Caspersen S, Lahrmann H: Traffic safety on bicycle paths: results from a new large scale Danish study. 2008.
2. Underlien Jensen S: Bicycle Tracks and Lanes: a Before-After Study. Transportation Research Record – 87th annual meeting 2008.
3. Lusk AC, Furth PG, Morency P, Miranda-Moreno LF, Willett WC, Dennerlein JT: Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. Injury Prevention 2011, 17:131-135.
4. Moritz WE: Adult bicyclists in the United States. Characteristics and riding experience in 1996. Transportation Research Record 1997, 1636.
5. Rodgers GB: Factors associated with the crash risk of adult bicyclists. Journal of Safety Research 1997, 28:233-241.
6. Teschke K, Harris A, Reynolds CCO, Winters M, Babul S, Chipman M, Cusimano MD, Brubacher JR, Hunte G, Friedman SM, et al: Route infrastructure and the risk of injuries to bicyclists: a case-crossover study. Am J Public Health 2012, 102:2336-2343.
7. Harris MA, Reynolds CCO, Winters M, Chipman M, Cripton PA, Cusimano MD, Teschke K: The Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment study: a protocol to tackle methodological issues facing studies of bicycling safety. Injury Prevention 2011, 17:e6.
8. Harris MA, Reynolds CCO, Winters M, Cripton PA, Shen H, Chipman ML, Cusimano MD, Babul S, Brubacher JR, Friedman SM, et al: Comparing the effects of infrastructure on bicycling injury at intersections and non-intersections using a case-crossover design. Injury Prevention 2013, doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040561.