Uniformity

A uniform system is one that is understandable and consists of a minimum of different types of movement corridors. This means that citizens know what a cycle path looks like, and can be expected to know how to use it. In the UK however, there are numerous different types of paths, and a lack of consensus on how they should be used. We have mandatory cycle lanes, marked by a continuous white line, advisory cycle lanes, marked by a broken white line, contra flow cycle lanes, in which cyclists are permitted to cycle opposite the prevailing motor traffic, shared footways for pedestrians and cyclists, and traffic free cycle routes that tend to cover longer distances and be shared with pedestrians. All of these are of varying widths and surfacing and segregations, and of no uniform appearance. This doesn’t create a pleasant user experience.

In Copenhagen, the cycle network is uniform across the city. Four different types of bicycle infrastructure are used, and are thus recognisable to all citizens. This uniformity provides reassurance to the cyclist that they will not reach the end of a cycleway and be left on a busy road at the mercy of lorries and speeding cars, citizens know that they can expect the same types of bicycle roads and infrastructure wherever they go, and can feel secure in reaching their destination safely. These types of infrastructure are:

A Shared Space Zone

No cycle infrastructure as such, a space with a slow speed limit. Bicycles mix with cars. These have varying degrees of success primarily determined by the extent to which motor vehicles are restricted from the space. As such they are the weakest component of the city-wide infrastructure. On the busiest pedestrian streets, cyclists are required to dismount, but parallel routes are also available for cycling. These are less than ideal, but provide a solution in places with limited space and large numbers of pedestrians. In his blog ‘A view from the cycle path’, David Hembrow argues that shared space ‘does not serve the vulnerable, rather it prioritises the powerful’1).This is evidenced by data showing how accidents have actually increased since the introduction of shared space in areas of the UK2. As such, we can consider that although shared space is a step in the right direction in terms of cycling provision, it is a far from ideal solution for cycling in most urban contexts.

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A shared space street, in the style of Jan Gehl, in the centre of Copenhagen / Image from voleospeed.co.uk

Bidirectional Paths

Separated from motor traffic, and forming isolated rural paths between settlements, these paths again form a small section of the overall infrastructure in Copenhagen. They are useful in areas in which bikes can follow a different route to vehicular traffic, as on pedestrian bridges, and cycle only routes.

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A pedestrian and cycle bridge in the centre of Copenhagen. 4 metres is the standard width for bidirectional paths in the Netherlands but those in Denmark are often narrower / Image from thelocal.dk

Painted Lanes

Around 2.2m wide in Copenhagen, and 2.5m in the Netherlands, these paths allow two cyclists to ride abreast. There are many painted lanes in Copenhagen, and segregated lanes often turn into painted lanes at junctions. Importantly, all of these paths are painted in the same ‘Copenhagen Blue’. Whilst paint is inferior to distinctive paving, and in wet weather may cause a lack of traction, it can be a useful solution for short stretches of path across junctions.

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Image from ramblershighway.wordpress.com

Segregated Lanes

There are 1000km of protected tracks in Greater Copenhagen. Some of which are segregated by street trees, and others by a small kerb. These paths are often only marked with a minimal change in elevation – but that is all that’s necessary. Segregated paths are often touted as the perfect solution to providing cycling opportunities, because they make the cyclist ‘feel safe’, and it is only when urban cycling starts to feel safe, and less like an extreme sport, that people start to cycle.
High levels of subjective safety however, do not necessarily equate to high levels of actual safety. Proponents of the ‘vehicular cycling’ ethos, often argue that these types of lanes actually increase accidents, because they make motorists less aware of cyclists, and therefore more likely to collide with them at points when the segregated path stops at junctions. One proponent of this viewpoint is Jan Heine, who argues in his blog that this way of creating infrastructure means the protection ends where the cyclist needs it most – at intersections – and suggests an alternative method of ‘channelling cyclists and vehicles on separate and parallel routes’, and where this is not possible reducing the speed of traffic3. Despite this, it is reasonable to conclude that segregated paths, so long as equipped with safe junction crossings, are often the most reasonable solution for safe cycling provision.

 Image from streetsblog.org The standard Copenhagen one-way cycle track, 1.5–2m wide, with a 5-10cm change in elevation from cycle-way to street. Cyclists are further protected by on-street car and bike parking, and prioritized through the provision of a smooth surface, in comparison to the paving provided for pedestrians.

The standard Copenhagen one-way cycle track, 1.5–2m wide, with a 5-10cm change in elevation from cycle-way to street. Cyclists are further protected by on-street car and bike parking, and prioritized through the provision of a smooth surface, in comparison to the paving provided for pedestrians / Image from streetsblog.org

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Copenhagen; major traffic arteries also have segregated cycle paths running alongside them / Image from Google maps

 

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Paths along wide suburban streets segregated by areas of planting in the Netherlands / Image from cycleseven.org

 

Footnotes

1. Hembrow, David 2016. A view from the cycle path: Shared Space revisited. The hype continues but in reality it still doesn’t work.  [Accessed 18 July 2016].

2. Wiltshire Times. 2016. Police boss vows to keep Bradford on Avon HCZ safe  [Accessed 18 July 2016].

3. Heine, Jan. 2013. Seperated cycle paths [Accessed 23 July 2016].