Bike Boulevards of Broken Dreams

Copenhagenize - 24 January, 2017 - 11:30

Guldbergsgade, Copenhagen, Denmark (MCA)

Bike Boulevards of Broken Dreams
by Holly Hixson

Holly Hixson has a background in Urban Planning and Psychology from the University of Oregon. She has interned in the Copenhagenize office in both Montreal and Copenhagen.

As an intern for the Danish urban design firm Copenhagenize Design Co., I’ve learned a lot about best practices in bike planning, about committing to those best practices rather than taking a half-step and calling it progress and about making bold moves toward a future you want for your city.
I’ve been able to ride on the best bicycle infrastructure in the world that is lively and overflowing with people, sheer proof that if you build it, and you build it correctly, bicycle users will come. Today’s reality on the streets of Copenhagen looks like what we want for the future of mobility in our cities. A future without hoverboards and flying cars but with regular people, using the bicycle as a tool, not because they are extraordinary humans but because they have things to do and want to get there quick. Simple.

My reality for the most part, looks a lot different than this. I’m from Portland, Oregon. I still get stuck places where a painted bike lane abruptly ends, I still feel unsafe, unsupported, even in what’s considered one of the most bike friendly cities in the U.S., growth is measured in half-steps; I know these streets weren't built for me. I’ve often found it most pleasant to resort to neighborhood streets elsewhere. Luckily, I live in a neighborhood that has made deliberate decisions about how these local streets should feel to a people on bikes.

Enter: the bicycle boulevard. Internationally, variations of this concept have existed since around 1980 when Germany began making bike priority streets - the fahrradstraße. Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK have similar concepts, the cykelgade, fietsstraat, woonerfen among other bike priority streets incorporate traffic calming techniques have been great for filling in gaps in the bike networks. And let me stress: filling in the network. These quiet streets have been used as a tool to add to networks, not to create the backbone of them. Indeed, Copenhagen experimented with the idea in the early 90s and then promptly ditched them. Instead prioritizing bicycle infrastructure along the natural desire lines in the city - the streets leading to the city centre.

Netherlands (Herman Wouters, New York Times)

Esslingen, Germany (

Similar ideas have also been popping up (with varying levels of success) in North American cities such as Austin, Vancouver and Minneapolis. Often they are used as cheap and easy bicycle connections in lieu of real A-to-B infrastructure, but when designed properly, a bicycle boulevard that adds to a greater network can look like this:

Minneapolis, MN (

Berkeley, CA (Carrie Cizauskas) (
James Mayer (OregonLive) Portland, Oregon (above)

They contain elements such as chicanes - raised curbs that narrow streets in a serpentine pattern so that drivers have fewer stretches of wide open space. In some spots, the road is accessible to only bikes and by car only for residents. Scattered throughout are small roundabouts, landscaping and extended curbs at intersections. Clearly marked signs remind cars they are not the top priority on these streets, tell people on bikes what’s nearby and of course there are LOTS of speed bumps. These solutions are all pretty simple: design spaces that calm car traffic and ease bicycle traffic. And do it on purpose.

Vancouver BC Fundamentals of bicycle boulevard planning & design, PSU (above)

On the other hand, when done half-heartedly, a bike boulevard can look like this: Wide open space, no traffic calming devices, no priority, just paint declaring it a bicycle boulevard.

Thatcher Imboden ( Minneapolis, MN

This example, brings me to Montréal. Here I was, interning at Copenhagenize’s North American office and what I’ve gathered is that Montréal, like Portland, is familiar with taking half-steps in the direction of progress. Putting in the largest protected cycle track network in North America, to their credit, makes a statement about the kind of future the city aspires to.

However, a city that anticipates over 200 cm of snowfall annually can’t be taken seriously as a leader in bicycle urbanism internationally if most of those protected cycle tracks and significant bicycle parking are taken out for half of the year. It goes without saying that cars do not face the same forced hibernation in the presence of snow. There is evidence of a change in that attitude, with much improved steps being taken in local maintenance so far this winter.

Bartek Komorowski (Montreal)

To put my experience in context, as someone new to the city, I’ve found it fairly easy to navigate the streets by bike. Neighborhoods like the Plateau are dense with apartments and destinations; restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping, public space. The quiet, narrow streets don’t give me priority but they also don’t make me feel largely unsafe or too small for the space. This is true on neighbourhood streets and seems to be a popular opinion given that the city of Montréal as a whole only has about 3% of people commuting by bicycle, while the Plateau has over 10%. It would not take much to greatly affect how people on bikes feel in this space, to give them priority over cars and to do this by using design. Simply painting shared lane markings on the street and dubbing it bicycle infrastructure though, is not enough. We know now what we have long suspected. Sharrows don't work.

The newest additions to the Montréal bicycle network (currently being pursued as pilot projects) are two bicycle boulevards, or vélorues, on Rue de Mentana and Saint-André. Both are great opportunities to add to the network and indicate priority and commitment to actual change in how people are getting around the city. Mentana and Saint-André are fairly quiet and narrow, one-way streets with parking on either side. As of now, there are the occasional speed bumps, signs saying that trucks aren’t allowed to access these roads and painted sharrows (shared road symbols) on the street. However, the paint used is not long-lasting thermoplast paint, so after just a few weeks of snow and slush, the symbols are already tattered and faded. And now, after a few months of winter - almost non-existent.

Holly Hixson (Rue Saint-André) left & Michael Wexler (Rue Mentana) right

Both vélorues cross several perpendicular streets, including Saint-Joseph - a 6 lane residential boulevard and a high volume East-West connector for cars, especially during rush hour. Down the center of Saint-Joseph is a narrow median with room for pedestrians and bikes to wait so as not to cross two-way traffic at once, diverting cars from taking Mentana or Saint-André all the way through. This space existed before the bicycle boulevard project began, already offering traffic calming to the area and continues to be very tight for bicycles and pedestrians to feel fully comfortable.

Holly Hixson (Rue Saint-Joseph)

One significant change here is the addition of four signals installed at the crossing of Saint-Joseph and Rachel streets which give bikes and pedestrians safe passage on a green light. Despite this, there are not yet signs that say bikes have priority. There are no new pieces of infrastructure or signs that limit the speed for cars. There are no other new traffic calming elements present.

(Holly Hixson)

Drawing on past projects that Montréal has done and a desire to continuously make progress for bicycles in the city, a pilot project can be helpful in improving existing assets and gaining public support for new ideas. Sure, these streets are fairly comfortable to ride a bike on, but only as much as they ever have been.

If money is being invested in the creation of vélorues, if the City desires political praise for doing something for bikes, then new infrastructure (especially pilot projects) must really show their commitment to innovation. In order for Montréal’s pilot project to be successful, these aspects of real traffic calming - for example new diverters, planters, chicanes, signage, and solid public outreach - need to be present from the start. There are plenty of examples to draw inspiration from.

via Marc-André Gadoury (Montreal)

Looking forward, let us not conform to a substandard “good enough” attitude, let's look to best practices and replicate those, and redesign space to speak for itself. We must abandon half-step attempts and instead take bold strides in the direction of progress. We commend the City of Montréal on the announcement of new projects like the 3km stretch of Copenhagen-style cycle tracks to be implemented in 2017 (see above), but wish that efforts like the new vélorues aimed for the same level of commitment to innovation.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Rotterdam (encore)

BicycleDutch - 23 January, 2017 - 23:01
As announced, no ordinary big elaborate post this week. But… I happened to be in Rotterdam yet again last Saturday, this time for a family visit. On the prior visits … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network – Cycle Traffic

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 23 January, 2017 - 11:31

In October, without a huge amount of fanfare, a new Highways England ‘Standard’ was released, entitled ‘Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network’.

Importantly, this is not merely cycling design ‘guidance’. It sets out, quite explicitly, requirements for how cycle traffic should be designed for when it travels along, or crosses, or engages with, the Strategic Road Network (SRN), the roads administered by Highways England. Over the course of this week I’m going to look at this document – which has the unglamorous reference title ‘Interim Advice Note 195/16’ – in a series of posts. It’s 68 pages long, and there’s a large amount of important detail in it, so it’s worth examining thoroughly. It’s not completely perfect, it isn’t sexy or exciting in appearance, but, crucially, I think it raises the bar massively in terms of design quality, and in terms of user consideration.

Although IAN 195/16 does contain recommendations, and design advice, much of it sets out minimum standards and requirements – in particular, things like gradients, design speeds, widths, and so on – and states that designers to have to apply for a ‘Departure from Standards’ where they feel they cannot (or choose not to) meet those requirements.

The following definitions are used –

  • “Must”: is used in this document to denote a statutory obligation.
  • “Shall”: is used in this document to denote a requirement.
  • “Should”: is used in this document to denote a recommendation.

So in the very first paragraph of section 2, entitled ‘Cycle Traffic’,we have the passage

Highways England and designers shall plan to acquire land to create the space to accommodate cycle traffic as part of new scheme designs (see Section 1.3) or when enhancing cycling provision for existing routes with NMU prohibitions.

… the ‘shall’ here denotes a requirement – this is something designers have to do – they have to plan land acquisition, alongside new road schemes, to create cycle provision. Likewise (shortly after) –

Infrastructure shall provide sufficient capacity to accommodate growth in volumes of cycle traffic.

… is a requirement that cycleways should be wide enough to deal with future demand, not just the existing (greatly suppressed) levels of use. IAN 195/16 states that designers shall use planning guidance to account for future cycle traffic.

We then, pleasingly, have reference to these familiar five principles, explicitly taken from Dutch design guidance.

Note again the repeated use of the word ‘shall’ (requirement) here, rather than ‘should’ (recommendation).

After this IAN 195/16 moves swiftly to ‘Facility Selection’, based around one of the most significant tables in the document – a speed/volume separation requirement.

This is what designers have to do for cycle traffic on the SRN, without applying for a ‘Departure from Standards’.

Any vehicle flow above 5,000 vehicles per day, regardless of speed limit, requires physical separation of cycle traffic from motor traffic; any speed limit above 30mph also requires physical separation. Painted lanes or ‘quiet streets’ are only appropriate at 30mph or below and with motor vehicles flows below 5000 per day. (The document also notes that if actual speeds are higher than the posted speed limit, then that is the category of provision that should be considered).

This doesn’t quite match with the Space for Cycling requirement of >2000PCU/day and speed limits of >20mph both requiring physical separation. I suspect that painted lanes on a road carrying 5,000 vehicles a day and with a 30mph limit are not genuinely inclusive. Nevertheless it is a very good foundation, especially given that these are minimum requirements. Sharing (or ‘combined traffic’) is not appropriate above 30mph; nor is it appropriate above 5,000 vehicles per day.

We also have the important provision that ‘if actual speeds are higher than a speed limit, and are unlikely to reduce through control measures, then consider the next highest category of speed’ – i.e. cycle facilities should be appropriate to the speed that people are actually driving at, not simply matched to a (potentially unrealistic) speed limit.

Speed is also crucial when we are considering how cycling itself should be designed for. We have this important requirement –

Cycle traffic shall be separated from pedestrian and equestrian traffic in order to allow cyclists to travel at the design speed.

No shared use footways, in other words. The design speed being 30kph, or 18mph, on the flat, and 40kph (25mph) on downhill gradients of 3% or more –

Absolute minimums are permitted only under specific circumstances.

The type of vehicle that is being designed for is hugely important too, and it is really encouraging to see this kind of document putting non-standard cycles front and centre – these are, after all, the kind of vehicles (and users) that will be excluded from the network if it is not designed properly.

A handcycle is the first image we come to in this section.

The ‘Cycle Design Vehicle’ – i.e. the standard unit size that designers must account for – has dimensions given as 2.8m long, by 1.2m wide, accommodating things like tandems, longer cargo bikes, and bikes with trailers, as well as wider cycles like hand cycles and trikes. There are diagrams giving dimensions for these vehicles.

It’s also good to see things visibility envelopes (for stopping distances) taking account of different potential users too.

Finally, for this ‘introductory’ design basics segment of the document, we have stipulations on horizontal and vertical alignment, and on gradients.

‘A good horizontal alignment will not include diversions or fragmented facilities’ is a clear, concise way of stating that cycle provision should not meander, and should be straightforward and continuous. Changes in direction should be provided by ‘simple curves’ – because that is how people change direction, not at sudden right angles! – according to the following dimensions.

Similarly for vertical alignment, we have a stipulation that gradients (just as with horizontal direction) should not change dramatically – ‘For comfort, there shall be a minimum sag K value of 5.0’, where ‘K’ is essentially an expression of how quickly gradient changes over horizontal distance – the smaller the ‘K’, the more quickly gradient is changing.

Finally, stipulations for gradient ensure that steep slopes are never encountered, and that steeper gradients are only encountered for short periods.

If these criteria cannot be met, then ‘earthworks shall be provided’ or the ‘horizontal alignment adjusted’ to bring the gradient into line.

That’s a good place to end for now. The impression created from these initial paragraphs is, clearly, that the title of this document is quite deliberate. Cycles are indeed ‘Traffic’ and should be designed for accordingly, with just as much care as for motor vehicles on the road network.

In the next post we will look at what ‘Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network’ has to be say about cycle facilities in particular – how wide they should be, what form they should take, and the relationship they should have with the road network.

Categories: Views

Riding in the Rotterdam Rain

BicycleDutch - 16 January, 2017 - 23:01
In the morning, it will be clouded with possible rain. With a strong south-westerly wind, temperatures will reach circa 4 degrees (39F). Later in the day the rain is expected … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Plotting a Dutch network onto a British town

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 16 January, 2017 - 11:02

An exercise I’ve been planning for a while is to categorise all the streets and roads of the town of Horsham. Some of this work had been started by Paul James of Pedestrianise London. A while back we had discussed a Sustainable Safety categorisation of the town, deciding which streets and roads should fall into which category of through, distributor, or access road, and Paul had started a base map of distributor roads.

With some free time over the weekend, I’ve managed to bite into this exercise even more, starting at the opposite end of the scale, and I’ll discuss my method and the outcomes here. I think it’s a useful thing to do for towns and cities in Britain, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gets us thinking about which roads and streets require more expensive interventions like cycleways; which streets might require some kind of filtering; and which streets (actually the vast majority, in the case of Horsham) that don’t require any action at all. Secondly, it also helps to identify the ‘problem’ areas, those roads and streets that don’t fall immediately into an obvious distributor road category, but that will require some action.

The first step was to plot all the cul-de-sacs in the town. By my definiton ‘cul-de-sac’ I included every single road or street that has a single entry and exit point for motor traffic, regardless of length – in other words, every driver using one of these streets will have to leave via the point they entered.

This includes the obvious short cul-de-sacs –

… as well as some much longer sections of road.

I think it’s a reasonable assumption that all these cul-de-sacs are by definition ‘cycle friendly’, without any adaptation, or addition of cycling infrastructure. Even the largest – like the one above – will only include a hundred or so dwellings, meaning that traffic levels will still be reasonably low. The key point is that cul-de-sacs will have no ‘extraneous’ traffic, i.e. drivers going somewhere else. The only drivers on them will be using them to access dwellings or properties within the cul-de-sac itself, meaning even the largest ones will not have a great deal of motor traffic.

Once I’d finished plotting all of these streets, I could then take a look at the town overall. To my slight surprise, a very large percentage of  the town is composed of cul-de-sacs.

All the streets in green are essentially safe enough for anyone to cycle on – they will be quiet, low traffic streets, requiring little or no modification.

The map also shows a clear distinction between housing age. Houses built in the period before mass motoring tend to be on ‘open’ streets, like this late Victoria housing area to the east of the town centre.

This contrasts strongly with the areas of post-war housing – particularly that built from the 1960s and 1970s onwards – in the northern parts of the town, where nearly every single residential street is a cul-de-sac.

This is perhaps a consequence of the influence of Traffic in Towns, but it’s most likely a rational response to the increasingly pervasive influence of the motor car on society. In the Victorian era, there wasn’t any need to build ‘closed’ roads, because there wasn’t really a ‘traffic problem’. The cul-de-sac emerged as a design solution to that problem, allowing people to live on streets that were safe and quiet, not dominated by people driving somewhere else. The challenge, of course, is ‘converting’ the streets of the pre-motor car age into ‘virtual’ cul-de-sacs, creating those pleasant and safe residential environments that the majority of the town already enjoys, and this exercise reveals which particular streets will be an issue – something we will come to.

I then chose to ‘add on’ to this cul-de-sac layer those residential streets that have more than one entry and exit point, but will realistically still only be used for access. For instance, this network of residential streets to the east of the town.

Clearly, it’s possible to drive through and around these streets, but there’s no real reason to do this unless you are accessing properties on them – so they fall neatly into another category of streets that require little or no remedial action to make them ‘cycle friendly’. Some of this requires a degree of local judgement, and knowledge about the routes drivers might be taking as short cuts, but I’ve been quite conservative in the ‘open’ streets I added to this category.

Add these two layers together, and we can see that even more of the town becomes ‘green’.

I then wiped the slate clean, removing both these layers, and approached the town from the opposite end of the scale, adding the obvious through road (the town’s bypass), and what I consider to be the distributor roads – the roads that will remain ‘open’ to drivers, and that will therefore require cycling infrastructure to separate people cycling from these higher volumes of motor traffic.

There might be a case for adding more roads to this category, or removing some from it –  again, this is a matter for local judgement, and there is one road on this map that probably shouldn’t be in this category. (I’ll leave you to spot it!)

We can then add all the layers together to reveal the streets and the roads that haven’t fallen into any of these categories.

The good news is that there aren’t very many of them. Given the discussion above, they mostly lie, as expected, in the areas of the town built before the middle of the twentieth century – the 1930s housing to the west, and housing of similar age (or earlier) to the east).

Early 20th century housing to the west of the town centre. A fair number of ‘unclassified’ streets that will require some kind of action.

What kind of intervention is required is obviously a matter for local discussion – there might be an obvious (but naturally controversial) filter that could be applied in many of these locations, but on slightly wider streets painted lanes might suffice, given that motor traffic levels are not exceptionally high on any of these streets. Or there might be no need for action at all.

The final step – and one I haven’t started on yet! – is to add on the existing walking and cycling connections between these areas, and to highlight obvious connections for cycling that are not legal or need to be upgraded, or that simply don’t exist at present. One particular problem that has emerged from this exercise is railway line severance in the north east of the town – it would be good (albeit expensive) to get a walking and cycling underpass, under the railway line, connecting these large, otherwise isolated, residential areas.

Clearly, doing this kind of Google Map is only a first step. It’s easy enough to draw lines on a map; the harder part is actually getting the interventions in place. But it’s very helpful in focusing attention on precisely where those interventions are required. The main roads jump out; but also the more problematic roads in-between the obvious main roads and the quiet access streets, that remain white on my map, and will need some discussion at a local level.

Categories: Views

The effect of snow clearance from on-road cycle-lanes vs. off-road cycle-paths demonstrates why off-road paths are superior for cyclists

A View from the Cycle Path - 13 January, 2017 - 17:34
There are many disadvantages of on-road cycle-lanes vs. off-road cycle-paths. This was well illustrated today when cycling along a road with a cycle-lane on one side and a cycle-path on the other. Cyclists using the on-road lane suffered from that lane being halved in effective width from the usual 2.1 m to about 1 m due to swept snow filling half the lane. This pushed those cyclists closer to David Hembrow
Categories: Views

Sustainable or Systematic Safety

BicycleDutch - 9 January, 2017 - 23:01
Peter G. Furth, professor Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, asked me to help him create a video to explain the Dutch system that aims to make … Continue reading →
Categories: Views


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