Cycle paths are poor quality

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Summary of the claim

Cycle paths are not very good: they are too narrow, shared with pedestrians, full of obstructions, poorly maintained and run out in weird places. It is faster, more pleasant, or more convenient cycling on the road; therefore we should not construct cycle paths.

Example sources

The Cycle Facility of the Month is often cited in support. Cambridge Cycling Campaign also describe the problem well, as does Derek Allsopp.

Summary of responses

  1. There is no reason cycle paths must be poor quality; cycles paths which are of poor quality are so because they were designed and constructed poorly.
  2. To dismiss all cycling infrastructure based on the infrastructure that we have in UK would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain wants an end to poor quality cycle paths, but that doesn’t mean no cycle paths at all.
  3. The current cycling infrastructure in the UK is largely of a poor quality; the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain exists to address this problem. We aim to tighten the design standards for cycling-related infrastructure and ensure that these standards are implemented, preventing the construction of more cycle lanes that are too narrow, cycle paths that go unswept or go nowhere, and inappropriate “shared use facilities”.
  4. A variety of countries and cities have demonstrated cycle paths that are not poor quality, each of their own local designs. The Netherlands, Copenhagen, and New York are amongst the most famous, and those and other interesting examples will be documented on this site.

In more detail

In the UK, where dedicated infrastructure has been provided, it has usually been poor quality; this is caused by multiple factors:

Cycle infrastructure, such as cycle lanes are often implemented in a manner designed to avoid it having any effect on the adjacent motor traffic, resulting in lanes which are too narrow to be useful for cycling, offering a zero or negative safety benefit to cyclists and doing nothing to improve subjective safety. Some cycle lanes are actually designed as road-narrowing lines (designed to make motorists slow down), the cycle symbols are added in afterwards without any consideration for their intended users.

Two-way paths on pavements are frequently added as an afterthought and might be too narrow to allow cyclists to pass each-other or achieve a useful speed. ‘Shared use’ pavements are often implemented on roads as a way to avoid addressing the problems on the adjacent carriageway; speeds and volumes of motor traffic which are entirely inappropriate for residential areas. The result is often not surfaced to a quality required for cycling and brings cyclists and pedestrians into direct conflict. This provides a poor cycling experience whilst also reducing subjective safety for pedestrians.

Where cycling facilities are added to pavements without appropriate consideration being given to the needs of cyclists, street furniture is often not removed, creating hazards for cyclists and endangering. Because these facilities are often designed as an afterthought, with little of no consideration for the needs of cyclists and to no legally binding minimum standard, they often run out as soon as it becomes more difficult to accommodate separate facilities for cyclists, often placing cyclists suddenly on a blind corner, or merging into a lane containing large volumes of fast-moving motor traffic. The lack of consideration and design standards adhered to in the design of British cycle facilities often means that cycle lanes exist on quiet and slow roads where they are unnecessary, whilst there is no cycling provision on fast, busy roads where it is needed.

As British cycle facilities are often not designed around the needs of cyclists, instead being crudely show-horned in as an after-thought, they are often unlit at night, poorly maintained and swept and rarely treated for ice.

British cycle facilities often feature absurd rules, such as frequent instructions to dismount, instructions for cyclists on a path which is part of a main road to give way (or dismount) to every minor side road and driveway1, or require users to frequently cross from one side of the road to another.

Cycle paths that should provide a safe and inviting alternative to busy and intimidating roads are frequently unusable because they are so badly designed – which is why those who do cycle in the UK frequently chose a road over a cycle path, and why those who don’t cycle in the UK but would like to are put off trying.

This does not mean that cycle paths are inherently bad, however. Other countries and municipalities have developed cycle path design and construction standards that pass the test: they have proved attractive enough to help achieve mass cycling, while keeping cyclists of all disciplines (including roadies) and abilities happy. The Dutch network of cycle paths (see Dutch Cycle Infrastructure for a summary of their provision) is the most extensive and best known, but other countries and cities have their own systems, slightly different, all developed over the course of years or a few decades at most. They are systems which can accommodate large volumes of cyclists of various levels of proficiency and fitness; systems which are not added as an afterthought, filled with obstructions; systems which do not require users to give-way to minor roads and which prioritise cycle traffic; systems in which cyclists are not put in conflict with pedestrians; and systems which are well loved and maintained. These cycle paths are not merely usable; they are more attractive than roads.

The Cycling Embassy has no interest in promoting or supporting poor quality cycle paths – indeed, we hope to help prevent more of them being built. While we will be promoting the construction of new cycling infrastructure where it is needed, we want that infrastructure to be well designed and maintained, and so we are also seeking to improve and extend the design standards of cycling infrastructure and to have them enforced as minimum standards, not as guidelines that can be ignored.


1 Chester Cycling: Trafford Park

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