Ciccarelli on cycle tracks

John Ciccarelli is a consultant on bicycling and a League of American Bicyclists-certified cycling instructor who specializes in teaching adults who have never ridden a bicycle before. His comments here are reprinted by permission, and are in response to an e-mail he cites.

Subject: Re: Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany


Thanks, I’ve seen John Pucher’s work. Because some cycle-track advocates have argued for them in streetscape projects I’ve been involved with, I have surveyed the research fairly extensively.

I have at least eight concerns about introducing cycle tracks in the U.S.:

  1. One-way cycle tracks trade the perception of increased safety between intersections, for a documented increase in bicycle-involved collisions at intersections due to through-right conflicts. For this reason European agencies that have installed cycle tracks in the past have begun routing cycle traffic onto the street just before the intersection, i.e. alongside the vehicular right turn area, to make through cyclists visible to right-turning motorists. Without intersection priority for bicyclists — either a bike-only signal phase or a bicycle head-start phase — combined with restriction of right-turn-on-red, there is no way to remove this hazard from cycle-track designs. Note that such off-to-on-street transitions occur where a “near-side” bus stop is located.
  2. Northern European driving laws prioritize walkers and bicyclists above motorists, such that the motorist in a car-bike or car-ped collision is assumed at fault even if the nonmotorized party makes a mistake. Fines and penalties, up to and including loss of driving privilege, are a major deterrent to right of way violation by motorists. In the U.S., this would be considered draconian, and I see no quick way to change U.S. public opinion, let alone gather the political support for enacting legislation. I believe that without such penalties, inherent cycle-track-at-intersection conflicts are a recipe for an increase in major-injury and fatality rates.
  3. Sidewalk level bicycle facilities in the U.S. tend to become 2-way even if 1-way operation is intended. This further (and dramatically) increases crash risk at intersections and driveways because higher-speed opposite-way traffic is not expected by motorists. The bicycle mode share in Copenhagen and some other places with cycle tracks is above 40% [but see note below — John Allen], so cycle track volumes are more than high enough for 1-way travel to be self-enforcing. In contrast, in the U.K. where bike mode share is not nearly as high, there is much wrong-way riding on “1-way” cycle tracks.
  4. The typical U.S. suburban commercial arterial development pattern is frequent driveways due to a lack of raised medians and shared off-street parking. A sidewalk-level bicycle facility, whether 1-way or 2-way, will generate frequent driveway conflicts. Bike lanes on the street also have driveway conflicts, but they are considerably lower in comparison because legal-direction compliance by bicyclists is much higher, and bicyclists are more visible to turning motorists.
  5. Cycle tracks do not allow cyclists to properly prepare for vehicular-style left turns at intersections. In the Netherlands, such turns are prohibited for bicyclists; a bicycle-specific signal phase enables bicyclists to turn left from the right side without motor vehicle conflicts. This greatly increases total signal cycle time and consequently average delay for all users.
  6. Urban cycle tracks that run behind busy bus stops have high incidences of pedestrian-bicycle conflicts and collisions. A bus shelter, if present, creates a zero-sightline situation at which the safe travel speed is a slow walk, but of course few U.S. sidewalk cyclists ride slowly.
  7. If the vehicular part of the street is not narrowed, including potential removal of on-street vehicle parking, adding cycle tracks in the sidewalk area takes away width for walking and other uses such as trees, seating, and cafés. In Copenhagen, the car parking was removed from cycle-track streets and shifted onto side streets. This was politically feasible because the bicycle mode share had grown high enough, but it has had the side effect of increasing bicycle-vehicle collisions at intersections because of increased right-turn activity by motorists now turning off the major street to hunt for parking on the side street.
  8. Perhaps most importantly, because of the limited width available in any streetscape cross section, I fear that many agencies would remove on-street bicycle travel width (bike lanes or shareably-wide outside lanes) if sidewalk-level (“cycle track”) facilities were installed. Do you want to see narrow outside lanes on the streets you now ride?

Many cycle track advocates assert that they are the only way the U.S. can hope to achieve northern-European bike mode shares, or even double-digit mode shares, but the reality is more complex. In fact, Denmark’s own roads agency has published a report, which I can send you, that ranks the effectiveness of various engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement measures in increasing bicycle mode share. Car parking restrictions and fuel pricing (i.e. making motoring less convenient) ranked higher than cycle tracks.

The “1%” U.S. figure is similarly touted by cycle track advocates. But in fact, several U.S. cities have significantly higher bicycle mode shares — some in double digits — yet have not relied on cycle tracks to achieve this. The key example is Portland, Oregon, where (according to the city’s bicycle program manager) a combination of bike lanes, a comprehensive trail network along the river, improvements to bridge access, and high-quality promotion including personalized trip planning and also women-specific campaigns, has doubled the bike mode share in a decade.

As such, I heartily support all of the provisions I’ve boldfaced in the abstract below. However, I challenge the assertion that:

“The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily traveled roads and at intersections”.

The question is what constitutes “heavily traveled”. Engineering practice in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany sets the off-street-bike-facility threshold really low — at what we would call a “major collector” level street. Current U.S. practice sets it much higher, at major-major-arterial or expressway level. For freeways and expressways there is no disagreement that a separate facility is appropriate. The issue is how to treat typical arterials, and major collectors. The U.S. approach for collectors and arterials has so far been bike lanes, plus intersection treatments including bike through lanes and now “bike boxes” (advance waiting areas at signals).

John Ciccarelli
Bicycle Solutions

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From: Kyle Hutchison
Sent: Friday, October 10, 2008 11:00 AM
To: MS Cycling Club
Subject: >Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany

Happy Friday. J

Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany

This paper shows how the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany have made bicycling a safe, convenient, and practical way to get around their cities. The analysis relies on national aggregate data as well as case studies of large and small cities in each country. The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily traveled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighborhoods. Extensive cycling rights of way in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany are complemented by ample bike parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling. In addition to their many pro-bike policies and programs, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany make driving expensive as well as inconvenient
in central cities through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use, and parking. Moreover, strict land use policies foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter and thus more bikeable trips. It is the coordinated implementation of this multifaceted, mutually reinforcing set of policies that best explains the success of these three countries in promoting cycling
. For comparison, the paper portrays the marginal status of cycling in the UK and USA, where only about one percent of trips are by bike.

John Ciccarelli’s web site.

John Ciccarelli’s teaching web site.

Note: According to this web page, which cites official counts, the widely-cited 40% figure is only for work trips as of 1999; they have declined to around 37% since. Bicycle trips accounted for less than 25% of all trips in Copenhagen in 1999 and now account for around 22%.

3 responses to “Ciccarelli on cycle tracks

  1. Pingback: Concerned About Concerns « Cycling Unbound

  2. Could you provide a reference or link to the Danish report mentioned by John that ranks the effectiveness of various engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement measures in increasing bicycle mode share?

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