Authors: Kevin Levesque, Matt Starkey
Dutch design for bicycle traffic is based on the idea that separation from cars keeps cyclists safer and gives them a low-stress, comfortable ride. The standard method of keeping bicycles separate from motor traffic is one way cycle tracks.
One Way Cycle Track, Schieweg, Delft, Netherlands (click for location on Google Maps)
A one way cycle track is a dedicated lane of travel, in one direction only, for use by bicycles separated from motor (and sometimes pedestrian) traffic by a physical barrier. One way cycle tracks can be distinguished by their red pavement with bicycle silhouettes. Unlike two way cycle tracks they do not have the white dashed center line. Physical barriers used include medians, curbs, parking lanes, and separation by elevation. In the above photo the circular sign outlined in red with the bicycle and moped in the center means that travel is not permited in that direction. According to the CROW Design Guide for Bicycle Traffic cycle tracks are the safest solution for bicycle traffic on 50 kmh roads, being preferred over cycle lanes.
The Design Guide has recommendations for the widths of one way cycle tracks based on rush hour intensity. For 0-150 bikes per hour in one direction the recommended width is 2.00 meters, for 150-750 b/h 3.00 meters, and for more than 750 b/h 4.00 meters. While these are the ideal sizes, the guide recognizes that the widths may not be able to be that large, and it may be necessary to reduce track width by 0.5 meters, sacrificing some comfort for feasibility. Most of the low traffic volume cycle tracks have a width of 2.40 meters, which is the width of eight 30 cm pavers.
|Rush Hour Traffic Volume (Bikes/ Hour)||Recommended Design Width, (Minimum Width) in meters||Recommended Design Width, (Minimum Width) in feet|
|150-750||3.00, (2.50)||9.8 (8.2)|
|>750||4.00, (3.50)||13.1 (11.5)|
Cycle tracks should have a design speed of 30 km/h along main cycle routes and 20 km/h for basic networks. The cycle track should also be painted red or red asphault typical of other bicycle ways. The barrier provided between motor traffic and the cycle track should be at least 0.35 meters and where there are lamp posts it should be 1.00 meter. (CROW 2007)
In instances with narrow profiles, it is still possible to provide a physical barrier between cyclists and motor traffic. In such instances the guide provides 6 circumstances to separate cycle tracks and main carriage ways. These are all variations of small curbs. While they act as a physical barrier the small curbs do not provide total protection, as motor vehicles can still cross the curb without too much trouble. Dimensions of narrow one way cycle tracks must take into consideration the height of the curb and the height of bicyclists pedals to prevent cyclists from crashing near curbs. (CROW 2007)
Street level with raised median:
Raised medians provide the most protection to cyclists on one way cycle tracks at street level. A physical barrier that a motor vehicle cannot easily cross will reduce the number of collisions between motorists and cyclists. Medians provide good vision of cyclists near roadways, especially at intersections combined with other safety measures such as advanced stop lines.
Street level with C curb:
C curbs are curbs of various shapes, built of concrete, asphalt or rubber. C curbs are a good way to provide physical separation from motor traffic in a narrow road section. C-curbs are more dangerous than raised medians because a small curb can still be crossed by a motor vehicle, but they will provide enough separation that a cyclist and motorist driving close to the barrier will not hit each other.
Street level, separated by parking lane:
(Sketch from Bikeportland.org)
Cycle tracks separated by a parking lane provide ample protection from motor vehicles as well as increased protection from car doors opening abruptly into cyclists (commonly known as “dooring”). Cycle tracks next to parking lanes in the United States are on street level with a painted median to give cyclists enough room to avoid dooring. We didn't see any examples of this layout in the Netherlands. When the Dutch put a bicycle lane next to parking, they raise the cycle track above street level to an intermediate or sidewalk level. This allows a curb buffer that helps keep parked cars in their place. The higher elevation also improves cyclists' visibility over parked cars.
Intermediate level separated from sidewalk by small curb and (often) parking
In some instances the Dutch will raise a cycle track to an intermediate level. In intermediate cycle tracks, the pedestrian walk way will be elevated slightly above the cycle track. In the photo above there is a 2-3 cm curb between the two. The separation between the roadway and cycle track is usually a curb with a buffer. Intermediate level cycle tracks are the most common type in the parts of the Netherlands we visited. They provide protection from motor vehicles as well as keep pedestrians aware that there is a cycle track.
"Raised bike lane" style cycle track
A less common, but still effective cycle track is an intermediate-level cycle track between the motorist roadway and parked cars. Typically a bike facility between a travel lane and a parking lane would be a bicycle lane, but in this case there is a sharp change in elevation with a beveled curb, with both the cycle track and the parking lane at a level higher than the road, but lower than the sidewalk. This method can save space in narrower roadway sections with parking lanes while still providing protection to cyclists. The beveled curb will cause motorists to slow down to park, creating a safer environment than a regular bike lane. The pedestrian path is on the other side of the parked cars at a higher elevation. The only example of this layout we saw was along the northeast side Dorpskade in Wateringen.
Although much less common than street level and intermediate, cycle tracks at sidewalk level can be seen in the Netherlands. Sidewalk level cycle tracks have the typical separation from traffic that a sidewalk has: a curb and significant change in elevation. Cycle tracks at sidewalk level will often be separated from the carriageway by a curb and sometimes a buffer as small as 40-50 cm and the pedestrian zone will be at the same level.
A common danger with keeping sidewalks and cycle tracks together is that bicycles travel at a much faster rate than pedestrians, especially while going downhill. If a driver approaches an intersection and sees a pedestrian several meters away from crossing, they will proceed through the intersection, when a bike farther away may reach the crossing before the pedestrian would. These dangers can be mitigated with good signage, good sign distance, pavement markings, and most importantly traffic calming, alerting motorists to expect a bicycle.
Dutch intersections with cycle tracks crossing roadways are built to protect cyclists. Cycle tracks often shift away from the roadway at intersections as in the photo to the right. The stop line for cars moving across the street is behind the pedestrian crosswalk where the two men are standing at the left of the photo. The stop line for bicycles is approximately 10 meters further, toward the center of the photo with its own smaller signal. This advanced stop line provides motorists with a greater vision of cyclists. The signal phases between the motorists' signal and the cyclists' signal are typically synchronized so that cyclists will be across the intersection before motor traffic has the chance to meet them. Also, it is common for cycle crossings to be synchronous with left turn signals so the bike and car paths do not cross.
It is common for intersections in the Netherlands with cycle tracks have bend-outs for the cyclists, especially in rural areas. In urban areas with traffic signals the bend-outs provide the protective islands and vision of cyclists as well as separate signal phases specifically for bikes. The islands created by the bend outs also provide room for the signal posts. In non-signalized intersections the cyclists are still protected but do not have their own signal phases. On rural cycle tracks approaching roundabouts, bend outs act as a traffic calming measure, slowing down cyclists because they do not have priority like in urban settings. Bend outs are sometimes wide enough to provide a waiting area for cars turning off the main street between the main street's travel lane and the cycle track.
Mark Wagenbuur has created a video describing Dutch intersections with cycle tracks: Markenlei Dutch Intersections. Mark points out the strengths of the Dutch method of intersections. By adding a corner protective island the intersection becomes much safer for cyclists without cars losing any space. Also the stop line for the cyclist is farther forward than the car driver, allowing the cyclist to remain in the motorists' vision. This type of intersection also allows for a queue to build in the bike track to cross the road without blocking cycle traffic crossing perpendicular or blocking right hand turns. He also explains how these intersections could be implemented on existing roads with bike lanes within the available right-of-way.
Raised Crossings- Raised crossings are sections of crossings that are elevated above the rest of the roadway by several centimeters, enough to force a car to slow down. They are also marked with elephants feet and sharks teeth (when applicable) to warn approaching traffic that there is a cycle track or path.
Separate Signal Phases – Some crossings have specific signal phases for cyclists. Often this is a head start of a few seconds to allow cycles to move out of the roadway before motorists have a chance to start. Other times the signal phase will be synced to the left turn light for traffic heading from the same direction the cyclist is coming from.
Pavement Markings at Crossings- Elephants feet, the white boxes that line cycle paths across intersections, alert drivers that there could be a cyclist approaching and to be wary. Bike paths are usually paved in a different color (red in the Netherlands) to be more visible to drivers, and that color is sometimes continued through intersections, sometimes not. Stop lines and sharks teeth are added to remind bicyclists to yield to incoming traffic where they have a red light or don't have the right of way. Pavement Markings, Westblaak, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Parking Setback – When cycle tracks are separated from the road way by a parking lane there will be a setback (an offset to the tangent from the intersecting street's near curb) to allow motorists to have vision of cyclists at intersections. Setbacks vary in length depending on the road way and cycle tracks involved. Typical setbacks we measured were from 10-18 meters.
A refuge cycle track occurs when a road approaching an intersection contains no dedicated cycle track, but a short section of cycle track is provided shortly before the intersection. By removing cyclists from traffic it creates a safer environment to move through the intersection, especially when there are right-turning heavy vehicles. And like typical Dutch intersections, turning traffic will have better vision of cyclists due to the stop line being several meters in front of the motorist stop line.
In general, two way cycle tracks provide more convenience to cyclists. Accidents can be avoided if cyclists have to cross traffic lanes less often; however, two way cycle tracks can cause cyclists to make maneuvers that will not be expected by motorists. This is especially true at intersections and roundabouts. For example, a car turning right might not expect a cyclist to approach from across the street (to its left during the turn). This can cause dangerous situations for cyclists and motorists.
In the Netherlands, it was previously common practice to use two-way cycle tracks sparingly. Conventional practice was for bikes to keep to the right like motor traffic, and it seemed logical to add a separation and still have bicycle traffic traveling the same basic location (to the far right) as always. Since 2000 or so, two way cycle tracks started to become more common, for several reasons. The municipality of Pijnacker-Nootdorp now exclusively builds two way cycle tracks, even going as far to redevelop existing roads with one way cycle tracks to have two way cycle tracks. For more information, see the chapter on two-way cycle tracks.
The photo below shows a cycle track transitioning from two-way to one-way, with a diversion island to force the "wrong-way" cyclists to cross the street.
Engineers usually place drainage along cycle tracks that have a high curb, just like they would for a normal road. The catch basin grates are usually smaller due to the smaller impermeable areas. When cycle tracks have no curbs or are pitched on sidewalk or intermediate levels then water will flow into the road where the engineers will have taken this impermeable space into account and have appropriately sized catch basins.