Slow Streets principal and co-founder Darren Proulx will be venturing across the ocean to the cycling capital of the world once again in 2017. Previously Darren visited Amsterdam in 2015, you can read a summary of his observations here. The itinerary this time includes:
Utrecht – April 1-3
Rotterdam – April 3-5
Amsterdam – April 5-10
Utrecht is quickly becoming know as a leader in implementing the latest best practice cycling designs, and given its smaller size this would provide a good case study for mid-size cities. Rotterdam was selected because of its similarities to a North American context with large road right-of-ways and modern buildings and a lower cycling rate (25% is lower relative to the rest of Netherlands) which would provide a good case study for North American design and how people cycling interact with cars. Finally Amsterdam will provide good insight into both good dense mid-rise built form, protected intersections and large city all ages and abilities cycling network design. This visit will be focusing on identifying protected cycling lane best practice and next generation designs including but not limited to:
protected intersections & protected intersections
cycling network design
cycling lanes on retail streets
economic performance of fine grain retail complete streets
If you are around in any of these cities please reach out as we would love to meet you!
As part of the City of Vancouver’s process to consult with the public about the possibility of converting Commercial Drive into a Complete Street, the city hired a consultant to conduct an intercept survey of visitors to Commercial Drive. This survey asked visitors questions concerning how they arrived, how often then visit, where they came from, where they park if they drive and how they found the experience. The results were recently released and can be found here. I have attached one of the open house boards below.
The information from the Commercial Drive intercept survey is significant for a number of reasons. Most importantly is that it shows that 80% of the respondents arrived at Commercial Drive by walking, cycling or using transit. Secondly it also demonstrates that people walking, cycling and using transit visit more often than people who drive. Back in 2015 Slow Streets carried out an observation study of Commercial Drive to get a sense of how people are arriving and behaving. The results are similar. Our observations found that the majority of people at the observation sites were not arriving by car.
The conclusion to draw from this is that observations are great for contextualizing people’s behaviours in response to a street design. Our findings show primarily that regardless how people got around they spend most of their time experiencing the street while walking. However we at Slow Streets would never recommend solely relying on observations for transportation modal data. Intercept surveys are a great way to fill in the gaps for observations and flush out the data as was the case with the Slow Streets Burnaby Heights report. The Burnaby Heights intercept survey found that the majority of people were not arriving by car and that 69% of respondents said they walked, cycled or used transit to visit that day. What makes this even more significant is that the Burnaby Heights is a suburban community with a lower density and a high speed highway running through it, yet only 31% of the visitors drive.
This is hearsay if you were to talk to any small business owner. Most businesses will tell you that people that drive are critical for the success of their business, and will demand that you keep on street parking at all costs. This is clearly not the case on Commercial Drive, only 17% of respondents said they drove. In fact this scenario is often the case with older streets that were built with many small businesses along former street car corridors.
Businesses are often overestimating how many of their customers drive. Two separate studies from Auckland and Bristol found that businesses were over estimating how many of their customers were arriving by car. Why is this? Is it perhaps because people that drive are the most vocal about parking which is a critical part of their visit. People that walk, cycle and use transit often won’t feel like complaining about the quality of their commute since it rarely reflects on the businesses.
This is good news for businesses because cars are actually quite inefficient with space and you can actually move more people walking, cycling and using transit with the same space. The vehicle travel lanes on Commercial Drive are primarily only used for vehicles because they are designed for moving cars through quickly and are unsafe for cycling or walking. This means that if you were to reallocate two travel lanes for cycling lanes or wider sidewalks this opens up the street for more potential customers.
Similarly on-street parking is usually such a small portion of the overall parking in the area. Slow Streets research found that Commercial Drive’s on street parking only made up 13% of the total area’s parking. This means that businesses would be better off trading those parking stalls to create better places for people to sit and stay to enjoy their spoils. The more people you have on your street, the more interesting, exciting and vibrant it is for other people passing by. This will further attract more people to the street and higher revenue potential for the businesses. Still not convinced? This article put together a complete and comprehensive source of studies from around the world demonstrating that removing on-street parking for more cycling lanes has little negative economic impact for businesses.
As cities across North America move towards implementing networks of protected cycling lanes, they are often hamstrung by limited budgets. Therefore for those cities trying to kick off the process of deciding where to install the first protected bike lanes can be like taking a shot in the dark. A good phrase that comes to mind is that it is difficult to judge the need for the people by amount of people swimming across the river. In this sense it is difficult to determine which bike lane locations will generate the highest usage when there are limited people cycling on the roads because of conditions that are not safe nor comfortable enough to invite people to cycle in the first place.
So how do you start deciding where to place bike lanes? The best strategy is to build bike lanes where people are already cycling. Usually there will be people cycling in your city along certain corridors regardless of the lackluster state of cycling infrastructure. This may include streets like 102 Avenue in Edmonton or 10th Avenue in Vancouver. These are often called desire lines, which represent a disconnect between how we design our cities and how people actually want to use them. The best way to understand a desire line is to go to your local park and look for the diagonal dirt lines cutting through a grassy area. People will always opt to take the shortest route regardless of how you want them to behave. Besides the small sampling of corridors that people may be using, how else can we find these desire lines?
Luckily insurance companies and police often keep detailed records of the vehicle collisions with people walking and cycling. Take for example the City of Edmonton’s 1,070 vehicle collisions (2009-2014) with people cycling that is now available thanks due to the hard work of the Paths for People advocacy group (unfortunately the city uses an arcane in-house geocoding format for the collision locations and fortunately we have went through and manually entered each of the collisions into a map so that no one ever has to do this again. The geocoded data can be downloaded here).
Typically collision data is used for safety improvement projects. However mapping this data can serve as a proxy for cycling volumes to reveal patterns about where people are cycling. These patterns often materialize themselves along corridors demonstrating latent demand for safe, convenient and comfortable protected cycling lanes. For example with Edmonton it is very clear that people want to be cycling on 76 Avenue, 82 Avenue, 100 Avenue, 103 Avenue, 104 Avenue, 107 Avenue, 109 Street and so on. Of course you have to take the road dimensions into account when considering bike lanes on these streets, and the political willingness to tackle the public’s perceptions.
Often these desire lines form on the main streets that were the original street car corridors from long ago that still foster the exciting fine grain retail environment that people still love today. This can also been seen from a recent cycling safety report from the city of Vancouver. This makes sense since people want to be where the action is. They want to see and be seen. These routes are usually also the most direct and offer the most convenience in terms of being able to see the businesses and stop spontaneously. The only caveat is to ensure that these collisions are not the result from trying to cross these corridors.
Collision data can also give you an indication of when people are cycling the most. From the chart above it is clear that people start to pick up cycling again in March, until it peaks in July and declines through the winter months.
Of course you can also do more sophisticated analysis as the example above using the ArcGIS Hot Spot tool. Based on this map the city would get the highest return on investment with the highest reduction in collisions per dollar spent in the downtown and Old Strathcona areas. Incidentally this will also increase the rate of cycling and therefore improving cycling safety even further in a virtuous cycle.
For those cities and advocacy groups on a tight budget, collision data is a low hanging fruit that is often already being collected. Some data cleaning and geocoding may be necessary to transform into a usable format. Once ready it can be a inexpensive way to determine the desire lines for cycling.
Now that protected cycling lanes are full steam ahead in many cities, many are turning their attention to intersections. Based on the cycling safety report from the City of Vancouver, between 48-74% of vehicle collisions with people cycling (based on the type of street and cycling infrastructure) occur at the intersection (as opposed to mid-block). However the debate around protected intersections is mixed. Many in the cycling industry are focused on building complete dutch-style protected intersection, no exceptions. We must not let perfection become the enemy of great.
While many engineers would like to implement fully protected intersection, their hands are often tied by the requirement to accommodate the large turning radii of emergency vehicles and semi-trailer trucks that deliver many of our daily goods and needs.
Protected Intersection at Burrard and Cornwall St in Vancouver (Image Source: City of Vancouver)
Salt Lake City Protected Intersection at 300 South & 200 West (Image Source: City of Salt Lake City)
Most fully protected intersections, while successful are also quite large. Take the Burrard – Cornwall intersection in Vancouver or the Salt Lake City protected intersection. With a 27-31 meter width, most intersections in older inner city neighbourhoods do not have this space. Moreover, this isn’t particularly friendly for walking since this forces long crossing distances.
One alternative solution would be to ban larger vehicles, which would have an impact on deliveries and important emergency services. The city of Calgary council started a very important conversation around risk mitigation. In Canada there is a 13 times more likely chance that you will die from an automobile collision than are a fire. Are we focusing our efforts in the right area by making our roads wider to accommodate the large turning radii of fire trucks which also induces speeding?
Delivery Cargobike in Vancouver
The difference in space requirements for a delivery cargo bike opposed to a large delivery truck.
Ideally in the future, cities would enact policies that require transport vehicles to use regional distribution hubs on the edge of cities to transfer shipments to smaller vehicles or cargo bikes for the last mile. The cost savings of such a policy would be significant. This would reduce the damage large vehicles do to our streets, reduce delivery restrictions and improve on demand delivery performance due to the smaller vehicle size. Removing large trucks off of our roads would also significantly improve safety for walking and cycling, as it estimated that 19% of cycling collisions occur with large trucks.
Unfortunately we have to get creative until we can sort out how to restrict the use of large delivery trucks and emergency services vehicles on our streets through different procurement practices, safety requirements and policies. Fortunately we already have the solution, we just have to look to Vancouver. Vancouver has been taking a more pragmatic approach to protected intersections. Due to space limitations, it may not be possible to protect the entire intersection at the time. However it may be possible to provide protection for the dominant directions of walking and cycling travel.
Vancouver has many examples of this including the intersection at Dunsmuir and Hornby Street, the intersection at Denman and Comox Street, the intersection at Main and Union Street. In all of these cases, the city strategically used a mixture of concrete barriers and phased traffic signals. As a side benefit any improvements for cycling also assist people walking by reducing the crossing distance they must mix with traffic.
This intersection has a concrete island to protect the dominant direction of cycling travel from vehicle turning movements.
As a side effect, protected intersections also help protect people walking as the crossing distance mixing with traffic is also reduced.
Partially protected intersection Main St and Union St in Vancouver uses concrete islands and phased traffic signals to protect people cycling in the dominant direction of travel.
Fully protected intersections are definitely the gold standard, however if we give ourselves some leeway in how we define a protected intersection we can achieve results now rather than later. Instead of waiting for costly, complicated large scale redesigns, incremental changes can be installed now providing protection for the dominant cycling movements. As cycling volumes increase or large vehicle restrictions are eventually introduced the intersection’s protection can eventually be improved.
Calgary’s pilot network of protected bike lanes is an excellent example of bicycle infrastructure done along the quicker, lighter and cost effective frame of mind. Taking a results-oriented approach with a minimal implementation to create a safe and comfortable cycling environment for all ages and abilities. While lighter, quicker and cost effective cycle lanes like this have already been implemented in places like Chicago, Washington D.C. and Seattle, what is unique to Calgary’s network is that it was implemented all at once. No piecemeal approach, rolling out each bike lane one at a time over years.
While the story of how the city managed to implement this in a car dominated city is no small feat. That being said the network is a runaway success, after one year the bicycle network has seen over 770,000 trips. The busiest section (5th Street) is seeing 2,400 people cycling per day. For a city with only a 1.3% (2011) cycle to work rate, this is impressive. To put this into perspective Vancouver is currently seeing 6,000 people per day on the Seawall (Vancouver potentially has a 10% bike to work rate now). In addition to this the network is attracting more women and children, which is an indicator that people feel that it isn’t just for the confident, strong and brave. The volume of women cycling has went up 25%, from accounting for 1 in 5, to 1 in 4 of every person cycling.
Why a Network?
While a single protected bike lane does make an improvement, it only connects destinations along that corridor and only in that direction. A network maximizes the usefulness of cycling. Connecting more potential origins and destinations all at once, makes it more likely that it will suit someone’s particular shopping or commuting trip by cycling.
This 7 km success story was created through a combination of paint, plastic bollards, concrete barriers, curbs, planters, parking and cycling signal lights. Based on seeing the Calgary cycle tracks in action, it is similar to the bike lanes in New York City on 1st Avenue.
Planter protected intersection on 12th Avenue with phased bicycle signal
Planter protected intersection on 12 Avenue
Planter protected intersection on 12th Avenue
Planter Protected intersection on 12th Avenue
The vast majority of vehicle collisions with people cycling occur at the intersection. The Calgary cycle track is effective with its resources since it brings protection right up to intersection cross walk with hard surfaces that driver’s are afraid to hit (usually concrete gravity barriers, or planters). In the event that a car does hit the hard surface at the intersection, the heft will stop the car and protect anyone cycling.
Barriers and bollards used to protect 5th Street mid-block section at driveway
Parking protected 12th Avenue with modular curbs and plastic bollards
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The mid-block sections were usually protected with either small modular curbs, plastic bollards and parking. This is sufficient to keep cars out of the bike lane. The fear of mixing with traffic while cycling is one of the main deterrents for the approximately 40% that are interested but concerned about starting cycling. Since many of Calgary’s downtown streets are one way, introducing phased signal lights to control vehicle turning movements additionally improve cycling safety.
The bidirectional lanes leave plenty of room for people unloading their cars and the “door zone”
9th Avenue with split one directional bike lanes on either side of the street
Stephen (8th) Avenue shared street
There are different types of bike lanes too, bidirectional, unidirectional and even a shared street. On 5th Street and 12th Avenue the lanes are bidirectional with extra room for the door zone and unloading for parked cars.
The design isn’t perfect, and needs some improvements at the mixing zones and intersections. However, for a meager $5 Million this is a heavy lifting people mover (accommodating 770,000 trips over one year). The intent of such a design is to implement it quickly so that it is safe, convenient and comfortable to use rather than waiting for the perfect funding, plan or resources. These bike lanes are ready to use now, and when the resources become available they can be improved with high quality permanent materials.