Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cycling Facilities: Knowledge, Time, Resources and Quality

My world is filled with poor quality cycling facilities. The most prominent reasons for this is that cycling facilities have been given low priority and little design attention by firms and individuals that lack specific knowledge about high quality cycling facilities. Most cities in North America suffer from poor cycling mode share, struggling to get to five or six percent.  Cycleways are tremendously less expensive to construct than roadways. However, high quality cycling facilities take more time, resources and attention in the planning and design phases than typical roadways.
(Kelowna, BC.) Pedestrian/Bike bridge design build project failed to take time and employ planners with knowledge of cycling facilities. The result is a inconvenient and even hazardous facility for cyclists.

Planning, designing and construction of high quality cycling facilities is an essential step if we are to move beyond our core riders and reach the mass of people in the "interested, but concerned" group.  Consistently high quality infrastructure is seen as the number one way to get more people on their bikes and, to do this we need to employ specialists in the field. We don't higher plastic surgeons to remove brain tumors or classically trained french chef to make sushi, so why do we have transportation engineers specializing in roadways to build our cycling facilities?

"Higher levels of bicycle infrastructure are positively and significantly correlated with higher rates of bicycle commuting." Jennifer Dill and Theresa Carr, Portland State University 

Small details in the built environment have enormously greater importance to cyclists than to motorists. A motorist is rarely detoured by a noisy, dirty roadway. Cyclists experience sounds, sights and scents in a much different way than motorists. A noisy and dirty environment could easily frighten away our large group of "interested, but concerned" cyclists. We must recognize that cyclists feel vulnerable on the road and measures must be taken to increase the real safety of cyclists and reduce the perceived risk many feel. Designers who specialize in the design of cycling facilities need to be contracted to deal with these challenges.
Small details like stamped pavement can make big difference in the efficiency and of a shared-use pathway.
Variables related to cyclists and cycling are different, and more difficult to deal with, than those associated with typical road construction. For example, geography plays a greater role in the effectiveness of a cycleway than it would with a roadway. Hills and locations with heavy winds will impact the use of local biking facilities, but have little, if any, implication on road use. It is also much more difficult to predict and measure cyclists volumes and speed. Cyclist speed is not consistent over time even if the level of service remains high. Speeds and distances will vary depending on the skill level of individual riders to a much greater level than motorists. Good cycling facilities will mean that more riders will go further distance in shorter times. But, the farther cyclists travels their speed is likely to decrease. These variable take more time to consider and plan for, and require firms and individuals with special knowledge of cyclists and cycling facilities.
The image above provides a small and simplified sample of important variables that need to be considered when planning and designing cycling facilities.
Bicycles and cyclists have unique characteristics. The stopping distance of a bike is different from what we can expect of a car or pedestrian. Bikes have a turning radius that differs from cars and pedestrians. The physical characteristics of bicycles and cyclists are distinct from other road users and specialized knowledge is required to plan and design for these characteristics.

The conventions for designing cycling facilities is not as well established as those for roadways. The tools for designing roadways and measuring the quality of roadways are commonplace. However, design standards and measurement tools for cycling facilities are poorly established. Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) guidelines for cycling facilities are out of date and fail to address many of the needs cyclists have in the urban environment. Familiarity with specific solutions and an understanding of proven strategies is very important. Relatively few firms and individual consultants have shown this familiarity with cycling facilities when compared to roadways.

The evidence is clear, to increase cycling mode share we need to plan, design and construct high quality cycling facilities. Environmental characteristics that have no impact on motorists have huge implications for cyclists. To further complicate the matter standers and guidelines for cycling facilities are often out of date and incomplete. It is because of this that we must take more time, devote more resources, and employ people with special knowledge when planning and designing cycling facilities.