Regression: 80 Years of Cycle Tracks

Germany has been using Cycle Tracks and Bike Lanes for 80 years. Only in the last 10 have they finally realized that Cycle Tracks and Bike Lanes are more dangerous than riding in the street.

Two years ago, the law (ca. 1933) that required cyclists to use Bike Lanes or Cycle Tracks if present, was finally repealed relaxed. This, in a country that takes their laws very seriously.  It was studied to death and finally the parliamentary members were convinced that mandatory bike lanes and cycle tracks were doing more harm than good.

All the designs had flaws. Study the picture above for a typical Cycle Track. Can you see the potential traffic dangers?

I don’t expect you to read German and there are few English language translated pages concerning bicycle issues, but Google has many pages advocating vehicular cycling in a country full of  “bicycle infrastructure.”

Google link

Then click on “Translate this page” and you can get the gist.

22 replies
  1. Columbusite
    Columbusite says:

    I have been keeping myself abreast of developments in Spain where I lived for half a year in 2004 (over six years already: yikes). Even before I considered cycling as a mode of transportation, I found Granada’s bike path on the sidewalk to be very awkward. Spain has been busy “catching up” since I left because they basically had the least amount of cycling infrastructure in Europe or the EU, I forget.

    Cities that had nothing now have horrendous cycletracks, which seems to be Spain’s go-to infrastructure for bikes. Here’s a video criticizing Zaragoza’s cycletracks. Don’t worry if you can’t read the Spanish text; the video speaks for itself.

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9cnhw_video-denuncia-carril-bici-de-zarag_webcam

    And here are a bunch of pics of Sevilla’s version and criticism (en español).

    http://www.sevilla21.com/foro/viewtopic.php?p=6608368#6608368

    There’s more, such as a recent death in Barcelona and a woman seriously in injured at a bike-lane at an intersection (guess how it happened?) with a streetview of the intersection and it mentions the recent phenomenon of “bicis blancas” or ghost bikes, which is sadly increasing in large part thanks to bikes using this segregated infrastructure.

    http://bicilibre.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/barcelona-dos-victima-dos-accidentes-dos-carriles-bici/

  2. Eric
    Eric says:

    Wouldn’t be ironic, now that Germany has repealed a 75 year-old law, for Florida to pass the same law?

    Our cycle tracks are so much better than theirs even though they have been tinkering with the design for 80 years and still can’t get it right.

  3. Columbusite
    Columbusite says:

    What I don’t understand is why they don’t have to prove whether cycle tracks or bike lanes are safer than vehicular cycling and then decide on what infrastructure to implement? I hope you guys are able to shoot that down: I could just imagine how infuriated I would be if they tried passing the same kind of law in Ohio.

  4. Brrr
    Brrr says:

    “Study the picture above for a typical Cycle Track. Can you see the potential traffic dangers?”

    Cross traffic has a stop sign, cyclists have a stop line at the stop sign. The only danger would be a cyclist who doesn’t stop and pay attention to what traffic is doing (something you need to do anyway). The rest of the time they’re completely protected from cars and associated road dangers.

    Sorry, what is the problem?

  5. John_in_NH
    John_in_NH says:

    Ok, they may call that a cycle track but thats just a wide sidewalk with separation. Not a true and proper cycle track. It requires cyclists to stop while crossing at what looks like a small traffic intersection. It has many of the same problems that a cyclist on the sidewalk has and I would be very very leery to ride on that. Take a look over at David Hembrow’s blog and the proper cycle tracks in the Netherlands. If its a large intersection bikes go under and around, for medium traffic there are bike lights, and its right of way for cyclists either separated or on road with low traffic/residential streets.
    There are few if any problems when it is done right, this is once again a consequence of a good tech being done by idiot planners who do not know what they are doing.

    • Jayeson
      Jayeson says:

      John, thank you for the reference to David’s blog: http://hembrow.blogspot.com/ .

      I watched through a few very interesting videos. The Netherlands would certainly be a great place to explore by bike. You wouldn’t want to be in a hurry but most of us could probably use a bit of winding down of our lifestyles.

      I am afraid that I disagree with just about all of your conclusions. I doubt there are significant numbers of traffic engineers that would actually fall under any usual definition of idiot. Even though the videos I watched are intended to show how great things are the thought of dropping those facilities into Orlando is a scary. Any cycling is going to appear a lot better when both motor vehicle and bicycle speeds are approximately halved, 30% of the vehicles are bicycles, drivers actually yield and there is no right turn red. I imagine that if the Netherlands switched to vehicular cycling in traffic it would work very well.

      In http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-us4EaEZE9M there is little footage of how the cycle paths intersect with roadways but there are a couple of bike lanes that look deadly around intersections and moving towards the center of the roadway would be much safer IMO. Too bad if using the facilities is mandatory. The roads are so slow and lazy looking I can’t see the point of bothering with the paint for the bike lanes. There is also a little footage in that video of bikes in the roadway with traffic which seems to be working very well.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16AO0_08r3o and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAL4yr927e4 show a lot of glorified sidewalks complete with (required?) wrong-way cycling. I’m not sure if this falls under the work of idiots classification? In the latter video I think the 5′ of pavement in each direction would have been better added to the already wide roadway (with its 30MPH speed limit, how quaint).

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIdQ8RMDtGM has all sorts of interesting stuff in it that isn’t just a fancy sidewalk. Done right? Most of it looks less than ideal to me, especially that traffic circle.

      By the way John, I don’t think anyone is against trails that go over/under roadways. Then again, even that gets screwed up around Orlando. Where the Wekiva trail goes under 434, for some reason they took an odd routing which adds a horrible side path and the tunnel isn’t open all hours. The Cross Seminole trail is also a horrible side path as it approaches Lake Mary Blvd right before having to walk the overpass. Both facilities do a good job of selling cycling on the adjacent roadway.

        • John_in_NH
          John_in_NH says:

          Thanks for checking out the blog!

          Yes I agree if you took anything they do their directly and put it in pretty much any community in the states there would be sooo many problems. When I comment on idiot traffic engineers, I am typically referring to the typical lack of understanding of issues for cyclists and even pedestrians, due to the fact that basic principles for these two forms of transportation have not been encouraged over the last 50+ years, with instead the direction has been on planning for highways and roads. Most I have found are not idiots really, they just don’t have the needed understanding to design infrastructure specifically for cyclists.

          There may be some infrastructure in the Netherlands that is dangerous with our understanding of traffic and our driving skills, however the education over there is significantly different and thus intersections that would seem dangerous to us are perfectly safe for them.

          So while it seems we have a lot of crap infrastructure over here (in many places, my town thinks that a 400ft bike lane is providing for cyclists…) I feel that the most important thing is drivers (and cyclist) education from an early age. One of the most important thing is that the laws for cycling while a child are not very different from cycling while an adult, you learn the proper way to cycle the first time around and thats the way its done. Here you have 2-3 changes in how you ride a bike, from training wheels on the sidewalk to cycling against the flow of cars to cycling on the sidewalk on a full bike to not stopping at lights.

          This can solve so many problems caused by infrastructure that for the untrained can be dangerous, the bits of that donut graph in the latest post can all be solved by good education, only some can be solved by good infrastructure.

          I am a vehicular cyclist, but am firm in my belief that cycling will never be a part of society more than 3-5% unless the cyclists are fully separated from cars and have their own infrastructure. That includes proper cycle tracks, shared sidewalks (in pedestrian areas) or shared roadways if the road speed dictates. Yes there is a risk in mandating their use and I don’t feel there should be any laws that mandate use of the paths, it can be very dangerous, however education on how to use the paths properly will be needed if we hope to safely use any of these paths in the US.

          • Eric
            Eric says:

            “cycling will never be a part of society more than 3-5% unless the cyclists are fully separated from cars and have their own infrastructure.”

            So you prefer increasing numbers to safety? Those awful engineers from that third-world country known as Germany just don’t understand that with proper engineering, their ideas will work after all? All the studies they have done in the last 40 years are garbage?

            Then, by building new facilities, you limit cyclists to certain destinations since most places require coming in contact with cars. If I am one side of the road and I want to get to the other, absent an elevated bridge, how will I do that?

            And crossing is where all the danger is. The closest call I ever had was on a German cycle track. It had shade trees on both sides, it was cool and inviting and it was a death trap., Only after I had my incident did I learn that several cyclists had died there over it’s long years of existence and that each time, engineers had tinkered with it by adding signs, wierd traffic lights, marking pavement and what not. They had been tinkering for years, yet still could not get it right.

            It had once been out in what passes for countryside (certainly not as remote as our countryside), but urban sprawl had enveloped it. It was a two-way track parallel to what had become a 4 lane road with a median, but no turn lane. Motorists on the opposite side of the road were unable to see the cyclists from way over there mostly because of the trees lining the street and track and vice versa, but also because of the distance.

            Thus, left turning motorists routinely came in conflict with cyclists even when the cyclist stopped and looked to make sure everything was clear. After checking, the cyclist would “Come out of no where” as he proceeded to cross a minor street and that is what happened to me.

            It was probably very nice when it had been built in the countryside with few side streets and even fewer cars. With both lanes, it was 18 feet wide and it was in very good condition. It looked perfectly safe, but the major flaw was that it existed and the minor flaw it has was that it was two-way (as in the above picture). In fact, mandatory use of two-way tracks has been pretty much eliminated all over Europe.

            Recently, bike lanes, too have been getting their knocks. There, like here, when cyclists don’t “take the lane” at traffic lights, they can be squashed by right-turning trucks.
            http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/2508/Bikeways-cause-string-of-fatal-bike-accidents-in-Germany.aspx

  6. Brrr
    Brrr says:

    Eric,

    Crossing is only a danger if the cyclist is not paying attention. Those intersections will be equally dangerous for that same cyclist on the road if they continue to disregard what’s in front of them. The danger is in not paying attention, not the paths themselves.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      “Those intersections will be equally dangerous for that same cyclist on the road if they continue to disregard what’s in front of them.”

      Not just ahead, but looking BEHIND as well. And not the kind of looking a mirror can do, but look lanes one or two lanes over, plus through trees.

      I hope I don’t have to draw you a picture. Study that photo again. Imagine that you are the cyclist in the photo, but you are on the other side of the street. You are coming along and are ready to cross that street.

      Then imagine a car traveling in the same direction as you are. How would you see it? You would have to look over your RIGHT shoulder and look way around and down the street since cars have to obligation to stop before making a left turn if there is no traffic coming.

      Where would the driver be looking? At you, way over there? Or looking for oncoming traffic so he could make his turn? In this picture, trees are not present all the way up to the intersection, the way the one I was using.

      This is similar to riding against traffic on a sidewalk, but worse.

  7. Brrr
    Brrr says:

    Eric,

    You act as if looking right is some grand impossibility. All you have to do is pay attention. Stop at the intersection just as you would have to on the road. Don’t just proceed without observing what the cars are doing.

    And yes, the driver SHOULD be looking at both sides of the corner just like at any intersection so that he doesn’t hit any pedestrians. His responsibility is exactly the same for you on the bike.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      “the driver SHOULD”

      Oh, I get it, now.
      We are in the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” world of everyone driving responsibly and driving slow enough to avoid anything the engineers can throw out there. Yet, they claim to be engineering for “safety first.”

      Let me know when you want to revisit reality. Then I’ll be willing to talk again.

  8. Brrr
    Brrr says:

    You’re the one living in a fantasy world where people supposedly cannot look to their right or stop at a stop sign and watch what traffic is doing. It’s a very dishonest argument you’re making.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      I guess if people had x-ray vision like Superman so they could see through hedges and trees as well have 360 degree vision, your argument would hold. Otherwise, it can’t.

  9. Brrr
    Brrr says:

    I can’t even tell if you’re just arguing for fun, because you aren’t making sense.

    Stopped at that intersection in the picture, the trees and hedges are well out of the way and the street clearly visible. Fairly large spaces between the trees to look through all along the block too.

    Look, I stick to the road the vast majority of the time. I’m not arguing that cyclists should not do that. I just saying your argument against cycle tracks (and the one in the picture in particular) isn’t rational.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      I wish I was arguing for fun.

      I don’t know how things are being done where you live, but saplings and shrubs are being planted in the medians and between sidewalks/sidepaths and the streets.

      In the beginning it is not much of a problem. After a while, saplings become trees and shrubs become large bushes.Thus was so in Germany where I almost met my end. The sidepath was at least 40 years old and things had grown up considerably over the years.

      It is hard to remove foliage once it has grown up because it makes pols unpopular. I once saw a city commission back down from removing dead and dying trees because people packed the meeting screaming and yelling about “not one branch”. 18 months later those trees came down in a storm that literally closed the entire city for an entire week. There was no way in or out.

      As I said in a previous post, bushes and trees in the median and between the sidepath and the street made seeing each other impossible.

  10. rodney
    rodney says:

    Is that a person in the shade of those trees? On the what looks like a sidewalk? I cannot tell. Even if the cyclist was stopped at the end of the canopy, it would be very difficult to identify as such. The bright sun/shade differences don’t help.

    I can see where the trunks of those trees could be actual “blind spots” and hinder a safe crossing. I picture coming out of an alleyway in the photo shown.

  11. Brrr
    Brrr says:

    Eric, I don’t doubt your experience in Germany. I haven’t seen those paths, so I can’t comment either way. I was referring to the picture you put in the original post. No visibility issues there whatsoever.

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