What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

While there is some uncertainty inherent in a model like this, the researchers found that “realistic changes to policy assumptions did not change the shape of outcome behaviors over time.”

Researchers also analyzed how growth in cycling can improve public health, decrease air pollution-related mortality, reduce cycling-related injuries, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, among other outcomes. They found that the combination approach of protected bike lanes and neighborhood traffic calming would also be the most cost effective, with benefits that outstrip the costs by a factor of 24. The biggest benefit, according to the model, would be the lower rate of premature death caused by inactivity.

9 thoughts on What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

  1. Interesting, but could you provide an explanation of what the acronyms on the graph stand for and what those mean?

  2. Per the link Angie has provided to the study:

    RCN = Regional Cycle Network, the current bike plan that calls for “a partial network of mixed cycling infrastructure”

    ASBL = Arterial segregated bicycle lanes, “one-way physically segregated lane on each side of every arterial in the region”

    SER = Self-explaining roads, “low-speed local streets using nontraditional, endemic road features such as street narrowing, trees, and art”

  3. Or they could have … you know, seen whats worked in the Netherlands where they have up to 60% of journeys by bike in some real towns (not modelled)

  4. Makes sense.

    If you want to make cycling an useful way to get around, since most worthwhile destinations in cities are on main arterial streets, if there is one place where cyclists need biking facilities, it’s on arterial streets. And since traffic on those streets is quite heavy and very fast when there is no congestion, simple bike lanes stuck between parked cars and moving cars just don’t cut it. Cyclists require physically segregated bike lanes or bike paths at the same level as sidewalks to really feel safe biking there. These lanes or paths need to be wide too to accommodate high bicycle traffic.

    Too often, authorities want to maximize the number of miles of bike infrastructure rather than build infrastructure where it has more impact, so they concentrate them on side streets and residential streets where traffic is light and people are less likely to object to space being handed over to cyclists. However, as traffic is light anyway in those places, specific bike infrastructure is often not needed at all as cyclists feel safe biking on streets where there are few cars around, as long as the cars do not go fast.

  5. That’s basically what they’re doing here. They took apart everything the Dutch did and what other jurisdictions did, then looked at the impact of each of the different approaches individually to see what would be their plausible impacts.

    Their ASBL+SER scenario is essentially copying the core policies of Dutch cities: bike paths that are next to sidewalks or physically segregated from vehicles on arterial streets and traffic-calming on residential streets.

    I’m guessing they studied the different scenarios to prove that “alternatives” proposed by “common sense” people like…

    “We can’t take away space from cars on our arterial streets! Why don’t you build bike lanes on side streets instead?”

    “Physically segregated bike paths are too expensive to build and to maintain, why don’t we just use paint instead?”

    …just don’t work.

  6. Yes, this is the fundamental problem with bike-blvd-only strategies.

    Bike boulevards can be a great resource in the toolkit but they cannot be the whole strategy. The decades-long experiment of Bike Blvds as main infrastructure strategy in places such as Berkeley has proven this.

    As I see it, the fundamental drawbacks of them as main strategy are:

    —> They’re not always the shortest route, especially in places like Portland where the quiet mostly residential streets they follow are primarily square gridded blocks whereas main arterials sometimes form diagonal routes (think Sandy in Portland) significantly decreasing some travel distances.

    —> They intentionally keep people away from busy commercial corridors, when these are actually often desirable destinations and even through-routes in their own rights.

    —> Because of their “tucked-away” nature, they’re often more or less unknown to many residents. Bike Blvds have been around for decades in Berkeley yet lots of people there who don’t bike have no idea about the network because it’s a low-visibility network. Whereas everyone would notice protected lanes on, say, Telegraph, Shattuck or Adeline.

    –> This is also not mentioning the fact that in practice their signage, paint, infrastructure treatments are often lacking to the degree that cars still act as king.

    Even on well-sharrowed Bike Blvds I’ve definitely felt “stressed” with cars roaring behind you, aching to pass, giving nasty looks. Sure, I’m legally in the right, but it’s not pleasant. No wonder lots of the Interested But Concerned (or whatever you want to call that group) don’t tend to consider these as serious transportation options–to the extent they consider them at all.

  7. I’m helping a couple friends spread the word about this movement, basically anything will help. and all funds will go to a charity randomly picked from a drawing. so give us a couple of suggestions of your charity you would like to help out and maybe it’ll be the one to get picked

    Here is the link to the page where you can donate.


    God Bless

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