Cycle Design

From the Cycle-Planning mailing list, a selection of viewpoints on cycle facilities.

link selection
rise in usage in newcastle
against pavement conversions
the hierarchy for 2 groups of users

«A word of caution.

If you have been asked to design a cycle path, the first question you should ask is not “how wide should it be ?”, what you should ask is “is a cycle path the appropriate solution, will it benefit
users or will it just become another deterrent to cycling ?”.

Sadly, a very large proportion of what we think of as “cycle infrastructure” is of no benefit whatever to cyclists and is often a source of antagonism and danger. Roadside pavement conversions are a particular source of problems and are very rarely beneficial or appropriate. They are a last resort, and only really appropriate for busy roads with few side turnings.

What cyclists want and need is a safe and pleasant highway network, not cycle tracks. Cycle tracks can be part of that network, but are usually only going to be a very small part of it.

Any guidance is only as good as the guy who interprets it, and that is where the problem often arises. Designers often just cannot (or will not) understand the effect of their decisions on the hapless users of their work.

If you want good guidance then the UK is not the best place to look for it. Look across the North Sea, you can buy a copy of the Dutch CROW institute’s updated design guide “Design Manual for
Bicycle Traffic” from:

Sustrans’ guidance is as good a source of guidance as you will find in the UK. Not just the excellent NCN Practical details and guidelines, but also a number of information sheets on a variety of issues. All are free to download from Sustrans’ website. They are generally more comprehensive but complementary to CFI. Another two very useful sources of guidance are the London and
Lancashire design guidelines. The London guidelines are very comprehensive, with a manual of “typical details”, the Lancashire guide has excellent coverage of basic principles and some very clear illustrations. Again, they are all free to download.

The Department for Transports own guidance, which defines such things as lane and path widths, geometry etc can also be downloaded for free. It isn’t as well presented as the others but contains some important additional information. Dimensions and design of off road cycle tracks are in LTN 02/04 (has some very useful info and diagrams). Basic geometry in DMRB Vol 6 sect 3. A draft version of the new Local Transport Note for Cycle Infrastructure Design was recently published for consultation and has much useful guidance.

Last but not least, Cycling England has some excellent guidance on a range of topics on their website.



«I have to take exception by this continued belief that cycleway and road side conversions are and I quote “of no benefit whatever to cyclists and is often a source of antagonism and danger. Roadside pavement conversions are a particular source of problems and are very rarely beneficial or appropriate. They are a last resort, and only really appropriate for busy roads with few side turnings.” Please see our recent press statement about the rise in cycle numbers


The opening of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge has led to a huge increase in the numbers of people using their bicycles to cross the River Tyne, according to figures released by Gateshead Council.

Before the iconic bridge opened in 2001, around 50,000 cycle trips were made each year over the Tyne Bridge. Whilst that figures remains broadly the same today, an additional 94,000 cycle trips are now being recorded each year over the Gateshead Millennium Bridge – an increase of 186% in cross Tyne traffic. (A CONVERTED BRIDGE PATH AND A SHARED PATH)

Other Gateshead cycle routes have seen similar increases in use. The Derwent Walk, which forms part of the world famous C2C cycle route from Whitehaven to Tynemouth, has seen cycle trips increase more than double in the last three years – from 19,710 in 2004 to 50,735 in 2007, an increase of 157%.( SHARED USE PATH)

The Keelman’s Way along the riverside from Hebburn to the River Derwent has also seen a large increase in cycle trips by both commuters and leisure cyclists. Since 2004, the number of cycle trips have risen from 23,725 to 37,230 in 2007 – an increase of 57%.(a SHARED USE PATH)

The East Gateshead Cycleway, which links White Mare Pool with Gateshead town centre, has seen cycle trips rise from 10,950 in 2004 to 12,410 in 2007, an increase of 13%.( A ROADSIDE SHARED USE PATH)

The data on cycle trips has been obtained via a network of automatic counters built into the cycle routes, together with a number of manual counts.

In 2000, a Tyne and Wear wide survey found that 92.9% of the population were in favour of creating safe routes for cyclists and walkers, and 63.8% thought local councils should improve
the facilities for cyclists. Since then, Gateshead Council, along with other Tyne and Wear councils, have been actively extending and improving their cycle networks.

Between 2004 and 2007, the number of journeys made by bicycle in Tyne and Wear has increased by 21%.

Therefore I would like to see evidence that cycle tracks are unpopular as it appears they are very popular with the public with all our major increases in cycle use happening on cycle tracks and not on road facilities.If we are to see an increase in cycling we have to realise that while many experienced cyclists on road bikes may wish to be on the road , many of the people whom wish to cycle view this as a risk to far and want to be segregated from all motor traffic.

Is it not true that sustrans mainly off road network has shown a 17% increase while DFT figures indicted a fall in on road cycle trips?»

«Roadside cycle tracks languish at the bottom of the hierarchy of provision with very good reason. Despite this they are often the first or only choice of many designers working on “cycling provision”. I suspect that the reasons behind this selective disregard for the guidance are not always good ones.

I will stand by my statement that pavement conversions are rarely appropriate in urban situations unless there are few side roads to negotiate and ample visibility. They are deeply unpopular amongst regular cyclists, who make up the bulk of utility cycling, and what little research has been conducted into the safety aspects of roadside tracks has not shown them in a favourable light.

This does not mean that they are never appropriate, indeed there some in Cambridge that I will tolerate rather than subject myself to the inevitable aggression that accompanies riding in the road alongside a substandard cycle track, and there are some that I will use out of choice. These are however the minority and, like many regular cyclists, I will actively avoid using roads that have poor quality pavement conversions alongside them because they are dangerous, useless and you suffer unprovoked aggression just because you aren’t using them – in other words they act as a deterrent to cycling.

Please note that two thirds of Sustrans’ National Cycle Network is on road. A substantial proportion of the remainder is on railway paths, canal tow paths and other traffic free routes away from the roads. Only a small proportion of the NCN consists of pavement conversions and I suspect that if you asked regular utility users (as opposed to occasional leisure riders) you will find that these are the bits that they really do not like. I have contributed to the building of the NCN with my own bare hands, but the very poor quality of stretches on pavements puts me off using that network.

So just to refresh, roadside pavement conversions ARE at the bottom of the hierarchy of provision with good reasons. If you have reached that point you need to thoroughly re-appraise the options; there is usually a better solution, although it may not be as politically attractive. Where roadside cycle tracks truly are the best option (usually fast, busy inter urban roads with few side turnings) then visibility and side road crossings need to be carefully addressed, and not by just placing all of the burden of responsibility on the cyclists.»

«”…What we appear to need is a national study of what the public want from a cycle network and for the designers like myself to give them what they want”…

I could go out tomorrow and conduct two surveys, and be quite confident
of the findings.

Survey 1. Posted on the CTC and Cambridge Cycling campaign websites.
People will favour on road cycling, with “no facilities” being better than “bad facilities”. These are people who ride most days, in any weather, to get from A to B. Their kids cycle too.

Survey 2. Interview people outside my childrens’ school. People will want cycle tracks, their own space, separate from the traffic. Most of these people will ride a bike only a few days of the year, mostly in summer, with their families around Grafham water having driven 50 miles to get there. They do not allow their children to cycle unaccompanied.

Our objective (in transport, health and environmental terms) is to get group 2 to behave more like group 1. If we persuade group 2 to ride more by building more segregated cycle tracks, unless we build to a high standard they will discover, as they start to use cycling more for transport than merely leisure, why group 1 is so sceptical of “cycling infrastructure”. What looks so good from behind a car windscreen is never quite as appealing when you ride along it and it swings off
suddenly in the wrong direction, abandoning you at a dismount sign.

So “cycling infrastructure” needs to be inclusive, it needs to satisfy both groups. For group 2 it needs to have little or no traffic, and for any traffic to be moving slowly and considerately. It needs to be attractive and physically undemanding. Railway paths are ideal. For group 1 “cycling infrastructure” needs to be quick, direct, hazard free but not necessarily traffic free.

What facilities satisfy both groups ?

Pavement conversions don’t. Even good ones are never as quick as riding in the road, and they can be very difficult and hazardous to negotiate. Group 1 hates them.

Cycle lanes on hostile roads don’t. The lanes give you no physical protection and anecdotal evidence suggests that cyclists get squeezed more in narrow cycle lanes than they would in open traffic. Group 2 is too frightened to use them.

So what works for both ? Everybody is happy to cycle in low speed / low traffic environments. Home zones, 20 mph zones etc, shared spaces and so on. These are inclusive, everybody will use them (parking on one side for a moment the issue of visually impaired people and shared spaces)
from the most nervous parent to hard nosed commuters. And they don’t just benefit cyclists, they benefit everybody, making streets safer, nicer places in which people can live their lives, not just drive their cars.

That is why we have the hierarchy of solutions with area wide, inclusive, widely beneficial solutions (traffic speed and volume reductions) at the top, local traffic management (eg junction improvements) in the middle, and cycle specific, user specific solutions (cycle tracks and cycle lanes) down at the bottom. Pavement conversions are right at the very bottom because they can be actively detrimental to many supposed beneficiaries – regular cyclists because they get harassed if they stay in the road, frail old ladies who don’t like sharing pavement space with cyclists.

So, I can do you a survey. Tell me what you would like the conclusion to be and I can arrange the survey to confirm that position by the simple means of asking the right people. That is the beauty of marketing – you never need get the answer wrong.»

«I agree with [the above], although the Tyneside path from the Staiths into the bridges area is pretty good and convenient. I am still ambivalent about segregated paths. Twenty years ago in Copenhagen, I ‘marvelled’ at the outrageous shifting of marked car-parking bays outwards, from the kerb, by a couple of metres to make a segregated path. Most of those implementations are now more physical with at least a cobbled outer edge. Riding in this ‘third way’ seemed to work fairly wonderfully. So I was quite shocked by the English extract of the Copenhagen experience, that the rate of accidents increase significantly (? cannot read the Danish and I can’t find a free, automatic, web translator) but riders feel safe and ridership has grown. Their conclusion, that life years gained exceeds years lost, is rather bolted onto the conclusion although it seems reasonable in practice. I guess one of the points is the impact on ‘environmental psychology’, experiencing such an amount of provision is itself an encouragement.

But another point is the growing impact of that emotively named bunch, Guide Dogs for the Blind, who in their own blinkered manner are seeking to prevent any shared paths anywhere. I guess that also means much of Connect2 and most of what Sustrans have built so far. I imagine they have their ‘sights’ set on kerbing every country lane too. I think they are wrong… »