Thursday 23 January 2014

Lessons from 7 years of Copenhagen Lane progress in Melbourne

Summary: Below is a map I created of Melbourne's separated cycling lanes (Copenhagen lanes) as of January 2014. The first of these lanes was completed in July 2007, so this represents seven years of "progress". Clearly, at this rate of progress, it will be several decades before there are sufficient separated cycling lanes to form even the most basic network around the inner city. This post discusses what citizens who have the most to gain from cycling for transport should do given the reality of progress in car-centric countries.

Melbourne's Copenhagen Lanes - Jan 2014 (Google Maps)

1. Many urban cycling advocates argue that a network of separated lanes are necessary for mainstream adoption of cycling for transport
- This debate has been loudest in countries like the U.K, Australia and United States, but the change on the ground regarding separated lanes doesn't reflect the noise. So if safety concerns have been preventing you cycling, it's worthwhile examining the actual creation of separated lanes in your city over the last several years to get a realistic picture of recent and future progress. This doesn't mean cycling advocates are wrong to campaign for separated lanes, but simply that potential cyclists need to make decisions in the real world.

2. There are other types of cycling infrastructure where progress has been more rapid
- In Melbourne, the creation of new separated lanes takes an inordinate amount of time, the sections are typically short and disconnected and often not even continuous or going in both directions (e.g. see Albert St, East Melbourne). You can see the extent of progress of Copenhagen lanes in Melbourne here: > Bicycle Victoria - Protected bike lanes

- Yet over those 7 years, significant progress has been made with other cycling infrastructure including:

a. Many more non-separated, painted bicycle lanes (and increased widths)
b. More off-road bike paths and shared paths
c. Painted buffer zones between bike and car lanes
d. Green paint at key areas and intersections (also bike boxes)
e. Bicycle markings on-road (e.g. sharrows)
f. Traffic calming that also partially shields cyclists
g. Blocking off certain roads so that cars can't go through but bikes can (Melbourne's most popular commuting route is Canning St which has this design and not separated lanes)
h. De-facto cycling lanes that exist in the space between parked cars and the next lane (the space is too small for cars but wide enough for cyclists to ride out of the door zone)
i. More right-of-way signs on main cycling routes
j. Full or partial one-way streets for cars to provide more room for cyclists

Which is why the actual bicycle routes in most parts of inner-city Melbourne do form a genuine, safe-enough network for cycling to be a viable means of transport to many destinations:
Google Map of Melbourne with cycling layer on

- Also worth considering are recent bike share programs around the world where most of the infrastructure rapidly created in these cities consists of painted lanes (and other simple methods listed above) rather than separated lanes. Interestingly, the accident and risk rate is decreasing as the number of cyclists goes up. See: > 4 Charts That Show How Citi Bike Is Taking Over New York

3. There are also other important ways cycling can be made safer apart from via infrastructure
- Progress with these has also been much faster in Melbourne than with separated lanes. Examples include:

a. Reducing the speed of cars in the inner city and on popular cycling routes
b. Removing parking spaces and making parking more expensive in the inner city
c. Prioritizing cyclists with a green light head start at certain intersections

4. You can take steps to radically improve the safety of your own cycling
- Learn to ride more safely: The most important tips on how to ride safely
- Learn from other's mistakes and experience: Actual cycling accident history proves how safe it can be
- Choose safer routes: Characteristics of safe cycling routes
Choose where to live with cycling and your commute in mind
- See all posts in the Safety category of this blog

5. The Netherlands and Denmark don't just rely on separated lanes to make cycling safe
- Separated cycle lanes are only one of several, connected measures to make cycling safe in the Netherlands and Denmark.

- Even if focusing only on cycle lane infrastructure, the below diagram from Copenhagenize shows that separated lanes are used only when car speeds exceed 50km/hr. Between 10-30km/hr there is no separation. And from 30-50km/hr they use painted lanes.

- What this logical, speed-based approach indicates is that roads can be safely shared with cars at lower speeds without separation. Cities can make many inner city streets and popular cycling routes safe for cycling simply by lowering speed limits.
The Copenhagenize Bicycle Planning Guide

6. The Netherlands and Denmark also actively make driving more expensive, slower and less convenient than cycling
- Safe cycling routes are necessary for large-scale, mainstream adoption of urban cycling but not sufficient. Cycling has to be cheaper, faster, more convenient and more enjoyable than the alternatives if people are going to voluntarily switch from the alternatives.

- One of the principal reasons why the Netherlands and Denmark have much higher urban cycling rates is that they tackle this from both ends by making owning and using a car (especially in the inner city) more expensive, inconvenient and unenjoyable. Until cycling is a superior transport method for many more people in countries like Australia, safe cyling infrastructure won't significantly increase cycling rates.

- Deliberately disadvantaging motorists in car-centric countries is political suicide so only the gradual forces of cost and congestion are making driving less worthwhile. This is why countries like Australia need to focus on enhancing the benefits of cycling for transport - starting with the lowest hanging fruit (inner city residents; effective bike share programs). Better bicycle infrastructure needs to contribute to this in the most effective, quickly-scalable way: > Safer cycling infrastructure needs to be fast, convenient and comprehensive

7. Where safety concerns are misplaced or an excuse, this needs correction not indulging
- A critical mass of urban cyclists is needed to drive the significant changes required in infrastructure, incentives and social norms. Thus the cohorts that can safely ride already (young and middle-aged adults in the inner city) need to be kickstarted into action.

- For the majority of 18 to 50 year olds in inner city Melbourne, cycling for transport to at least some regular destinations (shops/cafes, work, friend's houses) is safe enough and cheaper, faster and more convenient than the alternatives. Yet 80% do not do so - even though at least half of them already have bikes.

- If a 30 year old in Melbourne's inner north won't use the bike sitting in their garage to ride 1km to dinner on a beautiful summer night on perfectly safe (but non-separated) streets like Canning Street when it's cheaper, faster and more convenient than any alternative, then is building a network of separated lanes all over Melbourne really the answer for people like this?

- The purpose of this blog is to offer practical advice to those who could benefit the most from cycling for transport and are genuine about giving it a shot. This blog proves cycling can be cheaper, faster, more convenient, healthier and objectively safer than any alternative for inner city residents of Melbourne (or similar cities). If this applies to you but you refuse to try cycling even in the most favourable circumstances (while others just like you do so and enjoy it), then a lack of separated cycle lanes is in reality well down the list of reasons why you don't cycle.

Further Info:
Charting Transport
What does the census tell us about cycling to work?