Monday, April 1, 2013


 What is Cycle Track and Why it is the IPhone/IPad/IPod of Urban Street Bicycling?

The generic term “cycle track” can take different forms, it can be described as Luis Vivanco did in his just released book, “Reconsidering the Bicycle” as “protected bike lanes separated from motorized vehicles by cones, curbs or planters.” 

A UVM associate professor, Vivanco describes in the first paragraph of text Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmuel’s plan to complete 100 miles of cycle track (“protected bike lanes”) by the end of his first term less than two years from now in 2015.

A treatment primarily for busy urban streets, cycle track protects bicyclists from cars and at the same time as was reported from a DC update session perhaps protecting cars from bicyclists.  At its root, cycle track facilitates safe mobility for the bicycle mode, a mode which recently has advocates from a number of disciplines who call for more bicycling to address the problems of urban congestion, pollution, energy use, transportation affordability, citizen health and obesity, and higher density land uses which are incompatible with car travel.

As in the case of traffic calming and roundabouts, one can only see the future in Europe.  Urban trips in the U.S. and Canada total 1% by bicycle and 9% walking while the numbers for bicycle/walking percentages for the Netherlands are 27/19 and for Germany 10/27.  Every European nation numbers for bicycling and walking mode shares of urban travel dwarf those of North America. 

Cycle track came to Europe mostly as a response to the growth of cars—the high volumes of bicycling and walking were already there but the competition for road space resulted in escalating bicycle/car conflicts along with increases in bicyclist injuries and fatalities.   The story of cycle track in the Netherlands (see UTube  ) represents a classic bottom up call for action  led by parents as more than 400 children a year died in bicycle crashes in the before cycle track and other treatments were introduced—as the UTube report states youth bicycle fatalities declined to 14 after the urban areas were supplied with cycle track facilities.

We in the United States come to the need for cycle track from the opposite direction—in order to enable the growth of urban bicycle travel, safe facilities are needed otherwise efforts to grow bicycle travel face a very low potential.  While skilled bicyclists may relish the challenge for busy urban arterials--young, old and less skilled bicyclists by nature cannot (and should not!) attempt to travel on busy streets because, simply, it is not safe for them to do so.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Chicago initiative, one can look to the Montreal example of an installed lengthy east-west (a block from Rue St. Catherine) and north-south cycle track.  The cycle track/car lane separation in Montreal is accomplished through using a domed curb about four inches high and perhaps eight inches wide.  When the cycle track enters the Town of Westmount the treatment turns to four-foot high flexible stands (like those use to delineate fire hydrants or other obstructions during the winter).  Those delineators are pulled up in the winter.  A section of the Westmount routing includes a standard bikepath through Westmount Park.   Dorset Street, South Burlington, VT, features forms of cycle track.  On the east side there is a separate sidewalk and bikepath configuration, while on the west side of the street there is a sidewalk and merely a seam signifying an adjacent lane as being dedicated to bicycle use.  Another form of cycle track is a curbside lane, then a four-five foot painted area, then a parking lane—the four-five foot parking/bike lane assures no “dooring” danger to the cyclst.
Cycle track can be single lane or two-way—two-way being the most efficient us of the roadway space.        The rapid success of Montreal’s cycle track occurred just before the invention of the “bixi bike”, a Quebec bicycle and docking station system designed for bikeshare (started mid-year 2009 in Montreal)  ( ).  In just four years has been exported to Washington, DC, Melbourne, New York, Boston, Toronto, and other urban areas worldwide.  The Quebec bixi bicycle continues to exceed even the most optimistic numbers of trips in most locations where it has been introduced along with its unique solar-powered terminals which handle all transactions with either a prepaid membership which includes a key or credit card for the public at large.  Like a canary, the roaring success of the bixi-bike based shared bicycle systems unmasked the demand for bicycle travel of all types in larger urban areas.  That success now poses a challenge all cities and built up areas to provide the infrastructure to support safe bicycle transportation for those of any age and any skill level.   

An initial study of cycle track safety performance in Montreal—the rates of injuries on the track versus rates onstreet bicycle injury rates on comparable streets—found a significant lower injury rate on cycle track. 

Clearly establishing cycle track infrastructure involves an overall initiative similar to that which Vermont and its regions went through in creating town and region bicycle plans during the 1990s.  Some cycle track may be installed in a “no regrets” fashion where the need exists and the likely routing of bicycle traffic is self-evident—as were certain bikepaths at the beginning of the “bikepath age” in the 1990s.  Still, for built up areas, downtowns and village centers many cycle track developments requires removal of scare parking spaces (or relocation), reduction in available street lanes, and other actions which constrain the movement of motor vehicles.   Like the provision of handicap access to streets and buildings, local public works and state agencies will face both opportunities and difficulties in developing cycle track—really true urban bicycle networks.  But there exists a substantial payoff in the form of less traffic, increased health, lower demands for expensive parking, and improved mobility for all.

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