Tuesday, July 2, 2013



An extensive discussion of designing roundabouts for bicycles recently included how to incorporate paths for bicyclists at intersections along with connections to likely cycle track—protected bicycle lanes—along street segments, a combination affording safe and comfortable transit for bicyclists of all ages and skills. 

Duncan Campbell, a senior traffic engineer from New Zealand, summed up the roundabout design approach as follows:

“Designing to well accommodate cyclists at a roundabout you have to decide which skill level you are targeting and the busyness of the particular location. Certainly mum and dad with kiddies in behind might want an off-road path with safe road crossings (so are the[y]re going to be amenable mid-block connections for continuity I would ask? ) ; novice adults might want the same at busier or multi-lane locations; and experienced adult cyclists will likely (in my experience) prefer to stay on the road as it will usually be the quicker run - although a Dutch type arrangement where cyclists have priority on a peripheral path could be an exception to this.”

Many in the transportation field point to unprotected bike lanes.  While desirable,  unprotected lanes cannot provide service to all skills and ages—and in a nation like the U.S. with high rates of bicycle injury rates we hardly want to encourage the less skilled to be riding around town on plain lanes on busy streets.   And busy signalized intersections provide a mass of confusion and conflicts compared to a simple crossing, usually with a median, a roundabout with a path for cyclists enables.  A minimum a roundabout can enable a bicyclist to ramp on or off to a sidewalk and cross as a walker—far safer than a signalized movement or “taking the lane” of the roundabout. 

           A Yankee blindspot in street design in general and roundabouts in particular
Europeans addressed street design to respond to citizen complaints from growing car use.   This car growth occurred during a time when the majority (still mostly the case) of urban areas travel comprised walking, bicycling and transit.  Our North American streets, relatively, have “mums, dads with kiddies in behind” because the car (and highway design) simply pre-empted them.  Simply our "community development" since World War II spurred by homeownership subsidies (still there!) created vast areas of suburban and exurban unwalkable/unbikable/untransitable urban sprawl.   While European bicycling amounts to a double digit share of urban travel, in North America one percent is typical.  And European walking share exceeds the U.S. ten percent share.  Moreover, walking and bicycling injury rates per mile of travel are several times those of Germany and the Netherlands.
American planners and engineers--and citizen advisory panels--have limited experience or clear idea what a walkabe/bikable environment contains.  It is mostly nearly non-existent in North America.  This may explain why many tout bike lanes which are not family-friendly and just being nice to bicycles and pedestrians constitutes substantial progress when in fact those actions though praiseworthy do not address directly providing safe and comfortable infrastructure for either bicyclists or walkers.  Note overall roundabouts cut serious injuries and fatalities by about 90%.  To date with 3,000-4,000 roundabouts built since 1990, only one bicycle fatality and no walker fatality has yet be recorded in the U.S. and Canada.
The idea of pathing roundabouts for bicycles in combination with cycle track—the “dynamic duo”--represents a major breakthrough as they bring the interest of bicyclists and walkers together (yes, as a walker we really would like bicycles segregated from us!).   Additionally, the roundabout/track "combo" applies mainly to busy urban arterials and collectors where the primary transportation roadblocks for all modes exist (mostly for walkers and bicyclists) and where injury rates are high for all users.  Young professionals want out on car culture, choose downtown areas for walking, bicycling, and transit to work and play.  In fact already an unexpected 10% drop has occurred in driver licensing among the under 30 crows.  Workers increasingly veer away from car travel to work.  Therefore we must change focus to investing in safe infrastructure for walking and bicycling.  Lack of roundabouts and cycle track found in more advanced nation stands as a barrier frustrating an American and Canadian urban population seeking to travel on foot and by bicycle as well as using these two modes to access public transit.   We need to rapidly invest sizable sums in the “dynamic duo” to revitalize our downtowns and village centers—pathed roundabouts at the intersections and cycle track between.

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