Contemporary Bike Network Design

Source: Four Types Of Cyclists

Updated: September 2016

For bicycling networks, connectivity at an acceptable level of stress and without undue detour is the most fundamental measure that determines how well a network serves the community.” (Source: Low Stress Bicycling And Network Connectivity.)

In 2012 a new approach to designing bike networks was introduced with the publishing of Low Stress Bicycling And Network Connectivity and this methodology is now widely used by professional designers of urban and suburban bike networks in the United States. The central philosophy and approach leverages the extensive experience of the Dutch who are recognized as world leaders in bike network design.

Unfortunately, the current Menlo Park Comprehensive Bike Development Plan was created in 2004 so neither it nor current proposals have been evaluated using the latest knowledge on how best to design bike networks. Community bike networks should be designed by well-respected bike network designers who use the best design tools not by bike enthusiasts who rarely have essential expertise and objectivity that are required.(Note: funds were actually budgeted for a stress analysis of bike lanes on El Camino but surprisingly were not performed, and this decision never explained to residents.)

Highlights of contemporary bike network design:

  • A formal bike network is a SYSTEM of bike paths and “improved” streets that serve as the primary corridors and connectors bicyclists can use to travel to popular destinations. Bicyclists typically use nearby neighborhood streets to access the bike network. A bike route consists of a sequence of streets (“connectors”) that are linked by intersections.
  • Well-designed bike networks improve the experiences of not only bicyclist but also motorists and pedestrians. While motorists and bicyclists usually share streets they are assigned separate space. This separation minimizes the occurrences of conflicts.
  • Bicyclist-motorists conflicts are common in Menlo Park but fortunately few lead to collisions and accidents. However, all incidents can lead to hard feelings, resentment and potential aggressive behavior on both sides.
  • According to the Menlo Park Police Department bicyclists are responsible for more than 90% of reported bike-vehicle incidents. Unfortunately, both bicyclists and motorists frequently either ignore the rules of the road, exhibit “bad behavior”, are inattentive or distracted, or simply exhibit poor judgment. Bicyclists routinely ride through stop signs, ride at night without proper lighting, and claim the right-of-way when riding in a shared lane at a speed much slower than vehicle traffic. Often bicyclists suddenly enter and ride in pedestrian crosswalks without yielding to motorists crossing intersections and ride on the wrong side of the street against vehicle traffic. Motorists also initiate conflicts. They use bike lanes to pass cars that stop in front of them and block bike lanes when entering or exiting a street. They also fail to merge safely when making right hand turns. While bike network design cannot eliminate bad behavior, it can reduce the number of places where motorist-bicyclist conflict occur. For example, signage can remind motorists do not enter bike lanes to pass other vehicles, and bike lanes can be located and designed in ways that minimize the number of places where bikes and vehicle cross paths.
  • Bike network improvements like bike lanes, signage and traffic controls should be judged on how well they serve the needs of most bicyclists; some streets are understood to be less suitable for young and experienced bicyclists.
  • Individual streets within a community generate different levels of stress (discomfort) and offer different levels of detour (inconvenience). Unsafe streets should always be excluded from a bike network.
  • Bicyclists can be classified according to their tolerance for stress and detours. Therefore, the appeal of individual streets for different classes of riders can be rated and usage predicted. See the most widely adopted way to categorize bike riders: Four Types of Cyclists .
  • Providing more than one option for riding to a particular destination is beneficial as riders differ in terms of their skills and tolerance for inconvenience and stress.
  • Bicyclists strongly prefer the most direct route to a destination but will take alternative connectors to avoid ones that are perceived as unsafe or too stressful. However, “cyclists have a limited willingness to go out of their way to find a lower-stress bike route. If the shortest route that avoids high-stress links involves too much detour, cyclists generally will not consider that route acceptable and either take a higher stress street or simply not ride to a destination. An acceptable lower-stress route should not be more than 25 percent longer than the shortest possible route using links of any level of stress. For short trips, a lower-stress route should be no more than 0.33 miles longer than the shortest route (0.33 miles require two minutes travel time at the relaxed pace of 10 mph).
  • Specific routes can be judged as inconvenient for reasons other than the length of detours. Other considerations include the number of stop signs, traffic lights, the length of delays, and busy crossings of any kind, and street grades.
  • The actual safety and stress of a bike route depends largely on the number, type and design of intersections and public driveways, the number and locations of shared turn lanes, and the amount and speed of adjacent vehicle traffic. (Note: Light-controlled intersections are superior to ones with stop signs or no traffic controls.) The amount and type of potential distractions, e.g., pedestrians, incoming and outgoing traffic, must also be considered.
  • Most bike network improvements are designed to encourage greater bike usage by lowering the stress produced on a particular street. There is no consensus that improvements other than separate bike paths actually increase bicyclist safety.
  • The most common bike connector improvements include bike paths, different types of bike lanes, street markings and signage.
  • Dedicated bike paths offer bicyclists the lowest level of stress and greatest appeal because they physically separate bikes and vehicles except where they cross paths at intersections. Safety is directly tied to the number and type of intersections (“conflict points”).
  • Bike lanes offer bicyclists a dedicated space on streets in which to ride. The physical separation is not as significant as bike paths so the stress is higher than cycle paths. Safety is directly tied to not only the number and type of intersections but also the number, type and design of private and public driveways that cross the bike lanes. Protected bike lanes – recently called “cycle tracks” – have buffers and physical objects that remind motorists and bicyclists that they need to stay in their respective lanes. They lie all types of bike lanes DO NOT provide any real protection as motor vehicles can easily enter them. They also are NOT installed at either intersections or driveways.
  • Sharrows have become popular substitutes for “Share the Road” signage. These street markings simply remind bicyclists and motorists that both CAN legally share a vehicle lane as long as slower bikes do not impede motorists. The law requires slower moving bicyclist to move to the right side and allow vehicles to easily pass. Unfortunately, many bicyclists either do not understand this law or simply ignore it.

Bike Network Design Library

Bike-Vehicle Separation

Guidelines based on vehicle traffic volume and speed. Recommends no road sharing when volume exceeds 5000 vehicles per day OR speeds exceed 27 mph.