Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Toad Culture

I had an interesting chat last week about promoting bike culture and borrowing techniques from car culture advertising. It got me thinking.

Here is a short film from my childhood that explains car culture.

I think we should be honest and agree that most of us can identify with Toad to some extent.  A fast car driven at speed on the open road is fun.  You may crash and kill someone but that only happens to others (1.3 million others each year).  We also have to be honest and ask if our daily commute really matches this dream?  Cars are sold on a the basis of a dream that just does not exist in cities.  The reality for most city drivers is a slow, frustrating, boring, expensive, unreliable, stressful nightmare, but they still do it every day.

Bikes are cool, fast and fun. There are plenty positive reasons and data to support the promotion of bikes, however more people choose to sit in a car and add to the traffic congestion.  Do we need to sell and promote bikes more or just create an environment where cyclists can ride fast and are protected from the Toads in cars?

I think we need to do both.  I think we also need to recognize that a Toad on a bike can do a lot less damage than a Toad in a car, so we should not get too upset when a cyclist behaves like a Toad.  Until proper cycling infrastructure that makes it clear how Toads should behave is built and cycling becomes a mainstream normal activity you will see a lot of Toads on bikes in sub cultures.

Vienna is just moving out of the sub culture zone with nearly 6% modal split so how do you sell bikes to the main stream?  When it comes to marketing rational arguments do not work as well as fear and emotions.  So maybe pointing out how stupid Toad looks in his huge SUV stuck in a traffic jam looking for a parking space and late to work for a job he hates but has to keep so he can afford the repayments on the ridiculously expensive easily scratched over-sized military truck would work better.

We ended this chat agreeing that I should stick to trying to uderstand the technical cycling infrastructure problems.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Pedestrian Cyclist Conflict.

The conflict in Vienna between pedestrians and cyclists is a huge problem.

Firstly it is important to recognise that nearly everyone is a pedestrian, so this is an issue that has huge relevance.  If you walk along the path and get buzzed by a cyclist or even worse nearly collide with one then you will quite rightly take a poor view of that cyclist.  It is human nature to put people in groups and suddenly nearly all of us have a poor view of cyclists.

A cyclist that is forced to use really poor quality cycle paths that are full of pedestrians will, after a while, give up and just slalom through them at speed.  This may be wrong but it is normal human behavior.

I believe there is no point in making the distinction between legal and illegal behavior. It is true that if everyone obeyed the law exactly then there would be a lot less conflict.  However this is just not realistic, when most people do not really understand all the laws and it is human nature to take the path of least resistance, make mistakes, not concentrate and take short cuts.

When a cyclist ends up riding on the footpath is it often because the cycle network does not have 100% converge and so cyclists have to freestyle over the gaps.  If they are not riding on the road it is maybe because they do not feel comfortable riding on it. Often pedestrians do not realise that they are standing or walking in the middle of a cycle path.  Shared pedestrian and cyclist paths are common and so this conflict becomes normal behaviour.

In some cases there are clearly design problems as with the picture below where the pedestrians are walking on the cycle path. If you walk straight along this road then you have to cross the cycle path to get to the zebra crossing.  Why not put the zebra crossing where the pedestrians walk rather than platting the cycle path and footpath.  This is clearly designed to create conflict and it is working.

It would be naive to think that this problem can be solved 100% but I believe it can be improved by understanding and applying Dutch infrastructure design.  My initial thoughts were that the consistent implementation of red tarmac (especially with curbs and a white dotted line down the middle to make it look like a road) for cycle space would solve a lot of these problems, like this picture:

I tried to look for similar situations in Vienna and Holland to show how the cycle space and pedestrian space is clearly separated.  However I struggled until I realized that I had misunderstood the power of the Sustainable Safety's road function definitions.

It is hard to find cycle paths mixing with large numbers of pedestrians because on Access roads cycle traffic is on the road. Separate cycle paths tend to be on Through roads where there are very few pedestrians.  So you tend to have separate cycle paths and Through roads with no pedestrians or Access roads with very low motor traffic and on road cycling. Of course the in between District access roads are a bit of both, but pedestrian numbers tend to be low for these types of road. This is further explained here.

Lets compare some Street Views.

Vienna Holland
Pedestrians waiting (a long time) to cross a Through road and some of them totally un-aware they are on a cycle path.
Through road with clearly defined cycle path.
On road cycling.
Separate cycle path curb division and wide foot path.
Nice public space.
Nice public space inviting cycling and defining a route.

It seams clear that private car traffic needs to be reduced and the space reallocated to create space for good pedestrian and cycling conditions. Clear red tarmac and curbs will help but the main issue is still the allocation of space from cars to people.  Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians turns allies into enemies and of course the cyclist looses because nearly all of us are pedestrians.

Further reading:
- Reducing conflict between bicycle riders and pedestrians
- Pedestrian-Cyclist Conflict Minimisation on Shared Paths and Footpaths

Big thanks to the Radfahren in Wien group and Street View for the pictures.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Sharks Teeth.

A clear understanding of who has right of way at a junction is very important for safety because it removes conflict and confusion between road users. If you want a system that does not reward more and more aggressive road use (Might is Right) then you need clear rules signs and markings. Rules are complex to change and no one knows them, signs are expensive and often ignored but what about road markings.

IMHO Sharks teeth are a very clear indicator and this technique also has some professional investigation data to back up their effectiveness.

"An underlying investigation showed how road users best understand who has priority

1) by the so-called ‘shark teeth’ markings on the ground (which are more clear than traffic signs);
2) by having the color of the cycle path continue across the drive way of motorized traffic."

REF: http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/priority-for-cyclists-on-roundabouts-in-the-netherlands/

This is really easy to understand and should be used to reinforce the signs and rules that have legal authority but are not always as immediately clear as the symbol on the road. The concept is very simple: If the triangle points at you you have to give way at its flat top side.

Here is an correct implementation in Burgenland (Austria) at a cross road.

Here is a Dutch implementation at roundabout where they have unbundled the cycle path conflict from the roundabout and provided a stacking space.  The cycles have priority so this leads to 2 give ways for cars approaching the roundabout and one exiting.

This should be really hard to get wrong but in Vienna the quality of the implementation is often very poor.. Here are 3 examples of shark teeth implementations where this basic easy to understand concept has been messed up.

Shark 1 = Teeth not on junction give way line, so you have to give way before to pedestrians?

Shark 2 = Teeth upside down or you are supposed to give way after the junction?

Shark 3 = Teeth on both the 2 way cycle path (teeth one way only) and road, so no idea what this means.

Surely this is something that should be really easy to get right. It is not a question of money, space, priorities or politics it is just a question of quality. The rights of way rules are complex and make no sense, and are understood and interpreted differently by each road user. Sharks teeth could fix this easily with a solution that:
- works,
- is cheap,
- is very easy to understand,
- can be implemented everywhere,
- has establish use and data to back up its effectiveness.

Update Sep 3013:
I notice Sharks Teeth more an more when I visit neighboring Italy and Slovakia. They implement them properly but Vienna is still struggling with the concept.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Ring Rad Weg: Heldentor

Heldentor is an massive Hero's gate to the Hero's Place. In summer there are a huge number of pedestrian tourists walking between the gate and Maria Theresin  Platz on the other side of the Ring. The level of traffic through the narrow openings of the gate is very low.  The occasional horse draw carriage and Taxi.  Despite the low volumes of traffic there is a huge road and traffic light regulated junction providing a big obstacle on the Ring Cycle Path.

The not very visible painted on cycle path swings into the pedestrian crossing in order to share the traffic light. The pedestrians normally have no idea they are on a cycle path until a bike slaloms through them.  The red light is not very well respected and often jumped because a lot of the time it is frankly not worth taking seriously.

Here is the plan of this junction.  Note that the ring has 3 lanes between the tram lines so the Heldenplatz road is about 5 lanes wide!

How could this space be made pleasant functional and better designed?

Well you only need one lane in and one lane out of Heldenplatz.  These lanes are restricted by the 350 year old gate openings.  The middle of the 5 openings could be used to create a pedestrianized strip to the ring and used to host statues of heros or whatever is deemed suitable.

Narrow lanes will be much easier to cross for pedestrians and bikes to the point that the traffic light could be removed. The pedestrian crossing can be raised to the same level as the pedestrian zone and a speed bump traffic calming effect used. Pedestrians can wonder around with one less traffic light and bikes have a straight uninterrupted cycle path.

If the pedestrian crossing is moved out from the Ring then cars have a stacking space which they can use to separate the junction from the pedestrian and bike crossing (un-bundling the conflict).  This makes it easier for car drivers entering and exiting the road.  It is easier because you have to see stuff that is in front of you rather than over your shoulder and you have a 2 stage manoeuvre rather and one complex one.

This place should be a tribute to heros but I feel it is a tribute to the unquestioned dominance of the car and the motorway.

Ring Rad Weg

The Ringstraße in Vienna is a significant ring road around the very center of Vienna for a great number of reasons, but lets concentrate on traffic.  The red super imposed line on the map identifies the Ringstraße and the gray highlights major roads for motorized traffic.  You will notice that the Ringstraße is also ringed by major roads so we have plenty of capacity available.  It is not uncommon for the Ringstraße to be closed in part of fully (ie. demos, parades or as a Fan Zone during Euro 2008).  When this happens motor traffic disperses to the other major roads.

It is also a major route for cyclists who find it easier to go around the inner 1st district than go through the center.  For the most part it is a central 3 lane one way road between 2 tram lines.  Outside the tram lines there are rows of trees, shared cycle and footpaths,  and Access Roads with 2 lanes of parking.  This means that in some places you have 9 lanes dedicated to motor traffic and car parking.

Here is a typical section of the Ringstraße:

Here it is in plan form:

Here I have marked red and black(parking) the space dedicated to private motor cars:

Here I have marked blue the remaining pedestrian space:

Some years ago cycling infrastructure was added to the inner side of the Ringstraße, and recently is being added to the outer side.  These tend to be shared pedestrian and cycle paths marked green below:

As you can see the continuous route around the ring for pedestrians and cyclists is the same.  This leads to massive conflict between pedestrians and cyclists as both are funnelled together.

The cycle route is often only marked with white painted lines making the distinction between cycle path and pedestrian zone unclear where they are supposed to be separated.  A large number of the pedestrians in the busy summer months are tourists who are unfamiliar with the roads and busy looking at the many sights as they wander randomly.

The cycle route is also routed around obstacles in unclear chicanes.  These chicanes have terrible surface quality, poor sight lines  and confuse pedestrians and cyclists.

This of course leads to massive and constant conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

The central 3 lanes can best be described as a motorway.  The speed limit of 50kmph is much less than the average speed that feels appropriate to drive on this massive road.  However upon turning off the road into the inner district especially you brake from 60kmph checking over your shoulder for trams, pedestrians and bikes.  It is normal that if you do this at an appropriate speed to make sure that there are no trams, pedestrians or bikes about to shoot across at 30kmph you will be honked at by the impatient driver behind who does not understand why they have had to break from 70 to 5kmph.

How would you CROWize this to make it more bike and pedestrian friendly?  Many believe the whole road should be Pedestrianised.  There is no need for most of this traffic with the excellent public transport and the large roads surrounding the centre.  However I will take a softer evolutionary approach with 2 configurations that do not require the expensive movement of tramlines or trees:

Use the inside lane as a bi-directional cycle path.

A main problem at the moment is that we have a busy Through Road connected to quiet Access Roads, without Distributor Roads between.  Putting a cycle path at this sharp border makes matters worse.  Therefore the remaining 2 lanes would need need to be changed to slow the motor traffic down to 30kmph if the junctions are going to have a chance of working.  Therefore turning the central lanes in to a Distributor Road and dramatically reducing all traffic in the centre would also need to be done.

Use the side access roads for a proper cycle path.

This would leave the central road as it is and modify the access roads to cater for a good quality cycle path.   It does free up pedestrian space and remove a lot of conflict.  I will talk later about some design details but I think this is the most realistic configuration option.  I think it will improve the very dire situation that exists at present that I find totally unacceptable for cyclists and pedestrians.

This will involve the removal of some car parking which is politically very difficult.  The question here is what is more important a few car parking spaces or the safe and pleasant transit of 5000 cyclists and even more pedestrians? I am sure that if the cycling infrastructure across Vienna was better we would be talking about 20000 cyclists using this facility each day.  I would like to think the needs of thousands are more important than the wants of a few but it is for the public to decide how to allocate its public space.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

What is CROWize?

"CROWize" is an attempt to take the Copenhagenize -> Amsterdamize -> Pedestrianise to Vienna with a specific template of the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Inspired by the View from the Cycle Path and Bicycle Dutch Blogs it is my attempt to understand and apply Dutch road design and apply it to Vienna.  I will attempt to stand on the shoulders of giants and try to communicate how cycling in Vienna could be a lot less crap.

So how does Dutch road design work? I bought the CROW manual and to be honest it is not that easy to follow if you are new to the surprisingly complex science of road engineering. A few people have tried to make a summery and done not a bad job and so please do follow the links for more information and better explanation.

If you want to create an environment where normal people consider cycling here is my over simplification of how to do it:

1. Make a Network.

You need a route from A to B and it should be direct and pleasant to cycle along.  Bits of good infrastructure are nice but if they lead to unpleasant sections then the route is unpleasant.  100% consistent coverage turns cycling into a daily habit rather than a occasional option.

There are methods and models for charting population centres (housing) and destinations (schools, offices etc.. ) that can me mapped to desire lines and routes.  This is complex but if done properly can lead to the most efficient allocation for resources and allow you to concentrate on the important routes first.

2. Safety

There are 3 types of safety.
- Social safety: Will I be attacked on my bike?
- Subjective safety: Do I feel safe on my bike?
- Objective safety: How many km do I have to cycle before I am injured?

Subjective safety is how people judge how safe they are and that has little to do with Objective safety: For Subjective safety you need to minimise to occurrence of situations where mistakes can be made and make the environment pleasant.

It is important to recognise that people make mistakes and bad judgements: For Objective safety you need to minimise the effect of mistakes.  Cars crashing into cars or bikes crashing into bikes normally results in people walking away from the accident.  However cars crashing into pedestrians or bikes is only a fair fight at low (<30kmph) speed.

3. You have to define the role and function of each road.

Each road has to have a function.  Either it is for transporting traffic through it or it is a destination.  If it is a bit of both then it is hard to design for bicycle traffic. 

A destinations should be a pleasant place to be and have low motor traffic.  Think of the road you live in.  Do you want commuters to race down it trying to get to work on time or taking a short cut down a back street (Rat Running)?

A through road is for getting as much traffic through as possible.  They are not pleasant places to be at all but are required for mobility.

Of course this is an over simplification and there are a few types and levels of traffic intensity.  This is explained here and can be grouped in the 3 main types:
  1. Access roads (aka estate access roads) - streets that provide access to destinations, non-through routes to motor traffic.
  2. Distributor roads (aka district access roads) - streets that provide access to estate access roads, non-direct through routes.
  3. Through roads - roads that link distributor roads together and act as main routes for motor traffic.

4. Choose the right solution.

On Access Roads where traffic speed is less than 30kmph and there is no through traffic bicycles and motorised traffic can mix together and be largely unregulated without traffic lights or strict rights of way.  In these environments there should be no need for cycle infrastructure or even road markings.  However the road must look and feel like a place where it would be socially and physically unacceptable to drive fast.  The road also needs to be a dead end so that there is no through traffic and have traffic calming devices and techniques applied.

A Through Road is not a place that is pleasant to cycle. Separation through alternative routes or separate cycle paths is essential.

Distributor Roads require complex solutions and are difficult to get right.

5. Get the Junctions right.

Where roads meet you have a combination of different types and traffic densities and so need a variety of solutions for the number of possibilities. This results in designs for:

Unregulated Junctions
Junctions with Rights of way
Traffic Controlled Junctions 
Dutch Junctions
Large Roundabouts

6. Be consistent.

Behaviour should be predictable and familiar if good "what are they going to do next" decisions are to be made.  Therefore roads need to be familiar and consistent.

7. Maintain and improve.

As new housing / offices etc.. are built population and routes evolve.  This is a continuous process that never ends.  The computer model needs updated with new population density and facility data very 5 years to improve and complement urban planning.

Point 2,3,4, 5  and 6 are my attempt to describe what the Dutch Call: Sustainable Safety.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Tschuldigen: passt ned

An expensive campaign has been launched in Vienna to try and defuse the conflict and aggression on the roads.  This is encouraging in that it is an indication that there is a problem and it is not just me that finds the roads unpleasant. It also shows that the government is aware of this and trying to do something about it.

("tschuldigen" is slag for sorry,  "passt schon" means no problem.)

But lets look at a couple of these conflict situations that are up on bill boards around Vienna.

This is an annoyingly common situation where a car driver opens a door without looking.  What can be the result of such actions?

Here a cyclist is thrown under a Taxi:

I see this as a problem.  Clearly the car driver should look before opening a car door but unfortunately it is a fact that they often do not.

To avoid this situation I cycle way out into the road away from car doors so that there is space for the door to swing open or a pedestrian to step out into the road without me having to swerve out into the road to avoid them. The problem is that for some reason many car drivers have an instinctive zombie like "Must Overtake Cyclist" obsession. They seam to take it as a personal insult that you are in front of them. They will try for force their way past so that they can wait longer at the next red light. This conflict can be reduced if you cycle faster than the traffic flows which is not too hard but you have to be fit and confident to do this.

Now for the bit that really really annoys me about this situation. On a huge amount of roads there is a thin cycle lane painted next to the parked cars.

This helps you filter through traffic jams but only at very low speed because you still have the car door and stepping our pedestrian problem, However when there is no traffic jam it also legally and socially binds you to ride in this very dangerous door zone. It also gives aggressive car drivers a clear lane to overtake without slowing down. So if you have to swerve out or someone opens a door you get hit from behind by a car traveling at full speed. It also reinforces the zombie car drivers "Must Overtake Cyclist" obsession by indicating to them that cyclists should get out of their way.

Here is an other tschuldigen campaign situation.

Slalom racing through pedestrians is a normal part of cycle route usage. Sometimes there is a separate cycle lane and pedestrian lane and sometimes they are mixed together. As you can see in the picture above it is not always very clear which bit is for cycles and which bit is for pedestrians. So you tend to get bikes swerving all over the place to avoid pedestrians who are unwittingly standing in the way. As a pedestrian you are constantly buzzed by cyclists that whiz past uncomfortably close.

It is clear bikes should respect pedestrians and give them space. It is also clear that pedestrians should not walk on cycle lanes. However this does not happen as the cycle / pedestrian devision is very blurred and often removed by design.

You can have a zone where cycle and pedestrian traffic is mixed but it needs to be slow and/or low density. A main route for cyclists is not a suitable place for a main pedestrian route.

I can not say this "passt schon". It is terrible design that creates uncomfortable and aggressive dangerous conflict and that "passt ned".


Welcome to my new blog. I started this blog to filter out the Doug Culnane's Blog ego and rant stuff. This Blog has taken inspiration from a few great cycling blogs and it is an attempt to communicate what I have learned from them and apply it to the Vienna Streets.

I am not a traffic or town planner and I have no qualification or skill in this area so I am very happy to be criticized and corrected.

I cycle around Vienna every day and I am feed up with what I consider crap cycling infrastructure.  In an attempt to understand it I have done some basic research and I want to share this here.  I hope you find it interesting and I hope that it helps create a better cycling environment in Vienna.