Principles for cycling infrastructure design: comfort

It is human instinct to seek comfort. Even so, engineers and infrastructure developers may not always consider this essential design principle as carefully as they should. Because this principle plays such a crucial role in creating a more pleasant cycling experience, and strategic objectives to stimulate bicycle usage are becoming increasingly more commonplace, it should not be overlooked.

In its Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (2016), CROW describes the comfort design requirement in detail, and argues that cycling infrastructure should “[ensure] that cyclists experience minimal nuisance (vibrations, extra exertion due to height difference, trouble from other traffic) and delay (stops)”. To fully grasp the importance of this principle, one must be aware of the following characteristics of bicycle usage:

  • A bicycle, unlike many motorised vehicles, has no suspension systems
  • Cycling is, essentially, an outdoor activity with little or no protection from the elements.
  • Bicycles are human-operated vehicles
  • Cycling is a balancing act

If we take cyclists as a starting point for cycling infrastructure design, and said design considers the characteristics listed above, then cyclists can actually be offered a comfortable ride and journey. Let’s have a look at some examples of how this could work in practice.

Surface treatment: smooth, even pavement and transitions

A smooth surface reduces the number of shocks and vibrations. Whereas cars have suspension systems and soft seats that ensure a continuously smooth and comfortable drive, most bicycles lack these provisions, which is why it is important to investigate other options. Using asphalt surface treatments, for example, can go a long way in contributing to a more pleasant experience for cyclists, especially because such treatments also reduce rolling resistance. As bicycles are human-powered vehicles, such treatments directly reduce the effort required to operate them and ensure a more comfortable ride.

Reducing delays and detours

As cycling requires physical effort, you would want to avoid unnecessary extra effort by having to take detours or having to make unnecessary stops. Links, sections, intersections should all provide direct connections, avoid detours, and reduce bends. Minimising delays is also crucial: having to stop at a traffic light, for example, requires great effort, as cyclists must get up to speed again as soon as the light turns green, which requires more physical exertion than if they had simply been able to continue along their way without any interruptions. While, from a safety point of view, it is sometimes necessary for a cyclist to dismount, such an obligation should be avoided as much as possible from the standpoint of comfort.

Reduce nuisance

Nuisance from other road users, such as motorists, could potentially be avoided by providing solitary or protected bike lanes. Doing so would not only help avoid potential conflicts but also reduce exposure to exhaust fumes.  Furthermore, bike boxes – which are designated areas that provide bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of queuing traffic – could be implemented to improve cycling conditions.