Principles for cycling infrastructure design: safety

Would you step into your car if you did not feel it was safe to actually drive it? You probably wouldn’t. The same principle, of course, also applies to cyclists and their vehicle of choice. If we want to promote cycling and develop a successful, sustainable cycling culture, then safety should be at the top of our agenda.

Cyclists should always feel confident that opting to use a bicycle is a safe and responsible decision, and this is why it is crucial to design adequate cycling infrastructure that meets cyclists’ needs. Solitary cycle lanes, for example, are experienced as being safer than cycle lanes adjacent to the carriageway. In the same vein, a protected intersection will feel safer than an at-grade intersection where traffic flows are not separated, and a wide path will feel safer than a narrow one.

Infrastructure should guarantee cyclist’s safety

Needless to say, then, safety is an important design principle. In its manual, which also provides practical advice and implementation guidelines for safe lanes, paths, and intersections, CROW states that infrastructure should “[guarantee] the safety of the cyclist and other road users”.

Design according to Dutch Safety Vision

Before we take a closer look at how the safety principle can be realised in practice, it must be noted that all these principles are the result of the Dutch Sustainable Safety vision, which uses “functionality, homogeneity, and predictability as leading principles in road planning, road design and improvement of existing roads”. To fully actualise this vision, many factors have to be considered, and many decisions have to be made: take, for example, decisions concerning the separation of traffic flows, the maximum permissible speed, and how road authorities can find a proper balance between function, design, and usage. CROW’s guide, The Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, elaborates on previously published Dutch road design manuals that are all based on the Dutch Safe System vision.

Key elements of safety design

Below, we have compiled some of the key elements of the safety design principle, which are all integral to the various stages – including policy, planning, and design – of developing cycling infrastructure: as such, it is crucial that they are carefully considered. For infrastructure to adhere to the safety design principle, it should strive to:

  • Avoid conflicts with intersecting traffic as much as possible, starting at the network level (e.g. planning links with minimal crossings). At the intersection level, grade solutions such as tunnels and bridges can be used to minimise the risks involved with high volumes of traffic and/or vehicles driving at high speeds.
  • Segregate different vehicle types (i.e. separating cycling infrastructure from car infrastructure by providing solitary cycle lanes or using physical separators).
  • Reduce the maximum permissible speed at potential points of conflict. In locations where crossings cannot be avoided, the maximum permissible speed can be reduced to minimise the risk of accidents, and to make assessing the traffic situation easier.
  • Ensure recognisable road categories, and to accompany these categories with a clear, easily-identifiable set of design features (e.g. speed limit, profile, lane width, separation, etc.)
  • Ensure uniform traffic situations by applying the design principles across the network in a coherent way. This allows different types of road users to recognise the traffic situation and identify what sort of road behaviour is expected of them.

CROW’s Design Manual also pays attention to traffic health and describes various methods of designing cycling infrastructure that ensures minimal environmental and noise pollution while at the same time minimising physiological and mental stress. We will elaborate on these issues in a separate, forthcoming blog post.