How Urban Street Hierarchy Concept Could Solve Car and Bike Issues

Current methods of boosting bikes in urban transport systems have the right goals, but at the end they generally do not justify the means. The use of wrong methods such as implementing a bike lane in a vehicular avenue with a high vehicular flow may not be convenient for both means of transport regardless the quality of its implementation. On the other hand, an urban mobility planning technique – “the integrated urban road hierarchy concept” could create positive synergies between car and bike networks.

As long as there are not a lot of wide car lanes, making it possible to narrow the lanes in order to free enough space for the bicycle dedicated infrastructure (at the moment the bike lane is placed directly on the avenue). The dedicated space for private vehicles is reduced in terms of traffic lanes or parking lanes.

In the first case, the number of traffic lanes is affected, which implies a direct increment of congestion, worsening the travel experience for drivers, creating more car-associated negative externalities, and increasing the likelihood of dangerous aggressive maneuvers. In the second case, the elimination of parking spots does not initially impact traffic flow, but it may eventually generate illegal parking maneuvers within the bike lane zone.

Traffic light intersections get more complicated, slower and more dangerous when the number of commuters and movements increase, creating higher travel times for everyone. Car left turns and driver’s reaction times rise because of the new interaction with bicycle movements.

At non-traffic light intersections, usually local streets, the incorporation of drivers to the main corridor also increases its chances of having an accident and spending more time.

Creating good dedicated infrastructure for bikes

Bikers are affected by the levels of pollution, noise and road safety risks, including transit and public transport stops in case it exists in the corridor. Bikers need to overcome too many intersections, drowning the quality of experience and raising the odds of a fatal accident. The most common spot where bikes suffer major accidents is at intersections with high traffic flows.

In order to improve the travel experience for bikers, it is fundamental to allow them a continuous flow, minimizing stops. This is almost impossible in corridors where car flows are the priority.

Good standard dedicated infrastructure always attracts more users no matter where it is placed. This effect is especially notorious in cities where incipient bicycle networks are under development.

So, the adequacy of this measure cannot be justified by the increment of users, but it also proves two facts: providing a good infrastructure and network generates more bike trips and reorders traffic flows. And second: designing mobility from the aspect of controlling the demand is possible via a goal-oriented urban design.

Applying street hierarchy to the car and bike issue

Using the insight of those points, the proposal is to locate the bike infrastructure at a street parallel to the vehicular avenue with the same origin-destiny and linearity, but lower in the vial hierarchy. This could be a local street, aiming for neighborhood traffic and on-street bike flow, keeping away segregation as far as possible.

This method of city planning puts aside the preconception that all streets have the same purpose and/or configuration in different scales. The strategy is to prioritize their use depending on the street features and urban mobility needs, always aiming for mutual reinforcement between the different mobility networks [car, bike, public transport, pedestrian, etc.] and citizen preferences.

In this case, the pretension is specifically reinforcement in bike and car primary networks. Defining the bike dedicated infrastructure at a local street, whether it is a bike lane or shared space, car flow capacity is markedly reduced by the reduction of car lanes in one at least and speed diminution on shared streets.

As a result of less capacity and lower speeds, car drivers prefer to choose streets with a more convenient features for their needs (vehicular corridors), leaving a less traffic congested street for bikers. This effect soars with every extra bike-aimed measure, such as calming street designs (for example, chicane) or operational bike prioritization measures (for example, green waves).

In conclusion, the planning decision of bike infrastructure location makes the difference in advance in terms of positive or negative synergies for the urban mobility planning.

Good and bad practices in mobility oriented urban designs

There are several examples of good and bad practices in mobility oriented urban designs that show how important the urban planning is in the first stages. In these particular examples, it is relevant to highlight how cheap, fast and effective the proposed streetscapes are. Therefore, map images are used to make clear the differences between the past and the present or to compare the two streets.

Example 1: The first case is located in the Eixample Esquerra (Barcelona, Spain) and it is focused on the good practice implemented in Enric Granados Street which redirected the car flow to Balmes Street, a main corridor headed to the city center.

The two streets run to each other and have the same flow direction. The difference lies in the width: Balmes Street is far wider than Enric Granados, a more local character street. Balmes Street is a four-lane vehicular corridor with an exclusive bus lane.

Initially, Enric Granados Street was a typical local street of Eixample Esquerra neighborhood, a two-lane street with a unique flow direction. As a result of the eager decision of Barcelona municipality to boost the bike use and the integrated mobility plan conceived for the city, the mobility department defined criteria for establishing a hierarchy for every transportation mode.

They transformed Enrique Granados radically, turning the street into a comfortable and peaceful street for living, leisure time and bike mobility. A car lane was erased and the other one was tightened so as to locate an on-street two-way bike lane with a multi-use wide buffer (ornaments, bike racks and bike sharing system spots or motorcycle parking lots).

Moreover, the street boundaries were pedestrianized in a large scale, cutting vehicular flow totally and allowing free and save entrance for bikes and a calmed neighbor traffic flow.

Calle Enric Granados

Calle Balmes

Example 2: The second scenario features Ricardo Lyon Avenue versus Suecia Street (Providencia, Santiago, Chile). This is a recent application with the old bike boosting planning scheme where the bike infrastructure is placed in main vehicular corridors, in this case Ricardo Lyon Avenue instead of Suecia Street, one of the several North-South direction vehicular closest alternatives in the urban network.

As depicted in the next images, both streets have quite similar features to the streets from the Barcelona example in terms of width, purpose and number of lanes. So, it would have been possible to redirect the traffic flow like in Barcelona, but the decision was to put the cycle tracks on the least convenient street instead, raising several safety issues.

Avenida Ricardo Lyon

The following two pictures explain some of the different related road safety problems with this kind of design, such as the disconnection of the public bikesharing spot and the cycle track, stressful trip conditions for bikers at congested streets, crossing a pedestrian sidewalk, a two-way cycle track and three car lanes for a driver or a non-traffic light access which creates high odds of an accident.

Avenida Ricardo Lyon – disconnection between public bike sharing system

Non-traffic light access to Ricardo Lyon Avenue

Do you think an urban road hierarchy concept could solve car and bike issues? Share your opinion in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


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