Cycling made fast and straightforward
High-speed cycling links
In recent years, the steadily increasing modal share of cycling as well as faster cycling speeds have led to higher demands and needs in terms of the quality and safety of infrastructure, above all on routes with especially high modal shares of cycling. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle-Friendly Cities, Towns and Districts in North Rhine-Westphalia (AGFS NRW) estimates that the theoretical potential of commuters in Germany who might switch to pedelecs or bicycles amounts to around 15 million [Mittag 2014]. In combination with further framework conditions, e.g. increased route lengths due to settlement development, discussions in recent years have focussed on fast, wide-scale and above all more direct routes. The term “cycle superhighways” is often used in this context. However, in order to meet the different expectations, which also depend on the hierarchy of the respective cycle network, one could also speak of “high-speed cycling links”.
“High-speed cycling links are links in the cycle network of a municipality or an urban rural area that connect major start and destination areas with sufficiently high potentials, cover longer distances and allow safe and attractive cycling with high travel speeds on the entire route. They are characterised by especially high quality standards with regard to the layout of lines, design, network connectivity and accompanying infrastructure. Their minimum length should be around 5 km.” [FGSV 2014]
Development and installation of high-speed cycling links in Germany – a quick look at the practice
Most high-speed cycling links in Germany are still in their planning stages. Only a few and sometimes only short sections have already been implemented.
Göttingen – eRadschnellweg
As part of the Electric Mobility Showcase, the first cycle superhighway for electric bicycles (eRadschnellweg), which connects the station with the university, has been established in Göttingen. The first section of the 4 km long stretch was opened to traffic in November 2013. In October 2015, the entire cycle track was opened. The cycle superhighway for electric bicycles in Göttingen does not only offer typical features of a cycle superhighway, but there is also additional infrastructure, namely charging points for pedelecs.
Ruhr metropolitan region – Ruhr RS1 cycle superhighway
In November 2015, the second stretch of the Ruhr cycle superhighway was opened in Mülheim. It runs along the former path of the Rheinische Bahn and connects the Reuterstraße with the main station over a length of about 5 km. The first stretch, which runs from the Essen University to Essen-Frohnhausen, was already completed in May 2010.
According to a feasibility study, in the future, the RS1 is to connect ten cities and four universities over a length of 100 km. Out of the people living in the catchment area, 1.8 million are potential users. As a side effect, air and noise pollution are reduced and CO2 emissions lowered; changes in urban development increase the local public’s quality of life and visible and wide routes make it less likely for cyclists to become involved in an accident.
North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) cycle superhighway competition
In 2012, NRW launched the action plan for promoting local mobility, which defines high-speed cycling links as an important component. Furthermore, the federal state has established a working group on high-speed cycling links together with the AGFS NRW. The objective of the federal state government is to significantly improve the situation for cycling by upgrading cycle superhighways, to reduce congestion on motorways and to provide relief for local public transport that is extensively used by commuters [AGFS NRW 2014].
In 2013, the Ministry of Building, Housing, Urban Development and Transport of North-Rhine Westphalia (MBWSV) launched a local planning competition for a total of 150 km of cycle superhighways with clear minimum standards. For instance the network was to be grade-separated to the extent possible and cyclists were to be prioritised, cycle superhighways were to be continued within built-up areas and at least two neighbouring municipalities in the region were to cooperate.
At the end of 2014, the winners were announced:
- CityRegion of Aachen (30 km), RS EUREGIO;
- eastern Westphalia-Lippe region (36 km);
- federal state capital Düsseldorf (31 km);
- Cologne and Frechen (8.4 km);
- Western Münsterland region (45 km), RS REGIO.VELO.
To ensure funding for cycle superhighways and to relieve pressure on the municipalities, the federal state is now adopting new approaches. In December 2015, the federal state government decided to amend its road and routes act. In the future, cycle superhighways (outside of major cities with more than 80,000 inhabitants) will be federal bicycle track. As a consequence, expenses for constructing and maintaining them are to be paid by the federal state.
Kiel – Veloroute 10
Just like the municipalities in the Ruhr valley, the federal state capital Kiel has recognised the significance of former train paths with regard to upgrading modern cycle superhighways and therefore establishes a direct link for cycling on the tracks of an old, disused freight line. The “Veloroute 10” is to link several neighbourhoods with important destinations in the city centre, such as the Wissenschaftspark (Science Park) of the Christian Albrechts University and the “Citti-Park” shopping area. Except for the bridges, a width of four metres is planned for the entire route, which is to be mainly grade-separated so that greater capacities are available for faster cycling. The first section was already opened in autumn 2013, the entire route is to be completed in 2016.
Wuppertal – Nordbahntrasse
The Nordbahntrasse (northern train path) in Wuppertal was not officially established as a cycle superhighway, but it has many such features. The first section was already trafficable in June 2010, and the 23 km long stretch in Northern Wuppertal was opened in December 2014. The establishment of the train path cycle track through the city was possible thanks to the great effort of volunteers of the Wuppertalbewegung e.V., which in 2015 received the German Cycling Prize together with the city of Wuppertal for the Nordbahntrasse project.
High-speed cycling links in the rest of Europe
The original idea for high-speed cycling links came from the Netherlands. As early as in the 1980s, the first local cycle superhighways were tested here. These links are to make it possible for commuters to reach their destination quickly and safely, especially within distances of 15 km. Since 2006, the Dutch national project “Fiets filevrij” has formed part of the national mobility strategy to ensure the nationwide planning and construction of cycle superhighways in conurbations. The objective is to establish a nationwide network of cycle superhighways with harmonised standards that are integrated in the existing local, regional and touristic cycle networks. Since 2005, eight cycle superhighways have been established in the Netherlands, 20 additional ones are to follow by 2025. The upgrading standards for cycle superhighways in the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark are similar:
- mostly free of cars;
- approx. three metres wide;
- adapted to rural development and landscape;
- two lanes, concreted, lighted and designed in a uniform way;
- harmonised continuous directional signage.
Netherlands – Arnheim/Nijmwegen city region – cycle superhighways for commuters
The Arnheim/Nijmwegen city region has around 740,000 inhabitants and several cycle superhighways with different characteristics for inter-urban cycling that link the local centres directly to the region. First and foremost, the objective of the city region is to encourage commuters to shift from car to (electric) bicycle. Therefore, in Nijmwegen for instance, a new-build housing area was linked to a high-quality cycle superhighway already during the construction period [SRL 2013]. One important regional cycle superhighway is the “RijnWaalpad”. Over a length of around 17 km, it links the two biggest cities Arnheim and Nijmwegen and contributes to reducing congestion on the busy major transport artery between these two cities. On the entire route, cycling takes precedence over motorised traffic.
Netherlands – North Brabant province
Another positive example for the construction of cycle superhighways is the Dutch North Brabant region. In the context of a competition, the first inter-urban cycle superhighway was established; it is considered an exemplary route for cycle superhighway construction in the Netherlands. The route between Breda, Etten and Leur, which was constructed in 2004, has a length of nine kilometres and was mainly funded by the province and the municipality of Breda. The term “cycle superhighway” or “Fietssnelwegen” as well as the discussion about relevant standards, ownership and financing models only came up later [AK Radschnellwege 2014].
The region currently focuses primarily on the 32 km long “Slowlane” cycle superhighway in Eindhoven in the catchment area of the A2 motorway and pays particular attention to making it an attractive business location. In the future, the individual sites of local development and high technology companies in and around Eindhoven as well as the High-Tech Campus of the city are to be connected with a cycle superhighway that will be constructed for exactly this purpose.
Belgium – Flanders region – “Fiets-o-Strats”
The upgrading of cycle superhighways (“Fiets-o-Strats”) for inter-urban traffic with distances of up to 15 km is encouraged in Belgium as well. A good example for this is the province of Antwerp in Flanders, where the upgrading of a regional and functional bicycle route network called “Best Friend Forever” (BFF) is carried out in close cooperation between the regional government, provinces and municipalities of the region. The “Fiets-o-Strats”, which are fit for everyday use and run across municipal borders, form the basic structure and are linked to local main and side routes.
Denmark – Copenhagen – “Cyclesuperstier” and “green wave” for cycling
Besides the Netherlands, the Danish capital Copenhagen is a leader and trendsetter when it comes to upgrading cycle superhighway networks. Copenhagen’s vision is to make people’s everyday life “greener” and more liveable. The city wants to become carbon neutral by 2025. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the share of cycling commuters is to be increased to 41 % by 2020 [Capital Region of Denmark 2014], and it is estimated that a successful upgrading of cycle superhighways can lead to a CO2 reduction of 7,000 tonnes [The City of Copenhagen 2011].
Together with 22 surrounding municipalities, the city is planning a cycle superhighway system with 28 new routes for the capital region that radially lead from the rural urban fringe into the city centre and connect residential areas, work places and training institutions. The objective is that commuters use pedelecs more often also for longer distances (> 5 km). The “Cyclesuperstier” have a special blue surface, bicycle traffic lights, speed display panels and service stations with air pumps for minor repairs and for resting. Furthermore, the cycling traffic flow in Copenhagen is optimised with synchronised traffic light systems. On several major transport arteries in Copenhagen, they give cyclists precedence over motor traffic and harmonise the speed of cyclists so they can enter the city centre with accelerated speeds thanks to a “green wave”.
GB – London – „Cycle Superhighways“
In London, cycling is to become an integral part of the urban transport system in the years ahead. In an effort to catch up with other major European cities, Transport for London (TfL) aims at increasing the share of cycling to 5 % by 2026 [BMLFUW 2015]. The establishment and management of a dense and efficient cycling network is expected to have a positive impact on the labour market, relief the city centre from private motorised transport (CO2, air pollutants, traffic noise, land take, congestion relief), enhance the urban area and improve the health of citizens through mobility services that encourage exercising.
The city focuses on a network of 12 cycle superhighways that are to radially link the city centre with the urban fringe on signposted tracks with uniform blue markings. The cycle superhighways are established on cycle tracks with a width of up to 2.5 m and on cycle lanes on road space. To increase transport safety, cycle lanes are upgraded in many junction areas, mirrors and signals are installed and wider cyclist waiting areas in front of traffic lights are marked [AGFS NRW 2011]. Four cycle superhighways have already been realised, but they are to be further upgraded. In 2015, London allocated around 214 million euros for constructing more cycle superhighways.
Planning and development of high-speed cycling links
Based on the experience with establishing high-speed cycling links, especially in the Netherlands and Denmark, key quality criteria can be derived for Germany. In its working paper on the application and design of high-speed cycling links from 2014, the Road and Transport Research Association (FGSV) describes criteria that local governments and planning offices can refer to. In 2015, the AGFS NRW created a guideline for planning cycle superhighways based on the recommendations of a workshop on cycle superhighways that had preceded the cycle superhighway competition.
According to the FGSV, no systematic procedure is in place for determining the potential of high-speed cycling links. Nevertheless, basic findings from transport research can be used to estimate the potential. Cycle superhighways reduce the travel time and increase the travel distance. Since high-speed cycling links make high investments necessary, establishing them is only beneficial for frequently used tracks. The FGSV recommends an average amount of 2,000 movements of individuals a day.
In the feasibility study that has been carried out for the Ruhr cycle superhighway, it is estimated that the construction of a four metre wide cycle track plus 1.5 metres of green corridor and two metres of pedestrian walkway would cost 630,000 euros per kilometre. The costs for upgrading existing cycle tracks to the standard of cycle superhighways are estimated to be as high as 260,000 euros per kilometre [Regionalverband Ruhr 2014]. Generally speaking, the costs for the construction of a cycle superhighway range from 0.5 to 2 million euros per kilometre, depending on the concept, local conditions and number of bridges and tunnels [Spapé/Fuchs/Gerlach 2015]. If standards are reduced and civil engineering structures left out, 300,000 euros per kilometre are sufficient [Gwiasda/Erler 2015]. The benefit-cost analysis that was carried out in the context of a research project came to the conclusion that, depending on the scenario, the benefit of a cycle superhighway can be two to five times as high as its construction costs [Röhling 2015].
In order to meet the special and basic quality requirements of high-speed cycling links, the FGSV recommends precise forms of traffic management for cycling to realise the travel speeds of at least 20 km/h and driving speeds (based on the ERA 2010) of 30 km/h. This includes, among other things, independent cycling facilities, cycle tracks along roads as well as non-built-up roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h on which motor traffic is low.
Not included are shared footways/cycle tracks or traffic-calmed areas for cycling. The design of junctions and crossing facilities is decisive for the quality of high-speed cycling links. What matters most are minimal losses of time due to waiting and others factors. It is therefore recommended that high-speed cycling links be given precedence over merging roads or that under-/overpasses with low gradients be established.
In principle, cycling and pedestrian traffic are to be separated to make high-speed cycling links as safe as possible for all transport users. Only in exceptional cases and if the pedestrian traffic is expected to be very low should a joint use be considered. The FGSV therefore recommends that the two types of traffic be separated by green corridors or other measures suitable for the road environment, at best with different surface colours. Benches, recycle bins and signs for pedestrians are to be established on the side of the path that is not next to the high-speed cycling link.
Acceptance and support from politicians and the public for such infrastructure measures can above all be gained through transparent communication and public relations work right from the beginning. The main objective is targeted branding at local level that raises awareness among employers and employees for the benefits of high-speed cycling links and that helps to integrate possible key issues, such as workplace mobility management, into public relations work early on [FGSV 2014; AGFS NRW 2015].
- Minimum length of 5 km (supra-regional and regional cycle superhighways)
- Sufficient width depending on the chosen approach to traffic management
- Largely priority/grade-separated junctions at nodes, prioritisation at traffic control signals (“green wave”)
- Safe driving even at high driving speeds
- Separation of cycling and pedestrian traffic
- Low gradients (6 % maximum)
- High quality surface material
- Lighting in and outside of built-up areas (the latter is desirable)
- Regular cleaning and winter maintenance
- No installations
- Integrated into the urban context and landscape
- Direct-to-destination, high-quality and high-capacity links for important start and destination areas over larger distances
- Participation, public relations work and marketing
In the future, high-speed cycling links can play a vital role with regard to the concentration and acceleration of safe, efficient and high-quality cycling also in Germany. On that note, however, and since the described plans for high-speed cycling links in Germany only have minor or not yet enough appeal, we would like to emphasize the described and successful projects in the Netherlands and Denmark and remark that these successes are possible also in Germany.