Thursday, July 5, 2012

Freiburg - Bicycle Infrastructure    

Freiburg  (pop 230,000, including 30,000 uni students) is wonderful.  Famous for being a “Green City” in energy, transport and land conservation, it sits in the Black Forest and is home to Germany’s oldest universities.  Bicycle mode share is 27%, only just short of Amsterdam.

This was the city that was most educational for me, and most thought provoking in terms of reflecting on the global trend of separation.  More on that later.  I was very fortunate to be given a tour of bicycle facilities and discussion about policy by two of the City’s traffic engineers.

Cycling is well integrated into their overall transport policy which aims to reduce car use and increase public transport, walking and cycling.  An excellent tram system makes getting into and around the city incredibly easy, and at any time of day.  They have been building cycling infrastructure for forty years, since their first integrated traffic and bike network plan in 1969.  Car use has been falling (26% of trips) and public transport use increasing.  They want to now further increase cycling.  Freiburg is flat, the most sunny and warm place in Germany, and 90% of residents live within 7.5km of the cathedral.  It has some car-free neighbourhoods such as Vauban and an urban planning policy to minimise trip distances.

Freiburg has a comprehensive and dense 400 kilometre bike network (in an area of 155km2).  Many streets have separated cycleways (one way) alongside the footpath and usually separated from it by a painted line.  Much of the city is 30kph at which speed they believe bikes can safely mix with traffic and bike facilities are not needed, including contraflow.  There are some Fahradstrasse (bike streets) where cars and motorbikes are allowed, but bikes have priority and can ride abreast (these are also 30kph); as well as children’s play streets (7kph – walking speed).  There are also shared paths along some streets, in plazas and along the river.  And of course the old city centre is pedestrianised (since 1973) and truly beautiful (more on that in a separate post).
Traffic-free street (shared path) alongside the light rail

More shared path alongside light rail stop

The "Blue Bridge" used to be for cars, but is now bikes only.  It crosses the rail line just near the station
(the building to the right is the bike parking station, Mobile)

This bike counter at the Blue Bridge was a cycling-friendly city prize.
I passed again two hours later at 1pm and the daily count was over 3000.

Shared path in a plaza/road closure

Shared path along the river - there is a pedestrian only path on the other side

"Dear walkers, dear bike riders, this side has been developed for riding.  With mutual care, shared use is possible.  For walkers the other side is recommended, where riding is not permitted. - Your Freiburg City"

Shared path along the river Dreisam, skirting the edge of the city centre

A busy intersection on the shared path requires traffic island and slip lanes.

The riverside path has priority at this road crossing, near the university sporting facilities.

Initially the crossing was indicated by just signage.

Improvements were added, including a raised platform.

And solar powered lights to increase awareness at night,

A separated path with more separation than most.

Separated path crossing at signalised intersection.
The yellow diamond means this street has priority and the blue sign means traffic must go straight (no turns permitted).

Fahradstrasse (bike street), but allowing cars and motorbikes.

Spielstrasse ("play street") is traffic calmed, with 7kph (walking speed) limit and parking only allowed in marked bays.

One way street, but two way for bicycles

Integrating contra-flow cycling back in at intersection with lane to bicycle signal.

Contra-flow lane on far side of the intersection

Signed mandatory right turn, except for bicycles (to reach the contra-flow lane in the picture above)

 Sign 357.5This German sign, "dead end, except through path for bicycles and pedestrians" could be useful.

The striking thing about Frieburg is that they are changing their approach – away from physical separation from traffic – bucking the global trend. 

A little aside: I happened to briefly meet the first of the traffic engineers who worked on cycling projects forty years ago.  I think it may have been his retirement day.  He emphatically said that designing for bicycles is the hardest of all, much harder than designing for motor traffic or trams.  In the early days, it was hard to find someone skilled and willing to do bicycle work.  Now, with Freiburg’s reputation for bicycles, it attracts those who are riders themselves and who want to work in the field, such as one of my two hosts.

Back to the story.  Freiburg’s traffic engineers have determined that on-road bicycle lanes are safer than separated tracks behind parked cars where sight lines can be obscured at intersections.  Also, cycleways alongside footpaths can have conflict between pedestrians and bicycles.  As a result, they are converting their separated tracks to on road lanes, by shifting the car parking to the side, sometimes to park fully or partially on the footpath where the bike track was.  This creates space for a bike lane, though often they don’t have space for the car door buffer zone that they would like.

Transition from a separated path to the new section of on road bike lane
(the former dividing line on the path is just visible in the next block)

The former separated path line is visible. 
This new on road bike lane has room for a "safety stripe" as a buffer from doors.

Parked cars have been shifted to the path where the bike track was, but here there is no room for a "safety stripe".

Same here.

Parked cars have been moved onto the path again, and "advisory" (dashed) bike lanes added.
There is not quite enough room for two cars to pass, so they are allowed to cross partially into the bike lane.
(The triangle pavement marking is for a school zone).

This bike lane, near the university, had to be widened to a car lane width due to bike volumes (old lane line still visible).
Soon cars will be excluded from this street as their space will be used for a new light rail line.

"On road bike lanes enable straight through bikes to share a lane with right turning cars to reduce intersection conflicts"

"Or to create a straight through bike lane, to again reduce intersection conflicts"

"That can be highlighted in red if necessary"

This busy roundabout uses red to reduce risk, and a blind spot mirror, and a long advance green for bikes.

Allowing for a left turn bike lane as well.
(This traffic light uses camera detection instead of induction loops).

Former separated bike path line visible.  Now there are on road bike lanes and
this pavement marking, "Stop. Use correct side of street"

And another, "ghost riders are dangerous to themselves and others". 
Notice the wide on road bike lane beside, as well as a red central turn lane.
A hook turn provision for the on road bike lane (mandatory sign in blue)
but all riders using the path which was formerly there (though in wrong direction).

Bikes share traffic lane just before this.  Cars have to wait behind tram at the stop,
but bikes are given a bike path around the back of the stop so they don't have to wait.

Closer view of tram stop with bike path behind.

For me the move from separated paths to on road lanes raises two issues.

Firstly it increases danger from car doors opening and from cars crossing the bike lane to enter or leave parking.  They assure me that drivers in Freiburg are very careful, because most also ride. 

Secondly, it decreases the perceived safety, even if it is improving actual safety.  In some of the places where I was proudly shown the new bike lanes and scrubbed out lines on the footpath, I saw people (mostly women) riding on the footpath.  On a bridge, there are big pavement messages to deter people from riding what is obviously a desire line, but no longer available (without crossing to the other side to use the on road bike lane).  It got me wondering about the tendency for experienced and confident riders to design for their own understanding of a “normal” bicycle rider without necessarily designing for mums taking kids to school, or grannies.  I asked whether mothers might not feel comfortable on an on road bike lane.  “They can always go by a different route instead” is an answer that works where you have a dense network, I guess.  They said they haven’t done any research on what would get more people riding or riding more often.

I think it will be very interesting to monitor the cycling levels and also the profile of users over time and see whether it changes and differs from cycling cities where separation continues to be pursued.

Jan Garrard presented an interesting paper on the issue of perceived safety and actual safety at the Asia Pacific Cycling Congress in September 2011.  For me, this visit to Freiburg is a good reminder that infrastructure design should take into account the impact on both types of safety, and keep in mind the design user.

Next: extra posts on Freiburg bike parking and city centre streetscape, then the final posts are from New York, Portland and Vancouver.


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