What Real Respect for Bicyclists Looks Like
Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all compete for space and safety on the streets and roads of the world’s cities and suburbs. It’s a contentious and sometimes ugly coexistence, which is why so many government agencies and advocacy groups periodically mount public-awareness campaigns with messages like "share the road" or "don’t be a jerk" or "respect other road users."
In the end, those are just words. The ultimate form of respect for any road user is properly designed infrastructure that allows that a person to travel with comfort and safety using their preferred mode. In the United States, it’s clear who gets real respect (and infrastructure spending) on a regular basis. That would be the people driving cars.
Drivers have specialized facilities in abundance – take the Interstate Highway System just for starters. Pedestrians are more often an afterthought in American road design, although in some communities they are afforded crosswalks and signals designed with varying degrees of sophistication (leading pedestrian intervals, countdown clocks, etc.). And cyclists have a small but growing number of bike lanes – which, as I argued last week, are a lot more comfortable and useful if they are separated from cars by more than just a stripe of paint. But paint is usually all cyclists get, if they even get that much.
The message sent by the infrastructure is clearer than thousands of "share the road" signs.
So what does real respect for bicyclists look like in practice? Well, one manifestation is the graceful new Hovenring, a "floating" bicycle roundabout that opened recently in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Suspended above the roadway, the roundabout gives bikers a completely separated route over the highway. The roundabout is also lovely to look at, with a central column designed to be a beacon indicating the entrance to the community.
Here's a look at the grand opening, via BicycleDutch:
From the BicycleDutch site:
[T]his was an extremely large rural roundabout (officially a ‘traffic circle’ because of the right of way arrangements) with separated cycle paths all around it. … It had cycle paths and there were traffic lights to control the flow of traffic. But to the Dutch that is not safe enough anymore. Yes, there was separation, but at the places of crossing motorized traffic and cyclists were only separated in time and not in place. When people make mistakes (going through a red light for instance) this could still lead to dangerous situations. The area is full of new housing with a lot of children and especially for those kids cycling to school, the new situation is far better. Now, both types of traffic are completely separated in time and also in place, so cyclists can pass this large junction safely and without stopping.
Give yourself a minute to take that in. The cyclists were separated by time, but not by place. And for the Dutch, “that is not safe enough anymore.”
Now that’s what I call respect.
More BicycleDutch video of the roundabout during a normal day of traffic below.