Question: How is infrastructure for bicyclists designed, and how does it evolve?

Related questions to prompt more detailed answers:

  • When is the right time to build bicycle roads?
  • How is the budget evaluated for new bicycle facilities?
  • Is there some way to verify the budgeting premises for bicycle projects?
  • How are different facilities evaluated?
  • Are there stages which a city goes through to get a superb bicycle infrastructure?

Longer term considerations:

  • Suppose the fundamental city plan for cargos and cars is to produce a smooth flow of traffic. Is it easier to plan long-term bicycle road investments together with other roads?
  • You cannot take every point into account at the start, so how do we make improvements to existing facilities?
  • How do we make sure progress doesn't stop or reverse?
  • Is there a way to avoid only reactive fixes (something gets improved only after fatal accident)?
  • Is the improvement chaotic or a linear progression?
  • 2
    There's no one answer for this. It depends on every level of government, and it's changed over time.
    – freiheit
    Jun 14 '11 at 23:17
  • 4
    I'm having trouble finding a "practical, answerable question based on actual problems that you face" in there.
    – freiheit
    Jun 14 '11 at 23:19
  • I took a stab at focusing this a little bit -- mostly formatting and updating the title to reflect the text. But it could still gain a bit from being more focused and shorter. This could possibly produce some decent answers, although they'd be fairly long and extensive. Just a thought, but perhaps asking how this happened in a specific city would be more answerable? Jun 14 '11 at 23:21
  • @Neil Fein: I am not surprised that this question may be found confusing my majority of users, users who cannot understand a word about stochastic processes or real options. I have only ideas how policy makers may implement this kind of things but they are more greek. Actually, the latter topic is getting now more researched. I still find this question answerable by professional or professionals, I know how to model this kind of issues and how to plan to some extent but I have no empirical experience so very interested how city planners actually do it -- so how does bicycle infra evolve?
    – user652
    Jun 14 '11 at 23:30
  • 1
    @hhh: I think your examples don't really apply to the question and could be removed. Having dealt with the bicycle infrastructure planning process in two (similar) countries, I don't think it's evolution in the "linear prgression through a series of goals" sense that you appear to be misusing it, but more of the classical evolution "apparently random changes that sometimes make things better" sense. Especially since some of the most dramatic changes are unexpected side effects of other projects (the new motorway may be an example of this)
    – Мסž
    Jun 15 '11 at 0:09

In most places the answer to your main question is "very bureaucratically", usually involving multiple government departments and a lot of competing interests. It's a part of town planning, which is itself contentious in most places. Even without the sort of natural input that, for example, Christchurch is currently experiencing.

My experience is that even when national governments are involved detailed planning tends to be done at a very local level. This contrasts with major roads where there is usually a government department who is responsible for them. So national funding ends up in the hands of local government who design, build and maintain bicycle facilities in their area.

Ideally the work is overseen by someone with both qualifications and experience in designing good cycle facilities, with public involvement during the scoping and design stages. This is when cycling organisations can be very influential both in terms of what route is chosen and the detailed design that can make it a stunning success or a miserable failure.

Budget works two ways. The "how much do we have to spend" is usually a political question and is influenced primarily by lobbying your government representatives. The "how much does it cost" is in theory an engineering question, but is often determined by political considerations, specifically the "it must be able to support heavy maintenance vehicles" requirement that can mean a cycle facility costs the same as a standard roadway instead of less than 1/4 as much. Local government and roading engineers are usually very keen on this for two reasons: it gives them a "free" access route (they don't pay for it, cyclists do), and it pushes up the apparent cost of cycle facilities (so they have to deal with fewer of them per dollar in the budget). In some situations this does work the other way, where the builders go "cycleways are cheap, let's put them everywhere". Smart property developers do this as they can still call them roads (and they look like roads on the plans), but they're cheap to build.

Evaluation is complex because there are many different ways a cycle facility can be evaluated. From how good it is to ride on, to accident rates or population health, to maintenance costs, to political benefit (or cost), just about everyone will have their own way to evaluate a cycle facility. This is a contentious issue that my local BUG addresses with our local council almost every year. Even though we have a cycling team in the council infrastructure department we have to fight to keep them as well as maintain existing facilities and build new ones.

The broad progression that I'm used to is:

  1. no cycle facilities.
  2. national government makes funds available to local councils for cycle facilities, and local government wants those funds.
  3. they paint "cycle facilities" onto existing roads and build a few recreational facilities to get that money.
  4. local cyclists are pressing for better facilities.
  5. Eventually council appoint a part-time "cyclist appeasement officer" to deal with them, who also has a budget. This gets spent on making cyclists more visible, usually by printing maps of the facilities and flyers saying how good cycling is.
  6. Over time the budget increases and the focus changes to off-road facilities that actually go places.
  7. a council employee in the road-making department is designated as something to do with bicycles ("cycle facilities coordinator" or similar),
  8. eventually this office gets onto the list of "people who have to be consulted before road changes happen".
  9. Around this time cycling becomes something that politicians mention during elections
  10. over time politicians settle more onto the pro-cycling side.
  11. a mayor/governor who is a cyclist is elected and suddenly a key question for every single transport project becomes "how does this help cyclists?"
  12. Over time this becomes the dominant paradigm across the nation,
  13. eventually Dutch is legislated as one of the national languages.

(note that places move both up and down the list over time - it's not all win-win-win)

A few local examples. This is my councils transport page featuring bicycles and pedestrians with their own headings. If you read the strategy you can see that the local BUG had some effect. Also note the "sustainable transport" menu of the left of that page. In Sydney where I used to live they now have a "Manager, Cycling Strategy" and a heap of content on their web site.

  • Nice answer! A bit sprawling, like the question, but it gets my upvote. (Modded up, as @Mathew would put it.) It would be even better if you had a few examples from specific cities. #13 made me laugh! Jun 15 '11 at 6:13
  • @Neil: specific examples would just pad out the answer even more :)
    – Мסž
    Jun 15 '11 at 21:55
  • The "mayor/governor who is a cyclist is elected" I was specifically thinking of Garry Moore in Christchurch, NZ, who was mayor for a decade and saw a major expansion in cycle facilities, partly just by responding to every transport proposal with "how does this help cyclists" :) Unfortunately not a lot on the web about him that I can find.
    – Мסž
    Jun 15 '11 at 22:09
  • Nice answer. From what I've seen where I am (city in california, US) it's very similar here as well, with the possible addition extra intermediate levels of bureaucracy/politics (national, state, multi-county transportation district, county, and local city). Also, our step 12 was more like "one cycling-related project with some very vocal opponents creates political pressures that lead to an anti-cycling majority on next city council and all cycling infrastructure projects suffer and/or die for at least a couple years".
    – freiheit
    Jun 15 '11 at 23:26
  • @freiheit: the original was longer and had a lot more negativity in it. I've fought those battles way too often. All you can do is regroup (and restack the council the other way :) We struggle to find people who are willing to be elected because it's a lot of work and hassle for very little (personal) reward, but it really does have to be done. Getting the votes is in some ways the easy part.
    – Мסž
    Jun 15 '11 at 23:33

"How is bicycle infrastructure designed and how does it evolve?"? Well, as the other answerers have suggested, the answer is "that depends."

When I worked for the Bureau of Land Management, here in the U.S., I did recreation management for a broad scattering of federal public lands. Some of these lands were adjacent to cities. In the cases where we built bicycle infrastrucutre, it was mostly in reaction to noisy demand.

Since dispersed recreation is more difficult for agencies to quantify and measure than straight-up vehicle traffic, accident rates, levels of congestion, or visitation at a specific site, there is a bit of guesswork involved. Ideally, agencies ask for public involvement--in the form of town meetings, or public planning meetings and open houses--and respond to public input. If the people ask for bicycle infrastructure, we give it to them. Or, if agencies managing lands adjacent to ours build bicycle infrastructure, we may build similar infrastructure to create connectivity (in the instance of "money from heaven", the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, for instance).

My point here is this. Those who demanded bicycle infrastructure in the areas around Coloma, California, may not have been the majority of residents or even the majority of attendees at our open-houses. Those who demanded bicycle infrastructure, though, CONSISTENTLY attended the meetings and CONSISTENTLY voiced their opinions--both loudly and coherently. They came to the meetings with a vision and the broad outlines of a plan. They left the last meeting with a committment from my agency to flesh out the plan and build the bike paths.

We did not build bike trails as a whim or just to use up some money. We built them to satisfy a small but vocal constituency that responded effectively to all of its detractors.

  • One last note... the laws in the U.S. which require agencies to seek public input are sometimes vague. We need public input but that requirement may be satisfied in a variety of ways. A similar vocal minority can demand a public meeting... but often the combination of personalities at the agency involved will be the deciding factor in what sort of public input opportunities are provided...
    – DC_CARR
    Jun 15 '11 at 15:47

The questioner is asking how does a town/city get its bicycle infrastructure. As I write I can feel the moderators cursor hanging over the 'close' button, so I will be brief...

The Wikipedia page is a good place to start:


The 'carbusters.org' site might also be of interest to the questioner, particularly the back issues:


Also of interest is the current situation in London where the old 'New Labour' government barked on about yet more public transport with little consideration for the wonderful bicycle, as if everyone really wants to travel by bus. This has changed with the 'Conservative' Mayor who really does enjoy cycling, and not just for the cameras. Allegedly London is to get 'bike motorways'.

P.S. I do think that there is scope on this site for such questions because cycling is not just about the bike.

  • 1
    I wish your observation about London changing were true. Boris has indeed created a lot of hot air (and blue paint) but nothing's really changed (see the current issues around Blackfriars Bridge and Elephant&Castle for proof that TfL still prioritises the car over all other forms of traffic).
    – Unsliced
    Jun 15 '11 at 11:48
  • ..I know, comical isn't it. I am no Conservative myself but I much prefer knowing that who-ever-is-in-power actually cycles rather than just promote cars blatantly (or moan about more buses). Looks like we are getting some good answers on this question though. Jun 15 '11 at 13:03
  • It's also worth noting that it was the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone ("Red Ken"), that initiated the London cycle hire scheme despite the rubbish Boris comes out with. Jun 16 '11 at 17:57

Looking at the Cycling Strategy for my local town, the intended evolution of infrastructure is:

  • ensure that alterations to the highway network are designed to increase utility for cyclists or, at the very least, to not degrade the cycling environment
  • enhance routes to schools and town and local centres
  • ensure that cycle facilities are considered in all new development proposals
  • a network of roads, dedicated routes and facilities throughout the Borough which enable cycling to be a safe, attractive and enjoyable mode of transport

do cycle facilities piggyback on roads for autos?

In Toronto the main types of bike route are:

  • Bike lanes and/or 'shareways' painted on a few of the second-largest roads: so that a few of the major roads have bike lanes

  • Recommended (mapped and sign posted) bike routes through minor, low-traffic, residential streets (which have lots of stop signs but little car traffic)

Apart from those there are mixed bike/pedestrian paths, paved but forbidden to motor vehicles - through parks, along rivers, and along the lake shore ... and, in one place, along a railway line.

non-car-related bicycle facilities

There's some cooperation with rail. There's a railway system that brings commuters from nearby towns and suburbs into the city. The most important, central station is in the downtown core. One of the more recent bits of bike infrastructure is a bike storage room in the central rail station, intended presumably to let commuters store their bikes there: to live outside the city, take the (crowded during rush-hour) train without their bikes, and to have their bikes when they arrive (to get from the station to wherever they work).

As for public transport within Toronto, you're not allowed to take a bike on the subway during rush-hour; but the buses (all the buses, I think) have convenient bike racks.

(See also bike paths, mentioned above).

how does it happen

Here's a link to Toronto's published bike plan: including the plan, the consultation proess, etc.

There are disputes in city council (published in the local papers) about whether to have a bike lane on one particular street in the downtown core: some people would prefer to reserve it for a higher flow of cars. It seems to me that there are enough bike routes everywhere except in the downtown core, where there are few or none (enough for me, though the majority of other people don't cycle, perhaps partly because they find it too scary).

FWIW there are occasionally similar disputes (which local residents and apparently especially local shop-keepers get involved with) on various other streets, about routing tram lines, and about whether to allow on-street parking.

The current mayor is said to be anti- or at least not pro-bike, but isn't going to remove the controversial bike lanes. There have been bikes in Toronto for much longer than there has been a bike plan (the plan is recent as far as I know: someone must have said, "we need a plan"). I think the current plan pre-dates the current mayor, but I'm not sure.

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