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I noticed in some countries in Southern Europe that cities where the roads are old and were not designed for cycling, in the past 20 years, they added a lot of bike lanes just by painting a red strip on the sidewalk. That does not seem a good idea. The difference in speed between pedestrians and bicycles is big, so this already poses a danger. Moreover, when you walk and there are not many cyclists around, it becomes natural to invade the lane. The few cyclists who then try to follow these lanes find so many obstacles that they eventually give up. Even after years when I pass there I see almost no cyclists around, but a lot of people walking side by side or pushing baby strollers. It seems that such initiatives end up backfiring because at the same time drivers no longer want to see cyclists on the road, they expect them to use the bike lane.

The main problem is that the cycling routes are badly designed. They end up diverting cyclist traffic onto small secondary roads. The worst example I saw is in Rome. In the past 30 years they spent millions to either put cycle lanes on the sidewalks or build well separated cycle lanes that go to nowhere, usable for recreation and nothing else.

How much is this practice widespread and what usually is the reception by other cyclists?

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  • The lanes added with paint can just be Tactical Urbanism: modifications with a clear temporary character to skip the classical approval processes with the hope of making permanent modifications later. But it's a bad idea to it on pedestrian space.
    – Rеnаud
    Jan 5, 2022 at 13:56
  • Widespread, Not good practice but within social, political, economic and physical constraints probably going to be around for a long time. The issue here is not identifying problem (Its widely accepted that its not ideal), its finding a solution.
    – mattnz
    Jan 5, 2022 at 20:00
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    We just have lines seperating the cycle lane and pedestrian areas. Confusing as some areas have shared lanes, seperated left to right (as in if you're heading in one direction both cyclists and pedestrians keep to the same side), in other cases it is as you have presented, cyclists on this side of the at all times, and pedestrians the other... Complete mess. Jan 5, 2022 at 20:06
  • My belief generally is that if you're in a city and the lanes are narrow enough that you can't fit cars and bikes side by side, the speed limit should just be low enough that bikes can safely use the road. Not more than 40 km/h.
    – Turksarama
    Jan 5, 2022 at 23:33
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    "The difference in speed between pedestrians and bicycles is big, so this already poses a danger. " I've been hit by a bike while walking, and I've been hit by a car while riding a bike. The experience is simply not comparable. It there are no cycling lanes, then bikes will ride on the road with the cars, which in some roads means that for sure, there will be a deadly accident sooner or later. If there are cycling lanes, even on the sidewalk, there won't be any death and there might not be accidents at all (pedestrian-bike accidents are much easier to avoid than car-bike accidents).
    – Stef
    Jan 7, 2022 at 21:35

9 Answers 9

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As to how spread this is: This is widely used in Sweden, both using existing sidewalks and building newer wider sidewalks where pedestrians and cyclists are separated by only a painted line.

This is causing some discussions and accidents as pedestrians stroll into the bike lane and cyclists are using the pedestrian part.

To add further confusion, young cyclists are allowed on the Swedish pedestrian sidewalks up to 8 years of age. Older cyclists are following ths example, but this is probably a traffic rule violation.

Also, electric scooters are allowed on pedestrian sidewalks but only if they are traveling in "low speed" which is not specified exactly. Police have to make their own decisions regarding what is considered to be appropriate speed.

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  • That's a very strange thing to learn. I wonder how it justified - not to set exact limit, which actually seems the most straightforward and simple way to deal with the problem.
    – shabunc
    Jan 6, 2022 at 10:39
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    Finland has similar set ups. Works quite well when commuting by bike. Not at all if you go for a sportish ride (but then you are well advised not to be that close to pedestrians anyway and rather head out of town). I guess the problem with e-scooters is that there is yet insufficient data and thought as to how to best accomodate for them. Over here they are more or less equated to cyclists (in the eyes of law and police). Except that e-scooter riders are not required to wear helmets (something I and several ER personnel would like to see change, or alternatively lower their speeds a bit). Jan 6, 2022 at 11:46
  • E-scooters (at least in Sweden) are limited to a speed less than 20 km per hour, which makes them fall into a vehicle category similar to electric wheelchairs, etc. But on a sidewalk, the e-scooter is required to travel at "walking speed" but there is no specified value for that.
    – MagnusK
    Jan 7, 2022 at 10:23
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I've seen plenty of unusable shared pavements in both the UK and Spain as well as some good ones.

Good or bad, they can be truly shared or split with a line, but to be good they have to be:

  • wide
  • lightly-used (by pedestrians)
  • built with sensible junctions with the road and signage to match, otherwise you can't catch them.

In one case near me, there's nominally one side for bikes and the other for pedestrians, but the (2-way) bike side isn't wide enough for 2 bikes to pass and there are few pedestrians, so bikes keep left (UK so we ride on the left) and have to slow down for pedestrians.

The issue comes more when they're put in by the local authority to meet some sort of target, without much thought. Then they're worse than useless for everyone:

  • collision risk for pedestrians and cyclists. Even going barely over walking pace, pedestrians are still a hazard because they can side-step without warning.
  • drivers expect cyclists to use them even when they're not usable, thus increasing conflict.

In one particular town a couple of hours' ride from me, the only way to get on the bike paths shared with pedestrians is to brake sharply when you see the dropped kerb and sign, then do a sharp 90° left turn up the ramp, followed immediately by a 90° right turn. Of course before you're halfway through the manoeuvre you'll have a fair chance of getting hit from behind.

But riding to get somewhere in a reasonable timescale is very different from a family leisure ride at the pace of the slowest kid - and infrastructure designers seem to think mainly about the latter.

There are moves to improve the facilities, such as the UK government's Cycle infrastructure design (LTN 1/20) Guidance.

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Why does this happen?

Politicians are unwilling to take privileges away from cars, because the car lobby (both from motorists and from the car industry) is too strong. Never mind that >99% of roads are for cars already; reduce that to 98% and the populist right will take over the city hall and abolish all cycling infrastructure (Madrid). Exceptions exist. In cities/countries with enough cycling critical mass, or where most cars are from outside the city, there may be a political will to take away space from cars. Examples are The Netherlands, Denmark, or some cities in Germany.

Taking away from pedestrians is cheap, both politically and economically. Pedestrians do not have a lobby. There is no pedestrian industry lobbying politicians to pay for infrastructure for their users above all else. Pedestrians can complain. Nobody cares.

As an added benefit for the car lobby: pedestrians and cyclists are the vulnerable participants of traffic. Pitting your opponents against each other is an ancient strategy to increase your own power. If not the main aim of the "put cyclists on the pavement" strategy, it's an additional political benefit.

Sometimes they put the cyclists on bus lanes. Everything to avoid touching the holy privilege of the private car lobby.

There is no such thing as a city with no place for cycling infrastructure. Cycling infrastructure takes negative space if it comes in place of car infrastructure. The only places which really have no place for cycling infrastructure are medieval medina-like city centres, where the streets are no more than 2 metre wide, but that's rarely where political conflict on infrastructure is focussed.

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It is a terrible idea, to take away from pedestrians and give that space to cyclists.

Pedestrians don't need any form of qualification to use their piece of the roadway - there's no such thing as a "walking licence" and there's no age restrictions either. Even non-humans are there and they can be quite unpredictable.

Generally there's no physical separation between the new painted bike lane and the reduced pedestrian footpath/pavement, so the walkers will walk whereever they used to.

What's the solution? I wish I knew. There is only so much roadway to go around, and sharing it between vehicles, bikes, parking, and walking is a challenge. The lowest-hanging fruit is on-street parking, but the older parts of a town doesn't tend to have carparking buildings sufficient for everyone, and businesses are quick to complain about loss of car parking.

Personally I'd choose to ride my bike in the vehicle lane, rather than bringing additional danger to the pedestrian space.

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  • 4
    The best solution is probably to have all vehicles coexisting on the road. Unfortunately this requires mutual respect and tolerance and looking out for each other. Which is not something humans are good at.
    – Michael
    Jan 5, 2022 at 12:03
  • This seems more of a comment than an answer. Before looking for a solution we should understand the problem magnitude, attitude of the city administrators or those who designed the routes and so on.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 5, 2022 at 12:07
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    Regarding your comment to @FluidCode , the existence of a bike path is not enough to make it mandatory in Germany. That's solely the job of the round and blue bike path signs. If there's a bike path on the sidewalk and there is no blue sign, you are free to choose either the bike path or the vehicle lane. Unfortunately, German car drivers are particularly intolerant to cyclists on the road, independent of whether there's a bike path and/or that blue sign. They don't care, they simply deny your right to exist on the road. Jan 5, 2022 at 21:23
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    @cmaster-reinstatemonica I didn't spent so much time in Germany, but I saw big differences between different cities, the existing infrastructure and the quality of the planning have an impact on the drivers attitudes. Try to cycle in the Netherlands, car drivers are very friendly towards cyclists, the strict rules are part of the reason, but also the fact that many of them are also cyclists matters.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 5, 2022 at 21:37
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    Afaik, it used to be mandatory without the sign, but they changed the rules sometime in the 90's or 00's. So your statement was not too far off :-) Jan 6, 2022 at 5:59
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Such bike lanes are not unheard of in Germany. It is a cheap way to establish a bike path, without the typical material separation by means of a curb or visible marking through a different pavement. (As a side note, apparently it is more dangerous (link in German) to ride on a bike path than in the street together with cars, mostly because bicyclers on a bike path are not in the field of view of right-turning cars.)

I think that a general hostility against these after-the fact attempts, unless they are unsuited because they are too narrow, is unwarranted. There are different groups of bicyclers. There are fast riders, for example regular long-haul commuters or competitive riders who find the small spaces, small turning radii and the proximity to slow, vulnerable and unpredictable pedestrians uncomfortable. They have to slow down or they run the risk of collisions with pedestrians. Slowing down defeats the purpose of their ride though. Fast riders typically feel less unsafe in the (city) street together with cars — they are faster so that car drivers have more time to recognize them, assess the situation and come up with a plan of action for safe passing. It is not uncommon to be as fast as the city traffic so that no passing is necessary. Being faster also means to be less of an obstacle so that drivers caught behind the bike don't become impatient and feel the need to take more risks in order to finally pass.

But then there are many casual, occasional, slow riders who feel very uncomfortable and unsafe in the street. Why, they are! Grandma going half a mile by bike to do her shopping is extremely happy about the painted bike path. She is not a danger to anybody and is slow enough to have time to react when an inattentive pedestrian steps into her path. She is by nature slow enough to be safe there. She would often be tempted to simply use the sidewalk even if no bike path was painted, and in many places that would not be a problem. The paint simply condones that reasonable and pragmatic behavior and organizes the traffic participants.

Bottom line is that no size fits all. Painted bike paths can improve safety and "city usability" for slow riders, but their use should not be mandatory: Every bicycler should be free to ride in the street. This is actually the case in Berlin even with most regular bike paths because they lack the blue sign which would make them mandatory. Many of them are indeed not well suited for fast riders.

Painted bike paths should also be considered a temporary solution. They should ideally be established only as a first step in a master plan laying out general, substantial and integrated improvements for pedestrians, public transport and bicyclers alike.

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    I was about to write the same. It is worth thinking about the alternative: no bike lane. You'll end up with slow, unconfident cyclists on the road, or confident, fast cyclists on the pavement, where the pedestriants are not expecting them. Sharing a narrow pavement is not great, but probably better than nothing.
    – Bennet
    Jan 7, 2022 at 16:16
4

I don't know how widespread it is. In my own city (Austin TX USA) I see some version of this intermittently. In many parts of Austin, there are no sidewalks, or there is a sidewalk on only one side of the road, so there's a limit to how much this could be used.

I do see it on some major roads. I know of one 4-lane road where the bike lane is diverted onto the sidewalk for at least 1 km (but is at street level elsewhere). In my own neighborhood, the city has reconfigured an intersection to divert existing bike lanes onto the sidewalks so that bikes go through the intersection at the crosswalks, and then return to street level.

I think it's a terrible idea. The most charitable interpretation I can make is that these changes are designed to reassure unconfident cyclists. I also think that moving bike lanes onto sidewalks is intended to create/preserve bike lanes without taking space away from car lanes, because cars have higher priority.

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    As you know, we call bike lanes "designated kill zones" here, amigo :) Jan 5, 2022 at 23:11
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    Howdy @ToddMinehardt -- even the Dutch call them "murderstrips"
    – Adam Rice
    Jan 6, 2022 at 0:05
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This is very common throughout Europe. In Poland, where sidewalks have a lot of spare room, a separate asphalt-covered lane—either delimited by posts or only a painted line—separates them.

I actually think this the best possible solution to have the bike lane physically separated from car lanes, even at the cost of sidewalk. While the speed difference between pedestrians and cyclists is bigger, the difference between cyclists and cars is even more so: in Warsaw, as per my observation, cyclists hardly ever exceed the speed of 10-15 km/h, which is twice that of a pedestrian (7 km/h being military march).

I am basing this on no empirical data, but my belief is that it's orders of magniture worse for a cyclist to crash into a car at the speed limit of 50 km/h, especially that in most countries people tend to drive over the limit. I am personally terrified of sharing lanes with car when I am cycling, because I know how poor my compatriots are at driving.

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    7 Km/h for a pedestrian is a very high speed. 10 Km/h is a medium/low running speed. 4 Km/h is an average decent pace for pedestrian. For cyclist you took the opposite meter. 10/15 Km/h is the classic speed of an old person. Over 20 Km/h is a more usual speed. When I was younger and I saw the traffic light turning yellow I could sprint up to 40 Km/h with a heavy city bike.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 5, 2022 at 21:28
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    @FluidCode If politicians force cyclists onto a busy pavement, then 15 km/h might be the highest speed that is still responsible.
    – gerrit
    Jan 6, 2022 at 10:08
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    The best possible solution is indeed physical separation of bike lanes, but that has to be physical separation from pedestrians in addition to cars. Speaking as someone who cycles regularly as a primary means of transportation, I dread stupid pedestrians far more than stupid motorists, because they are even less predictable than motorists (there are no ‘rules of the sidewalk’ they are legally required to follow), and because I, as the person on the vehicle, will usually be the one held liable if I run into them even if they were the one at fault. Jan 6, 2022 at 17:13
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    @MrVocabulary In a sprint at the end of a stage of the tour the France, when the road is flat and straight, riders usually reach speeds between 70 and 80 Km/h. So someone who is not a professional, but did some training and stands up pushing on the paddles can sustain 40 Km/h for a second or two.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 6, 2022 at 22:38
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    @MrVocabulary BTW If you happen to be in Rome try and rent a bike and go downhill from here (google coordinates) 41.756587573675496, 12.627746825574285 to here 41.76597499935677, 12.617487376026643. Even if it is boring straight it will be a little bit more thrilling than your usual downhill. But beware, speed limit is 60 Km/h :)
    – FluidCode
    Jan 6, 2022 at 22:55
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I am from Italy, i.e. southern Europe, and in my city this practice is very common. So common that we have a whole bunch of what they call "cycling paths": narrow walking paths that are for both pedestrian and cyclists (no painted lines here: you can do whatever you want) ending at crossroads where you find yourself on the zebra crossing and you must get off the bike to cross the road. Then, we have wider walking paths, usually on one side of roads only, that are divided by the famous painted line but people do whatever they want too. Finally, we have something our administration calls "cycling paths" which are same as a mixed walking path, but built mostly outside town, i.e. it's a bit wider from time to time, where you find families with playing kids, elder people walking everywhere, strollers, teenagers of any sort...at the point that is impossible to use a bike until you are quite far from any form of village. In our "cycling paths" if you attempt to cross a certain (and very slow speed), be ready to be reprimanded. In my experience none of those that I listed are good for cycling and you are far better off on the road. I do not use walking paths even though they claim to be for cyclists, and I don't see many cyclists using them either. You can find the occasional slow rider that uses it but it's totally inconvenient for both walkers and riders.

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Do not drive like a steam locomotive, have the clear view of the complete path you need for stopping. When you pass a pedestrian, slow down.

With these simple rules the shared or weakly labelled lanes are mostly survivable but they are slow. The average speed may end up being less than half of the speed the cyclist would like to travel (10 km/h or about) so I understand why they are disliked. I commute 7 km so be with this, but who commutes 25 km may not be happy at all. Still, this is probably better than no infrastructure at all.

The number of accidents should decline over time after also pedestrians understand that walking on the bicycle lane is about as wise as strolling into the middle of the car road.

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  • Note that there are too many accidents on "common bicycle/pedestrian lanes", the most "logical" reaction will be to automatically assign the responsibility to the cyclist, following the logic that the weakest should benefit from the protection of the law (such dispositions already exist in some countries for car vs cyclist/pedestrians). In that case, cycle lanes are more likely to become areas where cyclists would be the ones that will have to pay attention to pedestrians rambling around than the opposite.
    – Rеnаud
    Jan 6, 2022 at 13:28
  • In Switzerland where I am a cyclist is automatically responsible for hitting pedestrian until proven otherwise. Bad news, but good news if the car hits me, the car driver is similarly automatically responsible.
    – nightrider
    Jan 6, 2022 at 13:33
  • Nice in theory, but does not to fit in the reality of modern life. If you have to visit two or three shops after work before they close and you know that the cycling speed will be limited eventually you will switch to the car. If you have to deal with the bureaucracy like renewing some documents or notifiying some works that will be done in your home and you have to visit two offices that both close early you will be forced to use the car. Banks and insurance offices close in the afternoon often before you can get out of the office in most of the world. ...And so on.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 6, 2022 at 15:07
  • I said these lanes are slow.
    – nightrider
    Jan 6, 2022 at 17:25
  • @FluidCode it depends on which part of the world you live. in the examples you give, I wouldn't take the car unless I have a compelling reason to do so: after work means during rush hour, and in that case bikes are generally faster than cars and you don't have to look for a parking spot. Maybe less fast if you have to share the space with pedestrians, but still probably faster than stuck cars. Also, during rush hours, bikes and scooters have a critical mass, so you're less likely to be bothered by pedestrians.
    – Rеnаud
    Jan 7, 2022 at 9:43

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