Cycling on higher speed roads – Austroads research report

Austroads (1), has recently published Austroads Research Report AP-R410-2, “Cycling on higher speed roads.

Cycling on higher speed roads

This Austroads report explores how best to provide facilities for cyclists on roads where the speed limit is 70 km/h or greater (referred to as high speed roads in the report) both in urban and rural contexts. The report notes that current practice varies across Australia and New Zealand in how, and whether, provision is made for bicycle riders on high speed roads.

Here in Western Australia the current practice is to provide principal shared paths (PSPs) alongside all freeways and Control of Access Highways (ones cyclists are not allowed to ride on) that are planned as future freeways. Sealed shoulders are the preferred facility for on-road cycling in locations where, for a particular reason, on-road cycling facilities are preferred to paths. In such cases sealed shoulders are provided on new high speed roads and are considered in the scope of improvement works to existing roads. Sealed shoulders, to the same standard as on urban roads, are the preferred facility on rural high speed roads where the expected number of cyclists are used to warrant their provision.

The report, Cycling on higher speed roads, notes that this is a challenging area for authorities because the differences in speed and mass of bicycles and high speed motor vehicles are very different.

The report in the summary goes on to note that:

Ideally the greatest road safety benefit will be achieved by separating cyclists from high speed vehicles. However cyclists are lawful road users and they shouldn’t be restricted from roads unless alternatives are good quality, lower speed, just as direct and do not present a higher overall risk to cyclists.

This is a great point and it is good to see that there is a growing awareness of the importance of safe functional infrastructure to cyclists.

The summary continues …

Australian jurisdictions have adopted the safe systems approach which seeks to provide a road system which ensures no road user is killed or seriously injured.

International guidelines and practice in ‘cycling’ countries such as the Netherlands and the UK provide cyclists with paths separated from high speed traffic. In Australia and NZ, jurisdictions are providing more off-road paths along urban freeways and generally sealed shoulders along high speed rural roads.

Techniques for improving the cycling space may fall under planning (e.g. developing networks), engineering (e.g. space on roads), education (e.g. advertising campaigns), encouragement (e.g. behaviour change) and enforcement (e.g. policing). This report focuses in particular on engineering techniques (and substitutes) to help reduce the inherent conflict to more acceptable levels. These include:

  • providing an alternative route, such as an off-road path or an alternative lower speed route
  • providing space on-road
  • reducing the speed limit
  • using non-infrastructure solutions such as technology and advertising campaigns (for example, real time information may be provided for drivers to alert them that a cyclist is present).

I feel that there are some good suggestions here. I particularly like the idea of real time information, particularly on roads frequently ridden by cyclists.

Ways in which space can be provided on high speed roads include:

  • Using exclusive bicycle lanes. These should be at least 2 m wide, increasing in width with increasing vehicle speeds. Bicycle lanes wider than 2.5 m should be separated from the general traffic lane in some way (e.g. painted buffer zone, raised separator, off-road) to discourage drivers from using the bicycle lane as a general traffic lane.
  • Using sealed shoulders. As for bicycle lanes, sealed shoulders should be at least 2.0 m on high speed roads. Shoulders should ideally be sealed with asphalt (urban areas) or a spray seal with stone size of 10 mm or less. Additional width should be provided where there are a large number of heavy vehicles.Good point about the road surface … nothing worse that a rough shoulder to discourage riding there.
  • At intersections. Designers should continue bicycle lanes and shoulders through the intersection, ensuring the side road stop line and median are set back by at least 2 m from the edge of the traffic lane. It may also be desirable to reduce the number of conflict points by grade separating cyclists from other traffic.
  • At signalised intersections, provide cyclists with advanced stop lines, assistance in turning right and ensure detection equipment can detect cyclists where needed.
  • At roundabouts, consider signalising the intersection, providing cyclists with a separate path, slowing vehicles or providing cyclists with an alternative route. This is the subject of a separate report by the ABC currently being undertaken.
  • There are two types of diverge points: slip lanes and off ramps. Where slip lanes cannot be removed, the conflict point with through bicycles should be set back from the diverge point. Across freeway off ramps, cyclists can be diverted to a crossing point along the off ramp so that they are not trapped between two lanes of high speed traffic. Equivalent treatments can be employed at merge points.
  • Consider the most appropriate delineation type in each situation: standard line marking (including painted islands), raised lines (audio tactile edge line), raised rubber separators or raised traffic islands.

Where space cannot be provided for bicycles, consideration may be given to allowing them to share a bus lane, which would desirably be between 4.5 and 5.0m wide. There are two main maintenance practices that can be used to improve high speed roads for cyclists. The first is sweeping areas along identified bicycle routes that collect debris. This may include shoulders and bicycle facilities that are not swept in routine maintenance (e.g. a separated bicycle lane). Secondly, bicycles should be considered when resurfacing a road. This may result in using a smaller aggregate size to improve the surface, smoothing the cycling surface and providing additional space for cyclists.

Every situation is different and limitations may mean the level of provision presented here cannot be achieved in some situations. Risk of crashes, physical limitations, funding availability, the need to provide for other road users and the level of political will and community support will all influence the final facilities provided. This report discusses the importance of considering the benefits that can be gained by making incremental improvements for cyclists on high speed roads.

To better assist designers in providing for cyclists on high speed roads, the Austroads Guidelines can be modified by:

  • discussing the benefits and dis-benefits of reducing the posted speed limit, particularly for
    road users other than car occupants
  • providing more information about bicycle lanes, including marking buffer zones
  • providing more detailed information on how best to provide a sealed shoulder for cyclists
  • providing more guidance on the preference of treatments for bicycles at intersections
  • providing a more in depth discussion on available delineation treatments and in what
    circumstances they are best used
  • discussing alternative solutions available.

Overall I am very positive about this report, Cycling on higher speed roads, and do hope that it is treated seriously both by Austroads with the principles put forward being incorporated into the Austroads cycling guidelines but that also organisations such as Main Roads Western Australia here in Western Australia take their head out of the sand and start thinking smart and start realising that cycling is a viable form of transport and needs proper consider infrastructure.

Cyclists are sons, daughters, mums and dads, brothers and sisters, partners. They should be able to ride their bicycles in a safe manner on good infrastructure.

Your Turn To Talk

I hope you liked this post! Please do stop by the comment section below and share your thoughts the Austroads report, Cycling on higher speed roads. Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below

(1) Austroads membership comprises the six Australian state and two territory road transport and traffic authorities, the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and Transport, the Australian Local Government Association, and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

2 Responses to Cycling on higher speed roads – Austroads research report

  1. Derek 1 August 2012 at 9:04 PM #

    Thanks for an interesting report. As a commuting cyclist , this is something which has given me some serious concerns lately. I regularly commute from Heathridge to the Wangara industrial estate generally following Ocean Reef rd which has a shoulder for cyclists and off road shared path for cyclists which is my preferered option for riding to work.

    The speed zone in this area is 70 kmh and 80kmh with a fair amount heavy vehicles using this route . Numerous times while I have been driving and not cycling , I have experienced vehicles ahead of myself, drift off course into the cycle lane (road shoulder) . This happens quite regularly virtually on a daily basis as the last few weeks I have not commuted by bike and driven to work so have had an opportunity to observe the traffic. If a cyclist had been riding at these times , I am sure a serious collision would have occurred.

    From a cyclists safety point of view what I would like to see would be.

    1 / for on road cyclists riding in the road shoulder cycle lane , some kind of road treatment to alert drivers such as raised rumble strips cat eye raised markers , kerbing etc instead of just a white painted line. Drivers these days are so distracted with technology along with alcohol / drugs that they need something to alert them as a white line means little to them. In addition to this, a standard size area for cyclists to ride in. My example again is that this size changes along Ocean Reef rd depending on what stage the road was built. Seems to vary from about 1 metre to 2 metres.

    2 / for off road shared path cycle users : a continuous path along side major high speed roads. The problem seems to be where roads cross into different council boundaries eg: Wanneroo / Joondalup. During my 10km commute from Heathridge to Wangara, If I use the shared path, I have sections of path either missing or there is several sections I must cross Ocean Reef rd to re connnect with the path on the other side of the road.

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