the debate is framed like it: to be against a blacktop path  is to be against accessibility.

Accessibility for all activities or all abilities?


It is no secret that the debate is mainly  geared by the Vancouver cycling community, and the main local organization, HUB, has made clear its vision; a cycling highway -where one can “bike from the Fraser River to False Creek in  30mn” (that makes an average speed of 20km/h+) [1]. From there,  the conversation regarding accessibility is mainly reduced to wheelchair accessibility concerns, while at the same time accessibility is understood as skate board and roller skate users inclusion.

However, if we understand accessibility as “universal access” for people with impairment of various nature, the conversation take another turn: A trail where a cyclist can  zip at 25km/h  becomes quickly unfriendly to people with a visual impairment [2]. The accessibility problem is multidimensional and can’t be reduced by how comfortable it is for the small wheels.

A cycling corridor or a  greenway Promenade/trail

Emphasis on cycling speed, as  Hub is advocating for, is in full contradiction with the concept of Promenade as inferred by a Greenway designation  [3].  We can consider 2 main family of promenades:

  • Scenic promenades; and
  • Experential promenades

The Vancouver Seawall is a great example of scenic promenade: the emphasis and the purpose of the promenade are the views it can offer. The west Richmond dykes falls also in this category. other trails could not offer too much of a view but  a more experiential aspect: the Stanley park  inner trails fall in this category, as well as the Richmond Shell road trail or the Lynn valley trails (including its suspended bridge).

If the focus of a trail is a  viewpoint, one would like then provide the easiest access to it, if the focus of a trail is experiential, then one would like provide the best compromise comfort/experience. That is the trail itself, and noticeably its surface shouldn’t distract of the experience, which sensorial aspect must not be neglected. A universal accessibility  trail exists in Stanley park, it is Beaver lake trail [6]:


Stanley park: Beaver lake trail entrance

Similar trails exist elsewhere in the region, Fitzsimmons trail in Whistler, the Panorama trail at the top of the Squamish SeatoSky Gondola or the Spirea nature trail in the Golden Ears park are among them. However some other trails, though not designed universally accessible  could in fact be much more wheelchair friendly that the Stanley park’s Beaver trail (which has not keep up with the up to date standards): it is at least the case of most of the Burnaby Central park trails:

The wide and flat enough trails of the Burnaby central park offer good rolling condition, and stay in good condition during raining periods as illustrated in this Google view.

The Stanley park trails accessibility could not be up to the current standards:
What about the state of the art?

In BC, the very recently opened Great West Life trail in Prince George is pretty much the state of art:


The Great West Life Trail of Prince George

A hard packed surface, soft enough for the knees of the elder, and still presenting good rolling capability, as well as other surface treatments, such has woodboards, provide a rich experience [4]. It features wheel-guard where required and slope not greater than 3%. Such a trail design is the result of a cooperation with the Spinal Cord Injury-BC society.

Trail head accessibility?

It is another aspect where the Burnaby central park is hard to beat: it is directly serviced by the Skytrain (Patterson station) as well as 2 frequent transit bus routes (19 and 49). Something Stanley park can’t compete with.

What about the bikes on an universally accessible trail?

The state of the art doesn’t seem to have found a compromise much better than this:


The all ability accessible GWL trail in Prince George is not allowed to bike

The banning of bike from Universal accessible trail, seems to be common [5] for reasons previously touched. Cycling is in theory also not allowed on the “universal accessiblity” trails of Stanley park , but the rule is not well respected.

A preliminary conclusion

Our region is surrounded by trails often offering first class experience, but when time comes to find an accessible trail, the region becomes  a laggard. When it is time to find an “universally accessible trail” reachable by public transit: pretty much nothing exists.

it is where the Arbutus corridor becomes a golden opportunity: it presents many characteristic required for  an “universally accessible trail”, first of them, being the gentle grade, second being the experiential aspect- including the sensorial aspect capitalizing on the meandering among community gardens. third it is easily reachable by many frequent transit routes, allowing to experience it in many different ways.

It is also clear that an  “universally accessible trail” vision capitalizing on the experiential aspect of a greenway is not compatible with the cycle track vision as exposed by Hub, and a compromise will need to be found.

[1] Arbutus Greenway Announced, Hub news, March 14, 2016

[2] Similarly, Accomodating visual impaired people is also the main challenge the designer of shared space has to address

[3] A reason why a cycle track on the Paris Petite Ceinture (a disused rail corridor) has been dismissed, as we have seen in a previous post


[4] It is also  good at maintaining the motor skills  and enhance  the mental health, a reason why such surfacing are often preferred.

[5] It is also  the case for the promenade built on the Paris Petite Ceinture, among others.

[6] The ravine trail is also presented as “universal accessible” by the Vancouver park board, thought it has some questionable access impediment.

This Vancouver rail corridor used to be double tracked, and saw passenger service from 1902 to 1954. The last commercial train has been seen in 2001. The asset has been considered very early for a North South rail transit line: A more direct alignment via Cambie, has been preferred for the Canada line circa 2006. That was closing a chapter…However the track was still there, and the hope of a local tram has always stay alive in some circles: the 2010 Olympic line demonstration was giving reason for hope…and CP rail was wanting to bank on its precious real estate. After a bit of bullying by CP rail, in order to get a fair price, the city agreed to purchase the corridor for $55M in March 2016, openinga ew chapter:

The Arbutus corridor was a defacto Greenway:

The Arbutus corridor circa 2014  (credit photo CityHallWatch)

Like many disused railway corridors, a greenway was a logical option for a corridor presenting some natural qualities. However where usually the authorities capitalize on the specificity of such assets, the city of Vancouver has decided to destroy it: A destruction in 2 steps [3]:

Destroying the memory of the place

The Arbutus corridor circa 2009 (credit photo Stephen Waddell)

It has been vague promises of reusing the corridor for a rail transit by the City, but this quickly vansihed, and instead to see a  preservation of what make this corridor apart and a reminder of its potential alternative uses, it quickly appeared that the city had negociated the removal of  all things related to the railway. That is certainly one of the safest mean to kill any prospect of reactivation of this  corridor as a future rail transit corridor (1), it is also a a first blunt to the soul of the place.

Destroying the feel of the place

Many disused urban railway corridors exhale a specific  atmosphere found nowhere else in a city, which people growth to appreciate and like it. It was also the case  for the Arbutus corridor, something Patrick Condon has worded as “People have gotten quite used to the Arbutus Corridor as kind of a romantic landscape — the kind of unkempt quality of it. it’s level of decay has become something that people kind of like…” [4], what reflects pretty much the position of the current Paris city council, especially as expressed   by Christophe Najdovski, the councilor in charge of transportation and public space of Paris, who want to preserve “the mystery and magic” of  the Petite ceinture, a disused railway in Paris [6].

Beyond Paris, many other cities capitalize on the experiental side of their assets, that is the case for the Shell road trail in Richmond as stated by the city website:

“The Shell Road Trail is long interior trail that runs north/south along the Shell Road corridor from Alderbridge Way to Williams Road. This interior trail has a distinctly rural feel to it with tall trees and shrubs lining both sides of it, making it a unique trail experience in an urban City Centre.”

The Richmond Shell road trail, and the Colombes “voie verte” (greenway) illustrated below:

The Vancouver official development plan for Arbutus was also not far of this vision, since it was designating it as a greenways, including without limitation [2]:


  • (i) pedestrian paths, including without limitation urban walks, environmental demonstration
    trails, heritage walks and nature trails; and
  • (ii) cyclist paths.



The challenge for the designer of such  places is to preserve their specificities and feels, while making them accessible to people of all ages and abilities… In the name of the later, Vancouver has simply destroyed the former:

A 4 meter wide bike path under construction? – credit photo [5]

Under public outrage, the city has potentially recognized the insentivity of its position and halted work…temporarily…

Does other solutions were possible?

Yes and it is not even too late to apply them, but what is almost sure is that the corridor has already lost its cachet: whatever final design will be – and it could be a nice one – it is poised to be more bland and artificial since it will be build of a blank state. The soul of the place is lost and, and it is not something designers are armed to restore. The end result is that the whole city will be poorer in diveristy of experience

The main issue now is the treatment of the surface path: it is the object of another post

[1] It is one of the reason why Paris took the complete opposite step for the Petite Ceinture, as we have seen in a previous post

[2] Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan (Adopted by By-law No. 8249, July 25, 2000), city of Vancouver

[3] The destruction of the greenway is documented on the Stephen Rees blog, here and there

[4] Arbutus’ asphalt greenway not paved with good intentions, critics say, Matt Robinson, VancouverSUn, August 3 2016, Vancouver

[5] City paves way for Arbutus Greenway, Naoibh O’Connor, Vancourier, August 2, 2016, Vancouver

[6] Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013


The Paris petite ceinture is a railway ringing Paris, built between 1852 and 1869. It was once well used, before falling in state of abandonment. The last commercial train  has been seen in the early 1990, since then questions on how the corridor should be re-use have recurringly arised

2001: The return of the Parisian tramway.

The early 1990, mark the renaissance of the tramway in Europe, and especially in France (5), and quickly enough , many advocates promote the idea of reusing the petite Ceinture to the benefit of such a transportation mode in Paris.

There is effectively a market for this. The parallel transit lines (bus PC on the adjacent Boulevards, called Boulevard des Marechaux, as well as the circular subway line 6. A 1995 study suggests that the line could attract 17,000 passenger per hour for this line once transformed as a surface subway (equivalent to the S-bahn) running at 30km/h…In the meantime an alternative option under study (1) is to upgrade the adjacent bus route into a tramway line with a much lower average speed, 20km/h, and per consequent a lower expected ridership 7,700 to 9,100 passenger per hour, but the later option also provides better connection with the existing subway network, as well as better local service.

The 1995-2006 city council under the right wing mayor JEan Tiberi was leaning toward this latest option, which had the advantage to not introduce new nuisance in a corridor which has became almost a natural reserve , but preferred to delay any hard decisions…so that the reintroduction of the Parisian tramway will be a contentious point of the 2001 municipal election.

The challenger and then long time councilor Betrand Delanoë, and its team had a very clear and  articulated position on the tramway, as expressed by its then Transport commissioner, Denis Baupin (Green party):
“ it marks a symbolic stop to a politic favoring the car, […], beside it, its main asset is the requalification of the urban space (5)(2)

Delanoë is elected in 2001 and the work on the tramway will commence almost immediatly, to get inaugurated in 2006:


Delanoë will be reelected for a second mayoral mandate in 2007, but the question of the use of the petite ceinture has been left open: if not a tram, what use?

2012: The cycling highway idea

Delanoë, is then not seeking a third mandate, and endorse his first Adjoint, Anne Hidalgo. Hidalgo main contender is Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (nicknamed NKM) coming from the conservative party. The time when the introduction of a bike infrastructure  in the city was contentious is already a distant memory in 2012, and the cursor has moved on what kind of cycling infrastructure is the best? NKM proposes to reuse the Petite ceinture platform to implement a supercyle highway ringing Paris.

The idea will be quickly shut down by her main opposants: (3)

It has a geometry disadvantage of not being at grade (either tunnel or viaduct), and offering very few connections with the existing street network, but the main arguments against it are philosophical in nature:

  •  It creates usage conflict: a cycling highway with bike riding at 20-25km/h is judged not compatible with other use such as purposeless wandering or flanerie
  • It goes against the specify of the place, which exhale an unique unkempt atmosphere, slow speed local has grown to appreciate: “timeless”, “uniquely silent”, “mysterious and magic” are common thematic associated with the Petite Ceinture.
  • At the end, if one wants to really make the choice of active transportation, this needs to be done at the expense of other transportation mode.

Anne Hidalgo has been elected, and staged progress on the petite ceinture are occurring with the above in mind but with an important constraint: The transportation corridor (still property of the SNCF), need to keep its conversion potential to its former glory, whether the need arises in the future. A design reflecting this constraint supposes to provide a constant reminder to the user of the space of its original usage and potential future one:

It is what is achieved below, with a space accessible to people of all age and ability (4):

(1)it was in fact 2 competitive studies, the Petite ceinture option promoted by the french national railway network (SNCF), owner of the infrastructure, and the Boulevard des Marechaux option, promoted by the Parisian transit operator, RATP.

(2) Face aux lobbies, le tram trace sa voie. Petite ceinture ou Maréchaux, Paris retrouvera le tramway au XXIe siècle, Liberation, April 17th, 1996

(3) Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013

(4) credit for all below pictures to Architecture Urbanisme FR

(5) See our post Transit as part of the urban fabric, October 23, 2012.

Below, some comments shared with the Vancouver city planners on the Joyce -Collingwood precinct review:

Heritage houses

An 100 year old house on Spencer street

An 100 year old house on Spencer street

There is a couple of 100 years old houses presenting some interesting heritage features in the neighborhood subject to rezoning: some strategy to preserve them should be in place so that the rezoning is not obliterating the history of the neighborhood.

The towers

Rezoning proposal as seen from Tyne#Kingsway

Rezoning proposal as seen from Tyne#Kingsway

The height in meter make more sense than the height in storey, since the building form is what matters (In this context  the tower floor plate size are important, but the lack of FSR limit for the tower site is a non issue).

The planner are aligning the tower geodesic height on the one of the nearby telus building (similar strategy occured for the construction of the Wall centre at Central Park)…an altrnative view could have been to set up some view cone, more namely from the Richmond dyke:

The telus and Wall centre tower are well visible from the Richmond ALR (near dyke on the Fraser North arm):  having those tower kept below the tree line, could have enforced the rural nature of this area

The telus and Wall centre tower are well visible from the Richmond ALR (near dyke on the Fraser North arm): having those tower kept below the tree line, could have preserved the rural nature of this location

The townhouses

The open house posters suggested 2 rows of townhouses: This eventually needs to be clarified, especially in term of set back (and parking). If in the long term that can transform the alleys into “real street”: it seems to be good, and that should be the intend. Unfortunately,  this doesn’t seem the case.

Naroiw stree in Groningen (a natural evolution of laneway) - credit photo pricetags

Narrow street in Groningen (a natural evolution of laneway) – credit photo pricetags

Vanness street (West of Joyce)

The plan call for 6 storeys all along Vanness Street. The current “redeveloped” building are at 4 storey max, but in fact 3 1/2 Storey along Vanness due to the topography. This could also need to be clarified for the new construction.

The plan seem to provide generous margins for the buildings. Ideally, the skytrain guideway should have provided a refrence for the building height.

The BC parkway (and skytrain viaduct) has carved the land here, so that the tree line keeps horizontal instead to follow the slope: , while construction follow the slope of the hill around, This specificity is not a big deal as long as the constructions are lower than the tree line. It becomes an issue otherwise: the Skytrain guideway is at level 3 of a building at Rupert, but as at level one of a building at Spencer: This is making a mid- rise building looking much taller at Spencer than at Rupert.

One could also consider that the rezoning for properties West of Spencer, should be considered in the wider context of the desired street-scape for Rupert

Wellington (East of Joyce)
At the difference of Vanness, the topography works for a more aggressive densification than proposed:

The properties at the SE corner of Payne#Wellington are proposed for 4 storeys, but 6 storeys building could work better (would not be much higher that the westward building along Wellington proposed at 6 storeys, as illustrated below

Visual impact of a 6 storey building aon the SE corner of Payne and Wellington: view from Wellington looking East, then West

McHardy street
Provisions should be made to ensure that buildings offer engaging facade on it:
That will help this street to reconnect the north and south side of the neighbourhood.
It is a street without sidewalk (but very poor pavement act as a traffic calming measure, and so the street doesn’t work that bad):  Installing sidewalk is not necessarily the best solution.  Treating this street as a shared space could eventually provide a better outcome:

A shared street concept could be a preferrable design for Mac Hardy.

A shared street concept could be a preferrable design for Mac Hardy.

Joyce street

All the rezoning should be conditional to the closure of the lanes immediatly  north of the Skytrain guideway. A bike/Pedestrian “passageway” or “commercial gallery” should be opened, to connect Yardley Avenue to Joyce street on the West.


Joyce street looking South from Wellington (shadow ~5pm on June 21st)

Joyce street can be an interesting street, if the street wall provide some rhyme. However the idea to have tree planted in the middle of it  is not compatible with it:

  • It prevent the light to penetrate the street
  • It hinder the perspective
  • And the street right of way is not that wide (80ft): space dedicated to pedestrians movement should be maximized, median divider and left-turn lane should be removed.

trees on the side are welcome, but the cultivars need to be chosen to provide mature tree tall enough (such as London plane) to match the scale of the street wall: In short, the whole Joyce street-scape needs to be reviewed, and due to the significance of this street as a gateway for the neighborood: this could need to be part of a specify consultatio

A couple of thoughs on this rezoning process.

The Rational.

In 2014, the city decided “the neighborood didn’t developed as expected: let’s do something about it”. The city never admitted that the whole process was triggered by Westbank wanting to build a 30+ storey building at 5050 Joyce street [4]. (Instead, it rationalized it on the TransLink’s planned upgrade of the Joyce-Collingwood Skytrain Station [5] , as an opportunity to review its zoning policy)…and still… it was the right think to do (and there is no harm to admit it!)

  • don’t consider the Westbank application for spot rezoning,  but don’t reject it outright either – rather contextualize it in an  community plan.

Considering that the previous Joyce-Collingwood Station Area Plan dated back 1987, and considering that effectively, beside  the Collingwood village, which has became a posterchild for successful Transit Oriented Development [6], no much has happened elsewhere- some update was necessary.

The apriori limited area concerned by the rezoning makes also relatively good sense:

  • In the context of the Westbank application, you don’t necessarily want to have a community plan taking years to take shape
  • The transit station precinct specificity is in fine recognized by the perimeter of the rezoning, and this eventually allows to reach a quicker form of consensus (It is a natural density node) [7].

The city engagement processus.

  • A walk and “round table” was organised in December 2014, from there a diagnostic was “done”, which leaded to a first report
  • A workshop was organized on June 20, 2015 in 2 different sessions ( land use and building form, in one session and transportation in another one)

In this well attented workshop, the participants suggested different building typology for differents areas:

I have attended it, and in my recollection, the exercise turned out to be fairly consensual: the Marine drive development was seen by many as a good way to illustrates the desirable building form (and scale) for the Joyce station immediate vicinity, with transition zone formed by mid-rise and townhouse stitching it with the predominant Single family house area. The Transportation workshop was relatively uneventful. After an “open house” held in  July 2015, where the city staff presented its recollection of the above,  the Vancouver planners  proposed 3 differents zoning options (the difference residing essentially in the heigh of the high rise immediatly adjacent to Joyce Station). on October 20, 2015. Below is an illustration of the most ambitious proposal (highest tower):

Up to October 20, the things was rolling out surpinsigly smoothly. However, on october 20, at the location the city staff was unveiling its rezoning proposals, it was also an unadvertised “open house” hosted by Westbank to present its formal  5050 Joyce street application. That was  unfortunate enough and proven to be a turning point:

Quickly enough, some people “organizing on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples” launched a curiously worded petition and a new organisation popped-up Jara, with very certainly many well intentioned activists. Beside their concerns on “affordable housing”,  it has always been hard to understand their ultimate motivations (their last post doesn’t help either), leading them to adopt a rather confrontational approach with the city consultation efforts .

It is possible the people at Jara was not aware of the early stage of the consultation process: The city didn’t seem to have put lot of effort at reaching the neighborood [1], something Jara has been kind to correct. Jara has been pretty active at engaging the local citizens, and look to have engaged in some efforts overlapping the city’s organised workshop, and has produced its own report, however it seems to not have helped to dispell some misconceptions such as “rezoning = expropriation

That eventually leaded to another apriori more controversial open house on April 6, 2016:


The tension was quickly diffused by breaking the attendance in small group, preventing a town hall meeting showdow: the attendance turned out to have more questions that recriminations. However, where the attendance seems to agree is on the question of the benefits occuring from rezoning:

The neighborhood has accepted very significant densification. The Wall centre at Central park, has generated ~$12M in CAC + DCC, this in addition of the CNH annex and Mosaic space [2], from which apparently not a single cent has yet been spent in the neighborhood [9]… So it is certainly possible the neighborhood feels short changed on the topic. Explaining that the neigborly community centers, such as Killarney, a 30mn walk away, can serve Joyce Collingwood is probably unsatisfactory. It is not that the question of community amenities is new [2], but the expectation is to have those amenities such as swimming pool or ice rink, or even public libraries coming right in the neighborood accepting very signifcant densification; an almost pre-requisite for “density well done”

The draft plan presentation and the 3d model

3d printing model isualizing the proposed rezoning change for the Joyce COllingwood neighborhood

3d printing model isualizing the proposed rezoning change for the Joyce COllingwood neighborhood

The 3d virtual model previously presented in this post was a private initiative: it is my belief that the city should have shared its 3d model with the public (that to allowing the public to interact with it directly). The city presenting a 3d printing to illustrate the envisioned change is very welcome: It is an important tool to help the conversation…thought the model has arrived a bit late in the rezoning conversation (the city planner mentioned, the 3d model was only ready on Friday May 27, 2016), we just hope the city will make larger use of such tools (3d computer model and 3d printing) in the future.

The evil is in the details

I must admit, a final workshop to discuss the details of the plan (that is not questioning its general thrust, and densification objective which has been the object of previous workshops) could have been welcome: That will be the object of another post presenting the ideas shared with the city

The plan is scheduled to go beyond council on June 14 or 15th, 2016 – In the meantime, properties concerned by the rezoning have started to appear on MLS: the asking price is around 100% above assessed price (vs 20-30% for other properties in the neighborhood), all this “land lift” is something which will not be availbale for CAC (a direct consequence of the opacity of the city’s CAC policy, which is object of backroom deal)

[1] I have been made aware by a local mailing list relaying the Collingwood Neighborood House messages, but the city didn’t seem to have advertised the rezoning in the local flyer, the Renfrew Collingwood community news , neither at the Joyce station or other busy areas.

[2]RC Commty Initiative Sept 2012 draft

[3] this 3d model is freely accessible on the sketchup library site can be dowloaded in Google earth…and printed in 3d too…

[4] Westbank conducted an Open house on February 19, 2014 to gather feedback on its first prosoal. Westbank purchased the land for $9,930,000 in 2014 according to Colliers Canada

[5] Some observer will have noticed that the Joyce cCollingwood get a signficant upgrade in the years 2011-213 to accomodate the Compass card gate: most of it has been recently demolished, see more on the Metrobabel blog

[6] This Transit oriented DEvelopment has been the object of numerous study, as well as having attracted the attention of several blog, such as Fraseropolois.

[7] This is a striking difference with the Grandview woodland rezoning process, where the Commercial-Broadway station precinct is considered as no more than a sub-zone of the Grandview Woodland community. As such this precinct of regional interest (intersection of 2 rapid transit line) has been bogged down by local concerns which are trumping the general interest.

[8] The Jara campaign is also followed by EyeOnNorquay and more generally the rezoning is also follwoed with a critical view by CityHallwatch.

[9] Apparently the city, would like to use the CACs toward the building of a passerelle over boundary Rd: it doesn’t seem to be a request from the community and we don’t think it is a right use of the local CAC $: we will hopefully elaborate on it in a later post


3 bus 20 in a row, a typical bus bunching happening on Victoria#54th

Reliability on the route 20 is a huge issue. Its lack of reliability stem essentially of its Hasting and Commercial Drive segment. Those segments are also the most detrimental to the speed of transit in this corridor. both speed and reliability are very signifcant factors affecting both the transit attractiveness and efficiency.

The average bus 20 speed is 14.36km/h [1′, but in practice most of the riders will experiment a significantly lower average speed on the route busiest section. Below is the speed map for the bus 20 on an average weekday.

bus 20 (to Downtown) speed map on a weekday as computed from [1]
The horizontal axis represents the time of the day, the vertical axis, the location on the corridor, while the color represents the speed. (see also speed map for the SB direction

[1] Translink GTFS data for weekday September 2014

it has been lot of research carried out on the capacity of roads, transit or pedestrians infrastructures, with results proven empirically. Such don’t really exist for the cycle tracks, but as the success of the London’s “Super cycling highways” shown, it will become a significant matter

NACTO, in a recent publication [8], estimates the capacity of a 2 way bike lane (3 to 3.50m) at 7,500 bike/hour. This number seems to be derived of the Highway Capcity Manual citing very dusty publications [1]. this post argues that the capacity of a bikeway is more in the 1,500 cyclist/hr/lane (where a lane is 1.20m to 1.5m wide)

A short Litterature review

Most of the papers trying to estimate a bike lane’s throughput tend to rely either on mathematical models, experiments or a blend of both:

An example of experiment

An example of experiment leaded by [2] to determinate a bike lane throughput. The experiment above has allowed [2] to conclude that the capacity of a bikelane should be in the 2,500 bike/hr range

The problem of such approaches is they are not (yet) validated by practice (…and in some case, the experiments seem to be more representative of a velodrome typology than an urban bike lane). They also tend to provide a great range of result: One literature study [3] found a capacity of 1,500-5,000 cyclists per hour and traveling speed around 12-20 km/h. Another literature study [4] found a capacity of 2,000-10,000 cyclists per hour for a 2.5 m wide cycle track. It is also important to notice that all these numbers concern an uninterrupted bike lane (e.g bike lane with no intersection).

However, [5] ( as cited by [6] ) reported that the theoretical and practical capacities of a Chinese bicycle lane are about 2000 bicycles/h/ln and 1280 bicycles/h/ln, respectively… That is also in line with an empirical result presented by [7] concerning the Denmark:

Bike lane capacity as a function of its width, as according to [7]

Bike lane capacity as a function of its width, as according to [7]

How much lanes of cyclists fit in 3.5m width bikeway
[7] tend to answer to it:

If a 1.8 to 2 m wide bikeway fit 2 lanes of cyclists, any additional lane could require a 1.20m additional width (notice that the cyclists could have a tendency to ride in quincunx to increase their available lateral room). That is the reason for the suggested significant increase in capacity as soon as an unidrectional bike lane reach 3m in the graph above. (There is also some reasons to believe that a 4 meters bidirectioanl bike lane is not width enough to enable 2 lanes of cyclists in each direction in a sustainable way: see video below)

Validation of the numbers in practice

Up to recently, it was basically no opportunity to validate a bikelane model capacity in real life. China of course has wide and busy bike lanes, but they has never presented a typology directly applicable to Europe or America, be by their different geometry or by the type of vehicle: many trikes (up to recently), and nowadays those bikelane tend to be overwhelmed by sccoter (electric or not) (- 70% in Hangzhou as measured by [6]. Bikes also tend to move much more slowly). However, with the recent opening of the London cycle highway this things could change:

This video represent the cycling traffic on the London’s Blackfriars bridge: The incoming lanes presents the symptom of a bikeway reaching capacity (bike moving slowly, at speed apparently just enough to maintain balance, and the rare occasional take over use the opposite lane)

What is the effective throughput of Black friars Bridge bike lane?

Sure enough, some cycling supporters quickly raised the question while some other provided some numbers. Here are ours

  • there are 37 incoming cyclists crossing a a line (represented by the bottom of the video)
  • there are 24 outgoing cyclists crossing the same line

that represents an “instant” throughput of 11,000 cyclists/hour on a period of 20s, or ~3,300 cyclists/hour/ln in the busiest direction (or the equivalent of 10,000 cyclists/hour per car width lane).

First issue, Instant throughput ≠ Throughput

Traffic tends to not flow homegeneously (move in wave, aka “stop and go” traffic), and a measure on 20s can’t be directly scaled into a more generalized throughput. [7] faced with similar issues applied a correction factor based on freeway traffic observation (by comparing maximum observed traffic volumes in 15 minute intervals and maximum volumes in 10 and 20 sec intervals on freeways): this correction factor is estimated to be 0.63

The estimated maximum throughput per lane observed on the Blackfriar Bridge video above become closer to 2000bile/hr/lane. Still a sustantial number (but already significantly less than the number touted by NACTO), a number also in agreement with theorical number exposed by


Second issue, Uninterrupted bike lane throughput ≠ Interrupted bike lane Throughput

The video below better illustrates the later issue:

There are right and left turning cyclists, which fatally indhers the capacity of a bike lane…and there are signal controlled intersections (a necessity as illustrated by the difficulty of the cyclist, waiting at an intersection, to integrate itself in the main bike lane). As for motor traffic, all these tend to halve the real capacity of a typical interrupted urban bike lane vs an hypothetcal uninterrupted one. So that the real capacity we could measure here tend to be more in the ~1,000 to ~1,700 bike/hr/ln (according to if we apply a correcting factor or not). Those numbers are also in line with results from the field carried by [5] and [7]

Why all that matters?
Notice the 2 double deckers in one lane, seen in less than 30s: Could we conclude that the transit capacity of this lane is 24,000people/hour?

It matters since wrong numbers could lead to wrong decisions on the allocation of the street space, but also on the “right sizing” of a bike infrastructure.
The matter is of importance, essentially in regard of transit:

There is no question that a bike lane can achieve a very high throughput but does a 3.5 meter bike lane can carry as much as people than a tram or a BRT?

According to NACTO, a bus lane (BRT) can carry 4,000 people (8,000 if train): Those number thought slightly optimistic [9] are fairly realistic, and can be verified empirically…Here we infer that a bike lane of similar width (3 to 3.5m) can be competitive with a buslane but not a trams transit system, in term of throughput.

Furthermore we have not touched the whole notion of Level of Service: the mentioned capacity for Transit are design capacity, that is capacity allowing the transit system at its design (optimal) speed. Reaching the capacity of the bike lane as measured on the BlackFriars Bridge tend to infers a degradation of the speed for cyclists (at least by queuing at traffic light). We also didn’t touch the bike parking issue

[1] the third edition of the Highway capacity Manual suggests a capacity range of 1700-2500 bicycle/hr/ln where each lane is 3 to 4 feet. Those numbers are inferred of previous publication (“bikeway planning design and guideline” institute of traffic and transportation engineering University of California at Los Angeles 1972, “Geometric Design” by W. King, C., and Harkens, in Transportation and Traffic Engineering Handbook, Institute of Transportation Engineers, 1972). the 7,500 number touted by the NACTO correspond to the highest range of it considering that a 3.5m wide can feet 3 lanes of bike

[2] “Experimental feature of bicycle flow and its modeling” Jiang R. Hu M. , Wu Q. and Song W.

[3] “Operational Analysis of Uninterrupted Bicycle Facilities”, Allen, P., Rouphail, N., Hummer, J. E., and Milazzo, J. S. Transportation Research Record, 1636 29-36, 1998

[4] “Bicycle Traffic Flow Characteristics: Experimental Re-sults and Comparisons”, Navin, F. P. D. ITE Journal, 64 31-36, 1994

[5] “Capacity and level of service for urban bicycle path in China”, Feng Li, China MUnicpal Engineering magazine 1995, 71: 11-14

[6] “Estimating Capacity of Bicycle Path on Urban Roads in Hangzhou, China”, Zhou D., Xu, C. and Wang D. , Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting, 1995.

[7] Analysis of Bicycle Traffic on One-way Bicycle Tracks of Different Width, Thomas Skallebæk Buch and Poul Greibe, Trafitec,

[8] Transit Street Design Guide, NACTO 2016

[9] The French CERTU suggest a design capacity of 3,500 for aBRT, 6,000 fro a tram. Translink considered a design capacity of 3,000 for a BRT, and 7,000 for a LRT on Broadway.