Back in 2016 and 2017, I was working in New Zealand as a Transportation Planner. It was an interesting time to be active in this field, because bicycle planning in New Zealand was getting well off the ground around that time. As I was based in Auckland, most of my projects were in the Auckland region. Some good cycleways had already been built there at that time, such as the 'Lightpath', which is a true world-class cycleway.
And yet, at an urban and regional scale, Auckland's cycleway network still was very fragmented and quite incomplete. The region's road controlling agency, Auckland Transport, however, was working hard to roll out new cycleways in the region. Starting mostly in Central Auckland, but also connecting the CBD with the more outlying parts of the agglomeration.
Though the engineers at Auckland Transport (AT) were working hard to churn out new plans for cycleways, some critical observers (Transport Blog, now called Greater Auckland, amongst them) noted that they were not always the most inclusive cycling facilities. And by that I mean that they were not always the kind of cycleway that invites users aged 8 to 80. That's not surprising given that the nation's overarching road controlling agency, the New Zealand Transport Agency, at that time was still promoting vehicular cycling. Their main philosophy towards cycling was that cyclists should eventually be made confident enough to cycle on the main roadway. That was actually a bit of a culture shock to me.
In Auckland, policymakers realized that there was a need for better quality control in their bicycle planning projects. And so, my colleagues at MRCagney were asked to create a Bicycle Quality of Service tool, which was a kind of auditor of the quality of AT's cycleway plans. And whilst a scoring matrix for already designed cycleway plans was helpful, of course you'd much rather change the guiding principles which inform their design in the first place. It wasn't much later that we started the next project; writing the new standards for urban roads and streets design. This was a great project to work on, and a unique opportunity to help shape the cycling infrastructure of the future. To me it felt like we really could make a difference and help create a setting where potential cyclists of all ages would feel confident to take up cycling.
The Urban Roads and Streets Design guide focuses on all street users, street types, intersection types, and also offers guidance on neighborhood design and on design controls. It's one of the most comprehensive visions on urban mobility I've ever worked on, and all of it is specifically tailored towards the Auckland context. It was officially adopted as the new street design guidance in 2019 by Auckland Transport. In creating the guide, we had to study the requirements and design considerations to take into account for many modes of transportation including walking, cycling, and public transport. This means that we looked at much design guidance that already existed in countries all over the world.
For the cycleway design guidance in the guide, we looked at cycleway design guidance from all over the world. Primary references for new world cities tend to be other new world cities, and so we looked at much cycleway design guidance from cities such as Vancouver and Portland. Admittedly, Auckland policy makers and urban planners often compare their city to these two, especially Vancouver, and so it was only right that we looked at these cities. I also studied bicycle design guidance from Copenhagen and Oslo (with a little help of Google Translate).
And of course I studied guidance from the Netherlands as well. At the end of my long journey around the world of cycleway design guidance, I concluded that there really is no more holistic and useful guidance out there, than the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic. Although other guidance is interesting, there really is no single document that raises the bar as high as the CROW Manual does. It's virtually free of compromises and trade-offs and puts a safe and worry-free cycling experience as the only acceptable outcome of cycleway design practice. It hasn't always been this way in the past, and this is why we still have on-street cycle lanes on 50km/h roads in the Netherlands, but in recent years it's been unparalleled in international design guidance for cycleways.
And so, when we were writing design guidance for cycling infrastructure as a part of our guide, we included the guiding principles found in CROW's Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, which states that cycleways must always be:
The CROW Manual has remained a relevant source of inspiration for me in my years abroad, as were the many good videos and blog posts on the BicycleDutch website, which explains Dutch cycleway design practice in such an easy-to-understand way. In project after project, each time we were asked to review or make plans for cycling infrastructure, both in Australia and in New Zealand, I went back to these sources. In the end, when it comes to cycleway planning, it didn't matter that I was on the other side of the world. CROW's five guiding principles held their own and proved applicable and as much-needed over there as much as they do in the Netherlands. And whilst it might be more difficult to advocate for, say, a grade-separated bicycle roundabout in Auckland than it is in Houten, most people understand that cycleways work best when they are safe, direct, comfortable, coherent, and attractive, regardless of which country you find yourself in.
For the entire month of December, the Dutch Cycling Embassy and CROW are partnering to offer the 'Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic' for just €99. Purchase your copy online today.
Want to learn more about how CROW's guiding principles can be transplanting onto your city's streets? DTV Capacity Building has developed an actionable e-course to teach the five principles of safe and successful bicycle infrastructure. The second edition starts February 1st, 2021, but a special 10% holiday discount is offered if you use promo code "CYCLINGXMAS10" before January 1, 2021. Register here.