Mobility and Transport

Clean transport, Urban transport

Developing a cycle network for your city

Developing a cycle network for your city

Cycle networks

Cycle networks have been defined as “an interconnected set of safe and direct cycling routes covering a given area or city” (EC project, PRESTO, 2010). A cycle network is likely to comprise of the following elements:  

Therefore, when developing a cycle network, a city should expect to: 

  • Manage the existing roads and rights of way;  
  • Create new links within the existing cycling network to close any gaps; and 
  • Aim to create a network with an adequate level of service for cycle traffic. 

It is important to note the different levels of cycle routes that are likely to be present within a cycle network:  

  • Main routes: ‘Connecting’ function at city or intercity level – connecting villages, towns and cities with each other, either inside or outside urban areas.  
  • Top local routes: ‘Distributer’ function at the district level of the built-up area - providing the main cycling connections between urban districts within major urban areas.  
  • Local routes: Access function at the neighbourhood level – including every street or track that can be used by cyclists, connecting all origins and destinations to higher level routes.  

There are two main types of network – utility (or functional) network and recreational network.  

  • Utility network: Connects destinations for functional trip purposes, including shopping, work, education etc. Connections should be as direct as possible as utility cyclists want to get from A to B as quickly as possible.  
  • Recreational network: Recreational routes can pass through urban areas/centres (and therefore also form part of the utility network), but the focus is on leisure cycling. They can include signed long-distance routes, signed tourist themed routes or a collection of nodes and interconnected links, enabling cyclists to determine their own trip. Recreational cyclists are typically looking for a leisurely and attractive ride, which can allow them to explore an area, exercise or socialise.  

Both types of users should be considered when designing cycle networks, particularly where utility and recreational networks overlap.  

Design principles and user’s needs

As originally identified by Dutch guidance (CROW, 2007), cities should aim to deliver cycle routes, and by extension cycling networks, that are safe, direct, cohesive, comfortable and attractive. (See Basic quality design principles for cycle infrastructure and networks for further information). Implementing complementary measures within a network can enhance impacts of measures and contribute towards meeting the principles outlined above.

The most important aspects can be considered to be safety, directness and cohesion.  

  • Safety: Ensuring safety within a cycle network can be achieved through avoiding conflict with crossing traffic, separating different types of road users where necessary due to traffic volumes/speeds, reducing speed at points of conflict, ensuring good visibility of cyclists, and ensuring that there are recognisable road categories.  
  • Directness: Directness relates to the distance or time required to cycle between the origin and destination. In urban areas, it is desirable for cycling to be quicker than driving, which can be achieved through providing more direct routes for bicycles rather than for cars. To maximise directness there should also be minimal detours, good priority for bicycles, and the ability for cyclists to maintain constant speeds. The directness of a route in distance can be determined by a detour factor.
  • Cohesion: A cohesive network ensures clear wayfinding and allows people cycling to reach their destination by the route of their choice with minimal interruption. There should be a consistent high quality of provision across the network and all common trip origins and destinations within a city should be accessible by bike and connected to the network. Intermodal cohesion is also desirable, enabling and encouraging cycling trips as a means of transport to and from public transport nodes.  Without cohesion there cannot be a cycle network, only a collection of single cycle routes. 

Cycle networks should also focus on the needs of users to encourage growth in cycle use. The Dutch guidelines (CROW, 2007) outline cyclist’s needs as:  

  • Keeping energy use to a minimum; 
  • Provision of smooth surfaces; 
  • Sufficient space around the bicycle to separate it from threats; 
  • Avoiding involuntary slow speeds; 
  • Shelter from wind and rain, as far as possible; 
  • Ability to ride side by side, allowing cycling to be a sociable activity; 
  • Minimising the number and complexity of tasks that cyclists have to perform. 

Planning cycle networks

There are a number of stages involved in planning a cycle network for a city, which may or may not include modelling. These include:  

  • Defining objectives; 
  • Mapping land use and assessing cycling demand; 
  • Mapping existing routes, facilities, cycle volumes and cycling-related collisions;
  • Identifying priority locations and constraints, that need to be treated;
  • Identifying improvements to the network; 
  • Predicting potential demands; 
  • Stakeholder engagement; 
  • Prioritising and selecting measures; 
  • Implementing measures; and  
  • Monitoring and assessing the operation.