There are different cyclists. In the one end we have slow local riders like children but also adults pedaling only a few blocks. At the opposite end are regular fast commuters who move distances around 10km. (I ignore bicycle racing and related issues here.) Below, I explain what are the main problems with the existing lanes, in particular for the commuter group.
|Junction of large roads as it ought to be: Nordre Ringgade crossing Nørrebrogade in Aarhus, DK. The bike lane is just at left of the photographer, the markings are visible on street. Note the lane is straight, and there are no curbstones.|
guardrail. Hence one cannot cycle at typical speed for faster riders, 20-30 km/h, even along the major thoroughfares (like Võru street or Räpina road).
Second, the lanes should be direct and broadly follow the shortest path between the main destinations. This is often a thorny issue as the shortest paths are typically occupied by large streets. For instance, neither Riia, Narva nor Võru streets have any dedicated cycle lanes despite offering direct access between large stretches of the city, and being often considered too dangerous for biking. The suggested alternatives, Kesk street next to Võru and the way over Näituse street to reach Maarjamõisa hospitals, are substantially longer. Directness matters for everyone, despite their distance and speed.
Third big issue is evenness. Even street surface is a must. The most problematic point here are the curbstones, but also the overall profile of the lanes. A high-quality bike lane should not have any curbstones in the first place. Second, the surface profile should be smooth enough. If certain sections must be lower (for instance, to facilitate driving across the sidewalk), one should smoothly lower the lane level along a longer stretch.
The final issue is the lane width. In general, the lane should permit for two cyclists to ride next to each other. This is especially important with children (the parents want to "cover" the street side), or for overtaking slower cyclists. True, such 1.5-2m wide lanes are not feasible everywhere. But one should avoid unnecessary bottlenecks. Far too often the guardrails, traffic lights, and improperly installed curbstones narrow down otherwise adequate lane.
|Bus stop done well. Nordre Ringgade, Aarhus, DK.|
|Bus stop not done well. It expects too much maneuvering in a narrow section of the bike lane. One of the main thoroughfares in Tartu, Võru street.|
|Nordre Ringgade crossing Aldersrovej near Trøjborgcenteret. All done well: no curbstones, the cycle lane retains it's width, and the profile is smooth.|
Virtually none of the existing cycle lanes around Tartu follow these standards. The quality has been improving from the perspective of slow riders but for long-distance cyclists the lanes are simply inadequate. Realistically, I would recommend the planners the following:
- Rename the current cycle lanes to "cycling-enabled sidewalks". Permit cycling there given one does not endanger pedestrians. For faster riders, permit cycling on the car lanes as well.
- Understand the different types of traffic. Lanes for slow-speed riders need not to follow the same standards as high-speed thoroughfares. Think what kind of traffic is dominating on certain streets.
- Most importantly, before designing the next traffic project, learn about the capabilities and requirements of cyclists! Bike lanes are costly, and if not constructed properly, they may be more of a hindrance than help for cyclists.