This is What a Bike-Friendly City Looks Like

Montreal: Youth, extraordinary bravery and helmets are unnecessary.


Montreal: A two-way, buffered bike lane on a residential street.


Montreal: A two-way, physically-separated bike lane on a busy avenue.


Berlin: Bike lanes along this busy avenue are clearly differentiated
from the street and sidewalk using color and physical separation.


Berlin: Bike lanes often share sidewalk space but are clearly separated from pedestrians.


  • Pingback: Upper Green Side » What Real Bike Lanes Look Like()

  • Mitch

    When I visited Montreal about 20 years ago, I came upon a demonstration by a group called “Le Monde a Bicyclette,” which was campaigning for bike lanes. They had really neat T-shirts with the slogan: “le cyclisme urbain, ca existe, mais ou sont les pistes” (or something like that); I’ve always regretted not buying one when I had the chance.

    It looks like the group was successful, which may offer some hope to New York’s bike activists.

    But I do have to question the design of that two-way bike lane. I’m not a traffic engineer or an expert on bike facilities, but everything I’ve read about bike lanes suggests that it’s not a good idea to put a two-way bike-lane next to a city street: the middle of the block is perfectly safe, but interactions with turning cars at corners can be deadly.

    Is there any reason why Montreal decided this was the best design for that particular street?

  • AD

    I would imagine it has to do with convenience for the cyclists. Two-way streets take you closer to your destination with less circling of blocks. They’re more convenient not just for cyclists, but also for bus riders and even drivers.

    During the age when the only goal was to move as many cars through the city as possible, Commissioner Henry Barnes turned Manhattan’s two-way CPW-style avenues into one-way speedways with their lights timed to push through as many cars as could be fit in each wave.

    May his name live on in infamy.

  • Mitch,

    Well, I know that that particular residential street where I photo’d the bike lane was pretty long. You didn’t come upon an intersection or a turning vehicle for quite a ways. Though, that being said, I think it was about the same length as a residential block in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Additionally, I think Montreal also bans parking near the corner so that views of cyclists are not blocked by parked cars.

    I loved the two-way bike lanes that I saw in Montreal. I’ve always found it absurd that to ride “legally” in NYC cyclists often have to detour many blocks to find the one-way street going in the right direction. Sometimes bikes are more like pedestrians than cars. We would never make sidewalks one-way.

    In fact, I come upon this issue daily. I live on Union Street in Brooklyn, a one-way, east-bound street for bikes. To take my son to daycare in the morning, technically, I’m supposed to detour three blocks down dangerous 3rd or 4th Avenues to Carroll Street to connect to the west-bound bike lane. Meanwhile, there is plenty of room on Union Street for a two-way bike lane or, hell, even an on-street greenway connecting Prospect Park to the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The current design is a joke.

    AD: I love it that you live in the future.

  • AD

    Haha. Yeah, I mean, “back in the age when” because … like, it was such a long time ago.

  • *Sigh*

    These photos make me strangely simultaneously sad and optimistic. Sad that we’re not a city like London where the biggest problem might just be where to park your bike (I like the CyclePod solution!), and optimistic that we might be on our way there.

  • Jean-Francois

    I wish Montreal was the bike-friendly city it is depicted to be in this article. Unfortunately, these nicely segragated bike lanes are far from being the norm. One day, perhaps…
    PS: And we are supposed to wear helmets.

  • You want more segregated cycle facilities? Think they’re safer? Think again. This is what started me off, plenty more stuff out there:

  • keri

    I used to live in Montreal and Jean-Francois is correct, the island has a long way to go before it will be bike friendly…the saving grace is that so many are so willing to ride, despite a horrid driving culture, a lack of bike parking and an astronomically high number of bike thefts. check out velo quebec’s design guidance i think montreal uses it:

    cycling on the rachel st path (one of only 3-i think-physically separated on-street paths-not counting st. lawrence river greenway) i found the smaller unsignalized intersections to be particularly hazardous-cars are supposed to stop but too many don’t because they can’t see beyond the two-way path and the lane of parking. this is not at all a defense of drivers, but a call for better design of the paths or signalizing every intersection-which wouldn’t be warranted on most low volume streets…i think that montreal needs to rethink the rachel path, but i would be interested to hear what other former montrealers or bike facility design nerds think? also, montreal has a few examples of contraflow bike lanes on one-way, low-volume streets, what do streetsbloggers think of these treatments? It seemed weird to me given that one is biking against traffic next to the parking lane…I wish I had a photo, sorry. I believe Cambridge, Mass has a couple as well?

  • I have seen a lot of segregated bike paths in my time, but this one in Berlin above looks fabulous. 1) it is part of a very wide car-free sidewalk with narrow vehicle road, which gives you the choice to ride on road if you are experienced, or sidewalk if you are not, 2) it is not fenced off from either the road or the footpath (invariably people rarely use bike paths when they are fenced off because they essentially defeat the purpose of riding a bike – convenience), 3) it is clearly visible from the road and footpath area (blind spots are VERY dangerous) 4) plenty of clearance from car door area, 5) it is level (no bumps or changes in level), 6) uses bollards and trees rather than fences or changes in level or other dangerous hazards or obstructions.

    Looks great. I can’t see why anyone would fault this. In future, more cities will have fully interconnecting networks of almost completely car-free roads, and cars would be forced to go slowly and carefully by a combination of enforcement and road design, on all but the biggest interstate highways. In the meantime, blocking off a car lane and creating a path like this makes a world of difference over current road design.

  • Brian D. Potter

    This is a joke, right? Anyone bothered to read the AASHTO standards? They specifically forbid building this semi-segregated sidepath, especially with bi-directional cycle traffic, along the side of an urban street with numerous side-street intersections. Which is why, hopefully, you won’t see these designs in the United States.

    Did anyone happen to notice the guy riding the wrong way in the cycle lane? Even with an arrow?

    And heaven forbid anyone should exit or enter a vehicle adjacent to the cycle path, seeing as how bicyclists and pedestrians are “separated.”

    Selective photography shows no apparent conflict. Let’s wait around a few more minutes and snap a few shots of not youthful, not brave, not helmeted, not traffic-savvy riders straying across the cross-walk in front of turning motorists. Can anyone say “false sense of security?” I thought you could!

  • For photos of intersections on the Montréal lanes, please go here.

  • Maria

    Those photos are 14 years old, John. Do you have anything more recent? While intersections are always a safety problem (with or without bike lanes) there has been signficant improvement and innovation in bike lane design, particularly in European cities, since those photos were taken. Your material does not seem to be at all current.

  • Chris Morfas

    Two-way sidepaths are thankfully rare in the USA (intrinsically substandard even, as Potter points out).

    Much of what makes the photos at the top attractive are the narrow roads and resultant lower traffic volumes and speeds, not necessarily the “bicycling faciclities.”

  • Actually, Chris, I snapped all of those photos and rode on all of those bike paths. Two of the roads pictured above are wide, fast, busy arterials, not narrow streets. The busy arterials in Berlin, I found, provided some of the best bike riding on separated paths. These were fast streets on which I’d never ride a bike in the same lane as cars. The separated lanes made them fast and safe for me on a bike.

    These were all really nice bike facilities to ride on. They felt a lot safer than many of the painted, on-street bike lanes we have in NYC. I’d be much happier riding my 2-year-old to daycare on these separated paths than riding on the street. In fact, I won’t ride him on the street in NYC. I end up using the sidewalk a lot, which is illegal and not fair to pedestrians.

    I’m sure that NYC would benefit from having separated lanes like these in certain spots. I’m sure they would be inappropriate in other spots as well. I don’t entirely understand the all-or-nothing fundamentalist opposition to a type of urban bike lane design that seems to be a standard in the world’s best biking cities.

  • Steve

    I would probably agree that in New York City, two-way bike paths do not make sense except in cases of limited cross traffic–primarily adjacent to the waterfront, although it seems to me that park perimeters and service roads to limited access highways/parkways should also be considered. With that qualification, I think separated bicycle lanes are perfectly suitable and safe for numerous NYC roadways.

    On Houston Street, for example, you could have one-way separated lanes on both the north and south sides of the street on which bicyclists rode with traffic. If placing a parking lane between the bike and the traffic lane creates a sightline issue at intersections, the solution is to eliminate the last 5 or so spots in the parking lane immediately prior to the intersection (or eliminate the parking lane altogether).

    As for pedestrians entering the bike lane or otherwise creating hazards . . . that is and probably will always be a very serious problem in NYC. Pedestrians will usually yield for a motorist with the right of way because they don’t want to be killed, but they often refuse to yield to (and may well ignore) a bicyclist in the same circumstance. Pedestrians often proceed in a crosswalk against a “don’t walk” sign without even looking in the direction of oncoming traffic, if they have satisfied themselves before entering the crosswalk that there are no oncoming motorists that might hit them. Without the possibility of making eye contact with such pedestrians, a bicyclist with the right of way is nonetheless forced to stop or gamble on what the pedestrian may do next. This “go ahead, hit me” maneuver is the hallmark of the NYC pedestrian and in my book rates as substantially more dangerous/aggressive than the situation where a bicyclist fails to make and hold a complete stop for the entire duration of the red, proceeding to the extent there is no actual danger of a collision with pedestrians in the crosswalk (or vehicles in the traffic lane).

    This pedestrian problem is not exacerbated by separated bike lanes; the bike lanes would just create a new location for the pedestrian-bicyclist conflict. This is certainly no justification for denying a safety improvement to bicyclists.

  • Chris Morfas


    Thank you for your amplification (and, more generally, for this blog).

    While I remain very concerned about two-way sidepaths, I’m open to experimentation with separated bike lanes.

    Cycling Scotland’s Tom Bertulis gave a presentation at 2006 ProWalk/ProBike that nicely summarizes how communities might prioritize their traffic management efforts to support walking and bicycling:

    1) Traffic Reduction
    2) Traffic Calming
    3) Intersection Treatment
    4) Roadway Redistribution
    5) Segregated Facilities

    I’d say he got it just about right.

    See his Cycling Scotland Revamping Cycle Design Guidelines with New Innovations powerpoint (and others)

  • Steve


    Thanks for the link in your comment 17. I highly recommend it; it’s chock full of interesting presentations on transportation issues from a recent conference.

  • Christopher Neal Wyatt

    Regarding the debate over segregated bike paths vs. on-street facilties- many experts have concluded that in urban areas, segregated cycle facilties are MUCH safer, and should be provided, whenever automobile speeds on the road in question average over 30 km/h. Having said that, the design of the 2-way on-street path shown from Montral is actually VERY dangerous, not only because of conflicts with motorists, but also because of the risk of HEAD-ON cyclist-cyclist collisions. There is a great design manual put out by the Danish Road Directorate, called “Collection of Cycle Concepts”, it was once available for free from that agency, if you are interested in these sorts of issues I’d hunt down a copy and study it carefully.

  • gecko

    It’s a shame recumbent bicycles and tricycles aren’t shown being a lot more accessible including the elderly and disabled and require more protection from cars because of inherent low profiles.

  • In answer to Maria’s response no. 13, I have only the 1992 photos, because I haven’t had the opportunity to ride in Montréal since. I’d like to do it again, this time with a helmet video camera. Maybe this coming summer.

    In response to the URL of this page, this-is-what-bike-safety-looks-like, excuse me, where is the evidence to support that statement? This is what *sidepaths* look like. Evaluating safety requires research. Snapshots and snap judgments just won’t do when public safety is at stake.

    The Montréal facilities are of a kind which show bad results in research carried out elsewhere — look here, for some examples. What would make the Montréal facilities any different? If they are in fact safer, that would have to be shown by actual research.

    Research looks like this:

    * You identify how you are to collect data, preferably so as to provide comparisons. A good example of a research model is in the Palo Alto study, from 1994, which compared sidewalk bikeways, and streets with and without bike lanes.

    * You measure the amount and characteristics of bicycle traffic.

    * You gather data on crashes.

    * Then you analyze the data you have collected to determine the crash rate, crash types, severity of crashes and types of bicyclists involved in them.

    * Finally, and here’s where you actually get the safety, you implement the results of the research to engineer safer facilities and programs.

    I see that Jean-François from Montréal has commented in this discussion. Well, at the 2000 Pro-Bike conference in Philadelphia, I asked him whether any research into the safety of the Montréal sidepaths had been conducted — eight years after they had been installed. He replied “non”.

    Only research results would convince me, and I hope, you, that the Montréal sidepaths are safe while others of similar design are not.

    I do have a report from an observer who stood at a signalized sidepath crossing in Montréal for half an hour and observed that the cyclists only got a 7-second green light, and that cyclist compliance with the signals was zero. Clearly, this installation wasn’t working as intended, but on the other hand, that observation doesn’t amount to a safety study.

    As to those other photos of sidepaths in Berlin also identified as examples of safe design, ta research paper showed that crashes reported to the police in Berlin increased from 774 to 1658 between 1981 and 1985, along with the installation of sidepaths, and the increase was on the streets with sidepaths. The study doesn’t include bicycle traffic counts, so it can’t identify actual crash rates. However, additional data from other sources may afill that gap. I will soon Web-publish the Berlin study and any related material I can locate, so people may evaluate it for themselves.

    And to make a more general comment I’m not saying that the parallel streets shown in the photos are bicyclist-friendly but I am saying that sidepaths generally are a very flawed approach to bicyclist safety *and* mobility (what with the choice between long delays at intersections, or violating the law). Also, sidepaths pose an ethical problem because people believe them to be much safer than they are.

    There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to provide urban through routes for bicycle traffic, though in urban grids, I like the bicycle boulevard approach (secondary, often residential streets with through motor traffic excluded by bicycle-permeable diverters and barriers). This is common in West-Coast US cities, particularly Berkeley, Palo Alto and Eugene. Use of uninterrupted corridors for paths hleps too where possible. Bike lanes or wide outside lanes can work reasonably well on arterials with relatively few turning movements.

    John S. Allen
    Regional Director for New York and New England
    League of American Bicyclists

  • Ray

    Thanks, John.

    I’m flabbergasted at the presumption that pedestrians would stay out of bike-dedicated lanes. This simply does not happen. I have never been on a facility where this segregation actually takes place.

    Lanes are tough to design and user comfort is not user safety.

    Of the Three E’s, why is education persistently disregarded?

  • This essay is quite overdue to be written and published. ,

  • Adriana

    Having just visited Montreal last week, and spoken with a friend there (who admittedly mostly drives), she commented that in the last year or two, the continued investment in separated bike lanes and Bixi, had really started to impact the driving culture – many more drivers are becoming more bike-aware, and accepting of cyclists.

    BTW, last Monday, with temperatures hovering just above freezing there were people using the bike lanes in Montreal (I was wandering around at midmorning).


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