Friday, October 14, 2011

Vienna's Wrong Way Bike Lanes

Wrong Way Bike Lane, Vienna
As many other cities with cycling infrastructure, Vienna is full of one way streets with bike lanes going against traffic. This is done to make travel more convenient for cyclist. The drawback is that it places cyclists and motor vehicles in situations where they can potentially collide with each other. One way this could happen is when the road is so narrow that a car cannot keep out of the bike lane entirely. Another potentially hazardous scenario is when vehicles emerge from around the corner, as shown here.

Wrong Way Bike Lane, Vienna
When I first saw the wrong way bike lanes, I was scared to ride on them. Surely it was only a matter of time before some car or motorcycle hit me head on? However, cyclists in Vienna use these lanes all the time, and as far as I know collisions are very rare. Eventually I got used to the design and began to trust it.

30km Speed Limit, Vienna
Drivers appear to be vigilant and in control of their vehicles; they can stop on a dime, and have for me. And no doubt the 30km/h (18.6mph) speed limit helps. The funny thing is that whenever I leave Vienna and remember the wrong-way bike lanes, their safety seems implausible. Only when I am here do I again believe that it's okay. What are your thoughts about this design?

36 comments:

  1. There are a handful of these in Cambridge in very useful places. I use the one on Norfolk between Harvard and Broadway almost daily. Unfortunately, some work on the street there removed the clear markings in the lane, and I often get the impression that drivers think I'm using the lane wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I suppose it depends on how you look at it; as a pedestrian, we all know it's safer to walk AGAINST traffic so you are more likely to see the car and vice versa - perhaps that is part of their reasoning as well?? It's probably safer than you think...but you(we) are used to seeing bicycles as vehicles now - so this goes against the grain! PS - new to your blog...really enjoying it and learning a lot :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. They have a few reverse-direction lanes in Australia, and I agree that it's 'weird' to ride them. When closing with a car in regular traffic, I'm used to anticipating based on what my speed is relative to the car; which is easier when it's just subtraction of one vehicle's speed against another. It's more stressful when relative speed is an addition of one speed against the other.

    ... but living now on a one-way street I do certainly miss it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Here in France, any one-way street in a 30-kph zone is supposed to be open to bikes going the other way, marked or not. Not every municipality has been marking these, but Paris is in the forefront. I use them here regularly, but I am cautious at intersections. Of course you have to be careful at intersections anyway, since if they don't have a light, a sign, or other indication of priority, the French practice "priorité à droite," which means that whoever is on the right has the right-of-way.

    I can't imagine counterflow lanes working well in the US, though!

    Tina--it doesn't have anything to do with visibility here, since you can also ride with traffic. It's about making it more convenient to use a bike. Here in Paris, a lot of streets have been made one-way in order to discourage drivers from using them as shortcuts. But that can mean a long detour for cyclists. By allowing bikes to go against the flow, the law encourages cycling.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are some of these in Portland that are usually very short, in order to give cyclists a way to get around diverters that are supposed to keep cars from following (the contra-flow bike lane goes between the diverter and the oncoming traffic lane).

    There are also a few that extend a few blocks, in order to give cyclists a convenient route to cross a busy street or such things (one I'm thinking of specifically ends at an intersection at a busy street with a bicycle-only signal to let you cross, and then the street is 2-way on the other side of the intersection). Here's a little video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmV5j1CeZ14

    I've never had an issue with these here. While people are sometimes a little surprised to see you coming at them, they always seem to approach carefully and I've never had a bad run-in at one of them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maybe this is some kind of reverse prejudice, but it seems to me that stuff like this would work best in German-speaking countries where people follow rules. For instance, I remember seeing a glass recycling container with clear, brown, and green port holes out in the Swiss countryside. I'm sure that it worked fine. Here, all three ports would be overflowing with used pampers.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Vienna is weird and people here are actually not big on following rules. They'll cross the street on red for instance, whereas in German cities that mostly does not happen. But if they hit a bicycle, a Viennese driver will be criminally persecuted, and I think that's what encourages them to follow rules in this case.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "in France, any one-way street in a 30-kph zone is supposed to be open to bikes going the other way, marked or not"

    Interesting. I wonder whether the marked ones are easier for drivers.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think that in the Netherlands as well, most streets that are one-way for automobiles are two-way for bicycles - many of them are marked with "One Way, Except Bicycles" signs, but no pavement markings.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I saw a lot of unmarked contraflows in the Netherlands as well - pretty much every one way street is a two-way street for bikes. As you say, the 30km/h helps, as does the large number of cyclists so they're not that unexpected by the drivers. And by making life less convenient for drivers and more convenient for bikes, you get more bikes and fewer cars and a nice virtuous circle can be set up. It's something they're just beginning to bring into the UK though nothing like as intensively as in France or the Netherlands

    ReplyDelete
  11. I guess drivers must just be inherently trained there to watch for cyclists from every direction. What I wonder is how does that take effect? I mean, if tomorrow the same rule gets introduced to all the one way streets in Boston, I am guessing there will be a "learning curve" resulting in a death toll.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yeah, there probably was there as well, back in the 1970's.

    Or maybe, you institute a policy of holding the person in the automobile responsible in most cases in auto-bike collisions, follow through with it (and also blast it in media), and you don't necessarily *increase* damage in the meantime, but you change peoples' attitudes, because they see that when collisions happen, the person in the auto is held to a higher level of responsibility, and so then people start driving more carefully.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Also, starting real traffic education for everyone probably helps, too.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @ Velouria 12:32, I think that the critical point is that the standard for vehicular liability is so much stricter than in the US, where the easiest way to get away with murder is to hit someone with your car!
    If you're driving with the attitude that if you hit a cyclist or pedestrian, you are automatically liable, you'd be more careful and watchful everywhere.

    Gong slower obviously helps you watch more carefully and gives you more time to react. 30 KPH (or 20 MPH) would be fabulous as well for all neighborhood streets, but I don't see it happening here anytime soon. Portland OR has been fighting for the right to reduce the limit on the tiniest neighborhood streets and has gotten a lot of pushback from the state DOT.

    Also Contraflow lanes are probably discouraged under AASHTO guidelines, so cities are very reluctant to put them in except in very limited situations where they are not worried about the city bearing liability for accidents.

    The intersection in your photo is particularly challenging because it appears to have a blind spot behind parking. Having a bike lane striped (even dashed) through the entire intersection would be helpful in reminding drivers to look before coming around the corner.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Look at the curb bumpouts too, narrowing the apparent width, probably contributing to more equal speeds by cars and bikes both. This has to help make slowing and swerving more effective if necessary.

    The DC counterflows with double yellow lines seem like they work fine here (though it looks strange to have cars cross that line - the wrong way - to park).

    In lots of US cities where one-ways were implemented to provide more parking, this would be a great timesaver for cyclists.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Chiang Mai, Thailand undertook an ambitious and delusional program of painting bike lanes on streets, including several wrong-way bike lanes designed to make the city's ridiculously inconvenient one-way grid more convenient for cyclists.

    Unfortunately, drivers in Chiang Mai don't pay attention to any lines painted on the road, whatever their purpose, so bike lanes are used for driving or parking much more often than they're used for cycling. Using the wrong-way bike lanes there is pretty near suicidal.

    ReplyDelete
  17. There's also the fact that, in cities with a high rate of cycling, there are often cyclists going the wrong way _anyway_ so drivers should be looking out for that even if they're not supposed to be there. A high-profile education campaign (or outrage in the local papers, which probably amounts to the same thing) should help in the run up to introduction of such a policy.

    ReplyDelete
  18. As someone who still drives a car in the US I can tell you there have been times simply obeying the 15mph and 20mph school zone signs causes minor impact to the rear bumper. I have have also been pulled over on suspicion for literally obeying a 15mph zone.

    It's still the Wild West in many ways. Here in Chicago it's just accepted that messengers do anything and police on bicycles try to outdo the messengers. Laws?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Don't all traffic control designs seem implausible? How does a lit object convince people to stop, or a bit of paint encourage people to proceed only on the right?
    With the potential exception of physical barriers, all traffic control designs rely on people to follow them. And people only follow them because they trust others will too.
    Just about any traffic system can work, if the vast majority of users understand and follow the system.
    One of the biggest hurdles for bicycles in most US traffic systems, is that the vast majority of users do not understand how bicycles integrate with the traffic system. And if the do understand the system, they don't trust that other users will follow the system. (note: 'users' includes motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, equally.)

    ReplyDelete
  20. The problem, as you point out, is that drivers turning or pulling out of their driveway tend to look only in the direction they are expecting traffic. The problem no one has mentioned is that cyclist are being given a special designation and not treated as another vehicle on the road. They will then feel that they have the freedom to ride any street the wrong way.

    ReplyDelete
  21. It seems a bit awkward at first glance, but I suppose if people are used to it, and - and this is important- are traveling at reasonable speeds, there's no reason not to do it.

    While it does seem a bit against-the-grain for us vehicular-cyclist types here, it probably also plays into the theory that the less safe road users percieve their situation to be, the more cautiously they'll act and in many cases the more safe the road will actually be (this is taken up really well by Tom Vanderbilt in his excellent book "Traffic:Why We Drive The Way We Do"). I suppose if drivers are used to expecting "salmon" they'll be a bit more vigilant in general.

    ReplyDelete
  22. GR Jim - Well, technically that is exactly what it is!

    Brian - That's true to some extent, but some things like "stop for red lights" are clear and objective, while others like "watch for cyclists" are subjective. It's the gray areas that are hard to deal with.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Following up on Townmouse's comment at 112:32 PM: in the Netherlands, practically all narrow streets in towns are one-way for cars but two-way for cyclists, in many cases unmarked. This is perceived as the standard rule, so much so that some months ago there were a lot of angry comments when police in Middelburg, a very old town with really narrow streets, decided to clamp down on cyclists riding the wrong way in the only one-way street in town that really is one-way for everybody, as there is not even room for a - narrow - bike lane.

    ReplyDelete
  24. We do not have many one way streets in my city, so this situation does not apply here. If I were to ride in such a street I would find it a bit daunting at first and would be inclined to slow down a lot at every intersection.
    What has been done here is the bike picture in the "car door death lane" (as it is described by one bicycle activist here) and cycling in that lane is not a good idea, it is better to travel in the traffic if there are many cars parked. A traffic calming measure that has been done here is speed humps with a dedicated bike lane beside them. It is new here and I have some pics of it here>
    http://bicyclesinnewcastle.com/2011/09/30/new-bicycle-infrastructure-in-newcastle/

    Vicki

    ReplyDelete
  25. I see the facility question similar to your question about cities - standard rules and environments are taken seriously for motorists but not for bicyclists. The environment and culture/enforcement are very different in Europe vs. old US cities (Boston or Philadelphia), and newer cities like Las Vegas. As a result, bicyclists in different environments disagree violently on what makes sense.

    I think these facilities can work in Austria, or even Japan (I was told rules for bicycles are unclear) because motorists are virtually guaranteed to be at fault in collisions. (I was told in Japan, a stationary motorist at a red light would typically be held 10% at fault in a collision where they were hit). In congested areas, trying to exceed 30kph may be likely to lead to collisions and or tickets, so motorists aren't likely to speed and will look both ways for bicyclists.

    In my experience in the US, bicyclists treatment depends on individual traffic officers; they can tell the bicyclists which offense the motorist committed in collisions, but won't cite them and the police report will ignore the cyclists lights at night or injuries that do not require ambulance trips to the hospital.

    From local observation, I don't see how contra flow lanes or other facilities will help bicycle transportation until police are willing to cite aggressive motorists and planners are willing to actually ride in the facilities they design.

    Angelo

    ReplyDelete
  26. " in the US, bicyclists treatment depends on individual traffic officers; they can tell the bicyclists which offense the motorist committed in collisions, but won't cite them..."

    Yes. I have experienced this firsthand in Boston.
    Discouraging.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I live in Vienna and personally I prefer to use this kind of bike lane over most of the other crappy dedicated bike infrastructure we have here.

    The reason is, at intersections you are in a place where drivers are more likely to expect and see you. When turning into such a one way street there is a natural stopping point for drivers, where they slow down or stop to look for traffic coming from the right. Where bikes are allowed to travel against one way streets, there often is a Stop or Yield sign. Sometime they have one of those http://www.wien.gv.at/verkehr/radfahren/images/rad-bauen-1.jpg

    A big part of my way to work is going against traffic on 30km/h residential streets, where driving on the dotted line gives you a good view on oncoming traffic as well as keeping one out of the door zone.
    It's way safer than going on one of those "line-of-paint-on-the-sidewalk" bike lanes where you cross the street at the exact point where people stop to look before they turn.

    Anyway, enjoy vienna even though it's quite fresh outside. Seems like you missed the most terrific Indian summer by just 2 weeks.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Example from Amsterdam: one-way for cars, two-way for bicycles, in that the car lane is also used by bicycles and the bike lane is one-way for bikes. In other words, cyclists going counterflow have their own bike lane and those going with the traffic are vehicular. Plus there are cars parked next to the one-way car lane which might result in dooring if Dutch drivers weren't trained to expect bikes passing. Works.
    http://schlijper.nl/111010-03-haarlemmerdijk.photo

    ReplyDelete
  29. Mr Wulf - Yes, all my friends here complain about the "crappy infrastructure." All I can say is, visit an American city and then let's compare.

    I used to live in the 8th district, then in the central part of the 3rd. And I used to work around Erdberg. From both locations, traveling to work by bike was a dream, even though it was far away. The Donaukanalradweg was especially soothing first thing in the morning and on the way home. If that's crappy, I'll take it anyway!

    And yes, I am surprised at how cold it is here; this is November weather.

    ReplyDelete
  30. We have several of those one way situations in Groningen and the first time I went down one I was scared to death. Hubby's old apartment was on Bloemstraat and instead of biking down it, I would beg to get on the sidewalk and walk it.

    A year later, I'm used to it now. Not my favorite street set up though.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Would really love to visit Groningen btw! Always meant to and had a conference scheduled there some years ago, but had to cancel and never visited.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I was in Vienna a month ago and rented a bike to get around. I think the "wrong way bike lanes" / "bicycles excepted" worked fine. Generally, biking in Vienna worked fine.

    I guess part of why it works is because they are so common. Noone is really surprised to see a bike in the "wrong" direction. And there are plenty of signs to warn the car drivers that there might be bikes coming in the opposite direction.

    ReplyDelete
  33. If you get a chance to come to Groningen, let me know. I would be happy to meet up with you and show you around! I also have a small guest futon if you need a place to crash :D The local pensions are nice too.

    Groningen it self is lovely, but I find the bike routes north to the sea the most wonderful. They are quiet and well laid out, filled with cows and sheep and little cafes for coffee and apple pie. It's sooo peaceful!

    ReplyDelete
  34. "the bike routes north to the sea ...are quiet and well laid out, filled with cows and sheep and little cafes for coffee and apple pie"

    Oh my! Yes, I want all of that.

    Thank you for the invitation; hopefully life will take me there sometime soon.

    ReplyDelete