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Protected cycleways that separate bike riders from both vehicles and pedestrians are gold standard facilities. Great examples of these cycleways have been built over the last 15 years in NSW. Many local governments are planning more projects.  They are the best solution for busy roads with fast traffic.

But it is very difficult to make the necessary changes to streets to create dedicated bicycle paths. Space used for parking or driving is usually needed. People really don’t like change in their streets.  Politicians get nervous and projects falter. And of course, physical changes to streets are very expensive.

A new idea for creating for cycling infrastructure has emerged in many corners of the world.  This is inspired by bicycle routes in the Netherlands which link together local residential streets to make a safe cycling network that reaches many more people that is possible with expensive and disruptive separated bicycle paths.

A typical residential Cycle Street or ‘Fietsstraat’ in Utrecht. Both street design and signage make it clear that cars are guests. People walking and cycling have priority and feel safe in the shared space.
(Image: Dutch Cycling Embassy)

Bike and cars share the road. But most bike riders will feel safe using the vehicle lanes if traffic speeds and volumes are very low

A win-win solution

Traffic calming interventions are carefully planned to slow vehicles and eliminate rat-running.  ‘Modal filters’ – which can be simple bollards, or leafy pocket parks – allow people walking and cycling to pass but block access by car. However, it is still possible to reach every property by car.

A modal filter at Ellalong Road in Cremorne, NSW is part of a long regional cycleway linking the Spit Bridge with North Sydney. The street has been closed at one end with an attractive green space. A dedicated bicycle path provides access to the next street. There is no through traffic. And it’s safe enough for a game of street cricket! (Image: Bicycle NSW)

With careful engagement and storytelling such projects can be framed to benefit everyone. 

This is a win-win option that will be proposed much more frequently in future.  Residents may have to drive a bit further to reach their homes but there will be far less through-traffic, new landscaped areas, no loss of parking, and a street where children can play. In addition, it is a budget-friendly approach, as much of the street is unchanged.

Safe Active Streets in Perth

The Western Australian Department of Transport has rolled out several ‘bicycle boulevards’ using residential streets as part of its Safe Active Street programme.  As well as a 30 km/h speed limit, a range of context-specific physical interventions were built.  These support slower speeds, prevent rat running and dramatically improve amenity.

Safe Active Street in Perth, Western Australia, combines multiple urban design features, traffic filtering and 30 km/h speed limits to reduce traffic impacts and danger and dramatically improve amenity. (Source: Department of Transport WA)

The Safe Active Streets program launched in 2015 and evaluation has been underway ever since. At a recent webinar, researchers presented findings from a study of 8 pilot Safe Active Streets projects. 

Overall, there was a 51% increase in bike riding and 27% increase in walking across the 8 projects. An uptick was also observed on nearby streets, suggesting an overall increase in active transport activity in the wider area. It was clear the people support the changes – even if they take a bit of getting used to!

Meanwhile in New South Wales

‘Quietway’ treatments are now officially endorsed by Transport for NSW for streets with low traffic volumes. Design guidance is included in the 2021 Cycleway Design Toolbox.

An extract from the Transport for NSW Cycleway Design Toolbox showing the design of a Quietway. The toolbox recommends “quietways” for some local streets. The speed is reduced to 30 km/h. Key design elements include narrower lanes, modal filters to reduce traffic volumes and differing pavement texture. The aim is to allow people on bicycles to feel safe sharing the lane with people driving (Image: Transport for NSW)

An exciting City of Sydney project

Although many sections of the City of Sydney bike network use quiet back streets with modal filters, these routes are not very obvious.  They don’t ‘roll out a green carpet’ to new or nervous bike riders. 

The Rosebery Quietway will use the treatments in the Cycleway Design Toolbox to create an inviting and clearly marked safe bike corridor through Rosebery to Green Square. Access by car will be limited at each end to reduce through traffic. New landscaping and trees will encourage slow driving and improve amenity.  

A section of the Rosebery Quietway on Primrose Avenue showing new planting beds and trees. The parking spaces will be reconfigured to narrow the vehicle lanes, and coloured asphalt will indicate that bikes have priority. Construction is due to get underway in 2025. (Image: City of Sydney via YouTube)

Lord Mayor Clover Moore is very supportive of the project. “We want to make roads safer for local residents,” said the Lord Mayor. “This proposal will see garden beds, trees, and traffic calming measures installed to create a much-needed active transport corridor in one of the busiest parts of the city.”

Of course, modal filters are not new. 

You can probably think of streets in your neighbourhood that have been closed at one end, either fully or partially, to discourage rat-running. Chances are these are the nicest, safest and quietest streets to walk on. And very popular with existing and prospective residents!

Alexander Street in Manly is a popular local cycle route. No special infrastructure has been built, but a modal filter discourages through traffic and trees in the roads encourage slow driving. Everyone is happy to share the road. (Image: Google Maps)

Make every street a cycle street!

Bicycle User Group BIKEast has been raising awareness of the benefits of modal filters and low speed limits for many years. 

BIKEast’s Safe-Street Neighbourhoods guide use urban design principles to reimagine residential streets so that they are safer for everyone. Landscaping and traffic calming will tame motorists and improve amenity for residents and businesses. Of course, 30km/h speed limits are a key for this to work. If not signposted, the design speed must be very low. Read the 2016 document here

Importantly, a fine grid of local streets that allows everyone to safely ride to the regional routes would expand the bike network – rapidly and cheaply. The motto ‘make every street a cycle street’ features in many Bicycle NSW submissions! 

Successes in London

London councils have taken age-old modal filter concepts and applied them on a larger scale to create ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ or LTNs. Roll out was accelerated during the pandemic when councils seized the chance to experiment and government organised grants.

A Low Traffic Neighbourhood in London, UK. Signage avoids the word ‘closed’ – because the streets remains very open! All properties can still be reached by car but a different route may be needed (Image: Matt Seymour)

There has been controversy. Some residents hate the upheaval, and some commentators feel the schemes benefit the most advantaged and push traffic to boundary roads. 

But hard data on health and wellbeing show some striking outcomes. Particularly for the economy. The researchers found a 10-fold return on investment across the wider study area. The health savings over a 20-year period has been calculated at £1.056bn - a significant return on the initial £100m outlay. Mostly because the increased walking and cycling activity reduced mortality and avoided sick days.

The benefits are even more amazing in areas with the most interventions to support active transport. Here, researchers found a physical activity-related benefit of £4,800 per person over that 20-year period - a 42-fold return on the £112 per-person investment.

A ROI of 42:1? NSW politicians, this could happen for you!

Narrowed streets with modal filters restrict through traffic and make cycling safer (Image: Road.cc)

Support our campaigns for safer local streets

Please join Bicycle NSW today! Not only will you benefit from the best bicycle insurance and a range of Member benefits. You will also support our advocacy for lower speed limits and more active travel to schools. We work very hard every day to make NSW better for bike riding and walking. 

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