Paths for cyclists can be shared with people walking (shared paths) or bicycle only paths. Paths need to be built wide enough to cater for the current and future number of users. The accepted minimum width for shared paths is 2.5m, with paths expecting commuter traffic at least 3.0m wide. Paths with heavy commuter and recreational traffic should be at least 3.5m wide or provide separate paths for cycling and walking.
What’s the problem?
Narrow paths don’t leave enough room for everyone to enjoy them safely. Paths are often not built wide enough cater for the number of people who want to use them now or in the near future. Bike riding is becoming ever more popular, so make paths wide enough to cater for this growing demand.
What are the risks?
If a path is too narrow, path users could:
be forced to travel too close to others and crash into them, potentially head on. Two bike riders approaching each other at 20 km/h have a combined collision speed of 40km/h. Even if they do not hit each other directly they may snag their bike handlebars on the others bike or clothing and crash
swerve to avoid other path users and crash.
Path width is only one aspect of path design. Path width becomes more critical when there are other shortcomings in the path design that reduce the margin of safety. These include:
curves and bends
rough or loose/slippery surface
lack of clear view of the path ahead
obstacles in the path
inadequate clearance on the side of the path (which further constricts the usable path width).
What is the solution?
Make paths wide enough to accommodate current and future predicted use. Take into account not only the number of users but also the mix of users (e.g. walkers, runners, dog walkers, slower riders) and the type of directional flow.
Wider paths are needed for paths with:
higher volumes of users in an absolute sense
a mix of users travelling at different speeds and/or via different modes. If the path carries cyclists and walkers it will need to be wider so those on bikes can pass those walking safely.
two way traffic. “Tidal” traffic, where most of the movement is in one direction or the other, e.g. on commuter paths, has less potentially conflict movements (mostly passing). Note that even a small number of people travelling in the opposite direction introduces many passing movements and potential conflict on a busy path.
Bikes and other users should be given separate space when the above three conditions combine to make sharing the one path too dangerous. Above 4m wide a separate path it is more space effective to provide a separate path for people on foot.
Investigations and modelling currently underway aim to provide a more detailed and rigorous guide to deciding path width based on the above three factors and the expected and acceptable frequency of “incidents” where path users need to adjust their speed or travel course (i.e. level of service). The modelling seems to reinforce the on-ground lessons that, if there is a mix of users (people walking and cycling at varying speeds) travelling in opposite directions, then once path users numbers (all users) rise above about 150-200 per hour at any time of the day then one should consider separate paths for cycling and walking.
What do the guidelines say?
The guide is clear on the importance of path width on safety and cost. Paths need to be wide enough for people to pass each other safely:
“The width of paths is an important factor given construction costs and operational considerations. It can also have a significant bearing on the level of convenience and conflict between users and potentially on path safety as well.
The path width required depends on the envelope (i.e. space) occupied by pedestrians and/or cyclists using the path together with appropriate clearances. The clearances are required between path users travelling in the same direction or opposite directions, and also between path users and the edge of the path. Some allowance for the ability of cyclists to ride in a consistent wheel path (i.e. tracking of the bicycle within the envelope) is provided.”
The guide provides tables listing the acceptable minimum widths for different types of paths (at bottom of this page). For local access bicycle only paths and shared paths the minimum width is 2.5m. Commuter paths and recreational paths carrying a mix of walkers and riders need to be wider and the acceptable minimum with is 3.0m and 3.5m respectively. Commentary A1 of the guide gives diagrams showing path operations with various user groups and their operational envelopes (the room they need to ride or walk in). Three metres allows a person on a bike to pass someone walking in the other direction while allowing one metre space between them for someone passing.
Separate paths are provided for riders and walkers can be one-way or two way. For separated two-way paths the bicycle path should be at least 2.5m wide and the footpath 2.0m wide. For separated one-way paths the bicycle path should be at least 1.5m wide and the footpath 1.5m wide.
The guide is clear in stating that the absolute minimum width for any path is 2.0m but this should only be used when unavoidable and with no compromises to other aspects of path design such as clearances and sight lines.
“In general, a width less than lowest value of the acceptable range shown in the tables should not be adopted. An exception is the local access path that is provided to connect a local area to a community facility (e.g. shopping centre) and it is expected that volume of cyclists and operating speeds will remain low throughout the life of the path. In such cases a width no less than 2.0m may be considered. A width greater than the upper value of the acceptable range may be required where a very high number of cyclists are expected to use the path. However, a very wide path could lead to operational and safety issues and is likely to require traffic management devices (e.g. signs and markings).”
The guide also advises that paths should be built wide enough to cater for future use even though usage may be low to begin with:
“some new major, commuter, and recreational paths will not initially carry large volumes of cyclists, although the volume may become significant throughout their operational lives. However, these paths should be able to safely transport cyclists at reasonably high speeds and therefore require an adequate width for this purpose.”
There is extensive additional material and commentary on path width in the Appendix and Commentary section of the guide.
What does Bicycle Network Victoria say about the guidelines?
The guide provides good guidance with desirable minimum widths and a range for absolute minimum width to typical maximums. See tables reproduced below. We agree with the path widths suggested and the guidance that paths should be built wide enough to cater for future growth in numbers. The guide is also clear in stating that the pathside environment (vegetation, obstacles, rideable shoulders etc) and alignment (curves etc) are important factors in the usable path width (or the path user envelope).
Any examples, good and bad?
Merri Creek Trail, Fitzroy North (about Melways 30, C9). Path built at 1.2m wide many years ago. It is only wide enough for one way traffic.
Bay Trail at St Kilda Baths. Separated paths. 2.5m bike path has good alignment and clearances. Works well except in peak period e.g. summer weekends.
Bay Trail in Albert Park (about Melways 2K, B12) the separated exclusive-use 2.5m wide bike path on right (on-path signage includes bicycle and in-line skater symbols) and pedestrian path on left, alongside the beach. Notice 0.5m clearance along the road to allow opening of parked car doors. Trees grow alongside the path in the grassed area may impinge on the "user envelopes" but the sight lines are otherwise good and the path remains straight so reducing the risk of crashes. Note the worn tracks in the grass from joggers. The placement of bicycle/ inline skater path away from the water leaving the waterside area for strollers and "meanderers" is appropriate.
The Main Yarra Trail is a very popular commuting path. In Burnley there is a parallel walking path that used to merge and separate from the main path. there was conflict between users and some near misses as people walking and those cycling tried to share the path (s). A recent upgrade (2009) widened the main path (to 3.0m) and provided a separate pedestrian path (at right). The parallel Yarra Blvd is popular with training cyclists who prefer to travel at higher speeds that are not appropriate alongside slower riders on the path (and even less appropriate alongside those walking on the path). Again the waterside area is reserved for slower, more "rambulatory" travel paths.
The Main Yarra Trail, northbank approaching Birrarung Marr Park. The path carries over 2500 bicycles a day and nearly 500 an hour in the morning peak. Pedestrian levels are relatively low on the northbank side in the am peaks. There are good clearances either side of the path and sight lines are clear so conflict remains low.
Tables from Part 6A for path widths:
Figures A1-3 from Austroads Part 6A showing path width and clearance envelopes: