A path crossing a road needs to meet a number of criteria to be acceptable for all users.
Crossing of roads should be clear and simple. Designs must avoid adding unneeded complexity that distracts riders from the crossing itself or adding hazardous elements.
This page deals with paths crossing roads away from road intersections.
What’s the problem?
Most paths with cross a road or have access to or from a road at some point. Many of these occur away from road intersections.
Road crossings are often made unnecessarily complex and hazardous through the addition of elements that in essence are meant to improve 'safety' but in practice actually serve to increase risk. Some of these measures include things like curves, fences, and poles which are meant to slow bike riders. But the measures can be a hazard in themselves and may distract riders from focusing on safely crossing the road. They can reduce the safety of the crossing rather than improving it.
The example at right shows the York Rd crossing on the Lilydale Warburton Rail Trail - since upgraded to a signalised crossing. The crossing was not well marked for either road or path users and the step up to the road surface was a potential hazard for bike riders focusing on looking for traffic and crossing the road. Compare this to the Bendigo Creek path crossing of Arnold St with raised coloured pavement.
Often the transition from path to road surface is compromised by ledges or lips that could defect a bicycle tyre and cause a rider to crash. Of particular concern is the critical transition from the path to the road (the kerb ramp) where a smooth surface free of ledges is needed. Steep ramps or large changes in grade are also a problem.
If a road crossing is not correctly designed, bicycle riders could:
not see, or not be seen by, a vehicle, resulting in a crash or near miss;
not expect the crossing and ride out into the path of a motor vehicle;
incorrectly think they have right of way and ride into the path of a vehicle, or alternatively, the vehicle driver incorrectly thinks they have right of way and fails to stop for the path user;
have their attention diverted from looking for traffic and crossing safely by negotiating bends and obstacles in the path, and ride out into the path of a moving vehicle;
crash while attempting to negotiate curves or obstacles;
lose control of their bikes while entering the road and crash into a vehicle or be struck by a vehicle;
be unable to access the path and be forced to dismount to get onto the path and off the road, potentially putting them in conflict with moving motor vehicles travelling the road.
What is the solution?
Make the crossing as clear and simple as possible:
clearly linemark and signpost approaches to crossings for both road and path users so all users have sufficient warning;
make the crossing point as clear as possible;
provide clear sight lines so all parties can see each other clearly and with enough time to take action – avoid vegetation and fencing that block vision;
make the rules of the crossing, in particular who gives way to whom, as clear as possible through design and signage;
make approaches to road crossings as clear and direct as possible for both path and road users. This can be done on the path with signage and other visual cues such as hand rails and linemarking on the path;
keep the path crossing itself as smooth and straight as possible with particular attention to the transition to the road surface. If the path ramps down to the road surface, smooth kerb ramps, with no lip or ledge that could defect a bicycle wheel, are critical. Changes in grade should be kept to a minimum to avoid bumps or dips that can unseat riders;
where the path crosses busier roads consider additional treatments to make the crossing easier. One of the simplest and inexpensive ways to do this if space allows, is by providing a refuge island in the middle of the road that splits the crossing into two.
Smooth kerb (or pram) ramps that suit bike riders also meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (are DDA compliant). At minor road crossings consideration should be given to continuing the path surface at grade across the road so that riders do not have to contend with ramps down and up to the road and motor vehicles must slow and drive up and over the platform created by the path. Path users can also be given right of way at these types of crossings so that motor vehicles must stop and give way if necessary. Example from Ames St, Carlton North (see below for before and after photos)
Figure 4 from VicRoads Cyclenotes No. 16: Safe Road Crossings for Off-road paths (see link at right) provides a template for minor road crossings. Note that the crossing is at right angles to the road and placement of hand rails. Signage is placed well in advance of the crossing which gives people time to slow down and stop if necessary.
Figure 9.4 from the Austroads Guide to Road Design Part 4: Intersections and Crossings General (2009) shows a path crossing of a minor street where cyclists are given priority. This can also apply on shared paths.
What do the guidelines say?
Path crossings of roads are covered in the Austroads Guide to Road Design Part 4: Intersections and Crossings General (2009) and Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 6: Intersections, Interchanges and Crossings (2007). The wording and approach to paths crossings of roads has changed significantly from the Austroads Guidelines to Traffic Engineering Practice Part 14, Bicycles (1999) which was superseded by the new guides.
The wording of the Austroads Guides (see text at right) covers path approach design criteria, crossings of local, low volume roads and of busier, arterial roads. There is advice on providing controlled crossings and refuges for busier roads.
The guides are clear on the need to provide access to paths at roads:
"Off-road paths must be readily accessible in order to be well utilized by the community. Access should always be provided where paths cross local streets and arterial roads....Where a path is located on one side of a road, kerb ramps should be provided opposite every side street to enable access to local users... All connections and crossings should be designed and constructed so as to encourage safe and correct use by cyclists."
The Guide stresses the importance of clear and safe crossing points:
"An important purpose behind creating crossing points is to concentrate the movements to selected locations where:
pedestrian and cyclist networks exist or are being developed to improve the safety, amenity of the environment, and accessibility provided for pedestrians and cyclists;
pedestrians and cyclists are provided with a safe place to cross the road through the use of treatments and devices that effectively manage conflicts between pedestrians/cyclists and motorized traffic;
motorists would expect the presence of pedestrians and cyclists;
the crossing can be readily identified by all road users as a point of crossing;
pedestrians with limited vision or mobility can be provided with non-visual cues and/or physical aids;
regulatory traffic control devices can be installed."
For quiet roads: (Section 9.2.2 Guide to Road Design Part 4 (2009))
"Unsignalised crossings or two-lane two-way local streets or collector roads may require cyclists to give way to road traffic, and in low volume streets (≤3000vpd) need not provide a refuge for cyclists in the middle of the road. In such situations the treatment provides for a straight crossing of the road using kerb ramps on both sides of the road with a suitable terminal treatment."
For busier streets a refuge median island may be appropriate: (Section 9.2.3 Guide to Road Design Part 4 (2009))
"Where an off-road path crosses a busy local street or an arterial road away from an intersection it may be necessary to provide facilities to aid the cyclists to make a safe crossing. These facilities may be in the form of controlled crossings as discussed previously, or physical refuges. Physical refuges in the centre of the road are recommended to enable a staged crossing where volumes are greater than 3000 vpd."
Refuges should be at least 2.0m wide and provide holding rails to allow a bike rider to stay mounted in the refuge area.
There is also specific guidance for road crossings in rural and outer urban areas (Section 8.2.3) and road crossings used by horse riders (Section 8.2.4).
The Guide provides design criteria for path road crossings of a side road which are relevant to most road crossings, refer to 9.6.2 Path Approach Design Criteria
"The key requirements for the intersection between a path in a road reservation and a side road are:
approach sight distance should be provided for drivers approaching the intersection from the side roads (Guide to Road Design – Part 4A: Unsignalised and Signalised Intersections (Austroads 2009b));
drivers turning from the major road into the side street should have clear sight lines to cyclists using the path in both directions;
the speeds of cyclists using the path should be controlled on the path approaches to the intersection."
"Sharp downgrades on path approaches to road crossings should be avoided where possible. Where the path alignment is straight on the approach to a road then the path should be as flat as possible. It is desirable that the longitudinal downgrade should be limited to 3% and should not exceed 5%.
Paths for cycling should be aligned to intersect roads at approximately 90°. Where the approach sight distance for cyclists is restricted, appropriate warning signs should be provided or measures taken to reduce the approach speed of cyclists."
The Guide also provides extensive guidance on the use of various types of potential treatments for road crossings including their application and benefits (Tables 8.1 and 8.2 reproduced below). The various treatments are categorised as "general crossing", "time separated", "grade separated" and "integrated facilities".
What does Bicycle Network say about the guidelines?
The guides raise concern about “legislative constraints …. under several jurisdictions” to using a raised path crossing with give way signs to regulate road traffic. The road rules were, in effect, standardised from 1999 onwards (see national transport commission) meaning that priority for bikes at road crossings should be possible under all State road rules.
In discussing crossing of side streets the guide states "the speeds of cyclists using the path should be controlled on the path approaches to the intersection." This may lead to designs with chicanes and fences that are hard for bike riders to negotiate. However, the Guide elaborates later on: "In the past there has been a common misconception among practitioners that the purpose of bending-outs is to reduce the speeds of approaching cyclists. The use of tight curves, rails and bollards should not be used as speed reduction devices at these locations and normal traffic management devices such as warning signs and regulatory signs should be used to control approach speeds and crossing priority."
The Guide is also very clear that any path terminal treatment used to prevent access by motor vehicles or to slow cyclists should "provide safe and convenient access for all path users.. enhance the safety of cyclists, and allow passage of bicycles without the need for cyclists to dismount" including those on tandems or with trailers to transport infants.
Bicycle Network agrees with the guidance - care needs to be taken to not introduce unnecessary hazards to a road crossing through attempts to slow cyclists or prevent access of motor vehicles.
Figures from Austroads Guide to Road Design Part 4 Intersections, Interchanges and Crossings.
Any examples, good and bad?
Capital City Trail at Ames St, Carlton North
Before - path users on the major path had to stop and give way to vehicles on a minor street. But priority was clear, hand rails and give way lines were provided and sight lines clear.
After - The path has been given priority and a raised platform provided. Cars (and buses as Ames St is a bus route) give way to path users. Priority is clear and everyone can see each other. It follows the layout shown in Fig 9.9 from the Austroads Guides of a "bend out" treatment - see bottom of page.
Gardiners Creek Trail crosses Dunlop Street Ashburton (Melways map ref. 60, A11)
Here the road crossing has again been raised to path level with a raised platform for motor vehicles to cross on the road way. The crossing has been signalised and stop lines applied for motor vehicles.
Examples of good road crossing treatments:
Top left - Murray To Mountains Rail Trail crossing treatment for a minor road. The use of hand rails clearly marks the crossing point to path users, backed up with signage well before the crossing. The hand rails also serve as a waiting point where the bike rider can stop without dismounting the bike.
Top right - Capital City Trail at Bennet St (Melways map ref. 30 C11). A clear road crossing with refuge island and hand rails. At top left the upcoming road crossing is preceded by “road ahead” sign, other visual cues of solid line marking, give way sign, hand rail and give way line become more obvious closer to the intersection. Note that the mature trees do not have low hanging branches or leaves to block sight lines and there are not low shrubs that can block views for younger riders.
Bottom left - Buckingham St crossing on the Rivergum Walk path. The raised crossing and holding rails make it easy for bike riders to give way if necessary and cross.The contrasting pavement and "piano keys" markings make the crossing clear to all.
Bottom right - O'Hea St, Coburg - the footpath and cycle path cross a side street and have priority. The give way priority was originally the other way around but did not make sense to path or road users. The contrasting pavement and linemarking make the crossing clear.
Following figures and tables from the Austroads Guidelines referred to above and at right.
Table 8.1 Benefits of Treatments (for road crossings) from Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 6 (2007).
Table formatting has been altered for inclusion on web. Note referrals and notes at bottom.
General Crossing Facilities
Grade Separated Facilities
Time Separated Facilities
Notes and referrals for Table 8.1 above (these have been removed from original table for formatting reasons).
Pelican and Puffin (Pedestrian User Friendly Intelligent) crossings are pedestrian operated signals with operational modification. Pelican crossings have a flashing yellow phase that enables vehicles to proceed once pedestrians have cleared the crossing.
Puffin crossings have additional detectors to monitor the progress of pedestrians on the crossing allowing the crossing time to be reduced when a pedestrian has crossed quickly, or extended for slow moving pedestrians.
Wombat crossings are Pedestrian (Zebra) crossings erected in 40km/h speed zones and placed on raised platforms of similar design to road humps
Table refers in various parts to Austroads Guides: Part 4 of the Guide to Road Design and Part 6 Section 5, Part 5 Section 5 and Part 8 of the Guide to Traffic Management; Australian Standards: AS 1742.9 AS 1742.4, AS 1742.10 & AS1742.13 and Land Transport NZ (2007).
Table 8.2 Guideline for selection of facilities according to road classification - from Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 6 (2007)