Don't Keep Bike Paths in the Dark!
We are living in the age of the cycle revival. The pandemic, concerns about the climate crisis, rising fuel costs and a desire to get more exercise into everyday life have all got people (re)discovering the joy of life on two wheels. Electric bikes also are becoming more affordable, meaning this trend is very likely to continue. But getting a bike is only part of the story: safe, attractive routes and user-friendly infrastructure play a huge role in encouraging people out of their cars.
Policymakers know this: the European Union recently announced that funding for sustainable infrastructure, including for new or better bike lanes, will be doubled to €20 billion. At the start of 2022, the UK updated the highway code to improve road safety for cyclists, in tandem with cycle infrastructure guidelines which put bikes at the heart of urban transit (as the report’s introduction notes, even before the pandemic, bikes made up almost a third of rush-hour traffic in central London). Trans-European cycle routes let people discover the continent in a new way, at their own speed.
Yet investment in cycling infrastructure isn’t just about making space for bikes. The right lighting has a huge impact on when, and who, uses bike paths.
In the past, lighting has been an afterthought, with an attitude of ‘we’ll build the scheme first, then worry about the lighting’ but if you don't do the two things together then you’re limiting the sort of people who will feel comfortable using it, and of course you’re making it massively seasonal.
Smart Lighting, Smart Biking
The first job for cycle path lighting is to ensure cyclists can see and be seen. That requires different approaches in different environments. The Belgian city of Roeselare is home to the Mandel bike path, which runs alongside the river of the same name and is very popular with residents. The local authorities wanted to upgrade the lighting to LED to improve safety and energy efficiency, as well as taking their sustainability commitments even further by using solar power.
This was possible thanks to smart lighting that uses motion sensors to detect when cyclists are actually using the path. From sunset to 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to sunrise, when the route is busy, luminaires are dimmed by 80%, with lights going back up to 100% when a pedestrian or cyclist is detected. After 11 p.m. only the luminaires at the start of the path are switched on at 20% - the others are switched off and only activated by motion. This system ensures effective lighting for people using the path while protecting the flora and fauna along the Mandel River.
In contrast, London has been undergoing dramatic changes in recent years to encourage more cyclists onto the roads: in Stratford, a new two-way traffic system was introduced to provide better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Uniform lighting for buses, cars, bikes and pedestrians ensures everyone can be seen at busy interchanges. The area has since seen a 20% reduction in vehicle use, as cyclists take advantage of new paths.
Inviting Lighting, For Everyone
While cycling as a form of mass transport has been around since the 19th century, smart lighting is relatively new. Combining the two requires expertise, planning and careful execution: what works for pedestrians, cars or trains is not necessarily right for bikes. UK government guidance lays out the need for lighting, but does not enter into the details, which is why it makes sense to get experts involved.
“There’s lighting and lighting,” says British Cycling’s Chamberlin, adding that “more robust” guidance on power units, lumens, placement of light points, and support for developers would be useful for local authorities who want to expand or improve their cycling infrastructure. There’s more to it than technical detail: done right, it creates a virtuous circle. “Ideally you have the combination of light and a well-used, busy thoroughfare as well,” he adds.
For many cities, the challenge is getting a more diverse cross-section of society using bikes, not cars, to commute, relax and get fit. “Quite rightly, lighting has a general safety aspect for anyone who uses a path, it’s a part of the road network,” says Chamberlin. But, he adds, many women and girls, members of the LGBT+ community and other minorities feel deeply unsafe in much of our urban and city landscape when on foot or cycling.
Lighting is a critical part of enabling people to feel safer.
They’re "Leuven" It
That safety extends to concerns about air quality, as well. The charming university city of Leuven, in Belgium, wanted to transform the way people travel within its historic centre. A complete reworking of the city’s road network made it impossible to drive a car through the city centre (it is still accessible to cars from the ring road) while giving bicycles, buses and pedestrians full freedom of movement.
Three years after the changes, on an average working day bicycle traffic in the city centre increased by 44%, bus ridership by 18%, and car traffic decreased by 19%. Most importantly, air quality was vastly better: in the first year after the change, in some places the concentration of black carbon fell as much as 2.5 times. For more details, see the report in the EU CYCLE project’s Integrated Cycling Planning Guide, which guides stakeholders through the process of unlocking investments for cycling within the European Union.
A Wise Investment, All Year Round
Ambitious projects such as the changes made in Leuven, Roeselare or Utrecht (home to the world’s largest underground bike park) show that people will make the modal switch away from their cars if the incentives are right. With many of us having recently rediscovered the joys of cycling, it’s the perfect moment to invest in infrastructure - just don’t leave cyclists in the dark. To learn more about how Schréder can help you get the right light for bikes in your projects, just get in touch.
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