Did you know you can cycle from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to the Shetland Isles off the tip of Scotland? Admittedly, there’s a ferry or two along the way. But the two locations are linked by the North Sea cycle route, a 7,050 km path across six countries. Cyclists get to enjoy 18 UNESCO sites, cliff top views and bustling cities – all on a single ambitious trail.
This is just one part of Europe’s incredible cycling infrastructure. Bring your bike to Holland and you can traverse 4,500 km of long-distance routes specifically for cycling holidays – or try the Elbe cycle route, spanning the incredible sandstone mountains in Switzerland and the beautiful city of Prague.
The popularity of cycling in Europe has increased significantly during the pandemic, with people taking to their bikes for commuting, fitness and relaxation. But the organisations that build and maintain cycling infrastructure have a key role to play in making this a sustained trend.
Here’s how the construction industry can help to create a bigger, safer cycling infrastructure across Europe.
Governments have long promoted the benefits of cycling: it reduces carbon emissions, lowers air pollution, eases the pressure on public transport and improves physical and mental health. But it was the events of 2020 – including concerns about social distancing and limited train services – that prompted a massive rise in cycling across Europe.
In June, Paris saw its monthly ridership grow by 120% compared to the previous year. Even wintry weather didn’t deter Berlin’s cyclists, with rates in December up by 23% over 2019. Meanwhile in the UK, sales of bicycles and accessories grew by 45% in 2020.
Countries have been eager to take advantage of this interest by introducing a range of measures to promote cycling and help citizens shift their extra lockdown kilos. The UK government introduced pop up bike lanes and corridors during the pandemic to make it easier to get around. Italy’s Covid-19 recovery package includes a 70% subsidy for bike purchases.
But another crucial piece of the puzzle in every country will be creating a safe and appealing cycling infrastructure to keep new riders on the road – and this is where digital construction can help.
The right road design can help keep cyclists safe. In fact, research shows that prioritising cyclists in road layouts can result in fewer fatalities for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians too. This means incorporating features like dedicated bike lanes, which can lead to 90% fewer injuries per mile; protected intersections, that physically separate bikes and other traffic; and bus stops, which reduce the risk of injury to cyclists
Digital tools like mobility simulators can help planners to assess how the route would work in real life. With multimodal analysis, it’s possible to simulate how traffic, pedestrians and cyclists would interact with each other in a given design – and optimise for effectiveness, cost and safety. As well as saving traffic analysts time, this helps to ensure that the planned infrastructure will meet the needs of road users for years to come.
Successfully planning cycling infrastructure often involves many stakeholders – and keeping everyone fully up to date can be a significant undertaking. Using BIM models and digital collaboration platforms makes it much easier to share designs for input and approval. With real-time visibility of feedback and suggestions, these tools can speed up the whole process.
Importantly, these models can also be used to share plans with the public during planning and construction. 3D tools can help people to visualise the finished design and likely impact on the area. Local communities can also get the opportunity to offer useful insights on issues like the location of end of trip facilities and bike storage – factors which can have a significant influence on cycling uptake. This engagement can not only raise awareness of planned infrastructure, but ultimately encourage people to take to their bikes when the new routes open.
The road surface is hugely important to the comfort and safety of cyclists. Asphalt concrete’s low friction and smooth surface make it the surface of choice in Denmark, for example; by contrast, gravel and paving slabs can become uneven and potentially dangerous. The quality of the surface construction is critical. Bumps and dents in the road can not only ruin the experience, but contribute to falls and accidents.
Digital construction platforms like Autodesk Build can ensure that everyone on-site has the information needed to build right first time, while quality control tools ensure that any issues are addressed before routes open. This helps to ensure a top-quality cycling route, that will keep cyclists safe for years to come.
The increase in cycling is one of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic. But to encourage people to stay on their bikes in the years ahead, it will be important to keep improving and constructing new routes to make cycling convenient, safe and enjoyable.
Technology can support everyone involved in delivering cycling infrastructure: from the owners looking to deliver the best value for the public through to the subcontractors aiming to finish on time, on budget and to the highest quality possible. Using digital tools, we can help everyone to get the most out of these infrastructure investments – and enjoy more time on two wheels.
Or if you’re a cycling fan, check out how the Tour de France and other sporting icons adapted to Covid-19.