Monday, 7 January 2019

Cycle Tracks Should Be Laid In Red Asphalt

Ever since my first visit to the Netherlands in the summer of 2015, I have been obsessed with the use of red asphalt for cycle tracks (OK, the Dutch do design quite well generally).

The main reasons are that using a coloured surface helps to provide visual priority in situations such as cycle tracks crossing side roads and legibility in terms of people cycling being able to see how their route is laid out ahead. 

Here's the first cycle track I closely inspected in Deventer in 2015. It is of course red and in fact, each area of each mode of transport has a different surface which helps with legibility. The grey slabs provides the footway, the brown blocks is a hard strip which provides protection from traffic in the photo and behind me, it becomes parking bays and access points to parking areas and houses.

Here's a view a but further along - as turns out, the brick paving in the carriageway has since been changed to asphalt and some of the road layout has changed since I was there; such is the Dutch approach of constantly renewing and tweaking their streets.

It doesn't really matter where you go, there is a pretty good consistency with newer layouts tending to go for the black asphalt for roads, grey for footways and red for cycle tracks (give or take local approaches). Above is from Amsterdam and below is from Maastricht.

It's a pretty simple palette to be sure, but it is consistent and in my view gives a little more interest than surfacing everything in black asphalt which is so beloved of UK engineers. Below is a photo from Utrecht and below that a photo from Harderwijk.

Of course, you can use any colour you like and a greater part of the wonder of cycling in the Netherlands is the design which goes into the layouts, but I think they would be diminished without the red cycle tracks. 

You'll also notice that the Amsterdam and Maastricht examples are very bright, but that is because they are new. After some time, the colour fades a little and in my view, you are left with a warm-looking finish - there's just something about it I like.

Just as important as the colour is the fact that the surfaces are laid by machine so that they are smooth. In some part of the the country where the infrastructure is a little older, you will find small red concrete slabs on the cycle tracks, but these tend to get changed during street renewals such as the example below from suburban Amsterdam.

You can of course use any colour you like. In some parts of the UK, green has been all the rage such as here in the City of Manchester;

London has seen extensive use of blue (although it seems less in favour now);

In the UK, there is no rules about what colour you can use, it is up to each highway authority. In fact, you don't have to use coloured asphalt. It does bring me onto the costs involved. 

Black is often the default because it's the basic colour of basic asphalt and so it's the cheapest. In the world of austerity, there is a good argument for spending the money on getting a safe layout and the colour doesn't really matter, but I would argue that a coloured surface does play a part in it as I suggested that the start.

Red is the most common colour available after black and many asphalt plants keep a bin of red AC6 on the go because it does get used around the place where people though red footways were a little posher for their conservation area and other places where people wished to keep up appearances. Of course, where green is use a lot, then asphalt plants might keep that as a standard, although it's less common in my experience. Blue and other exotic colours are far more specialist and proprietary; frankly, I'd steer clear of them because they are so more expensive.

Maintenance types would have us use black asphalt everywhere because it is cheap and I get that. There are worries about having to repair coloured surfacing because small loads for patching work becomes expensive. But actually, it doesn't matter because cycle traffic doesn't destroy the surface and if small repairs are needed, then patch them in black. Eventually, if you end up with lots of patches after many years, you'll be resurfacing anyway.

So let's spend a little on a nice surface. Let's roll out the red carpet for cycling; and as well as the care and attention we have given to the space, let's help reinforce cycle traffic as a separate mode in its own right and as Catriona says, red surfacing is awesome!

Salford. Mmmm red.


  1. But, please, please, please don't use that awful coloured gritty paint on top of the regular tarmac to mark anything. It never gets laid smoothly and flakes off leaving a dreadful surface for cycling.

    1. Goodness me no - hand-laid thermoplastic surfacing is absolutely terrible for cycling on!

  2. That red colour looks great. It is smart and It would be brilliant if it was commonplace in the UK.

  3. Here in Bristol, every cycle scheme is different to the last one. It looks inconsistent and feels inconsistent.
    See this :

    Starts off in a nice clear red but then is back to paving very similar in tone to the pedestrian side. Designers seem to think that pedestrians and cyclists are staring at their feet rather than looking 20-50m ahead. I know for a fact that designers here become concerned when a cycle route runs through a well-used pedestrian area. Their answer? Blur the distinction between the two. The theory being that cyclists will slow down while zigzagging between pedestrians. My argument would be if you make the cycle route LOOK like a cycle route then fewer people will wander onto it in the first place.

    1. Indeed - we need to make it all legible and consistent. Those blocks look like they are coated in thermoplatic paint and could be slippery in the wet and just rough to ride on anyway.

  4. @Goof Ball Exactly, we have a habit of using one element of design, e.g. stepped kerb, to delineate footway and cycleway, but in fact we need to implement all elements to produce a coherent overall design; grade separation, colour change, everything.

  5. Red is just lovely isn't it? (and grey flags for pedestrians, if the flags can be laid and kept smooth).

    The current trend for doing carriageways, cycleways, footways and all in black asphalt is awful for legibility... in bad light it can be difficult to read that there is a footway *at all*. A dull concrete kerb is less visible on a wet night than a white centre line, and the whole street can blend into one uniform black surface if there is no contrast in surface materials.

    1. I really like the Dutch red and grey - it's warm in the street scene and certainly helps with legibility.