Thursday, 24 March 2022

The challenge of declining bicycle sales in the world's leading cycling nation

A few days ago I quote tweeted this graph from Datagraver on twitter with a comment that "Sadly, cycling is dying in the Netherlands." The responses to this tweet were largely defensive and many people clearly didn't understand what I meant, so let's look deeper at the bicycle market in the Netherlands and consider what the consequences could be for cycling in this country with lower bicycle sales.

Shrinking sales don't mean an instant reduction in the bicycle fleet. This drop in bicycle sales is a leading indicator of a problem which will become apparent in the next few years.

How many bicycles are there in the Netherlands

The total number of bicycles in the Netherlands is currently reported to be about 23 million. That's about 1.3 bikes per person. This figure is of course pushed upward by all the people who own many bicycles, including pretty much everyone who I know, and pulled downward by people with no bicycle at all.

There are actually quite a lot of people who don't have a bicycle in the Netherlands, about a fifth of the population in total. People without bikes include babies too young to cycle, some people with disabilities and some older people who can no longer ride a bike or trike. There are also people even in this country who do not cycle by choice. In addition there's inequality in our society just like that of other countries and for some people the price even of a second hand bicycle is a barrier. A nationwide scheme tackles this to some extent by providing free of charge donated bikes to children.

The sales decline and the pandemic's effect on sales

You'll note from the graph that sales of conventional bicycles have declined to about a quarter of the level which they had 20 years ago, while sales volume of electric bicycles have grown from more or less nothing to a figure which slightly exceeded conventional bicycle sales in last year's sales figures. Those two trends are obvious without concerning ourselves with the two pandemic years, 2020 and 2021.

Both 2020 and 2021 were unusual because of the pandemic. Bicycle shops in 2020 were reporting record sales because of lockdown cycling, while in 2021 they were complaining about not being able to get stock because of supply chain issues.

In the year 2000 around 1.5 M bicycles were sold to a population of 16.3 M people. By 2021 only around 445000 bicycles were sold to a slightly higher population of 17.1 M. We've gone from one  bicycle sale per 11 people to around one bike per 39 people. i.e. Sales have reduced to a quarter of their previous level. Of course, e-bike sales have increased and if we include the e-bikes in the sales figures that makes a combined total of 923000 bikes sold in 2021, or one per 19 people. That's still a halving of the total number of bikes sold per person per year.

The average price of a new bicycle

As I reported before, the Dutch spend more on average on a new bicycle than people of other countries and this has increased rapidly. The average price paid for a new bicycle in 2008 was €603 but last year's average price was €1627 (vs. about 800 pounds in the UK and about $700 in the USA). There's a simple reason why Dutch people are willing to spend more: Because they use bikes more than those who live in other countries they spend more on their bicycles with the expectation of getting plenty of use from them.

The average bicycle price has increased faster in recent years because of the switch from normal bicycles to e-bikes. Bike shops have been perfectly happy with this outcome because the decrease in sales volumes is more than masked by a higher profit margin due to the increase in the average value of a sale. If you've ever wondered why so many bicycle manufacturers and dealerships in the early twentieth century became motorcycle or car manufacturers and dealerships by half way through the 20th century, there's the answer. They too found that they could make higher profits by selling motorized vehicles at a higher price. Cycling declined while few people took much notice of what was happening.

But there's an issue with this. Not everyone can afford to buy a new bike, especially at the average price paid for a bicycle in this country.

Second and third hand non-electric bikes provide the backbone of the bicycle fleet.

Many second hand bicycle sales are made by bicycle shops which take trade-ins of people's older bikes when they buy a new bicycle. Sales to third and later users are largely private. The value of a bicycle drops as it ages and each time it is sold to a new owner a bicycle typically also passes to a different demographic.

Even in the year 2000 with about 1.5 M bikes being sold each year, bikes of up to five years old made up only a third of the total fleet in use. i.e. two thirds of the population were riding bicycles which were over five years old, well out of guarantee and possibly on their third owner.

Bicycles sold in 2000 were on average used for about about 14 years. That was not a maximum age, but an average. Obviously some bikes are scrapped earlier for various reasons and others last far longer. This is a simple calculation: 14 years had to be the average life expectancy for a new bicycle in 2000 because with sales of 1.5 million bicycles a year and a bicycle population of around 21 million we were replacing about 1/14th of the bicycle fleet every year.

In 2021 with around 1 M bikes sold per year (normal bikes and e-bikes combined) and a total bicycle population of 23 M we now need our bicycles to last on average 23 years just to maintain the current fleet size. Unfortunately the type of bicycle being solved makes this difficult if not impossible. Half the bicycles being sold now are e-bikes and e-bikes are not practical for a second or third owner to maintain when they are over 5 years of age. 

While bicycles built of standard parts can be maintained more or less forever, manufacturers often no longer sell unusual and specialized parts of bikes after a few years, and this is especially problematic with e-bikes because even when they are available the price of batteries, controllers, motors and other expensive parts is often too high for a second or third owner and there is usually no cheaper substitute alternative available. Sometimes a second hand part can be used, but then you're stripping one bike to keep another going. New buyers are covered by a warranty but no warranty claim can be made by second or third owners so they have to cover the full cost of any repair and these parts often add up to cost more than the second hand value of an older e-bike. Because of this problem, we can expect that though e-bikes currently sell at a rate of half a million per year their shorter lifespans mean that they will only ever be able to contribute about three million bikes to the total fleet while the rest of the fleet will eventually have to be made up from the other half million normal bikes which were sold in the same year. But that unfortunately means that maintaining the current fleet level of 23 M bikes requires that normal bikes must have an unrealistically long average lifespan of around 40 years.

Lower sales mean a slowly reducing number of available bicycles

Shrinking sales and the type of bicycle being bought by customers of new bicycles will both affect the availability of usable second and third hand bicycles in the future. It will take a few years for this to be obvious because only a small proportion of the fleet is replaced each year and if they can't find what they wanted, most people can just hold onto a bicycle for a bit longer. But this will mean that the availability of rideable bicycles decreases over subsequent years.

The effect of e-bikes on the Dutch population

While in other countries the e-bike is often perceived a transport mode which is preferable to a car, it's quite clear that in the Netherlands with our rapidly growing car ownership and usage and plummeting sales of normal bicycles, that e-bikes are being used in place of human powered bicycles.

The reported distance cycled per year by an average Dutch person has remained constant for decades at just under 900 km per year, which is under a fifth of the distance that we would all have to cycle in order to exercise enough to maintain good health by riding bikes alone. Substituting e-bike kms for human powered kms only means that the Dutch population gets less exercise. A particularly worrying trend is the uptake in e-bikes amongst the young. It's now not at all unusual to see school children who barely turn the pedals by themselves at all on their way to school and back, reducing the potential for cycling to establish a good exercise habit from a young age.

There is also then a problem that these e-bikes are more expensive and less durable, which makes cycling a lot less democratic than it used to be. Parents who once struggled to provide a bicycle for their child are now under pressure to provide an e-bike instead.

Complacency doesn't solve any problem

Unfortunately these concerns are not being discussed, but are instead being swept under the carpet.

Cycling is a fragile mode of transport which if it is to continue at a relatively high rate, as is still fortunately the case currently in the Netherlands, will need protecting against competition from motor vehicles of all sizes including the small electric vehicles with which some people are currently enamoured.

There is much to lose and we're doing little to protect cycling against the threats that it faces. You can see this even with the current response to rising fuel prices due to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Our government immediately announced huge decreases in taxation for motorists, which ensure that driving remains competitive even as it boosts trade with an aggressive nation and continues to fuel the climate crisis, while they've done nothing at all to encourage people out of their cars, and in particular they've not encouraged people to ride a bicycle instead of driving which would be the most effective way to do some good to solve both those problems.

If we don't want cycling to decline in the Netherlands then we need to invest more in it. The main thing that the Netherlands needs now is wider, smoother, cycle-paths which take more direct routes and improve the competitiveness of cycling with other transport modes.

Things that don't explain the drop in bicycle sales

People in the twitter thread repeatedly made the following suggestions to try to explain the decline in cycle sales and it's probably worth repeating here why none of them explain the decline in sales:

It's not the annoying shared mopeds which litter
the sidewalks while waiting for someone to drive
a car to them and swap the battery either. There
have long been a small number of mopeds in NL
The decline in sales is not explained by SwapFiets, a company which provides a hire service to about 150000 cyclists or roughly 1% of the total fleet. I see it as an expensive way to ride a cheap bike but some people clearly do like their service and that's fine, but the numbers just are not there to explain a decline in bicycle sales.

It's not explained by the popularity of OV-Fiets as while that system is one of the largest bike share systems in the world it has only about 20000 bicycles, or about 0.1% of the total fleet. To an even greater extent than with SwapFiets, the numbers are far too low to make an appreciable difference.

It's also not explained by a reduction in theft. The rate of theft has dropped a little over the last twenty years, but this never really had much of an effect on the fleet size and a reduction in theft doesn't affect this either. Around half a million bicycles are reportedly stolen each year in the Netherlands. A lot of bikes, but a small fraction of the fleet size. Some stolen bicycles are vandalized and become unusable but the majority are either kept by the thief or sold to someone else who continues to ride them, so theft doesn't actually take many bicycles out of the fleet.

It's not explained by cycles becoming more durable. Actually, the opposite has happened. 50 year old steel framed bicycles with standard parts can still be repaired with inexpensive parts but the move to more exotic frame materials, more complex gear and braking systems made maintenance more difficult, and electric assist then had an even greater effect making many modern bicycles far less durable and less economical to keep in service. When people ask me if I can provide replacement batteries, controllers and motors for older (5 year +) e-bikes it's almost always the case that they are either no longer available at all or that if they are available then they're are far too expensive compared with the residual value of the bike. A replacement battery at €550 (that's the retail price of the only battery that is available today from one of our suppliers, which fits only a small minority of e-bikes) costs €100 more than the average price paid for a relatively new and expensive second hand bike bought from a bicycle shop, let alone the price of an average older bike sold privately. So while simple repairs to e-bikes are possible, more complex ones can't be justified. This is what leads to e-bikes being scrapped after quite short useful lives.

It's not explained by market saturation either. While enthusiasts can keep traditionally built bicycles in operation for decades while spending very little to do so, the general public does not do this. There's no sentimentality. If the bike is now worth less than the parts and labour for repair then the bicycle is usually scrapped. In the Netherlands, as explained above, bicycles last on average around 14 years before they need a repair which is too expensive and that's why sales of 1.5 million bicycles a year are necessary in order to maintain a static fleet size.

If you need parts for a traditionally built bicycle then you're in luck. If you need parts for an unusual bicycle or to convert a less practical machine to be better for everyday use I can probably also help you. If you're looking for parts for an e-bike I certainly will help you if I can, but it may not be possible to find what you need. Please do ask, though.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

The patriotic act of riding a bicycle during wartime

Russian forces under control of Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last night. Sadly, such an act of aggression  was expected as it's been clear for a very long time now that Putin is dangerous. He's already occupied part of Ukraine for many years without provoking much of a reaction, and even his fairly obvious Russian support for Brexit and Trump and other actions to undermine the EU and the USA, and the more recent Covid / vaccine misinformation spread by Russian bots have largely been ignored. Unfortunately we even have political parties within our countries which are acting against our interests and instead supporting the interests of Russia (examples from NetherlandsUKUSA).

Sadly, Europe's energy supply in particular is very much tied to Russia. In Europe we pay hundreds of millions or euros every single day for Russian gas and oil. In addition, part of Europe's supply of Uranium also comes from Russia. The payments for these fuels help a regime which has long been  trying to undermine our democracy and has now attacked an allied nation.

It's immediately obvious that our gas supply to businesses as well as to people's homes for heating is inextricably linked to Putin's Russia. So is the supply of petrol and diesel for cars. However the problem goes deeper than that as a large part of Europe's electricity is generated by burning Russian gas or in nuclear power stations so electrically powered vehicles are also to some extent dependent on Russian energy, as of course is our domestic electricity supply.

We don't only import energy from Russia. In total, the EU is dependent on imports for 61% of the energy supply. All of the imported energy is in the form of fossil fuels which are burnt here. That includes Russian gas and oil as well as imports from other countries with unpleasant regimes and oppressive leaders including, for instance, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations. Stopping those imports, would not only reduce the flow of our money which goes to prop up unpleasant politicians in Russia and the Middle East but would also go a long way toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the burning of which threatens human lives all around the world. Cutting those ties sooner rather than later would be good not only for us, but also for the people living under oppression and for all mankind.

Cycling is a patriotic act

When driving a car means funding a country which is attacking Europe, riding a bicycle should be seen as a patriotic act. Insulating homes and other projects to reduce energy consumption should be viewed similarly, as should projects to generate sustainable energy in our own countries.

Parking for patriots

Of course it's easier for everyone to do the right things when there is political support. Unfortunately, our political leaders cannot be counted on to provide that support. They have mostly not built the necessary infrastructure to enable cycling (though it's been known for 40 years what is required), but instead have chosen to subsidize the most destructive forms of transport. Our housing stock is also inefficient because it is being improved at a ludicrously slow rate. The energy we consume is becoming greener and less dependent on imports, but this is again happening at a very slow rate compared with what is required.

DIY sanctions

So what can individuals do about this situation ? We can take our own sanctions against Russia, against Saudi Arabia, against all destructive regimes and against companies which are profiting from planetary destruction and we can do so every single day by buying less of the products that they sell to us. Ride your bicycle with pride. Insulate your home if you can. Reduce the temperature to which you heat your home. Don't travel long distances. Buy less of everything and make what you have last longer because the production of everything consumes energy. The things that we need to do to stop supporting tyrants are the same things that we need to do to preserve a decent standard of living for everyone on our planet.

Finally, when we have the chance to vote (in the Netherlands we have local elections in March), remember which parties have made us dependent on imported energy, which parties have sided with Russia's interests against our own, which parties are uninterested in taking action on climate change, and vote against them. We need to change how our politics work, so that our countries are run in order to support individuals who are doing the right things instead of for the benefit of a few oligarchs who don't care if we live or die.

"The world" in this case means anywhere in the world, except one country whose laws make that impossible and repressive regimes

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Stop de Kindermoord revisited. Is New Zealand now outperforming the Netherlands ?

Back in 2011 I wrote about the success of the Stop De Kindermoord (Stop Child Murder) campaign in the Netherlands. This presumably had been covered by English language press in the distant past, but by 2011 it had been forgotten about so my blog post got quite a lot of attention at the time and encouraged other people to write their own versions of the same story.

The success of that campaign helped lead to improved safety for all Dutch cyclists, not only children. We would likely not have the excellent go-everywhere grid of cycle-paths that we have now if not for the success of that campaigning. That campaign and the realisation that the most important thing that can be done for cycling is building a grid literally changed the landscape in this country, however we can never be complacent. What has changed once can change again.

People often wonder why it is that the Netherlands succeeded in cycling when other countries did not. Why NL acted to reduce child deaths when other countries did not. I think it was largely a matter of luck. The Netherlands happened to have the right leader at the right time.

Dutch schools are open again. Thanks in large part to the work of politicians 40+ years ago, children are relatively safe from traffic. But thanks to the ineffective leadership of our current politicians they're not being protected against infection with Covid-19 (which is an issue for this reason).

The same thing can be observed now as we face a different health crisis and this time it's in reverse. Covid-19 has caused not just a little more death in the Netherlands than in New Zealand, but literally three orders of magnitude more deaths per capita. This enormous difference is the result of policy. It can't be explained away in a simple manner such as differences in climate, that NZ is an island, the culture etc. While in the 1970s the Netherlands had effective leadership which reversed child deaths, this time it is the Netherlands with an ineffective leader in the shape of Mark Rutte while New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been highly effective. As a result, thousands of lives have been saved in New Zealand relative to the outcome that we have here.

Forty years ago this cycle-path was part of my route to school in New Zealand. It was never a perfect example and while it still exists it won't work as well as it once did because it's been divided into pieces.

While the Stop De Kindermoord protests were taking place in the Netherlands I was a schoolchild in New Zealand. In this blog post I will be comparing the response of both of these countries to two crises. But if you're not from either country, read on because this piece is not only about those two countries. 

My approximate route to school in 1980 (Google
maps doesn't use the cycle-path under the roundabout)
New Zealand's schools keep children safe by closing with
a much lower rate of Covid-19 infection than here in NL.

The fervour for cycling infrastructure and creating liveable communities was not limited to the Netherlands in the 1970s but was also quite significant internationally. I wrote some time ago about a housing development near my old home in the UK, but another example is a cycle-path which ran almost all the way from my home in New Zealand to my secondary school. It wasn't a great cycle-path, giving way to cars at every junction, but it was there. Dutch infrastructure being built around the same time was more sophisticated. But the main thing that made the Dutch cycle-paths worthwhile in the end was that they eventually formed part of a complete go-everywhere grid of routes while what was built elsewhere usually stood alone so was of limited use. In the case of the cycle-path which I used to use, it's obviously less useful now than it used to be because many more homes have been built in the area, with many more roads connecting them, so while motor traffic has increased the cycle-path, which never had priority over side-roads, now gives way even more than it used to. This is just one example of how higher population density does not automatically improve cycling conditions.

It was quite common for young New Zealanders to cycle to school in the 1970s and early 80s, but 50 years of excluding cycling from planning has left cycling at a very low level. When I used to cycle to school in NZ there was cycle parking. These days my old school looks like a big car park, which is rather sad.

1970s politics in New Zealand and the Netherlands
New Zealand's prime minister during the Stop de Kindermoord period was Robert Muldoon. Muldoon became Prime Minister in 1975 as leader of the right wing National party after a campaign which included use of an absurd animated film to imply that the opposition's plans to provide pensions were communism. Other advertisements were criticised for stoking up racism against Polynesians. Muldoon's Wikipedia bio says he was "a bully" and "an enigma" and lists, amongst other things, his promising to "get tough" on immigration, arrests and deportations of Pacific Islanders (including the "Dawn Raids"), pushing of "law & order", causing an opposition leader to resign by accusing him of being homosexual (this lead to a police investigation because homosexuality was illegal), supporting links with Apartheid South Africa, supporting American nuclear weapons in New Zealand's waters against mass opposition, and vastly exaggerating the benefits of his pet "Think Big" projects which over-ran their budgets so much that they resulted in the country running up a large deficit and having to impose a wage freeze. The pension scheme which Muldoon pushed (instead of the one criticized in the animation) also turned out to be extremely expensive, reducing the funds available for other things, such as (my) education. Unfortunately, New Zealanders kept re-electing Muldoon until 1984. He was eventually removed from his position only after he called a snap election while "visibly drunk".

Joop den Uyl, car-free Sunday in 1973
Just before Robert Muldoon took power in New Zealand, Joop den Uyl became Prime Minster of the Netherlands. Den Uyl began with the difficult job of telling the public that "things would never return to how they had been" as he implemented fuel rationing and a ban on Sunday motoring. His cabinet then had to deal with a weak economy, but many progressive social reforms were made. These included increased welfare payments, indexation of benefits, rent rebates and a minimum wage, equal pay for men and women and financial support for companies who employed people with disabilities. A specific piece of legislation provided for people for whom "it is difficult to find employment and who have been in prolonged unemployment", providing worthwhile work and status in the community for people who otherwise find this difficult to achieve. Specific protection was also introduced to help long term unemployed people who had reached 60 years of age, and job protection was introduced for women who were pregnant reaching until 12 weeks after childbirth. Entitlement to orphans' pensions was extended to illegitimate children "whose mothers are dead and who have not been recognised by their fathers", schools were given more freedom to set their own curriculum, the length of compulsory education was increased and the use of Asbestos was restricted.

Den Uyl was succeeded in 1977 by Dries van Agt. Van Agt led a coalition of right wing parties for the next four years but found that spending could not be cut because he had only a slim majority and there was much public protest, so most policies continued as before. Some ministers resigned from his cabinet over not being able to pursue an austerity policy. Another minister resigned on a point of morals because the cabinet did not condemn the US decision to develop the neutron bomb. Van Agt has more recently taken an outspoken stance on the situation in Palestine. Van Agt's Wikipedia page also points out that he is known "for his love for cycling".

I think there's an obvious pattern here. The policies which were pursued by den Uyl's, and later van Agt's, governments were not the same as those which were pursued by Muldoon's government. So far as cycling is concerned, the Netherlands became the world's leading country, while in New Zealand cycling dropped to a very low level.

2020s politics in New Zealand and the Netherlands
New Zealand's minister for women until November 2020,
Julie Genter, cycled to hospital to have her baby.

We now have the opposite situation. With Jacinda Ardern it is New Zealand which has an inclusive and progressive leader. Quite apart from her excellent handling of the Covid crisis (strong control of borders and excellent messaging have helped to keep the total deaths to just 27), her government has also brought in strict gun laws in response to right wing racist terrorism, addressed a housing crisis, child poverty and social inequality, declared a climate emergency ("my generation's nuclear-free moment"), formally apologised for the Dawn Raids, and this government also finally legalized abortion. Same-sex marriage was legalized before Ardern took power, and she supported it. I've not been able to find a photo of Ardern riding a bicycle, but she has supported the idea of (at last) enabling cyclists to cross Auckland Harbour Bridge and she does wear earrings made of old bicycle innertubes. There is a huge contrast between the policies of Muldoon and Ardern.

And now we consider the Netherlands in 2021. Mark Rutte has been Prime Minister since 2010. Rutte leads a right leaning coalition which has repeatedly tried to pursue immunity through infection as a way out of the Covid crisis. This has led to 30000 Covid-19 deaths in this country so far (CBS excess mortality figures), many people suffering from long covid, many businesses being affected adversely. While other outdoor festivals and similar events were completely banned, this car-obsessed government allowed 70000 people to gather to watch Formula One racing a couple of weeks ago and this combined with the frustration caused by how long this whole thing has been allowed to go on has led to a near total breakdown of people actually respecting the few measures which remain in place. Lots of money was made available for support during Covid, but almost all of it was absorbed by large companies such as Schiphol Airport and KLM. Apart from Covid, this government has also presided over the disastrous "toeslagenaffaire" in which tens of thousands of parents, largely from immigrant backgrounds, were falsely accused of fraud by the government and required to pay back the money they had received to live on. This government has also had relatively minor scandals such as a minister forced out after he didn't bother going through the same channels as normal people have to when they renovate a building. The cabinet fell on the 15th of January when we had our elections, but the same people have been limping along as a caretaker government since that date while they try to form a new coalition without any progressive elements.

I don't like Mark Rutte very much, but I have to admit that none of this sounds quite so awful as Robert Muldoon. Mark Rutte does actually ride a bike, but his party is far more interested in cars.

There is again an obvious pattern. New Zealand's extremely good outcome is the result of excellent leadership. The Netherlands failed against Covid because our leader failed to understand what was going on and then tried to take shortcuts. As a result, the Netherlands is amongst the worst performing countries with Covid while New Zealand is amongst the best.

The right politicians at the right time

Good leadership produces good results. I think it's no coincidence that the Netherlands managed to do many good things with social policy and also begin to implement a sensible cycling policy, while it had good progressive leadership. I also think it's no coincidence that New Zealand has managed to do so well in recent years, including with their excellent covid policy. The right leaders can actually make good things happen.

Imagine if things had been reversed. i.e. if New Zealand now had Muldoon while Ardern had been in power in the 1970s, while we had den Uyl now and Rutte's time had been in the 70s. I think there's a fair chance that we would now see New Zealand with the cycling infrastructure and the Netherlands with the good covid result. Neither of these things are inherent to either country.

I don't understand why Dutch people keep voting for Rutte. I also don't understand why New Zealanders kept voting for Muldoon. The same kind of thing can be seen with Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orban, Donald Trump and others. This kind of leadership, blaming others for failure while trying to boost their own achievements, doesn't actually do anyone any good except perhaps those who they give contracts, grants or covid handouts. Public health is not their interest. We need to take politics more seriously. Poor policy does not lead to good outcomes. Progressive policies (equal pay, health service, education, pensions etc.) benefit us all.

So make sure you vote, and make sure you also campaign for positive change. Unfortunately, while the politics of Ardern and Rutte are quite different, the transport policies of their governments are quite similar: Both are focused on electric cars, responding to the huge motoring lobby. This is a mistake. More cars, of any type, are not going to save us from the multitudinous problems caused by cars. Even in countries where we have progressive representatives we still need to campaign for bicycles because the world's most efficient and most healthy form of transport is genuinely part of the solution to these problems and well worth campaigning for.

October update
I've been criticising the poor response of the Dutch government to the Covid crisis since March 2020. Specifically, I criticized their slow reaction to the threat of this disease which would obviously lead to  a higher number of deaths if it were allowed to spread.

Nineteen months have now passed and we find ourselves in the middle of yet another rapidly growing wave of infections because our government has repeatedly allowed the disease to take control. Restrictions have been given up too early, they never really tried to control the borders, and they insisted on ignoring research about the airborne nature of the virus, playing down the use of masks. They've also kept schools open as much as possible which has led to many infections in un-vaccinated school children (and their teachers, parents etc.).

Yesterday we had the first really good report on the Dutch news about how our politicians have failed us. At last they're also pointing out that everything was done too late and that our government kept openly following a plan to try to build up immunity through infection, not supported by any real scientists, even after even the UK publicly claimed to be doing otherwise. Will we ever see the people responsible for 30000 deaths brought to justice ?

November 11th update
A record was set today. Though everyone sensible could see this coming months ago our government has completely failed us again and we set a new record for the number of covid infections recorded in one day. No fewer than 16364 were recorded today, crushing the previous high which was barely over 13000. We also have a positive testing rate of 17.5%, indicating that most of the infected people have not been tested, and another 26 people have died.

April last year. This is what an "Intelligent Lockdown" looked like.
Our government is still floundering. They still don't understand what is happening, and are still trying to work out they should do next. The ideas they've deliberately leaked are obviously inadequate. But none of this should be a surprise because these clowns have also set a record for the longest time ever taken form a government after winning an election (update: it took 271 days in total before a coalition was formed).

We've known for many weeks now that the disease is spreading most quickly in children. That's why I gave this piece the title that I did when I wrote it two months ago. It is not acceptable to infect children with a deadly disease like covid. Children don't die in huge numbers from covid, but they do become long term ill, and when they take the disease home they infect their parents and grandparents. Hundreds of thousands of children have been traumatised by loss of parents due to covid.

So what has our government come up with ? There are recommendations for "lockdown-like measures" which will last only two weeks. During this time the schools will stay open with unmasked children infecting each other. Libraries and cinemas will close but shops, restaurants and cafes (pubs) will remain open perhaps with slightly more control for entry. This will obviously be a re-run of each time in the past when they have repeatedly failed to get the virus under control. But there is a difference from early last year - schools did actually close temporarily on March 15th 2020 due to public pressure because we'd reached the then alarming level of 176 cases and 8 deaths in one day. Today we have nearly 100x as many infections and over 3x as many deaths but this time schools are planned to stay open.

So who now is interested in stopping the kindermoord ? Not this Dutch government, that's for sure.

January 15 2022 update

Nothing has improved here. For about a month we had a supposed semi-lockdown (described as a "strict lockdown" by the Dutch press) but people were still still free to travel to go on holiday, still free to drive their cars across the border to go shopping or visit restaurants in Germany and Belgium when some shops were shut here. This covered the period over Christmas and New Year when a lot of people met in groups far larger than was supposedly allowed. Fireworks were banned over New Year but the government announced in advance that this law would not be enforced and Dutch people drove across the border to Germany and Belgium to buy ludicrous quantities of fireworks which were let off intermittently over a period of weeks including until 5 am on New Year's Day.

But now we're into January. How's it going ? Let's describe this this last week:

On Sunday it was announced that Sigrid Kaag, the leader of the second biggest party in the new ruling coalition, had covid so she went into isolation. But this didn't stop all the others, including some who had been in meetings with Ms Kaag, from gathering on Monday 10th of January with King Willem Alexander, to officially sign in the new government. Several people who attended that meeting later tested positive for covid but most of those who were in meetings with the infected, including our VVD Prime Minster Rutte and the King, declined to go into isolation.

One of those sworn in on Monday was the new Justice minister, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius. She is the first to hold this position without a background including legal education. On Tuesday she announced that there would be no legal enforcement against shops and restaurants which broke the rules regarding covid.

Also on Monday the schools were re-opened. No investment has been made into making school premises safer, for example by improving their ventilation, and no children aged under 12 will be vaccinated until the end of this month so they'll have several weeks to be infected before they can receive their first vaccination. We found out this week that they couldn't have started sooner because our government ordered only 42000 child doses of the vaccine to cover around a million children. Don't let anyone tell you that this government wants to open school because they are concerned about the mental or physical health of children who would otherwise have to learn online. It's not yet been long enough to know how many infections have been caused by this rash measure.

On Thursday the 13th of January a VVD European Parliamentarian with an interest in environment and climate, Jan Huitema, made a speech about how cars should be be restricted. The VVD has always been a pro-car party.

The record for most covid cases per day has been broken several times this week and yesterday we had more than 35000 new cases with a 34% positive test rate. But this government wants to re-open everything so almost every day this week our compliant media has been publishing stories about to what extent things will be re-opened.

Much of the week had been spent with the government leaking their plans to re-open to the press. Eventually we had a press conference last night in which it was announced that all shops could re-open without any testing, use of apps to show vaccination status, or other measures to prevent spread. Masks will be required. In fact that's the one bright point in the whole thing as finally after two years the Dutch government seems to have realised that an airborne virus can be better addressed by wearing masks than by washing hands.

So on we go...

Quick Sunday 16th update: Yesterday many restaurants and cafes opened illegally, so did museums, cinemas and theatres. Today we've an all-time record so far number of infections (36308) with an all time record high positive testing rate (35.1%). This is made more remarkable because it occurred on a Sunday and our case numbers are usually low on Sundays. What's more, we've not yet waited long enough after opening schools last Monday to know what effect that will have, nor or course do we know the effect of this weekend's legal and illegal shop/cafe/everything else re-openings. Buckle up. Omicron is most certainly here.

The above lists of policies per politician are not complete. For example, Muldoon's attempt to maintain New Zealand's 1935 concept of a welfare state perhaps could be seen to fly in the face of some of his other ideas. Read the wikipedia pages of each, as linked above, for a fully picture.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Living without engines and car free day in the Netherlands

A photo from today's "commute", a round-trip
rider which brings me back home to work.

The last time that I travelled in any kind of motorized vehicle was in February 2019 when I took a lift with a friend to help him with an event. The last time I travelled with a motorized vehicle for my own benefit was in August 2018, driving the car that we owned but never much used to be recycled.

It's "car free day" today, but just as everywhere else across the world this is ignored by the masses who continue to drive their polluting vehicles to and fro. Every trip made by car, in every car including those which claim to have zero emissions, contributes substantially to climate change, the effects of which we increasingly feel as a result of the "natural" disasters which result from our changed weather.

There has been much on the news about the fires in California and Siberia, but here in the Netherlands we also see the result of this with new records being set on a regular basis. We began this summer with a near drought and just last week we had the warmest September day ever in this country, but just as with previous warnings, this resulted in no real change. People are back to their usual high emitting lifestyles. Cars are very much a part of this, with their numbers, their usage and their size all growing year on year.

But we can't blame cars alone for the problems that we're facing. The growth in flying is such that even now in the middle of a second wave of the pandemic there are just as many flights as there were four years ago without a pandemic. Almost all the growth comes from the richest people and the richest people continue to deny that they are the richest people.

That the short blip of reduced emissions due to corona was just a short blip shouldn't really surprise anyone. It certainly didn't surprise me as I predicted it back in April as even then people were talking about a "return to normal". The problems which face us are enormous but it seems that people don't know how to or do not wish to react in ways which will address them, and that applies even to the case  of a very immediate threat to our health from a deadly virus.

We are the rich and polluting minority and it is us who need to change our lives in order to leave a liveable planet for our descendants. Don't we want to do that ? Is it not a worthwhile thing to do ? If we can't convince people even to take the tiny step of taking part in a single car free day once a year, what hope do we have in effecting real change in behaviour and thinking ? However I'll try to set an example by living with the smallest footprint that I can manage, avoiding motorized transport so much as I possibly can.

No subsidy for the car-free
An interesting thing about the Netherlands is that drivers of cars receive subsidies from taxation paid by all, which of course means that while I try not to contribute to the pollution and other problems caused by cars, our government makes sure that I do so anyway. Talking of which:

Local newspaper on the 22nd of September
Our local newspaper has not covered car-free day at all. It is just not a thing here in the Netherlands. However car companies have huge budgets for promotion and there is always a budget to try to associate their dangerous and environmentally destructive product with something other than its danger and environmental impact. So instead of car-free day coverage we have, on the 22nd of September, a full page dedicated to a different event spread over three days in October when car drivers will fill the roads, waste a vast amount of energy and produce a lot of emissions by driving a million kilometres in "green" cars.

The quotation marks are mine. The article is promoting a deliberately created traffic jam of polluting vehicles. There is nothing truly sustainable about these vehicles. Unfortunately, governments listen to car company propaganda and therefore I and other people who do not drive are made to contribute to a government subsidy given to people who do drive. What's more, the subsidy is not having a useful effect and emissions from cars continue to grow in the Netherlands because people who drive overwhelmingly choose larger more polluting vehicles.

The text includes some words about cycling, walking or just staying home, but the emphasis is obvious. This is an event about cars and their intention is to do something incredibly wasteful, to drive cars a million kilometres for no reason whatsoever, while somehow managing to promote this event as "green".

Update: Car companies continue marketing their destructive product
The above can only sensibly be seen as a marketing exercise. There is nothing "green" about any kind of car. And is this marketing working ? A few days after this blog post was written there came an answer: it most certainly is working. Car usage in the Netherlands continues to grow year on year. The biggest increase is again in use of petrol / gasoline (benzine in Dutch) powered cars. Car companies spend much time pushing the absurd idea of green motoring which is a myth in itself but this myth is presented in such a way that it gets absurd amounts of attention such as that from our local newspaper above and from politicians, however their main product remains what it always was: Cars remain the same old polluting, planet destroying, dangerous product that they ever were. We can only ever solve the problems due to cars by having far fewer of them driven less. But car companies are still selling the nightmare scenario of more cars.

Real green transport
The million kilometres travelled in three days target of the motor lobby is actually not all that much anyway. A target for cycling in the Netherlands would need to be much higher. Most cycle journeys are more than a kilometre long and for most of any given working day Dutch people make more than a million journeys per hour by bike so a million kilometres would easily be reached by the end of the first hour on the first day of this exercise if encouraging cycling was really their aim. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

An endless search for quick fixes results instead in repeated failures

The Netherlands in April during the "intelligent lockdown"
which was actually no lockdown at all.
A new record was set in the Netherlands today. 1560 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today - the highest level of new infections that we've ever had in one day. This is a higher rate of infection by some margin than any day during March and April during the first wave of the disease. The second wave of infections is truly upon us.

How did we get here ? The answer is obvious: without actually eliminating the disease, without actually ever having had a proper lockdown which could perhaps have helped to eliminate the disease, our government re-opened everything. Instead of taking this seriously, as did countries such as Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea and China (started by trying to cover it up, but have taken effective action since January), our government decided to downplay the risks from the beginning and when they were forced to take action they took minimum action for a minimum period of time.

Dutch people are now travelling to other countries on holiday, drinking in bars, eating in restaurants, going to school and university, commuting to work, and spreading the virus between themselves as if there was nothing at all to avoid. There are still some rudimentary hand washing facilities at shops, but hardly anyone wears a face mask (I do and it leads to odd looks) and people just do not keep the mandated 1.5 m distance from one-another.

What happened in the Netherlands was that instead of taking proper action to fix this issue, our government looked for a shortcut. Rather than a short and sharp lockdown to eliminate the disease locally followed by ensuring that people who visit or return from another country really do go into quarantine, international visitors are merely requested to quarantine themselves while everyone knows that most don't bother. Testing and tracing have been stretched to the breaking point so they are no longer effective.

Failure resulted from taking a shortcut. From looking for a quick fix which it was thought would allow the economy to be minimally damaged. In reality this is far from over and we can expect further damage to the economy as well as further deaths due to an inadequate response. The quick fix was anything but a fix. The countries which took effective action now have the least disruption to their economies and to lives.

The Climate
Of course it's not just on the pandemic that our policies have failed. Our environmental policy is also failing. Another record was set just yesterday: The hottest September day ever in the Netherlands.
Already two years old and we have not begun to
respond in an effective way.
Our emissions are not decreasing. We're not even slightly close to doing this. Why ? It's the same story. Instead of taking decisive action to change habits and reduce emissions we are taking a minimum change approach, which can only make a very small difference to emissions.

Instead of tackling the over-consumption which has led to climate change, people are looking for a magic way to continue with their wasteful lifestyles. Many people would rather buy a new car than consider making the changes to their lifestyle required to live car-free. Though the difference in energy usage and emissions between different powered transport modes is not large, it's easier to sell the idea of continuing a wasteful lifestyle including much international travel by switching from flying to some other slightly less polluting mode such as train travel than it is to sell the idea of travelling far less.

Instead of travelling less, we travel more and more each year by every powered mode, so even the slow growth of some slightly less polluting modes doesn't in any way "offset" the more polluting modes because they are growing as well. All this growth, whether from car, airplane, boat, bus and train, simply adds to the total emissions.

The top 10%, those with earnings over $13700 per year,
are the big polluters. We buy and throw away too much.
Unfortunately, people like to buy stuff. Buying a "green" product makes people think they've done something good, even though it is always better for the environment to reduce consumption. Buying less, not replacing goods regularly, not going on holiday, not buying new clothes when the old ones can be repaired and worn again, doesn't impress the neighbours but it does reduce emissions. Every product has a footprint. Using what you have for longer, and using it less if it's a product which consumes energy, is far more powerful than swapping to something new and certainly more effective than buying "offsets" to assuage the guilt of over-consumption.

The quick fix of buying things to try to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle, of trying to continue to live in the exact same wasteful way but with "green" products, isn't a fix at all. To reduce our footprint on the planet, to maintain a liveable climate, we need to change how we live. We need to live with less.

Building cycling infrastructure
This blog is of course mostly about cycling infrastructure. Here too we see the quick fix mentality.

This isn't exceptional, it's the normal standard. Cycle-paths
like this need to go everywhere to enable mass cycling
Very few places outside the Netherlands have even tried to build the complete grid of cycling infrastructure which we have known for 40 years is required to enable the majority to cycle. Instead, almost everywhere, there's a piecemeal approach. Small steps are taken. There's no continuity in space or in time. Not only do pieces of infrastructure not join up, but they don't necessarily last long either. An extreme example may well present itself after the covid crisis ends, or perhaps even before it ends, as we can unfortunately expect many temporary pieces of cycling infrastructure which have popped up during this period to be removed. Why ? Because they were never really a sign of genuine policy change.

With the growth in popularity of Dutch ideas around cycling, many countries are putting on a show of attempting to replicate this success but unfortunately it seems rather like cargo cult infrastructure which has a vague resemblance to what has proven to be successful in the Netherlands but with shortfalls which make it far less useful or far less safe. There are cycle-paths built far too narrow to work efficiently which give way at every side-road, and bicycle roads where the level of motor traffic is such that it will dominate and result in nothing more than a differently decorated normal road, big expectations from building a single "Dutch roundabout" in a totally different setting from the Netherlands complete with an expection of a level of safety which could not reasonably be expected if the same thing was built in the Netherlands under similar circumstances, "Dutch" style "protected intersections" in much busier settings but without the single most important aspect of the design, i.e. safety enforced by traffic light designs which totally remove conflict, so that the the same outcome surely cannot be expected, and design guidelines which look like grab-bags of good and bad practice from multiple sources. Short-cuts have been taken. None of this is the successful approach which people have seen in the Netherlands but something far more superficial.

It's also common to see praise heaped upon brand new infrastructure, rather than waiting for a proven track record of safety. That's something that we sadly see here in the Netherlands as well. In reality we can't ever know much about an individual junction's safety until we wait long enough to see what the long term safety record is, though of course immediate problems should be taken as a warning that there is a problem. Official Dutch stats about, for example, roundabout safety are based on observing hundreds of "roundabout years".

Merely swapping one kind of junction design for another won't solve many, if any problems. The Dutch success with cycling (and while this country has failed with Covid, it has done better than anywhere else with cycling) results from taking a comprehensive look at traffic across whole cities, and indeed the country. Motor traffic has been relocated to an extent which almost be comprehended elsewhere and this goes a long way to explain how cycling has been made safe and convenient in the Netherlands (at the same time, driving has never been more popular, but that's another story).

Waiting for a vaccine
While we continue to take shortcuts and opt for quick fixes instead of solving problems properly, we will continue to fail. Waiting for a vaccine can also be a position of putting off doing the needed work now in the hope that something else will remove the need to do that work in the future.

A few inadequate cycle-paths and junctions are not a vaccine which will result in people abandoning their cars en-masse and result in mass cycling. This is not new. It's been known for 40 years that a complete grid of safe go-everywhere infrastructure which keeps motor vehicles away from cyclists is required to begin to achieve that goal (luckily, it doesn't take 40 years to do the same).

Electric cars are not a vaccine for the myriad problems caused by cars just as trains are not a vaccine for the problems caused by aircraft. The best way to reduce the impact of motorized transport is to use it less. Cycling comes for free.

Negative CO2 emissions can't be relied upon to vaccinate us against climate change because this is an unproven technology which has never been scaled up to the extent that would be required. We need to change our lifestyles and reduce our emissions, quickly, leaving fossil fuel under the ground, not rely on future generations using as yet not invented technology to solve problems caused by our selfishness.

There is also as yet no vaccine for Covid-19. Many groups are doing research but until there is a vaccine we can never be sure that there ever will be one. This magic bullet against the virus won't be a quick fix either. Production will take time to ramp up and distribution will be an enormous logistical problem (IATA article: "Just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft").

There is really no alternative to doing a proper job instead of opting for a quick-fix solution. Business as usual can't continue. Not for Covid, not for the climate and not for cycling either. And anyone who promises you that a vaccine will solve everything in a few weeks time is a liar or a fool.

Just after this post went live, five days ago, the main news here in the Netherlands was that both Belgium and Germany, our closest neighbours, had taken measures against travel to and from the most infected parts of the Netherlands. Non-essential travel is forbidden, but it leaves open the question of who defines what is "essential" ? One of the problems that we've had this whole time is that people will continue to travel, continue to spread the virus because far too many people think they are the exception to the rule.

Five days later we now have a new record infection rate. Over 2200 people tested positive for covid 19 over the last 24 hour period. The peak in April was just over 1300 so we're not far off double that now, and as the trend has been steadily higher each day (except Saturday and Sunday when there are fewer tests), this is really not good news.

Perhaps you wonder why I get my figures from "someone on Twitter". The reason is that the Dutch government stopped reporting daily figures back in July and someone voluntarily took their place (read his story here). Actually, our government has really let us down over Covid. With this new peak in infections you may also wonder what action they've taken. The answer is surprisingly little. Last Friday it was announced that bars would have to close at 1 am, resulting in considerable push-back from bar owners, and that some kinds of group events should have no more than 50 people at a time. These measures came into force on Sunday, and mostly apply only to the worst affected areas. Today our prime minister added that the huge crowds, not limited to 50, of football fans at matches should not cheer or sing. I doubt this will be adequate.

Update 29th September
Just a few more days and we've passed a new milestone: more than 3000 infections in just one day. That's well over double the highest number that were seen in the first wave of infections. Our government's response ? Yesterday there was a press conference at which it was suggested that bars and restaurants should shut at 10 PM instead of 1 AM as before and that people might like to wear face masks when shopping. It's not compulsory though. Shops have to make their own decisions about whether to try to enforce this, so they mostly are not.

The response of the Dutch government to this disease is astonishingly inept. Just today, 13 people more are reported as having died of Covid, making a total of nearly 6400 so far. Let us remember that this is optional. Compared with other countries we're doing astonishing badly. Taiwan for instance has a bigger population than ours, with 23.8 million people compared with our 17.4 million, yet their total deaths due to the virus thus far are just seven. Not seventy, seven hundred or seven thousand, the last of which which would make their rate comparable with ours, but just one digit. 7. i.e. relative to the population the virus has killed more than a thousand times as many people here as it has in Taiwan.

People continue to become infected and ill in this country because our government is incapable of acting in the face of a crisis.

A second wave in the Netherlands was not unexpected. Indeed, watching our lacklustre response I've been expecting it for a while. My Dutch class began at the start of this month but I had already opted out in August because it was obvious where we were heading. But it's been obvious for much longer than that. In June I wrote a computer game based around this eventuality. It's a free download. You'll also probably need an emulator for the antique computer that it runs on.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Roundabout safety for cyclists and why Cambridge's new 'Dutch' roundabout is not what it should have been

This is not the Cambridge roundabout. It's an example of a different
design, the safe roundabout. This design is much more tolerant of
driver mistakes and results in a far lower rate of cyclist injuries.
Please read my blog post about this design and watch the
accompanying video as both of those describe how this
design keeps cyclists safe.

Cambridge in the UK recently opened a "Dutch style" roundabout on Fendon Road to replace another roundabout which had a poor safety record for cyclists in the city. People keep pointing this out to me. I think it's perhaps time for a response.

The design chosen is that which I have consistently recommended against. Why do I recommend against it ? Because it has a poor safety record here in the Netherlands. It has a safety record which is not very different to an uncontrolled crossing or having no cycling facilities at all on a roundabout, which was the situation in Cambridge before this new design was built. I am not convinced that British drivers are better trained or will behave in a safer way on roundabouts than Dutch drivers and therefore I am also not convinced that it will be safer to use this design in the UK than it is here. Dutch drivers have been trained for decades to expect to give way to cyclists under some circumstances and they have also had decades to get used to this type of roundabout, yet it remains unsafe in the Netherlands. Why should we expect this to be different elsewhere ?

Now you might wonder why all my emphasis so far has been on drivers. There's a simple reason. The danger comes from motor vehicles which are faster and heavier than any cyclist. That's why injury rates for cyclists are higher at roundabouts with more cars. Remember always that there is no design of roundabout which is built for cyclists. If it were not for cars then we would have no roundabouts at all and cycling would be all the safer for it.

Dutch research into roundabout safety

Dijkstra's research into roundabout safety in the Netherlands in 2005 is one of the most referenced articles about this subject. Here's a link. It's written in Dutch and having seen the mess that bad machine translations make of this and similar documents I suggest that if you can't read the Dutch then you're best off going no further than the abstract and my explanation below.

The research drew its conclusions from looking at three different earlier studies each of which looked at large numbers of roundabouts. They're well run studies and the people making them attempted to compare like with like. There was no attempt to study only a subset in order to favour a conclusion already drawn by any of the authors. Dijkstra's article is often used by proponents of priority on roundabouts, though I wonder if they actually read it all the way through. It's very clear about the danger caused by giving cyclists priority on roundabouts.

This graph compares the number of serious cyclist and moped injuries per year (Y) at roundabouts of differing types with differing motor traffic intensity (X). The green line shows the effect of a cycle-lane around the roundabout, which has been known to be dangerous for decades and is recommended by no-one  The black line shows a roundabout with no facilities, cycling taking place on the road amongst cars. The blue line shows the effect of cycle-paths around roundabouts, but this is an average as it is not specified which roundabout design or priority rule it refers to, which is a problem as I'll discuss later.

This graph looks a lot like that above, but it includes all serious injuries in all vehicles, not just those which occur to cyclists. However it is clear from comparing this graph and the one before that roundabouts are, generally speaking, far more dangerous for cyclists than they are for drivers. The relatively small number of motor vehicle occupants who are injured at roundabouts pushes each of the lines upward a little. The effect is especially obvious on the lower, blue line as in this case motor vehicle occupant injuries become dominant as traffic intensity increases. But comparing the two graphs does not make a clear-cut case for all roundabouts with cycle-paths because there is no distinction made between two very different roundabout designs discussed later by Dijkstra.

Three different studies are referenced by Dijkstra, that of Van Minnen/CROW (1998), Weijermars (2001) and Gerts (2002). All three of those studies showed that "with priority" roundabouts are substantially more dangerous for cyclists.

Three studies are summarized by Dijkstra. All studies show worsened safety with cyclist priority ('in voorrang') at roundabouts. Crashes (ongevallen) are between 1.75x and 2.9x more common and injuries resulting in death or hospital treatment (slachtoffers) are found to be between 3x and 6x more common. Gerts' study only reported crashes and not injuries.

Some of the data in the document, such as this example, show all injuries and not just cyclist injuries. Overall, a junction with cyclist priority ('in de voorrang') causes about three times as many injuries.  About as many motor vehicle occupants are injured on the two different types of roundabouts, the difference is made by the radically different results for cyclist safety. See the next table.

The same data from Weijemars is used here, but just the figures for cyclists and mopeds are included.

This table shows the number of roundabouts in total, within urban areas, with cycle-paths, with cyclist priority (470), without cyclist priority (314). These numbers come up repeatedly.

Estimated annual hospitalizations of cyclists and moped riders (on the cycle-path - now largely replaced by e-bikes) in the Netherlands due to crashes with motor vehicles on urban roundabouts. There are about 50% more roundabouts with cyclist priority ('in de voorrang') but they cause ten times as many serious injuries as the safe design of roundabout ('uit de voorrang').

Note that Dijkstra used data from Gerts who referred only to roundabouts which strictly followed the CROW design standards. By doing so both Gerts and Dijkstra tried to exclude potentially worse results which could have come from priority roundabouts which didn't follow the standards. This turned out to be less important than was expected because Gerts found that there was no statistically different result for roundabouts which followed the CROW norms vs. those which did not (bottom of page 13). Also read pages 34 and 35 where this is confirmed. i.e. The difference in safety between differing roundabouts with cycle-paths is almost entirely due to the priority rule. That is confirmed on page 36 where the conclusion is made that there is a significant link between priority and safety.

A note about 'mopeds'. Most of the data lumps cyclists and mopeds together because mopeds are not actually very common. They make up around 1% of the total traffic volume. As a result, I don't expect that their presence here makes much difference to any of the results. Low power mopeds which theoretically are limited to around 25 km/h on the cycle-path are losing ground these days to electrically assisted bikes which travel at a similar speed. Many Dutch people really don't like mopeds, but they do seem to like e-bikes which are now far more numerous. The two modes are quite similar from a safety perspective. There does seem to be an indication that 'with priority' roundabouts are more dangerous for faster cyclists (moped, racing bike, e-bike) who are more likely to surprise drivers because their speed makes them more difficult for drivers to spot, hence the idea that they suddenly appeared "from nowhere" over the driver's shoulder. Faster mopeds (limited to 45 km/h) are banned from urban cycle-paths so are not of interest here.

Comparison with a non-signalled crossing

In order to find a point of comparison for the effectiveness of substituting one type of roundabout or another, comparisons were made of 177 locations where non-signalled crossings ('voor, kruispunt') were converted into roundabouts ('na rotonde').

Note that this is not a comparison with traffic light junctions. That's a completely different story which I have addressed elsewhere: well designed traffic light junctions which separate cyclists in time and space from cars create an almost completely safe space for cyclists and as a result have an excellent safety record in the Netherlands. But they are not discussed by Dijkstra. These comparisons are between roundabouts and the straightforward non-signalled crossings without roundabouts or traffic lights which existed in the same location before they were built.

The comparison over time with non-signalled crossings in the same location across 177 junctions gives us a very good idea of the relative danger creating by giving cyclists priority at a roundabout.

Roundabouts are highly effective at preventing motor vehicle occupant injuries, reduced by 80% on average over the previously existing crossing, however for cyclists they are far less effective. Compared with non-signalled (no traffic lights) road crossings, Dutch roundabouts on average only lead to around a halving of cyclist serious injuries. But this statistic is deceptive because both the 'with priority' and safe roundabout designs have been mixed here to create an average.

In this table they've been separated and we if we consider only the safe roundabouts where cyclists do not have priority ('uit de voorrang') then we see a significant 87% reduction in the number of injuries vs. a non-signalled junction.

By comparison, if we consider only the roundabouts where cyclists do have priority ('in de voorrang'), the improvement in injury rate over a non-signalled crossing is just 11%. i.e. priority for cyclists on roundabouts results in nearly eight times as many cyclist hospitalizations as occur at safe roundabouts when replacing non-signalled junctions. But carry on reading...

The simple conclusion to reach here is that 'with priority' roundabouts achieve about an 11% improvement in safety while safe roundabouts achieve an 87% improvement in safety, making them eight times safer. However it's not actually that simple. Over the same period of time, non-signalled crossings across the country became on average about 10% safer (Dijkstra last paragraph of page 10) so we should perhaps reduce both outcomes by this amount. That would imply that there is actually almost no significant difference in safety between an non-signalled crossing and a 'with priority' roundabout while a safe roundabout achieves about a 77% improvement in safety for cyclists.

How safe are 'with priority' roundabouts in reality ?

This blog post began with one of the first graphs from Dijkstra which showed the relative safety of cyclists using cycle-paths and cycle-lanes around roundabouts with cycling on the roadway on the roundabout itself. Unfortunately, that graph did not distinguish between the different types of Dutch roundabout which include cycle-paths. However later in the same document with the discussion about replacement of non-signalled junctions, Dijkstra calculates the relative safety of roundabouts with and without priority, and we see that the 'with priority' cause nearly eight times as many excess cyclist injuries as the safe roundabout design. I find it unhelpful that both roundabout designs are presented as one item in that graph as they really are not the same.

Below you'll find a modified version of the same graph showing the likely real-world safety of 'with priority' roundabouts vs. the average for all cycle-paths on roundabouts, cycle-lanes and cycling on the road:

The red line shows what the probably injury rate is for roundabouts with priority cycle-paths in the Netherlands. The blue line is an average for all roundabouts with cycle-paths. A line which represented only safe roundabouts would be lower than the blue line, especially in the first half of the graph.

You'll note that up to around 10000 vehicles a day there is no great difference between the black line, showing the rate of injury for cyclists riding on the road, the green line showing a cycle-lane painted around the perimeter and the red line showing the injury rate for cyclists on 'with priority' cycle-paths. Therefore swapping between a roundabout design where cyclists ride on the road to a design where they use a priority cycle-path should not be expected to bring an improvement in safety. The only option which always looks good is the blue line showing as an average for all roundabouts with cycle-paths, which is skewed downward by the greatly improved safety of the safe roundabout design over the 'with priority' design.

Explanation of the red line: Over half of all urban roundabouts in the Netherlands gave cyclists priority when Dijkstra's graph was created. He found that on these roundabouts about eight times as many injuries per year could be expected. i.e. the corrected data for with priority roundabouts should be at about four times the level of that for the safe roundabouts. The red line which I have added to the graph is at approximately three times the height on the Y axis of that for both types of roundabout combined. This places it at approximately at the level we would expect to see if the two different types of roundabouts had been  treated as two different cases.

Explanation of blue line shape and stippled red: The blue line, for all roundabouts with cycle-paths, has a rather unusual shape, with a peak at around 10000 vehicles a day before dipping downward and rising again with motor vehicle intensity. I believe that this is caused by priority roundabouts causing the vast majority of crashes and injuries but being built mostly in places with lower motor vehicle intensity. As a result, the blue line is pushed upward in the first half of the graph by crashes on 'with priority' roundabouts, but I think the second half of the blue line is made up to a higher extent of data for safe roundabouts. I used a stippled red line from ~10000 onward because it's likely that it is no longer reliable past this point for the same reason. Unfortunately the separate data is not available so that I can test this hypothesis.


Back in 1998, SWOV's own research already demonstrated a worse safety record for 'with priority' roundabouts. Their research indicated that 52-73 extra cyclists would find themselves in hospital with serious injuries each year if that design was used. Despite this concern, a political decision was made to go along with a standard recommendation that cyclists should always have priority on urban roundabouts. This happend after they were given two re-assurances: first that the new standards advised by CROW would be applied everywhere and second that introduction of these standards would result in improved safety for 'with priority' roundabouts.

Unfortunately, the expected safety improvement was not realised. This was not merely because the guidelines still were not followed in all cases, but because it was discovered that the guidelines didn't actually have a measurable effect on safety even where they were followed. In an appendix on pages 29 to 35 of Dijkstra ("Voorrang voor fietsers: effect van vormgeving?") it is shown statistically using data gathered from many real world roundabouts spread across the country over five years that there is no detectable difference in safety between 'with priority' roundabouts which adhere strictly to the CROW guidelines and those which do not. Therefore it would seem that roundabouts with significant differences from the norms (e.g. different radii, crossings too close to the roundabout, inadequate road markings, allowing bidirectional cycling around the roundabout etc.) were not worse from a safety perspective at all. The research suggests very strongly that exactly following CROW's guidelines is not important for safety at all. Just one thing makes roundabouts with cycle-paths dangerous and that is giving cyclists priority.

Since the decision was made to go along with the "with priority" guideline in urban areas, the number of roundabouts in the Netherlands has tripled. For that reason we can now reasonably expect that instead of 52-73 extra cyclists receiving injuries resulting in hospitalization or death each year that there are now between 150 and 210 more than would have been the case if the safe roundabout design (used all over Assen with extremely low injuries as a result) had been standardized upon across the entire country.

The CROW argument that roundabouts with priority are "slight less safe" than the safe design was based upon the 52-73 extra casualties being only between 1.8 and 2.5% of the total. Unfortunately, with their number having tripled, we can now expect that these dangerous roundabouts account for between 5.4% and 7.5% of cyclist casualties per year, which is certainly not insignificant. Given that after a period of decline, Dutch cyclist deaths are now rising once again, this is something we should be looking at more closely. We already know how to reduce injuries on roundabouts by 87%. We just have to switch to building the proven safe roundabout design.


So now back to Cambridge. Why did that city outside the Netherlands adopt a design has been proven to cause excess injuries and deaths in the country where it came from ? Why are they following a decision which was made in the Netherlands for political reasons and not based on safety ? Personally, I think they were extremely badly advised.

Valkenswaard roundabout visited in 2006. Not a safe design.
See statistics. This roundabout does not conform 100% to
CROW standards, but as you can read above, we now
know that it probably wouldn't make a difference if it did.

Now I take a little responsibility for this because I used to live in Cambridge, I was a member of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign who campaigned for Dutch style cycling infrastructure to be built in that city, and I organised study tours in the Netherlands for members of the campaigning group and people working for the council. Indeed, on the first of these study tours, way back in 2006, I was myself enthusiastic about the cyclist priority design of roundabout and I showed it to people from Cambridge.

However my enthusiasm for priority roundabouts didn't last long after I moved to the Netherlands, experienced near misses on these designs, learnt Dutch and read Dijkstra's and other studies of roundabout safety. I change my mind when presented with contrary facts and it's simply not possible to continue to believe that these designs are safe when they clearly are not. That is the reason why I promote the safe design of roundabout, especially in countries outside the Netherlands.

The advantage that the safe roundabout design has is of complete predictability for the cyclist. As a cyclist you can take control of your own safety. While mistakes made by drivers on priority roundabouts where the driver does not cede priority often result in crashes and cyclist injuries, drivers on safe roundabouts who make errors typically just slow or stop when they need not have done. This can actually be slightly annoying for a cyclist who has adjusted their speed to slip across the road before or after any given car, but it's a safe failure mode which doesn't result in injury.

There is also the potential difference between British and Dutch drivers. I've not only cycled but also driven in both countries and I think the ability to drive safely is quite similar between the two countries. However there is a difference in behaviour in that Dutch drivers typically drive more slowly, at least on minor roads and in towns, and that there is less aggression. This is probably also a function of the unravelling of routes which keeps drivers who are minutes late for their destination from making through journeys near cyclists. They are also used to the idea of ceding priority to cyclists on roundabouts and elsewhere, and most people here do cycle. What effect this difference in driver behaviour will have on a roundabout design which requires drivers to cede priority in order to ensure cyclist safety is currently unknown.

Unfortunately the mistake in Cambridge goes far beyond just choosing a poor and dangerous design of roundabout. Their ambition unfortunately went no further than substituting one roundabout design for another and it is now being heralded as a victory for cycling before we even know whether it turns out to be safe in this location. In reality there is no roundabout design which has ever been built for the benefit of cyclists. They're all just ways of trying to address the problems caused by motor vehicles.

Most road junctions in Dutch residential
areas look something like this. Much
more common than any traffic light
or roundabout design, a non-signalled
junction in a residential area, with 30 km/h
speed limit, raised table, small corner
radii, and most importantly it's not a
through route for motor vehicles

Addressing the problems of motor vehicles could have been done in many other and more effective ways. The roads leading to the location of Cambridge's new roundabout are places where people live. Residential streets which have for years endured high traffic volumes. If they had their usage changed so that they no longer had to support that through motor traffic (already done on a tiny scale in Cambridge) then the roundabout probably wouldn't be required at all. A simple non-signalled junction but with very cars, or if a stream of traffic was required to flow between two arms of the junction perhaps a signalled crossing, would have resulted in a better outcome for cyclists.

You could have asked...

There are few people who have lived, worked and cycled on an everyday basis in Cambridge for more than a decade and who have then done the same in a Dutch city for more than a decade. Fewer still who have written about cycling for decades, about cyclist roundabout safety and made suggestions for how countries outside the Netherlands can best learn from the Dutch experience regarding roundabouts and other infrastructure. Still fewer who have gone to the effort of learning Dutch, reading the research and trying to advise on the basis of that research, and I would guess that also bringing people from the council and the local cycle campaigning group in Cambridge to the Netherlands in order to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of different roundabout designs amongst many other things on top of those other things would make me pretty much unique. I'm also not hard to find.

So do you think anyone from Cambridge ever thought to contact me about their new roundabout ? Of course not. Actually that's a bit unfair. A couple of people on the periphery who were concerned about the direction in which that was going did make contact and I have heard from them how what I'd written was dismissed rather rudely. But why ? Did they have some other local expert who could read the Dutch documents in depth and translate them ? Did they not believe the stats therein ? Did they expect that a design which is relatively dangerous in the Netherlands with Dutch drivers would somehow be less dangerous in the UK ?

I of course don't expect any answers. But it's a shame. I could have helped. I fear that Cambridge will regret what has been done. Not now. Not soon. It'll take a while before you have stats - the Dutch research on which I based my advice was itself based on the stats from many roundabouts over many years. The stats above are based on up to 940 rotonde-jaren, or roundabout years. These results have not been cooked up after just looking at a single location for a few weeks.


I am left with a fear that what Cambridge has done is merely to replace one dangerous roundabout design with another. It's a pity that they have done this because it's been done with such a lot of publicity and this may tarnish the concept and make it more difficult to adopt a better design elsewhere. Britain's cyclists need safe infrastructure. It's high time that they got it instead of ineffective projects like this example. However this is just one junction in one city of a country of many millions of people. It won't in itself make a huge difference one way or the other. No single junction ever could do that.

What is required, in Cambridge and elsewhere, is to start looking at the bigger picture. It is a mistake to think that any real change can result from a piecemeal one junction at a time approach. The UK, and everywhere else, needs a complete grid of effective safe and attractive cycle-paths in order to enable efficient go-everywhere cycling. The Netherlands is fabulous for cycling not merely because some of the roundabouts are safe (as you can see above, some certainly are not). An holistic approach makes the difference. There is nothing new and novel about any of this, it's been known for forty years.

Planning occurs in the Netherlands on a much greater scale than in the UK. There are traffic circulation plans which limit the effect of motor vehicles on residential areas and direct cycle routes. Almost all roundabouts form part of a plan which removes motor traffic, especially through motor traffic, from locations where cyclists need to be to make everyday journeys. This makes even less safe designs safer. But removal of motor traffic can even result in a much bigger prize: the removal of roundabouts and traffic lights altogether from cycling routes. Cyclists don't themselves need either of those types of junctions. They are not actually for us, but exist only to moderate motor traffic. There exist very good traffic light designs which benefit cyclists and roundabouts which do likewise but in both cases these things should only be built where there is no choice. i.e. where it's impossible to get rid of the motor vehicles. Cyclists are always better off without big road junctions. This has happened on a large scale at least around the centre of most Dutch cities, spreading outward from the centre in many cities and into the renovation of old suburbs and the design of new suburbs. The process did not begin by changing the design of a single busy junction which will remain busy, but then making a lot of noise about it as if a great change has been achieved.

The piecemeal approach, resulting in years of little or no real action and the effect of such small forward steps as occur usually being swamped by backward steps elsewhere, is precisely why people in the UK have gone from saying that their country is 20 years behind the Netherlands to 40 or 50 years behind. It's only possible to catch up by doing the hard work required to make things better, consistently over years. This is something which no country can afford not to do: when all things are considered, it's cheaper to build cycling infrastructure than it is not to build it.