Saturday, 18 October 2014

Our streets are too narrow for cycle paths

I've lost count of how often people have tried to convince me that their city's streets are too narrow to have cycling infrastructure. The three words "not enough space" are repeated as if they are a mantra.

It is often genuinely believed that Dutch towns were built with wider streets and that there is therefore more space here than in other countries. Of course, that's not true at all. If you look around an older city like Assen (over 750 years old) then you find many narrow streets just as you would with any older city in another country. Newer wider streets in the Netherlands are also similar in width to newer wider streets elsewhere. It's the modern day usage of the space which is different, not the width of the streets themselves.

Take a good look at the photo above which shows one of the streets in Assen in 2014. Quite clearly there's "not enough space" here now to accommodate motor vehicles. When people see streets like this then they often guess that there was never enough room and that therefore this street was always much as it is today.

However, that's not actually the case. Look back to 1957 and we find that this same street was completely different. There was an asphalt through road in this location, and it was quite a busy road which could accommodate large vehicles in both directions. While the gap between those buildings looks small, it is in fact just enough to accommodate this traffic so long as you don't mind that pedestrians must cross only at certain places and can walk safely only on one side of the street. Note that no separate space at all was allocated for safe cycling. Cyclists had to use the road along with trucks, buses and cars.

1970s city centre street in Assen. No room for cycle-paths here either. Traffic lights were required to deal with the cars in this location.
I suspect that this is starting to sound like a familiar situation to some readers in other countries and it was certainly familiar to Dutch cyclists in the 1950s.

The same location in 2014. We don't need traffic lights any more because cars are no longer driven through here
An observer in the 1950s in the Netherlands might well have pointed out that this street had "not enough space" for a cycle-path at that time. i.e. exactly the same objection as people give about their streets now. And of course they'd be right if the streets were viewed as having to always manage the same combination of vehicles as was the case in 1950s Assen.

1960s. Pedestrians squeezed to the edge while a lone cyclist waits with drivers for a traffic light 
So where did the space for people, pedestrians and cyclists, come from ? It came from right underneath where motor vehicles used to be. A second revolution on Dutch streets was required to change things. A decision was made to effect real change. This was not limited to just a few streets, but spread across cities and even the entire nation. Traffic was redirected so that residential areas and the centres of cities could be reclaimed by people.

Now: Pedestrianized with good cycle access
It's worth reflecting on the fact that cycling was in decline in the Netherlands while streets were dominated by cars. It's not difficult to work out why. Transforming the streets reversed this decline. As you look at these photos, consider how convenient and how safe it was to cycle on the streets of Assen in the past vs. how convenient and safe it is today.
1960s: Main through routes for motor vehicles and cyclists alike

Now: Still accessible by motor vehicle but very much a downgraded route. Still a busy through route by bicycle, which no longer has traffic lights around the corner.

1940s: Major intersection, in this case busier than usual due to an event. Traffic stopped at a junction.

Now: A pleasant place to sit and have a drink. Bicycles flow freely here.

1974: Assen city centre was a car park. The car park was often full.

Now: Assen city centre is a square with cycle parking and where events are held. There's no longer any need to have the streets leading to this area dominated by cars. Note that small children are free to cycle even in the city centre.
People often believe that Dutch cities somehow have more space than other countries. As you can see from these photos, it's simply not true. What happened in Assen and across the Netherlands was that planning on a large scale gave streets a defined purpose rather than all of them operating in a chaotic manner as through routes by car. Motor vehicles were not prioritized above all other transport but careful considerations were made of where they should go and where they should not. Busy roads still exist, but careful junction design removes conflict.

Streets where cyclists and pedestrians needed to go were transformed to exclude through motor traffic.

When ring roads were built, old main roads became pleasant routes for bicycles and crossings were nearly always grade separated.

When a new route was required to take cyclists to the centre of a city from a new suburb, the original direct route was turned over to cyclists and the driving route took a required detour to traffic lights.

Drivers are now kept away from the city centre by a special type of one-way system leaving what were once the busiest city centre streets to cyclists and pedestrians. A similar network of one-way streets is used in residential areas.

Shops cater for cyclists with parking by the door, while car parks are by necessity larger and more remote.

Residential streets were treated in a
similar way, even the narrowest now
serving as bidirectional through routes
for bicycles while being made useful
for access only by car.
Together with an extensive grid of high quality cycle paths, these changes have resulted in nearly 100% segregation of cyclists from drivers. Cycling routes are largely unravelled from driving routes, resulting in lower noise, less danger and cyclists having the most direct routes and fastest journeys possible. This is what makes cycling extremely attractive to the entire population.

Of course it's not just Assen but every Dutch city which has done this and they have all been successful. Nothing stops other countries from making similar changes. There is no better time for other countries to start a similar transformation than today.

See the result of the transformation for yourself. We visit these locations on our study tours.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Trondheim in Norway. How an already successful city can increase cycling by increasing investment and prioritizing bikes

The local newspaper interviewed me.
Following on from last year's study tour of planners and officials from Trondheim, I was invited this year to take part in a conference on cycling in the city. That was two weeks ago but I've been thinking about it until now.

Differences between the Netherlands
and Norway are obvious before landing
But there are also similarities.
During my three days in Trondheim, I made presentations about Dutch cycling infrastructure and also took a close look at what Trondheim already has as well as where they are heading. I've made some suggestions for improvements to designs, but overall I got a very positive impression from what is happening.

Impression from the airport bus:
Cyclist on brand new cycle-path
The same, but different.
No two cities can ever be exactly alike, but sometimes it helps to find similarities. Trondheim has some obvious similarities with Groningen. For instance, the two cities have a similar population size and both have a high student population.

One of the first photos I took after I
got on a bike in Trondheim was of this
wonderful roller-coaster cycle-path.
Trondheim is certainly much more hilly. It's also spread over a larger area. The overall population density outside of the centre is closer to that of Assen than Groningen. As a result, some peoples' journeys are perhaps longer in Trondheim than in Groningen. They also have to make those journeys in a different climate. Trondheim is colder in winter than Groningen. 3.6 C may not sound like much, but it keeps the mean temperature in January below freezing in Trondheim ( -1.2 C vs. 2.4 C ) and that is certainly a challenge because ice and snow therefore will not melt away so quickly.

Differences in temperature, distance and topology will of course result in a difference in the potential for cycling in any given city. Outside of the centre of the city, Trondheim really is hilly. However even in a hilly city like this, not all journeys are particularly strenuous. What's more, just because some distances are longer that doesn't mean that all journeys are longer and just because it's cold sometimes, that doesn't mean it's cold all the time. There are always opportunities for cycling. Always journeys for which cycling is a good fit. If a city makes cycling pleasant, convenient, attractive and safe then more people will cycle, regardless of difficulties like this.

There's new infrastructure everywhere.
This newly opened bridge is for
cyclists and pedestrians only.
Of course, Trondheim has perhaps has more than its fair share of obstacles and this will make it more difficult to achieve a high modal share for cycling than would be the case if this were a flatter, warmer and more compact city. But that's no reason not to try to achieve the highest level of cycling possible.

When last measured, approximately 8% of journeys in Trondheim were by bike. This varies between 12% in the summer and 4% in the middle of the winter. These are already good figures compared with many cities elsewhere in the world. These figures are already better than many flatter, warmer and more compact places. It is believed that cycling has already grown by a fifth since the last proper survey a few years ago. The current target is to double the cycling modal share to 15% of all journeys by 2025. Given the expected differences between summer and winter, this implies a considerably higher modal share during summer.

Trondheim's older infrastructure is not
always so attractive. But this problem
is known about and can be fixed.
Maximising the potential of any city requires the same thing: investment in truly good infrastructure. I'm happy to say that Trondheim is genuinely making the required investment. 1.5 Billion Kr have been allocated for cycling in Trondheim. That's around €184 M. Of this, a fifth has already been spent and about €150M is left to spend over the next 11 years. This works out as an investment rate in cycling of €75 per person per year. That's approximately two and half times what the Dutch spend on cycling infrastructure.

No country can afford to be complacent. No place can expect cycling to grow or even maintain its popularity without investment. I'm very pleased to see that Trondheim is taking this seriously. There's a lot to do and there will inevitably be some mistakes made with such an ambitious project. However, with attention to good design, Trondheim could catch up with and pass the quality of infrastructure seen in Dutch cities.

The Trampe bicycle lift and "City Bikes"

Just after we went up the bicycle lift:
Tourists taking photos at the bottom.
Note how steep the hill is.
The bicycle lift is probably the main reason why cyclists worldwide currently know about cycling in Trondheim. Nearly twenty years have passed since I first heard of the Trampe bicycle lift and of course I was very keen to try it out.

The bicycle lift is unique to Trondheim and it really is quite marvelous. A great symbol of the importance of cycling, it's also very popular. It's popular not only with local cyclists but it's so well known internationally that this has become the second biggest tourist attraction in Trondheim.

Trondheim's "City Bikes". Paid for by
advertising not the cycling budget.
Trondheim also has 200 "City Bikes" which anyone can hire for a small fee (with a low cost card, rental is free of charge). 200 bikes may not sound like a huge number, but given the relatively small population of Trondheim this works out as better than one for every 1000 residents. That's a higher ratio of bikes per person than London. Like the lift, the bike share system is a symbol.

Symbols are fine but they should not consume a great deal of any city's budget. In Trondheim they do not. The Trampe bicycle lift already exists and requires only maintenance. The bike share system is paid for by a company which takes its income from advertising both on the bikes and adjacent to the bicycle docks. This leaves the cycling budget of the city for infrastructure, of which more later.

Absolutely no air at all in these tyres !
Naturally, the company responsible for the bikes has tried to keep their costs down. One part of this is reduction of maintenance and they've achieved that aim in part by filling the otherwise conventional looking tyres of the bicycles with solid rubber instead of air. This unfortunately makes the bikes rather inefficient. They're also quite heavy and they have just three gears but those are lesser problems. I rode one of these bikes for almost a whole day and I went up and down many hills with it. However Mr Dunlop's invention would have made everything easier. For casual users I think it a shame that they have this extra difficulty. On the other day that I cycled I borrowed a hire bicycle from my hotel.

Just as everywhere else, most people who cycle regularly in Trondheim have their own bikes.

Cycling in the suburbs and from suburbs to the city centre
In my short time cycling I can't claim comprehensive knowledge of Trondheim, but I found that considerable effort had gone into building routes between suburbs and the city centre in the directions that I rode in. Some of this infrastructure was older and it did vary in quality. But the new investment has clearly already achieved a lot. There are many new cycle-paths. In some cases, these new cycle-paths were so new that they still even had the smell of asphalt.

New cycle and pedestrian paths on the left, probably officially open by now. These take a more direct route across the top of an underpass rather than dropping to a blind corner and then climbing again as does the older shared-use path on the right.

This long video shows a route between one suburb and the centre of the city. I picked the route at random. Overall this shows a standard of cycle provision which few countries can match. Starting in a residential area, I ride on older provision and some of the very latest before entering the city centre.

This junction appears at 12:10 in the video above. We went back here together to look at why this junction design is inadequate. The cycle-path is too close to the road, the corner radii are too large, sight lines for drivers and cyclists are not what they could be. The junction would also benefit from being a raised table to discourage high speeds. While we stood there, these two drivers demonstrated how injuries can result from this design (this cyclist was not injured).

One of many bicycle roads in residential areas. These provide no good through route by car, but are usable to make journeys by bike.

Some of the newer infrastructure in Trondheim seems to go to unnecessary lengths to make cycling more difficult than it ought to be. For instance, in this location we went through a tunnel under a railway line, then over this high bridge which led us back down into a valley before we had to ride back up a steep hill. As well as designing direct routes on a 2D map, there needs to be emphasis on trying not to send cyclists up and down quite this much.

Cycling within the city
Just as in the Netherlands, a process began decades ago in Trondheim in which streets were emptied of cars. Car parks became pleasant squares.

What's more, Trondheim also succeeded in excluding much of the through traffic which used to go through the centre of the city (see the next section to find out how this was achieved in a city where there was no space to build a ring-road).

The result is a much more pleasant city centre. People very obviously feel at home there. However cyclists benefited almost by accident. It is within the city centre that I think Trondheim has its greatest challenges.

A wide and busy street with no room for a cycle-path ? That's only because so much space is allocated to motor vehicles. At present both cyclists and pedestrians are squeezed to the side.
Just as in every other place, many roads in Trondheim are still considered by some people to have "not enough space for cycle-paths". This really comes down to what you want to achieve. Trondheim's city centre roads are in many cases no longer very heavily used by motor vehicles but there those vehicles still have a great deal of space allocated to them. In some cases this is because of a conflict between wanting to provide bus lanes and cycle paths. At the moment, the allocation of space on many of Trondheim's city centre streets is inequitable. Cyclists and pedestrians are numerous but have very little space so there are some conflicts.
Cyclists and pedestrians alike find themselves waiting an awful long time for a green light even when roads are almost empty. As a result, crossing on red is very common.
In many cases, Norwegian traffic lights are set up so that a driver turning right will have a green traffic light at the same time as a pedestrian or pavement cyclist going straight along the same road. Traffic lights should never create dangerous conflicts in this way. When I commented about this, I was told that crashes and injuries occur in Trondheim due to this conflict. In Assen we don't have that conflict built into traffic light junctions and it results in the junctions being much safer for everyone. Unfortunately, this same conflict can still be found in some other places in the Netherlands, even at newly constructed junctions.

Pavement cycling
In other countries, that cyclist would be breaking the law
In Norway she is not. But it's not at all convenient.
A subject which causes much consternation in many countries is that of cyclists riding bicycles on the pavement (US: sidewalk). In Norway this was legalized decades ago.
I've often wondered what the effect would be of allowing people to cycle on the pavement, and now I know. There are pros and cons of this approach. The main benefit is that the pavements provide an almost complete network so make cycling to almost any destination into a possibility even for the most timid riders. The problem is that it's not really either convenient or safe for cyclists to do this, certainly not if they want to ride at any speed.
With my hosts I cycled into an old fort
through this portal. No-one took any
notice. Being able to access almost
any place by bike is an advantage.
I wanted to ride as the Trondheimers ride so I tried riding on the pavements in the centre of Trondheim. Once I got past my feeling of this simply being wrong, it was actually quite freeing. It is useful if you are not in a hurry. You can go anywhere on a bike in Norway and people don't wag their fingers at you for being where you shouldn't be. However, there's always that caveat: "If you're not in a hurry". It's not a substitute for specific cycling infrastructure because time is important for most people.

Crossing the road. It's not really
convenient, but it does work.
Note that people even cross the road on bikes as if they are pedestrians. Drivers don't have to stop for cyclists on zebra crossings as they do for pedestrians, but many drivers will stop. At crossings with traffic lights, that is not a problem, but it's not really convenient.

I should point out that there are good reasons why zebra crossings don't work well for cyclists. For safe operation they rely upon pedestrians being slow. A driver has to stop only if a pedestrian is very close to or is already on the crossing (local laws vary). This does not work safely for cyclists because higher speeds result in the reaction time being greatly reduced.

I spoke to many people in Trondheim
about their experience of cycling.
This woman, and her camera-shy
son, would benefit greatly from
cycle-paths in the city centre
I also tried riding on the roads. This allowed making much better progress. If I lived in Trondheim I'd probably cycle on the roads most of the time myself. However even though I was there for just a few days, a couple of drivers tooted me for no particular reason (this was not very aggressive, I'm not used to being tooted at all in the Netherlands). When riding on the road, I felt rather like a member of a minority. In fact, doing this this felt much like cycling in a country like the UK where cyclists most certainly are in a minority.

The two classes of cyclist in Trondheim
are so separate that they actually use
different phases of the traffic lights.
Within the city, faster cyclists almost exclusively stick to the roads because they can make faster journeys that way. I understand why they do this because I would do the same. But we're members of a minority which will always be small. It is due in large part to the pavement cyclists that Trondheim has such a high cycling modal share as it does within the city centre. These pavement cyclists are already numerous, but their journeys are not made convenient enough. If it were easy for less confident cyclists to make more of their journeys by bike then this would enable real growth to occur. What's more, if good enough cycling infrastructure is built then this will become the natural home of the confident cyclists as well, just as it already is outside of the centre. That everyone chooses to use them rather than some continuing to ride on the roads is an indication of quality for all cycle paths.

Due to pavement cycling being legal, there is no legal or social problem associated with cyclists using pedestrianized streets like this one. These are great. They work very similarly to Dutch pedestrianized areas which allow cycling. The problem is that the infrastructure to link them is in many cases missing within the centre.
On-road cycle-lanes have been created
along some busier streets. These are
useful for confident cyclists where they
allow cycling against a one-way street,
but they also demonstrate much the
same problems as in any other city.
To me it seems quite obvious that the city centre not only has space for proper cycling infrastructure where it is needed alongside busy roads to link pedestrianized streets in the city centre to the cycle-paths and bicycle roads outside the centre, but that the residents of Trondheim would benefit greatly from it.

Trondheimers already cycle a lot, and they would cycle more if cycling were made more pleasant, more comfortable, more subjectively safe.

The pros and cons of pavement cycling. There's a real benefit in creating network which is more accessible to many than the roads, but it doesn't work well to have main cycling routes combined with main walking routes, as illustrated by the conflicts which occur on a busy shared-use bridge in Trondheim. Note that the bridge had undergone maintenance just before I made my video and that a painted line is usually used to separate modes. Some comments suggest that this is not entirely successful.

Burying Roads
What's happening in Trondheim is not only about cycling infrastructure. Much of the through motorized traffic which used to dominate city centre streets has disappeared. Just how it's been made to disappear is quite remarkable.

A brand new cycle-path next to one of
many locations in Trondheim where
roads have been diverted underground.
The centre of Trondheim is surrounded by the sea on one side and hills in the suburbs on the other. Without any obvious place to build bypasses on the surface and with no desire to build bridges over the city centre, Trondheim has instead built an extensive network of tunnels under the city.

These tunnels are layered on top of one another and feature road junctions such as roundabouts. All of this is out of sight from the surface. Cyclists are not expected to ride in these tunnels. Indeed, it is not allowed to cycle through these tunnels. Cyclists have the surface.

There was once a busy road here but the road is now underground and this area now provides a traffic free cycle-path and a play area for children.
In the 1960s, this river was buried and a road was built here. The road has now been buried and the river has come back to the surface.
Between the airport and the city, my bus travelled through at least 10 km of tunnels through rock. This is a difficult enough task but the city is not built on such firm foundations and digging through the softer ground under the city without disturbing buildings is considered to be much more difficult.

These buildings were removed during
tunnel construction then brought back
and placed on top of new basements.
Difficulty isn't standing in the way of improving the city. In some cases, entire buildings had to be moved several kilometres away during construction of tunnels. After the tunnels were completed, the same buildings were brought back to their original positions. Quite apart from the removal of much of the traffic in the area which they live in, residents of these buildings benefit from new foundations and better basements than they had before.

I saw the official opening of electric
car charging points and an on-street
bicycle pump.
Much of the new and good work across the city is the work of Miljøpakken ("Greener Trondheim" - though it translates literally as "Environmental package").

This council initiative has been quite clever at marketing itself. Their logo is easily recognized and often seen. It's a symbol of progress within the city.

Free air: Another indication that
cyclists are considered important.
About 60% of Miljøpakken's funding comes from road tolls. There is a target to reduce journeys by private car but this is not happening in an aggressive way. There is spending on things which will improve the lives of everyone in the city, including drivers. When works are carried out on behalf of Miljøpakken, everyone is informed that this is the case.

Where a street is being pedestrianized, the logo is clearly visible.

On a cycle-lane: Thank-you for cycling.
Keeping on the right side of the public is essential for an organisation which is changing the city. Trondheimers are seeing benefits from what has been done and that is why most people are in support.

School trip
One of the successes in Trondheim in recent years is the increase in school cycling.

Some very small children cycle to
We visited a bicycle road (a road dedicated as a through route by bicycle but not as a through route by motor vehicles) as part of the tour around Trondheim and while we were there, this group of school children cycled past together. It was clear that my hosts were as surprised as I was. "This didn't happen five years ago".

For teachers to feel confidence enough to take an entire class cycling like this, as they regularly do across the Netherlands, and for parents to feel confident enough to allow it, requires a high level of subjective safety. School cycling is increasing in Trondheim, and also in other parts of Norway.

When cycling is made into an attractive form of transport, people are attracted to cycling. What it takes is removal of motor vehicles from where cyclists must ride. The higher the quality of this removal, the more cycling results. It's important to have a comprehensive grid of high quality infrastructure as non-existent or dangerous links are not attractive. Norway allowing pavement cycling has enabled the country to maintain a higher cycling modal share than it would have without pavements providing usable but low quality links, but to grow further Norway too needs proper infrastructure. I'm happy to say that Trondheim at least is well on its way to achieving this.

More advances in Trondheim
This month we have two more study tours booked by people from Trondheim. It's extremely positive that there are so many people taking a serious interest in growing cycling in Trondheim and across Norway. As with other study tour groups, we will take a close interest in what really works to make cycling more convenient and accessible to the population and also take a close look at those things which do not work in order to avoid mistakes being repeated.

Norway was not always a wealthy country. Their current wealth is in large part the result of having discovered North Sea oil in the 1960s. It helped enormously that the government of Norway was dedicated to flattening out income distribution so that everyone in the country would benefit from this windfall. The result is the high standard of living which Norwegians benefit from.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Does free car parking make people drive cars ? Certainly not when there is a better alternative

A supermarket in the centre of Assen in the 1970s. Note that the car-park is more than full. Conditions for cycling were not particularly pleasant at this time and it should be no surprise that cycling was in decline across the Netherlands when this photo was taken.
It's not unusual to hear calls from cyclists, especially cycling campaigners, for an increase in the price of car parking. The belief is that increasing the cost of driving is essential to prevent other people from choosing to drive cars, and it's usually assumed that this will somehow make those other people then choose to cycle. I've always found this to be a strange belief, especially when it is expressed by people who can well afford to park a car but who prefer to cycle because they enjoy it.

My personal choice to cycle has never really been about saving money. I cycle because of convenience and because I find cycling to be pleasant. I've always believed that if other people could find cycling to be as convenient, safe and pleasant as I find it then this would enable those other people to make the same choice as I do. No-one needs to be forced to do something that they want to do anyway.

Sadly, few places in the world offer people a genuinely free choice to cycle.

Outside the new supermarket on the same site as above with a study tour group last week. This shopping centre has cycle-paths at one end and other well designed infrastructure at the other end providing safe routes to both doors. Bicycles can be taken inside and parked right next to the shops. Car parking is free of charge for shoppers but cycling is the most popular way of visiting the supermarket.
Cycling in most towns does not feel safe. That makes cycling not particularly pleasant for most people. What's more, routes shared with cars result in cycle journeys rarely being much quicker than driving. When people choose to drive under conditions hostile to cycling we need to recognize that a rational choice is being made given the options available.

While conditions for cycling are unpleasant, people will continue to pay to park their cars almost regardless of how much it costs. They'll certainly complain more if it gets more expensive, but it will take extremely high prices to force people to stop driving and instead do something that they find to be dangerous and unpleasant, and this of course impacts harder on those whose wallets are less full.

On the other hand, if we make conditions for cycling pleasant, people will choose to cycle even if parking is cheap or free of charge. We see this at many locations in Assen, as there are many locations here where free parking does not fill up. The supposed lure of free parking turns out not to be very strong at all when people actually have a more pleasant and convenient alternative.

The same shopping centre, Triade, from the air, showing the high rise car parks above the shops. The top floor above the supermarket is, as usual, completely empty. Though this car park is free of charge if you visit the supermarket during your stay, that's not a sufficient attraction to make people drive when cycle-access is more convenient. View Larger Map

Other examples
By creating attractive conditions for mass cycling, people from all walks of life now have a free choice. The population reacted by opting to cycle instead of driving this is more convenient. While car ownership is quite high, those cars are not used for every journey. More journeys are made by bike than by car in Assen.

There's free car parking at many locations in Assen but though car parking is so often free of charge, those car parks remain relatively empty. Rather than trying to push people out of cars by charging high rates for parking, Assen demonstrates a more successful and less controversial way of encouraging people not to drive cars: a better alternative exists in the form of the bicycle.

You can't find this free covered underground car park on Google Maps. It's under a different shopping centre, which we also visit on study tours. I've never seen it even close to full. Most visitors prefer to park their bikes above, right next to the shops.
It's easy for anyone to look at Google Maps and view aerial photography of car-parks in Assen. You'll find them not to be particularly large for the population of the city, but still to be largely empty:

Free car parking at "big box shops" - garden centre, carpets, furniture etc. Shopping by car is relatively popular here because of the size and weight of items being bought. However, cycle-access is good: note proximity of cycle-paths. View Larger Map

Free employee parking at a health insurance company, a relatively large employer near the centre of the city. Remember that employees at Dutch companies are actually paid extra to cover the cost of long car commutes. Note easy access by cycle-paths on all sides. View Larger Map

Free employee parking at the oil company which is one of the biggest employers in Assen. Cycle-paths provide good access here too. View Larger Map

Assen's hospital
Given that people visit hospitals only under difficult conditions, it is especially unpleasant that charges at hospitals should be used to try to force people to change their behaviour. Thankfully, Assen does not do this. The hospital in Assen offers free parking for both cars and bicycles. I made a video of the public cycle and car parking at the hospital a few days ago:

Like many places in Assen, the hospital offers free car parking.

Another not so busy day at Assen
hospital's never full free car-park
While both cycling and driving are easy, the cycle-routes to the hospital in Assen make cycling into a pleasant way of making this journey. This encourages people to cycle, whether patients, visitors or staff.

People are more likely to drive to a hospital than many other locations because transporting someone who has discomfort due to illness or injury by bike may not be a good idea, but even in this location the car parking rarely, if ever, fills up.

In this image from Google Maps, just as in real life, the car parks are not nearly full. Free parking is not really an attractor. It doesn't make people feel they have to drive when driving is otherwise less convenient than cycling. Cycle-paths are shown in red - leading right up to the hospital main entrance.
Car-park pricing should not be a campaigning issue for cyclists
Free parking advertised in the local
news-paper. Convenient for some,
causes no problem for everyone else.
41% of journeys are by bike. Fewer
that are by car.
Assen proves that a high car parking cost is not actually necessary at all in order to achieve a high cycling modal share. What's more, this is a relatively prosperous part of the world so its also not necessary to

To grow cycling, it's necessary to convert non-cyclists into cyclists. When the majority of the population either already drive cars or see themselves as future drivers, there is nothing to be gained by antagonizing or alienating that majority.

Sign of a successful cycling policy. It
costs just €28 per month to hire a space
in a secure parking garage in the centre
of Assen (300 m from the main square).
The low price reflects extremely low
parking demand. Capitalism in action.
There may well be good reason for higher car parking charges in some cities, but that's not a discussion which cycling campaigners should be involved with. It is better that parking charges are decided on grounds other than that some members of a group representing a small minority perhaps do not like cars. Cycling issues overlap with but are not strictly environmental issues. Cycling campaigners campaigning against cars can foster an "us vs. them" mentality and make it more difficult for people who do not currently cycle to become cyclists.

Do you want to reduce dependency on
motor vehicles? Follow the Dutch
example: A higher proportion of trips
by non-motorized modes than people
of any other European nation. This
is not because of environmental
concerns but because it's most
convenient. And most importantly it's
despite the attraction of free parking.
(see also the list of myths and excuses)
What cyclists need most is better infrastructure. When there's a comprehensive grid of high quality cycle routes which goes everywhere, when distances on those cycle routes are shorter than distances by car, and when all three types of safety have been taken care of then this maximises the attractiveness of cycling. Dedicated cyclists will make the maximum number of journeys under such conditions.

However, not only does this provide the best environment for existing cyclists to make efficient journeys but it also provides the best environment possible to encourage people who do not currently cycle that they would also benefit from doing so - a step which they are far more likely to make if they do not see cyclists as "other".

It is better for cycle campaigners to spend their time on making conditions for cycling more attractive than on being concerned about the conditions for driving. The Netherlands demonstrates that this is more successful.

Cycling should be for everyone
A few weeks ago,the BBC reported on a woman in London who has no choice but to walk seven miles to her minimum wage job because she can't afford a car and public transport takes too large a chunk out of her small salary.

Still not close to good enough, London.
Simultaneous Green, Bridge, Tunnel,
Proper Roundabout, anything but that.
An increase in the price of car parking does nothing to stop people who already can't afford to drive from driving. It does nothing to help those who are also already priced out of public transport. Walking for so long each day cannot be convenient, but cycling is still not seen as an option. People in similar situations could be very well served by cycling but this will happen only if the conditions for riding a bike in become considerably more attractive than they are now. Sadly, London cycling conditions remain unattractive and there are still no plans to provide the city with what it really needs.

Rich people have far more options than the less well off. Those on a limited income suffer a disproportionate discrimination through costs which are not proportional to income. If the current least bad option for someone is to drive a car (which is the case for some people) then making this more expensive can make life very difficult for that person. Simply increasing costs does not provide people with another better choice.

Unlike increasing the cost of parking and also unlike the cost of public transport, making cycling more accessible is not regressive. Cycling infrastructure opens up a new option for everyone regardless of their wealth. Cycling is a great social leveller here in the Netherlands and it has the same potential in other countries. But this doesn't come without investment in proper cycling infrastructure.

When good enough conditions exist for cycling, it moves from being a minority pursuit to something that everyone can and wants to do. Some people might still be forced to cycle for financial reasons, some might do so purely because it's good for their health and there are certainly quite a lot of people across the world including here in the Netherlands who cycle simply because they like cycling. However, for cycling to become attractive and useful for the majority of people, the reasons to cycle must be those of convenience, pleasantness and relative safety.

Why can't all children everywhere live like Dutch children ?
It is at that point that the whole population starts to benefit. It also makes your children happy.

Why isn't every country doing this already ?

Update: The end of free parking in Assen!
I went away for a few days and returned to see the following headline in a local newspaper:
The end of free parking ? So soon after I'd written about it ? Read on. Note also that this refers to just one free parking area near the city centre. Others will remain free of charge.
It's an interesting story. A modification of the current policy.

I'm not the only person to have noticed that car parks in Assen, whether pair or free, are mostly empty. The council has realised this too. Car parking is supposed to be revenue neutral but because car parks "are largely empty and economically unsustainable", the city has had to subsidize car parking in Assen. Instead of subsidizing the car parks, the city wants to make them pay.

In an attempt to attract drivers into the largely empty high-rise car parks, the city actually intends to decrease the cost of using these car parks. The all-day rate in Assen's high-rise car parks is to be halved from the current €12 to just €6 a day. At the same time, the city will increase the cost of on-street parking and remove free parking close to the city centre in order to give drivers fewer options and force higher use of the high-rise car parks.

It's not a punitive move - it's merely a way of trying to make provision of parking in Assen become revenue neutral.

1974: At one time, Assen couldn't provide enough car parking. This is how the main city square was used. See the video below for an update
Next to most cities, this is very much a luxury problem. It is a sign of a successful cycling policy.

Rather than not being able to provide enough spaces to keep up with car parking need, Assen's population's use of bicycles has led to there being an over-supply of car-parking spaces and not enough cars to fill them.

2014: The same city square today. It's used for events, not for parking. This is just one of many places in Assen which is no longer a car park.

In answer to the question posed at the top, does free car parking making people drive cars ? No. It clearly does not. But making cycling unpleasant certainly stops them from cycling, and that is when people can feel they have no choice but to drive. Where cycling is made truly attractive, people no longer have to drive and car parks can become difficult to run on an economic basis.