Saturday, 9 September 2017

Business as usual by driving a "Green car" vs. actually using a genuinely clean and green mode of transport

In the late 80s I worked as a contract software engineer and lived as a sort of a self-propelled technological vagrant. I had never had an interest in cars and wouldn't learn to drive for several more years so all my travel was by public transport, by bicycle or by foot. Many people thought this an unusual choice, but I managed to make my way with an ancient laptop computer and portable stereo to wherever I had work to do.

2017: Car companies have never shied away from claiming
that their product is "green", but actually cars are anything
but a "green" product. Similarly, this sign claims that a
product which kills over a million people every year is "safe".
For a few months I worked off and on at a location in South London where I found accommodation in a local family's spare room. It was just as well that I didn't drive as there would have been nowhere to park a car, Mum, Dad and both their sons had cars so the driveway and the road outside were already full. They were sociable people and there were often conversations over breakfast, often concerning annoyance with traffic jams and the cost of fuel. One morning my landlady told me that it was going to be expensive but because she was so concerned about the environment she was buying a new "green" car (she used the word "green").

It seemed to me that the problem with that area was that is was dominated by cars. I couldn't see how changing from one model of car to another was going to achieve any sort of transformation (I think I've been proven to be right as it's still dominated by cars, just like the rest of London). I pointed out that building a new car costs in lot of energy and resources and that therefore keeping an older model going for a few more years would quite possibly have a lower environmental impact than changing prematurely to a new one. I also pointed out that the new car would burn fossil fuels at much the same rate as her old car so those gains would be marginal at best. But it was too late for any of this as the marketing people's work had been done and a mind had been made up: My temporary landlady was convinced that new technology made the new car so much better than the old so she was buying one. What was this new technology ? It was merely that the new vehicle could (optionally) run on unleaded petrol.

The environmental advice on offer to drivers is confusing.
These energy labels for new cars show a better rating for
a car with higher emissions. Why ? Because they are based
on the weight/class of the car. The lighter car with the C
rating produces lower emissions per km. No advice is given
to not buy or use a car.
I was a guest in someone else's home and I left it at that, but this thought always stayed with me: Marketing works. A very pleasant woman had been convinced to part with a lot of money to buy a new "green" car because she thought it would allow driving with a clean conscience, in addition to it being a nice thing to show off to her friends. Of course she was far from the only one convinced: Many millions of people have since followed the same path.

Now it's a good thing that lead was removed from automotive fuels. The entire planet was being contaminated with lead from the exhausts of cars and this was especially concentrated in cities and alongside busy roads where many people lived. The result of lead pollution included lowered intelligence and higher crime rates. But could a car modified only so that it could run on lead free fuel be said to be "green" ? Surely not. Hardening valve seats to allow use of unleaded fuel was a relatively inexpensive development which allowed for a new model year of car to be produced, distinct from the old, but it was really just the smallest improvement which the manufacturers could make when faced with possible legislation against them. The greater problems with cars had not been tackled - new cars burnt just as much fuel as the old and carbon emissions were therefore the same. The "green" marketing served its purpose in that it extracted money from customers' bank accounts and sold more cars, but it did nothing for the environment.

Let"s not forget about the other environmental effects of
driving. Tyre rubber makes up a large % of the "plastic soup"
in our oceans. The heavier the vehicle, the quicker the tyre
wears. Electric cars produce more rubber dust than petrol
cars and all cars produce far more dust than bicycles. There
is still no viable method to recycle tyres.
Since that time there have been several other claimed environmental improvements to cars, including catalytic converters (introduced later than lead-free in the UK), autogas, "clean diesel", hybrid, plug-on hybrid and fully electric cars. In each case, bold environmental claims have been made by car manufacturers. Each new type of car was marketed as offering the dream of continuing our lives as usual or even of increasing our use of cars while allowing drivers to have a clean conscience. It's public knowledge now that the clean diesel claims were deliberately based on a deception, but actually this has all been an illusion.

A 1950s mini and a modern mini have similar CO2 emissions.
So does an electric car. This slide comes from a presentation
which I gave in Assen in January on the subject of genuinely
clean and green transport.
Electric cars are the current hype so that's something that's worth talking about now.

 In the Netherlands, 25% of electricity is generated by burning coal and 60% by burning gas. i.e. in total the electricity is generated 85% from the burning of fossil fuels. That is why the CO2 output as a result of driving an electric car is almost identical to that from driving a fossil fuel powered car.

I'm doubtful that any real progress has been made in reducing total CO2 emissions from cars since I had that conversation nearly 30 years ago because while cars haven't become significantly more efficient, their use has most certainly increased since then. Extend the time-line a little and we can be absolutely sure that modern cars produce more CO2 emissions than were contained in the obviously dirty exhausts of the 1950s because today's "green" cars are far higher in number and this swamps the relatively small efficiency improvements made.

The red line shows car usage growth since the 1950s in the
Netherlands. Today's slightly more efficient cars are far
more taxing for the environment than the dirtier cars of
old because they are being driven ten times as much.
Deaths per passenger km (in blue) have improved but
while that's good news, it's a topic for another day.
I think at this point it's worth bearing in mind that by the late 1980s in western nations, car usage had already been through its steepest growth period. In countries where the strongest growth is happening now or where it is yet to come, all the growth is just growth and all the emissions are in addition to what was there before. There is no possible argument that these new emissions can possibly be countered by improvements in efficiency over what there was before.

More cars are leading to more pollution. It doesn't much matter what the fuel source is, the result is the same. The only way to produce less pollution from motor vehicles is to use them less.

Government reaction to a growing problem
1970s magazine impression of a futuristic efficient electric
car, light weight and low performance. Unfortunately, the trend
has been towards higher weight and better performance which
has led to higher emissions. Subsidies are now given to
encourage people to buy relatively inefficient vehicles.
Anyway, most car journeys are over cycle-able distances.
Governments around the world are now falling over themselves to offer incentives to those who buy new electric cars. Many millions of $, €, ¥ and 圆 are now being given away to encourage people to drive.

For example, the Dutch government has offered €1000 to people who scrap their old cars, but only if they use the money to buy a new car. This is a subsidy which encourages people to continue to drive. Anyone who wishes to scrap their old car and not drive at all cannot receive the subsidy. In addition, there are other incentives worth thousands more for people who buy an electric car. All these subsidies and incentives can only be used by those who choose to continue to pollute by continuing to drive. What's more, the more you drive, the bigger the saving that can be made.

Most journeys made by motor vehicle are short enough that they could instead be made by human power. In most cases a normal bicycle or by using an efficient bicycle such as a velomobile to cover slightly longer distances and enable comfortable cycling in all weathers. There are no subsidies to help to enable people to buy velomobiles. Modern, efficient, velomobiles are almost all produced by Dutch companies, but these companies do not receive the support from government which is offered to foreign companies producing electric cars.

The Netherlands continues to achieve more for cycling than any other country but even here there isn't enough attention being placed on encouraging people not to use motorized transport. Roads for cars receive at least ten times the funding available for cycling facilities.

But can't we use "green" electricity ?
Only 25% of Dutch electricity is now generated by burning
coal vs. 100% 50 years ago. Unfortunately that means
twice as much coal is burnt now compared with before.
50 years ago, almost all electricity generated around the world was the result of burning coal. This was the case in the Netherlands as well. Now just a quarter of all electricity in the Netherlands comes from coal, which might look like progress.

Unfortunately, the consumption of electricity has grown so much that to generate a quarter of our electricity today requires burning twice as much coal as was burnt 50 years ago. In addition, 60% of electricity results on burning gas, which produces about half the CO2 emissions of coal for the same useful electricity output but because more than twice as much generation comes from burning gas as from coal, the emissions of the gas power stations are even greater than the emissions of the coal stations.

It's not just the Netherlands that is reliant on fossil fuels for
electricity. This graph shows the growth in generation world
wide
. The brown part is the contribution of fossil fuels.
It's completely unreasonable to expect that "green" electric
cars which double the total demand for electricity will be able
to run solely on renewables when faced with this data.
The contribution from renewable sources is still small at around 10% of the total, and it's still intermittent. We have an array of solar panels on our roof which generates more electricity than we use in our home and our business combined each year. Unfortunately, on overcast rainy September mornings like this morning, our "3600 W" system only produces about 1/10th of the electricity required to boil a kettle for a cup of tea. While we generate more electricity each year than we use, we don't only consume the electricity that we generate. Output in winter is far less than our use during that period and of course we could never run our lights at night time from our solar power. The balance of the energy used comes from other sources, which in the Netherlands mostly means gas, coal and nuclear despite our having signed up to a "green" tariff.

If everyone were to switch to driving an electric car then double the amount of electricity would be required. Not only would this require very many more generators but it would also create an expectation that vast amounts electricity ought to be available immediately to every motorist who arrives home at the end of a working day because they expect to be able to drive their car again later that evening or next morning. Unfortunately, the huge current consumption of fast charging (30 A for each Nisssan Leaf fast charger) of millions of electric cars plugged in at the end of the working day is simply not compatible with the way in which electricity is generated, at a consistent level all day through for traditional generators and when the sun shines or wind blows for renewables, and there are absolutely no viable storage technologies which could smooth this out (no, not with a battery and not with pumped storage either).

Forget about batteries
Let's re-iterate that. We can't rely on batteries because the resources don't exist on our planet to build them. Nor can we rely on such things as pumped storage because they simply don't scale. British people often like to point to the Dinorwig pumped storage facility in Wales. It's a marvelous machine and the roughly 75% efficiency is actually quite good, but its capacity is just 10 MWh which is a small fraction of the 830 MWh which the UK consumes each day. To provide enough storage to cater for seven days of normal electricity usage to allow for variations in wind strength you'll need to build another 500 of those plants. Are there 500 suitable places in the UK ? I doubt it. Add electric cars and you can double that. That's to give just a week's worth of storage. If you want to rely on solar power you actually need 6 months of storage...

The only solution is to use less electricity, especially overnight and during winter when there is less solar power and also at any time when the wind isn't blowing hard, when what we should be looking to do is to reduce electricity usage. That means not expecting to be able to charge vast numbers of electric cars.

Buses, trains and cars have quite similar energy
consumption per passenger kilometre
. There's not
much to gain by convincing people to travel by bus
or train instead of driving a car. Bicycles are
a completely different story.
What about trains or buses ?
Unfortunately, public transport such as trains and buses use a very similar amount of energy per passenger kilometre to a car. There's no substantial gain from switching from one mode to another. To reduce energy consumption and the resulting emissions caused by transport we have to fewer journeys by motorized means over shorter distances.

The Dutch railway company NS boasts of using entirely wind energy to power their trains, but this is an illusion. All that's happening is that they have signed up for a wind energy tariff. Anyone can do that. I'm sure many of my readers have already done so. We did this many years ago and when I looked into it I found out where my "green" electricity really came from.

Having a green tariff doesn't mean that your electricity genuinely comes from that source because there would then be no guarantee of supply. Dutch trains don't grind to a halt when the wind stops blowing, they simply continue to run on the same mix of electricity sources as every other electrical device in the Netherlands. i.e. 25% coal and 60% gas.

Aircraft and ships
Growth in air-transport over time.
Not only do we now use cars about 10 times more than we used to in the 1950s, but we fly about 30 times as much as we did at that time. Despite great increases in the efficiency of aircraft this has resulted in enormous growth in emissions.

Not only passenger transport, but the shipment of goods has also also grown enormously. The Berlin Airlift required an unprecedented effort by the Western Allies using military and civilian aircraft to move enough food, fuel and other supplies into Berlin to sustain the population over 15 months in 1948 - 1949 however routine civilian cargo flights now move the same weight of goods by air every four days.

The original Boeing 707 was sold in the 1950s on the basis that it consumed a tenth of the fuel per passenger km, and therefore would create about 1/10th of the CO2 emissions, compared with a contemporary ocean liner. Since that time, jet aircraft which were then a new technology have become three times more efficient while the efficiency of ships, which were already a developed technology, has not moved markedly. Anyone who travels by ship instead of by aircraft on the grounds that it's "green" has made a huge error.

The only way of reducing the emissions of your journeys is to travel less.

Ships powered by sails alone have genuinely low emissions but while there have been frequent stories over the past few decades (even so long ago as the 1920s) about new ships with sails, wings and kites, only a handful of ships have ever used these techniques to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and there are (very nearly) no sailing ships in current use for cargo or passenger travel.

Offsetting
Carbon offsetting doesn't work. Removing coal, gas or oil from the ground and burning it is a one-way process. Paying someone in a far off country to plant a tree does not remove CO2 from the air and put it back underground, it merely moves some amount to temporary storage in a tree. If you live in a western developed nation it's quite likely that where you live now is a place which was once a forest, or at least covered in more vegetation than you see around you. Please do plant trees as that compensates to some extent for deforestation which has already happened and continues to happen, but recognize that doing so is only replacing the trees which have already been displaced. It does not compensate for using fossil fuels.

Similarly, you can't compensate for higher usage of fossil fuels by eating a vegan diet or by not having children. Yes, it's true that both of those things will reduce your carbon footprint relative to someone who eats meat or has children, but they cannot make it it negative as would be required to compensate for burning fossil fuels.

Airlines, movie companies and other businesses have partnerships with carbon offsetting companies because it's good marketing, greenwashing a company reputation rather than actually solving a problem. We can't buy away our effect on the planet, we can only reduce our effect by consuming less.

Reduce, Re-use, Re-cycle
The Three Rs of environmentalism are supposed to be "Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle". They're always stated in that order because "Reduce" is most important but unfortunately it's also always been the least popular suggestion of the three. Buying ever more stuff and sending it away at the end of its (short) life so that someone else hopefully will be able to recycle that stuff is not the same as buying less stuff in the first place.

Where transport emissions are concerned it's really only "Reduce" which has any relevance. The only way we can reduce our emissions through travel is to reduce the number of kilometres per year that we travel by using motorized modes of transport. Unfortunately, the pattern of the last few decades has been one of extraordinary growth with people using cars more and flying much more so that they can take holidays at greater distances from home.

Who is a "cyclist" ? As "cyclists", are we helping or hindering ?
What proportion of the distance that each of us covers each year is by bicycle ? The average Dutch person walks or cycles about 10% of their journeys by distance. Similarly, I suspect that many enthusiastic people who read this blog and identify as "cyclists" actually cover rather more distance by a mixture of car, aeroplane, bus and train than they do by bicycle. If we do that, and our cycling is actually a minority mode for us, then perhaps we should identify instead as "motorists" as the majority of our transport is actually by motorised vehicle.

I'm not getting at you, dear reader, I'm asking you to think about it. Think about your own travel patterns and those of others. I'm thinking about it. I refused an invitation to attend a cycling conference in Australia a few years ago because of the travel and more recently refused to open a cycling event in Norway for the same reason. However at the same time we've been encouraging other people to make long journeys by offering study tours. I feel that we should stop offering the tours, but people will still make those same long journeys by motorised means to visit the Netherlands or other places in order to cycle short distances.

Harvey, Irma and Jose too
On the same weekend as I wrote this, on the same weekend as
the storms continue to cause havoc, The Guardian, a relatively
enlightened UK newspaper, ran an article about the joys of
flying to New Zealand to go on a 15 km bike ride. Other
stories covered by the press include how long it will be until
flights to Florida will be able to resume. Are we going to
continue to ignore the problem that we're creating ?
While it's impossible to say that the storms which are currently affecting millions of peoples' lives are directly the result of man-made climate change, it's widely accepted that even if they are not so caused, climate change will certainly have made their effects worse.

The people affected by these storms are suffering at present and we can all do a little to help. In the Netherlands, the Rode Kruis is organising a help effort. Give what you can, but think also about how your personal behaviour can influence future weather patterns.

None of us can continue with "business as usual". So far as transport is concerned, and transport is the subject of this blog, we need to reduce how much we use all motorised modes. Cycling can't "offset" motoring. It can't "offset" the burning of fossil fuels and there are no motorized modes which don't use fossil fuels. Are we, every one of us, individually, part of the solution or part of the problem ?

This blog post is based in large part on a presentation which I made in Assen in January. If you wish, you can read the original slides and a version of some of the text of that presentation.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Bikes for refugees

I've not written much on this blog recently. This is a cycling blog and it's rare that I've strayed far from cycling subjects, but at this point in history there are other big issues which simply can't be ignored and I've not wanted to distract from them. Many of my readers are from the UK and USA and both countries have far greater problems at the moment than their lack of decent cycling infrastructure.

I'll start with a message to Americans: Please hurry up and impeach Trump. He was obviously not of presidential material before many of you voted for him and in the few days he's been in power he has undermined your nation. Trump is a danger not only to the US but also to the world. But at least there is an obvious protest movement in the US and Trump has been of huge benefit to satirists.

To British people: Brexit will be a disaster for the UK. Your massive debt, poor infrastructure, poor social conditions and lack of much to export won't be helped at all by devaluation of your currency and loss of the very good trade deals which you currently have with the EU and through it to the world. Millions of people are already living with uncertainty due to the vote (us included). There's not much good news in the pipeline for the UK. For Britain I think it's worse than for the USA. A president is voted in for four years while brexit is forever. Yet while some British politicians are busy getting close to Trump the official "opposition" has failed to actually oppose anything, and there are no significant protests so I can't see this juggernaut stopped.

Most mainland Europeans understand more than one language. As a result, they're not hostage to what their own media wishes to publish. What's more, newspapers and TV news over here report what's going on in other countries quite well. As a result, the people have been able to see what has happened in the UK and USA, how "fake news" and outright lies misled the electorates of those countries. The result of this is that support for the EU has increased since June last year and the chance of European nations falling foul of the same influences as caused Brexit and the Trump presidency has waned.

A positive message
The world is a strange place at the moment. However that seems like a good reason to write about something positive:

Last year, the Grote Culturele Prijs van Drenthe (Great Cultural Prize of Drenthe) was awarded to the architect Cor Kalfsbeek. Cor and his wife Sibylle decided to use the €10000 prize money to do something for society and what they've done is to buy 100 bicycles for refugees living in a centre near their home in the North of Drenthe.



In this video from our local TV station you'll see people learning to cycle and find out how the bikes are being used. Because cycling has been made accessible to everyone, newcomers to the Netherlands use bicycles just as the locals do, to go to school and work, make shopping trips, and for pleasant rides through the countryside. Cycling is not only useful, it also makes people smile.

Cyclists near one of the many refugee centres in Drenthe
In the words of Sybille Kalfsbeek: "What can be better than cycling in the Netherlands ? You must do it. It takes you far, it relaxes you, you're outside, you're distracted and must pay attention. It's an activity which frees you and it makes your world a bit bigger."

The Netherlands is currently home to many thousands of refugees. There have been objections from some people afraid of what might happen, and crimes have been commited by a small minority, but the majority of asylum seekers are people very much like you and I, singles, couples, families, who are in desperate need and the majority of the Dutch population are compassionate and wish to help.

The school closest to our home in Assen which had fallen out of use after a new school was built has instead re-opened as a centre for educating refugees of secondary school age. Therefore a group of refugee children cycle to that school every day.

The hands of children learning Dutch at a local asylum seekers'
centre. On each finger they've listed something that they care
about:  Family, friends, school, work, football, swimming,
facebook, cycling, cars, cooking, eating, pizza, reading,
television, music... The same concerns as anyone else.
It doesn't matter where they come from, people have the same concerns and the same desires. Primarily, people wish to live in a place which is safe for their family and themselves. All people want their children to do well, they want work, and they want an enjoyable life.


And now back to where I started. Campaigners in countries which we have targeted most for study tours in the past may well have other things on their minds right now. I understand that. However, no matter what happens next, cycling won't grow unless infrastructure for cycling is improved.

This is our twelfth year of offering study tours. Again we'll demonstrate the best of the infrastructure in Assen and Groningen and we'll point out pitfalls to avoid. Open tour dates in April and May can be found on our website.

Keep cycling, and keep resisting injustice.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The effect of snow clearance from on-road cycle-lanes vs. off-road cycle-paths demonstrates why off-road paths are superior for cyclists

There are many disadvantages of on-road cycle-lanes vs. off-road cycle-paths. This was well illustrated today when cycling along a road with a cycle-lane on one side and a cycle-path on the other.

Cyclists using the on-road lane suffered from that lane being halved in effective width from the usual 2.1 m to about 1 m due to swept snow filling half the lane. This pushed those cyclists closer to passing motorized traffic.

On the other side of the same road cycling was as safe as usual because the off-road path required sweeping separately from the road and therefore remained close to its usual 2.5 m width.

This road in Assen has an on-road cycle-lane on one side but an off-road cycle-path on the other. Though the separation between the off-road path and the road is narrower than is ideal, this kerb requires that the snow plough driver properly on the cycle-path and cyclists remain properly separated from the traffic on the road. Cyclists travelling in the opposite direction, using the on-road lane, found themselves pushed closer to motorised traffic.

In another location you can see how clearance of this cycle-path was not perfect because the width of the snow plough used was less than the width of the path. However, this still left a perfectly usable bidirectional path which still served to provide cyclists with safer conditions separated from the road alongside which carries motorized traffic.
A few days after the other photos were taken. The temperature has remained below zero for several days now. All the trees are white, covered in frost, and the canal is frozen. The cycle-paths are mostly clear. Wide paths like this, which is 4 m wide, don't tend to be clear to their full width because the snow ploughs are less than 4 m wide.

Find out more

The road at the top also features in blog posts about two other potential problems with on-road cycle-lanes: Dooring and pinch points. In both cases this road provides relatively good examples of relieving these problems, though an off-road cycle-path is generally a better solution. Also see a blog post summarising all problems with on-road cycle-lanes. For positive infrastructure ideas, see all blog posts about good design.

Support this blog. Buy products for winter cycling from our webshop. We use studded tyres on our bikes to greatly reduce the chance of falling.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Drenthe, the world's cycling province. Now recognized as the first ever UCI Bike Region

Why we came here
People occasionally ask us why we chose to live in Assen, capital of the rural province of Drenthe in the North of the Netherlands, when we could have made our home in one of the better known Dutch cities in the South.

An extensive grid of quality cycling infrastructure. Not only
within the city of Assen, also through the countryside.
As we had our own business we were free to go anywhere. We were not forced to choose any particular location due to our employer. This location was not arrived at by chance: we spent many years researching the Netherlands and visiting different parts of the country, always looking for the right place for us to move to.

One of our most important criteria was that our new home had to be in a place which was exceptional for cycling because quite apart from that being pleasant for ourselves, we were already planning to run study tours and organise cycling holidays a long time before we moved here. It would have made no sense to do either of those things from an inferior location.

The Netherlands leads the world in cycling, but cycling infrastructure across the country is not the same everywhere. Both Assen and the countryside around the city are exceptional for cycling even when compared with much of the rest of the Netherlands. That's why we came here.

UCI Bike Region
A couple of weeks ago our local TV news included this clip, "Drenthe is the first area in the world named as a UCI Bike Region":



Not only does the grid cover obvious commuting routes
but also very pleasant routes through heath and forest.
The UCI is primarily concerned with regulating cycle sport. Drenthe hosts many cycle sport competitions such as the Ronde van Drenthe and the world's largest youth cycle racing event. The judges were also impressed by the wonderful annual four day Fiets4Daagse event. However in this case the award was given in large part due to the high rate of utility cycling. "The Netherlands is renowned as having the most highly developed cycling infrastructure in the world and is a model for others to follow [...] Drenthe has one of the highest levels of children cycling to school and citizens riding bikes for transport of anywhere in the country." i.e. they were impressed by precisely the same things as impressed us.

How is Drenthe now ?
In this particularly sparely populated mostly rural province, people cycle further than in most of the rest of the country and despite those longer distances the cycling modal share is higher. The province claims quite a lot. e.g.:

  1. 29% of all journeys in Drenthe are by bike vs. figure of 27% nationally.
  2. 15-25 year olds in Drenthe cycle on average 6.12 km per day while nationally the figure is just 4.01 km per day.
  3. 44% of trips up to 2.5 km in length are by bicycle in Drenthe vs. 38% nationally.

Why is cycling so popular in Drenthe ? It's surely no coincidence that a place with excellent infrastructure should find itself also to have high rate of cycling. With over 2100 km in total, this province has more fully separated cycle-paths than any other.

Together towards zero
traffic victims.
Advances in Drenthe
Drenthe has also been awarded the status of a "five star cycling province" (five stars is the maximum) and there is currently a "quality impulse" available in the form of a financial boost. €20M is to be spent by the province in conjunction with other matched funding, working out as an additional €34 per person. It's enough to make real improvements.

Even before this funding became available, some evidence of a recent emphasis had already made itself know. For instance, a new type of retro-reflective paint used on the centre lines of rural cycle-paths makes them significantly easier to see at night.

The network of excellent cycling infrastructure continues to grow, with "the grid" covering not only towns and cities but also making the entire countryside easily accessible by bike. It is a stated aim to increase the already very high proportion of children who cycle to school and to promote more long distance commuting by bike.

The better funding will contribute towards useful interventions such as the upcoming Assen-Groningen Fietssnelweg. Existing routes between the two cities are already excellent, but for many of those in a hurry this will provide an even better alternative:
One of the submitted designs for a new Assen-Groningen fietssnelweg, to have a design speed of 35 km/h and absolutely no stops at all. I see myself fitting in very well on that cycle-path, designed to make cycling a genuinely efficient and attractive alternative to driving over a distance of 30 km.
Here comes winter
13 parcels full of quality bicycle components from our webshop
beginning their journey to destinations across the world
It's beginning to get cold here. Indeed, last night was the coldest November night since 1998, with a temperature of -8 C. We've not got enough ice yet for skating, but there's enough that birds can stand on top of the canal rather than swimming in it.

Of course, in winter we expect the cycling to continue.

Maintenance continues to be excellent and Assen has no potholes in roads and cycle-paths which the ice can make worse.

Remaining in Drenthe
We've now lived in Assen for nearly ten years. This is still the right place from which to promote cycling, to write about our experiences and from which to supply cycling products. We're doing all we can to stay right here and continue to do the same.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

News roundup: Children cycling to school, Walking bike championships, Self driving bus, Progress in Assen

Sometimes small items of news aren't quite enough for a blog post on their own so I've combined these:

A Study Tour participant from Uppsala in Sweden just uploaded this video shot two years ago during the school run in Assen. This is an area within a suburb of Assen near local shops built between primary schools (age 5-11). The same thing happens every day.

Parents accompany many younger children, but you'll note that almost all children of all age groups ride their own bicycles and that older primary school age children are independently mobile. Also note that cycling is always a sociable side-by-side activity. If cycle-paths were so narrow that they enforced one-by-one cycling then they would neither have the required capacity for this many cyclists nor would they be useful for parents accompanying their children.

See this for yourself: Book a study tour.

Probably amongst the cutest things you'll see this week, this video from our local TV news is of the BMX national championships for walking bikes held in the town of Klazienaveen in Drenthe. There were four different categories: 5 year olds, 4 year olds, 3 year olds and 2 years or younger.

At the moment, our local TV station has a series of programmes entitled "Week van de fiets". This was the first installment, in which people are interviewed about their cycling habits. Drenthe has more segregated cycle-paths than any other province in the Netherlands and this is part of the reason why Drenthe is one of only two "five star" cycling provinces in the country (the other is Friesland).


Take care! Pilot of self driving
vehicle. Vehicle can't swerve.
Keep 1 metre distance.
Unfortunately, being a five star cycling province doesn't necessarily mean that local councillors appreciate what they have or that policies are particularly sensible.

Just over the border in Appelscha (that's in Friesland but supported in part by a grant from Drenthe) there has been a trial of a self-driving bus along a cycle-path. The bus travels at a maximum of 15 km/h and is as wide as the cycle-path on which it travels.

Result: perhaps not much actual danger, but plenty of unwelcome chaos. Cyclists are told they have to swerve because the bus cannot. People who have been interviewed after riding the bus say that it's only useable if you've got all day to make your journey.

Note how the seats in the bus are three abreast. Even in the Netherlands, every other mode of transport is always given width to enable sociable travel, even if as in this case that means that due to a bus entirely filling the cycle-path, the legitimate users of the path are forced to ride on the grass !

A Dutch blogger's suggested solution :-)
I very much hope we've seen the end of this ridiculous trial. There are many bus roads in the Netherlands along which buses have right of way and those, as well as normal roads, are where buses belong.

Update: I'd barely posted this before I read that these buses will return next week. Apparently, actual people are to be employed to stand along the cycle-path and instruct cyclists on how to avoid the bus without a driver which is filling their cycle-path. This is beginning to sound like some sort of comedy skit.

Changes in Assen 1960/2014/2016. More.
Finally some welcome news from Assen. A few weeks ago I updated a page of before and after photos of Assen to include the new situation on the Brink.

Over time, this area of the city has changed from a busy through route to a rather quiet street and as of a few weeks ago in 2016 it has been a pedestrian zone in which cycling is permitted.

The news item warns that the promised electronic detection of motor vehicles driving through this area will be switched on soon. From the 1st of October, motorists using this area will receive a written warning. After the 1st of November they'll receive a €90 fine.

The Netherlands is actually a very easy country in which to be a driver, but you can't drive a car everywhere because this limits the options of other people. If Assen's city centre streets had been allowed to continue to fill with cars, then the streets would be even more chaotic than they were in the 1970s and this city really would not be the pleasant place it is today. Not all recent developments are good, but the overall we are still heading in the right direction.

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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Mass cycling requires sociable side-by-side cycling which requires cyclists to take up space. Why then are cyclists the only road users expected to travel single-file?

Children cycling home from school five-abreast in Assen. Riding on the pavement is not what we encourage, but this is a good illustration of how safe those children feel. Read more about this street, which is particularly well designed.
For ten years on our study tours we've suggested to participants that they should take advantage of the opportunity to cycle side-by-side while they are in the Netherlands. Not only does this keep groups together better than they ride single-file but more importantly it's far more sociable and more efficient. We can talk to each other as we cycle and it takes less time for the group to arrive at each destination than if we are strung out into a single line.

Germany last week: He's in the bushes, we're on the grass.
Sadly, German cycle-paths are often inadequate.
Cyclists from other countries often find this a little difficult to do because they are conditioned to being able only to cycle single-file and it feels as if you're "in the way" if you ride side-by-side. I point out that it is only cyclists who are subjected to this restriction:

Pedestrians expect to walk side-by-side everywhere in the world. No-one would consider advocating that pedestrians should always travel single-file.

Drivers travel side-by-side even when they're alone as in a car they take an empty chair along beside themselves taking up the space that another person might otherwise use. Tandem seating cars are almost unheard of (I know of this) there are no demands are made for drivers without passengers to use motorbikes instead of cars in order that they take up less space.

Sitting four abreast on a bus, we take up nearly as much width
as the five cyclists at the head of the page, but this is normal
and no-one complains.
On buses it's possible to be able to sit four abreast yet there are no calls for buses to be made narrower.

It is cyclists alone who are told they must cycle single-file, or who find that where side-by-side cycling is allowed by law they are regardless put under pressure to ride single-file.

As an example, the UK's highway code states "never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends" which while it sounds quite liberal actually gives lots of scope for telling cyclists not to ride two-abreast. Many roads are narrow or busy and all roads have bends.

Four members of the same family riding together in a sociable manner in Assen city centre. Dad is helping the youngest.
Side-by-side cycling makes cycling safer and more fun
Being able to cycle side-by-side is important because it allows cycling to be sociable. All other forms of transport are sociable and cycling should be too. People carry on conversations as they travel by car by public transport or as they walk, and it should be equally possible while cycling. What's more, side-by-side cycling is also necessary for safety. If you're accompanying a child or accompanying someone who is unfamiliar with your town, cycling side-by-side is a good way to ensure that the other person is travelling in the same direction or has seen the same signs as you have.

Riding two-abreast shouldn't be unusual, it should be the norm. Cyclists are people too, and just like those who choose other forms of transport we should also be able to speak to friends and family as we travel. Infrastructure which doesn't make side-by-side cycling easy to do is inadequate infrastructure.

Cycle-path width is important to enable side-by-side cycling
A cycle-path in the UK. The red stripe supposedly serves as
a bidirectional cycle-path but it's not wide enough for sociable
side-by-side riding even in one direction so we are stretched
out and also using the pedestrian path. An example
of designed-in conflict.
Cycle-paths need to have sufficient width to allow cycling side-by-side. If it is necessary for cyclists to constantly adjust their position relative to each other in order to achieve part-time side-by-side cycling, this consumes a lot of extra effort.

Required widths
Unidirectional cycle-paths between 1.2 and 1.9 metres wide enforce single-file cycling. They also make overtaking of one cyclist by another difficult, resulting in cyclists wishing to use the road. Any width below 1.9 metres may as well be single-track as it's not really usable for side-by-side cycling.

The minimum unidirectional path width for comfortable side-by-side cycling is 2 metres. The extra width of a 2.5 m wide single direction path makes the experience more relaxing and more forgiving of error.

One of the oldest cycle-paths in Assen. It's 2.5 m wide, which
makes it suitable for one cyclist to pass in each direction, but
not wide enough for side-by-side cycling in all conditions.
Bidirectional cycle-paths between 2.5 and 3.2 m wide enforce single-file cycling whenever there are cyclists coming in the opposite direction. If two couples approach each other, both riding side-by-side then it's likely that both will switch to single-file, making any width between 2.5 m and 3.2 no better than the narrower width.

For this reason, the required width for a bidirectional cycle-path is a minimum of about 3.3 m. On such a path it's possible for two groups of cyclists both riding two-abreast to pass each other. Extra width makes the experience more pleasant and makes passing easier.
"Sharing" a path with pedestrians over a bridge in Assen
 results in conflict just as it does anywhere else.
Sharing with pedestrians causes conflict
Shared use paths do not work for efficient cycling because pedestrians are unpredictable and cause extra conflict.

In out of town areas the number of pedestrians may be small enough that a single path suffices, but inside towns it is almost never a good idea to ask cyclists and pedestrians to "share" because they will get in the way of one-another.

A separate path is required for each mode. The two paths together will still require fewer resources and take up less space than is routinely allocated for motor vehicles.

This works because that "road" isn't really a road at all. The
only motor vehicles which use this road are maintenance
vehicles or those which require access to the two domestic
properties visible in the photo.
Traffic levels are important
Cyclists should never be expected to ride on roads which have traffic levels so high that they cause cycling side-by-side to be a problem. In the Netherlands, through motor traffic is excluded from virtually all residential streets and city centre streets. Motor and cycling routes are unravelled from one-another and cyclists are close to 100% segregated from motor traffic.

Example of cycle-path widening to
nearly four metres at a junction
.
Efficiency
By allowing two cyclists at a time to pass, and by allowing overtaking, cycle infrastructure which permits side-by-side cycling doubles the throughput of cycle-paths. If you're aim is true mass cycling in which everyone sees a bicycle as an efficient mode of transport for themselves, it's important to keep this efficiency as much as possible. That requires that cycle-paths widen at junctions and through corners.

Example photos
A bicycle road in Assen. Over five metres wide, and used by motor vehicles only for access. A direct route to the city centre along which sociable cycling is enabled and on which children can ride their own bikes in safety.

A 2.5 m wide unidirectional cycle-path from a suburb into the city centre from a different direction. Sociable cycling is enabled here without anyone feeling too cramped.

City centre street. This area allows motor vehicles access at particular times to make deliveries. Otherwise the "road" is a cycle-path through a pedestrianized area.

More of the city centre. Note the disability buggy being used as a bicycle. Also note the lighter coloured stripe of ridged tiles on the left of the photo which provides guidance for blind people.

Children, of course, have independence and can access the city centre area on their own bicycles.

Only the youngest children are transported on their parents' bicycles.

Youngsters in town on their own cycle side-by-side and talk to each other.

Another example of how people with disabilities benefit from good infrastructure. This is the same junction as shown in a small photo above where a unidirectional cycle-path widens to nearly four metres to accommodate cyclists at the junction. It is possible for cyclists to make this left turn while riding side-by-side and with all conflicting motor traffic stopped. The sign on the back of the tricycle indicates that that person has hearing difficulties and perhaps requires some guidance. Riding side by side allows this.

Continuing after they turn the corner. But note that the left bike is slightly over the centre line on this bidirectional cycle path, which is unfortunately only three metres wide and therefore of inadequate width for comfortable cycling in all conditions.

A 2.5 metre wide unidirectional cycle-path. Riding next to a friend is no problem at all here.

2.5 metres wide unidirectional cycle-path - a couple ride together with no difficulty.

A 3.8 metre wide bidirectional cycle-path. On this width, it's possible for two couples to comfortably pass each other while remaining side-by-side. The road on the right has two lanes for motor vehicles, each of 2.8 m in width. This may look like a wide cycle-path but note that the car driver and his passenger are still allocated more space than the cyclists.

In the countryside, a 3.5 metre wide cycle-path allows for cycling at a good speed without the difficulties which we had last week on much narrower cycle-paths in Germany in similar situations (see photo above).
Wide bidirectional cycle-path leading to a medium sized simultaneous green traffic-light junction. Side-by-side cycling is possible through the junction while all motor traffic is stopped. This type of junction is very efficient. Very many cyclists can cross the junction in all directions with one short green phase for cyclists.
The safest design of roundabouts for cycling also easily supports side-by-side riding, which again doubles the capacity of the junction for cyclists vs. how it would be if people had to ride single-file.
Demonstrating a four metre wide recreational cycle-path to a study tour group. No problem with side-by-side cycling here.
To finish, another photo of teenagers "misbehaving" by cycling five-abreast, but doing so in a manner which actually doesn't cause any problem at all. They can do this because this residential street, like almost all residential streets in Assen, is a non-through route for motorists and therefore there are almost never any motor vehicles with which to conflict. Rest assured that the boy on the pedestrian path rode back onto the road before he came close to the woman walking. He's already ahead of the other cyclists in this photo, preparing to make this move.
Two-abreast. Always. Everywhere.
Cyclists are the only group of road users routinely required to travel one-behind-the-other. There is no logic to this. No reason why side-by-side cycling should not always be encouraged. It's a matter of providing infrastructure which accommodates the requirement. Given that people like to pair up, regardless of which mode of transport they choose, the width required for cycling should always be considered to be the width of two people cycling side-by-side.
The cycle-path grid in Assen. Read more about this.

By "everywhere" I really do mean everywhere. There can be no gaps in a real cycling grid. Cyclists need to be able to make their entire journeys in safety.

If mass cycling is truly a target then cyclists must be allowed and even encouraged to ride side-by-side. Make cycling sociable, comfortable, safe and efficient, keep people on bikes well away from motor vehicles, and suddenly cycling becomes attractive.

Mark Treasure also blogged about side-by-side cycling today.