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.

Friday, 19 August 2016

A great weekend in Germany. The Big Oldenburg Recumbent Meeting and a piece about "Bike Culture"

It's a few months now since I first read about the Großes Oldenburger Liegeradtreffen (big Oldenburg Recumbent Meeting). That this event was going to happen came at me from three directions at once: It was listed on the ligfiets.net website, and two friends who also had an interest (Theo who is local and Klaas who I know from Cambridge but who now lives in Oldenburg).

Thanks to the Schengen agreement, cycling to Germany is no problem at all. There's no checkpoint, there are no customs officials, you don't have to show your passport. At the border there are a few signs and the cycle-paths and roads look a bit different on either side. Having grown up on islands from which it wasn't possible to reach a border without a ship or aeroplane, it still gives me a bit of a thrill to be able to cycle to another country.

The shortest route to Oldenburg from here is about 130 km in length, but Theo and I decided to take a longer route so that we could first meet up with two other velomobile riders from further west who would camp overnight in Groningen and then join with a group of Germans riding from Leer to Oldenburg.

Getting there
Everything I needed was packed into my Mango. This meant a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food and drinks for the journey and enough for the first day as I wasn't sure what would be provided for vegans (this turned out not to be an issue - we were all fed very well). It was with a heavy machine and into rain that I set off on Friday morning. My first stop was just a few km away at Theo's home. We then rode together to find the other two who would accompany us to Germany:

Just before 11 am in Oude Pekela, Groningen. Meeting George and Jan, who rode from Noord Holland the day before.
Travelling as a convoy of four between Oude Pekela and Leer. In order to be able to make good progress we ignored nearly all German cycle-paths and rode on the roads.
The first part of the ride went by quite quickly. Sadly, it rained quite a lot, sometimes quite heavily. We rode through quite a bit of Groningen countryside before crossing the border and our first stop was in Bunde where we stopped for coffee. At this point I also bought a map - I tried to buy one before leaving home, but there was no decent cycling map of this part of Germany available in Assen, so it was just as well that someone else knew the route.

After Bunde, our next stop was Leer, from where there was to be an organised ride to Oldenburg starting at 14:00.

The first 90 km covered, we ate lunch by our bikes at Leer railway station. We were here nearly an hour early and a lot of local people asked questions about what we were doing.
Our hosts in Leer before setting off. 
From Leer to Oldenburg we had local guides who took us by a very attractive route of around 70 km, mostly along minor roads between the two cities.

Our guide very generously took us to his home for an extra lunch ! A marvellous spread.
When we stopped by a railway crossing the last thing I expected to watch go by was this human powered bike / train / pub!
After 160 km, we arrived in Oldenburg just in time for dinner. First we put the tents up as that's no fun after dark.
The big ride
The GOL is a social event more than it is a bike ride. The big ride on Saturday was not a long ride or a fast ride. It was never supposed to be either of those things as it was planned to be only a little over 40 km in length and it was supposed to take all day. However it was a big ride in that over a hundred people took part. Speeds were low, roads were filled (Oldenburg's cycle-paths were not adequate for us) and traffic jams were caused.
A huge queue of bikes going into the tunnel and coming out the other side again...
This was a social event, not a "ride". We stopped three times in the first 12 km. This stop was by a interesting cycle-shop
Our third stop, where we ate lunch, was by a lake where there were activities and various interesting machines being demonstrated. Unfortunately, this human powered hydrofoil couldn't be demonstrated.
Other novel designs of boats were in use.
Setting off again after the lunch stop
Riding between lunch stop and the afternoon cake stop. A road in the countryside near Oldenburg
If we had tried to ride on those narrow bidirectional cycle-paths, this would not have worked out (see later blog post).

In the evening, there was a "cycling cinema", singing, comedy routines (lots of laughter, but I understood very few of the jokes because I don't understand German) and many prizes were awarded for people who had done particular things. Even I won prizes. I was one of those who had ridden from the Netherlands so was given a book of over 5000 cycle friendly accommodation addresses, and then I also received a water bottle because I've ridden a recumbent for more than 20 years !

The GOL was a very enjoyable and entertaining event. Lots of effort had obviously been put into the organisation and this paid off because everything went very well. It reminded me of similar events which I've attended in the past in the UK. This was a celebration of cycling and in this case a celebration of a particular subculture of cyclists - people who enjoy the comfort of riding recumbents.

The return journey
There was a similar ride on Sunday. This had been advertised as optional. Theo and I both had other commitments so we decided well in advance to head home on Sunday. Klaas guided us out of the city, giving an interesting tour of some of the cycling infrastructure of Oldenburg (more on this later), leaving us on the Küstenkanal which leads back to the Netherlands. The cycle path along the canal took us most of the way to the border.
Klaas leading us through residential streets in Oldenburg
Saying goodbye just South of Oldenburg just before lunch time. This cycle-path led us almost back to the Netherlands.
It's a little narrow and this requires a bit of attention when someone comes the other way, but otherwise this works really well.
Klaas warned us that the cycle-path became bumpy a bit later on. What we actually found was that the cycle-path had been dug up (presumably for resurfacing) and we were sent on a signed detour onto country lanes.
Later on, the cycle-path continued through an area where the road was being resurfaced.
Bridges took us over canals, rivers and roads.
Sometimes the path really was much too narrow. At this point we had to almost stop.
Eventually we reached the Netherlands.
Germany behind us now (the wind turbines are in Germany). Note the lack of cycle-path immediately over the border !
It's coffee time so we sat and watched other people cycle past our bikes.
In need of calories, I opened the Oranje Koek. Yes, in the Netherlands, "orange cakes" are actually pink.
Cycle-paths on this side of the border are generally wider and of higher quality. e.g. this one heading back towards Assen. In these conditions a velomobile is remarkably efficient. Even though I was carrying a lot of weight and nearing the end of a 140 km ride today, it wasn't difficult to keep the speed above 30 km/h or indeed above 40 km/h at this point. I was back home in time for dinner.
Cycling culture shock
We used to take part in Bike Culture Week holidays in the
UK. Here you see the group setting off for a ride in 1999
I spent much of the time in Oldenburg with the Dutch group because I unfortunately can't understand German. All the Dutch participants obviously enjoyed the GOL but it was clear that there was a bit of a culture shock for some of the Dutch attendees. The idea that we should want to gather in a large group and then set out on a relatively short and low speed ride seemed to be a foreign concept. I think I can explain this.

One of the things which initially surprised me about living in the Netherlands is that there is very little "cycling culture" in the form to which I was accustomed when I lived in the UK.

Another year, another Bike Culture Week. Note similarity
with the GOL photos. These were very enjoyable holidays.
I think it's quite logical that this type of "culture" hasn't arisen in the Netherlands.

Cyclists are not an out-group in the Netherlands.

Because there are good conditions for cycling (almost) everywhere and because everyone cycles, there's no particular reason for Dutch people to identify as "cyclists" or to seek out places to ride their bikes in groups because it leads to them feeling safer.

Elements of the GOL ride resembled critical mass. Because there is real mass cycling in the Netherlands and an acceptance of cycling, there's no need for anyone to organise critical mass here.

My children taking part in a not very serious cycle race at a
CTC organized event 15 years ago.
When I took part in my first cycle race after moving to the Netherlands I found out with a little surprise that races in this country were very much the preserve of the fast. Similar events which I attended in the UK attracted not only the fast but also a far wider range of people, some of whom took part in large part because this was an opportunity to ride in a place without motor traffic.

Similarly, touring rides in the Netherlands tend to take place over longer distances and at higher speeds because the people taking part are usually only the most enthusiastic. I've never found a Dutch equivalent of the relatively relaxed touring style of CTC rides in the UK (CTC is sometimes said to stand for "Cafe To Cafe").

Bike Culture magazine from 1995. Terrific mag,
I still have the full set. I saw a pile of these in a
public space at the accommodation in Oldenburg
Gatherings of cyclists in the Netherlands tend to be concerned more with cycling than they are with socializing with other members of an out-group. Of course, generalizing is always dangerous...

With regard to cycling, Germany is between the Netherlands and the UK. There's a pretty good grid of cycle facilities across much of Germany, certainly across the parts which we rode through last week, but the quality is compromised enough that it suppresses cycling to a degree. While Oldenburg is a university city and has a creditable modal share approaching Dutch levels, the cycling modal share across Germany is about a third that of the Netherlands (this still means it's around 5 or 6 times so high as the UK or USA).

I think this in-between status is part of why I found the GOL experience to feel quite familiar and friendly. I'd seen all this before ! Just four years to wait until the next GOL...


Equipment
For the first time in many years, I actually took
the top off my Mango this year.
I've done quite a bit of maintenance on the Mango recently. Having taken the top off it was possible to give the machine a good clean. It's surprising how many little unreachable corners there are which can accumulate dirt.

The chain, front chainring and cassette were worn so these have been replaced. My front tyres were worn through to the puncture resistant strip and I've replaced them with a new pair of Marathon Racers (a thinner, lighter and more supple version of the Schwalbe Marathon).

When I originally built this Mango I decided to have just one the mirror, but I've now also fitted a second mirror on the right, helping me to keep a good view on all sides. This is especially helpful when riding on a bidirectional cycle-path which is on the "wrong" side of the road.

But while the Mango had lots of new bits, not everything used on this trip was new. The tent which went with me on this trip is exactly the same one as travelled the length of the UK with me ten years ago.

See also coverage on ligfiets.neta Dutch participant's perspective on the event (in Dutch)

The video