Friday, 11 April 2014

Shared Space revisited. The hype continues but in reality it still doesn't work.

If you're unsure about what the term "Shared Space" means, please read the wikipedia article. Note that I disagree with much of that article.

Shared Space has been over-sold around the world. Claims have been made of a reduction of danger which I showed earlier this week doesn't seem to stand up to investigation. It is also often claimed that Shared Space creates a "place" where people feel safe, though many people see the reverse in practice.

I first wrote about Shared Space in 2008, especially pointing out problems with the example in Haren. At that time I'd visited relatively few shared spaces but the reality was already quite obviously different from what is presented in pro-shared-space articles.

Since that time, I've visited many shared spaces in the Netherlands and seem common problems in them. When I visited London last year I took time to observe the Shared Space in Exhibition Road and this turned out to have much the same problems as do shared spaces in the Netherlands.

Yesterday I wrote about how a previous Shared Space in Assen which has had motor vehicles removed  from it is now a much more pleasant place to be. You can see for yourself how after removal of motor vehicles in Ceresplein, that part of Assen has become more pleasant. People like to stand and talk in that area. Today I'm writing about another area of Assen, Kerkplein, which has been made into a Shared Space. Here you see the exact opposite. Due to Shared Space and the resultant domination of motor vehicles in Kerkplein, no-one stands still in this area. No "place" has been created by making this "Shared Space". Everyone who you see here is in a hurry to get to somewhere else instead. I makes for a stark contrast with the Ceresplein.

In 2008 I pointed out the problems which more vulnerable road users experience in Shared Space areas. I return again today to the theme of Subjective Safety. Unless people feel safe, they won't ride so often. The Netherlands is putting its predominant position as the leading cycling nation in jeopardy by implementing Shared Space.

In 2008 I referred to "a recent road layout change in Assen right next to a 'shared space' style junction". This is that junction. Last year it was made formally into a real shared space and it now looks like this:


The six minute long video shows how people behave on the Kerkplein. Note that while this is edited it didn't take long to collect the material - 20 minutes of raw footage was edited down to six. Similar incidents to those in this video can be seen to occur all day every day at this junction, and at other Shared Space junctions. Note that no-one is standing here enjoying this "place". A very stark contrast with video shot just a few minutes later on the same afternoon showing people doing exactly that on the car-free Ceresplein.

How the Kerkplein has changed
When we moved here in 2008 the Ceresplein was the only Shared Space area in Assen, while Kerkplein was as in the photo below - a junction at which there are no rules other than "give way to the right". It's quite common for small not very busy streets in residential areas to be combined by junctions with priority to the right, but less common for busy junctions to work in that way. This is almost like a prototype of Shared Space thinking - no traffic signals, no painted lines on the road to show priority. Each participant in traffic has to decide who will take priority, how and why. These junctions can be unpleasant to cycle across because you can't rely on motor vehicles coming from your left giving way to you as they are supposed to. Between 2007 and 2012, the Kerkplain was the site of 19 incidents:

The flags show collisions since 2007. There have been 19 reported collisions in total, four involving cyclists and one of which injured a pedestrian. Note that these figures refer to the time while it had this proto-shared-space layout and not to the layout which we have now.
Before. Proper kerbs, pedestrian
crossings and central reservations
Due to the re-building this area no longer looks as it did in the aerial photo above.

The asphalt has gone, replaced by a tiled surface. The pedestrian crossings and central islands have been removed. A single large and expensive street lamp has been installed to replace normal street-lamps. The road has been narrowed and the pedestrian area on the Northern side outside the Jozefkerk has been widened.

The two junctions have been combined into a "Shared Space".

After. The Kerkplein Shared Space
in Assen during a 2013 study tour.
Unfortunately, not only did the changes made not address the biggest problem with the existing junction - that drivers of cars do not necessarily give way to the right, but they made other things worse.

This junction has not been made more pleasant or more convenient to use. In my view, this area is now more confusing than before. One of the obvious symptoms of this added confusion is that the junction is more commonly abused by its users than it was before.

There wasn't a problem with people driving cars over the pavement (sidewalk) when that pavement was separated from the road by a kerb.

It wasn't so difficult for pedestrians to cross the road when there were pedestrian crossings.

The changes that have been made were the wrong changes. They have not addressed the existing problems. In fact, the junction is worse to use now than it was before. In particular, the experience of vulnerable road users has been made worse by the changes here. What's more, while the appearance has been improved, this has not become "a place" where people congregate. Because of the traffic this is an unpleasant location. No-one stays here for any longer than they have to. Contrast the video above with one shot in the car-free Ceresplein a few minutes later.

Why write about it now ?
By comparison, this junction in
Assen copes with more traffic and
has a higher speed limit. This
location has proper segregated
provision for cycling so the four
minor incidents here were merely
'fender benders', No cyclists or
pedestrians got hurt. Despite high
traffic levels, no-one feels scared
to cycle here. There are many
well designed roundabouts and
traffic light junctions in Assen.
If you're looking for inspiration
from the Netherlands, look to those
and not to Shared Space.
The work was completed some time ago and people have had enough of a chance to get used to the junction. There is not too much point in making observations immediately after change because of course people take more care when everything is completely unfamiliar and of course there will be many people unsure of what to do. However, enough time has now passed for the people of Assen to be used to this new Shared Space, and the problems remain.

Shared Space does not serve the vulnerable. Rather, it prioritises the powerful.

I've visited many shared space junctions in the Netherlands, in small villages, towns and cities. I've also observed shared space in London. At every single shared space junction that I have seen, motor vehicles come first.

"Pit Canaries" revisited
The result of building infrastructure which puts motor vehicles first is that an unpleasant environment is created for vulnerable road users. One of my very first blog posts was about how cyclists could be seen as the "pit canaries" of the roads. i.e. you can tell whether cycling is healthy in your area depending on who cycles and how. A mainly young adult male demographic and wearing helmets and reflective clothing is an indication of very low subjective safety. In the Netherlands, cyclists do not look like that, but is because of the conditions which cyclists face. Bad spots are rare. Shared Space remains rare.

Older cyclists and people with disabilities can be seen as particularly sensitive "canaries". They will be the first to show obvious signs of discomfort and the first to stop cycling. The discomfort is precisely what you can see in the video.

This type of junction, which at the very least causes inconvenience but also scares people, is precisely the sort of thing to build more of if you wish to see cycling become the domain of the brave rather than something which is for everyone.

While many claims are made for Shared Space, no junctions designed as shared spaces are truly "shared". This junction design has failed to achieve any aim other than perhaps to "smooth the flow of traffic". You'll notice that motor vehicles flow very nicely, often not stopping even if they should have given way and often pushing their way past even if this means going very close to people crossing the road by foot or driving over the pavement. It is only by removing both the traffic and the threat of violence that comes with it that conditions result which make walking and cycling pleasant. Remove the "sharing" part of Shared Space and the problems go away.

Why haven't shared spaces led to a drop of cycling in the Netherlands
Another day, another Shared Space
in another town. Cyclist riding on
the pavement because that feels
safer
than riding on the road. This
is a very clear signal that the
infrastructure is not good enough to
support mass cycling.
Given how unpleasant and stressful Shared Space is as a cyclist, I'm quite sure that it has not led to an increase in cycling. No-one seeks out Shared Spaces by bicycle. No-one ever says they prefer cycling in Shared Spaces vs. on segregated cycle-paths. Even some Dutch traffic planners who I have spoken to have pulled a face and declined to answer when I have directly questioned them as to whether they enjoy cycling through Shared Space.

The truth is that we don't know whether Shared Space has had a negative effect on cycling and it would be very difficult to tell if it has. In any case, as yet, we should expect any such effect to be small.

By one means or another, segregation of cyclists from motorized traffic is very nearly 100% in the Netherlands. Shared Space is still very rare so it makes up only a small part of anyone's journeys, and there are usually ample opportunities to take other routes. Also note that Dutch people almost all already cycle. While it is possible that some people might have given up due to dangerous junctions, I think it far more likely that people who are affected and scared adapt their behaviour to unpleasant junctions as seen in the video. i.e. they get off and walk or they cycle on the pavement.

Other nations have almost exactly the opposite situation. Where only the brave cycle, those same brave people are likely to cycle through shared space without finding it appreciably different to any other street. But in these cases while it may be difficult to observe a negative effect we should weigh up the possibility of something else having had a positive effect.

Shared Space is very unlikely to attract cautious people to take up cycling. On the other hand, proper cycle-paths, especially if installed at the required density, have a proven track record of attracting people to cycle.

Local politics
A local political party has complained several times about the dangerous situation at the Kerkplein shared space. They've compared the situation with the "Wild West", describing a situation where drivers go over the pavements and cyclists and pedestrians have to run for their lives.

This has been covered further in the local news and it was an issue in the recent local elections. Hopefully the situation at this junction will soon be improved.

Half way through writing this article, my friend Terry visited and made the suggestion of opening a Shared Space zoo. "Let the animals and public mix it up a bit". Should be an exciting experience. It might even be safe to walk backwards through such a zoo with your eyes closed, at least if you're selling the concept.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

"Shared" no more. An Assen city centre street reclaimed for pedestrians and cyclists

When we moved to Assen, the Ceresplein had quite recently been converted into a de-facto Shared Space. This area accommodated pedestrians, cyclists and drivers mostly on the same surface and it looked like this:
June 2009 image from Google Maps.
The turn that the car is making in the image above was into a street which has been a cycle-path for some years now. However, there's more. Last year this area was changed again. The street is no longer a space where motor vehicles are allowed. In 2013, immediately after the works were finished, it looked like the photo below. It still does:

Now from the opposite end. 2009:
Note how the cyclist has been pushed to the side in this view

2013:
The parked cars in the 2009 image have been replaced by buildings and cyclists use the centre part of the streeet without being concerned about cars.
Before 2013, the Ceresplein formed part of a through route which allowed skipping past a traffic light.
The Ceresplein is highlighted in Green. Drivers now have to use the yellow roads to avoid the centre rather than driving through the Ceresplein
This is a now a pedestrian area
which allows bikes. Motor vehicles
are allowed only at specific times
for loading / unloading.
Ceresplein was never extremely busy with through traffic and as a result it was never really very dangerous. I suspect this is because there was only ever a small advantage to drivers of using this route rather than sticking to the main route. The only crash requiring hospitalization that I'm aware of came about due to a youngster unwisely jumping in front of a friend's car "as a joke". However, the number of cars passing through here was high enough to be annoying and to change the behaviour of cyclists and pedestrians. It wasn't somewhere that you wanted to hang about for too long. The current situation is undoubtedly more pleasant. It's better not to have to think about through motor traffic when walking or cycling in this area.

The change in use here has also improved other streets in the city centre. Removing through traffic in the Ceresplein has greatly reduced the use of the streets which once led through traffic to it. This has worked precisely because they now have to leave by the same route as they arrived so there is no longer a reason to come to those streets by car unless you need to. These other streets are now nearly car free and this makes them a lot more more pleasant by bicycle than they used to be.

The Ceresplein is now a pedestrianized zone which allows bicycles. This is quite common in the Netherlands (another example) and it works very well with careful design. Such a zone should not be planned as a main through route by bike any more than it should be a main through route by car, but in a space as wide as the Ceresplein this is less of an issue.

The video below shows the Ceresplein now. It's now a relaxing space. It's ideal for shoppers, and therefore also for shopkeepers. When cyclists can take their bikes right up to the shops and when they will stay longer because the environment is more pleasant, shopping is made easier:


Compare this film with another film shot the same afternoon of a Shared Space with through traffic a few metres away.

Note that to the best of my knowledge, the Ceresplein was never formally referred to as "Shared Space". However, it had all the characteristics of Shared Space. Unlike other city centre streets in Assen which are nearly car free, this street embraced them. Motor vehicles used this as a through route and was it functionally a shared space. If it quacks like Shared Space and walks like Shared Space then to all intents and purposes, that's what it is...

Because the Ceresplein was never that popular as a through route, it actually worked better than many declared Shared Spaces. However it's still far better now without the through traffic. Certainly far better than an actual shared space a few metres away.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Is that a shared use path ? Do Dutch cycle paths cause conflict with pedestrians ?

One of the most common misconceptions about the Netherlands is that where cycle-paths through the countryside which don't have an obvious path for pedestrians alongside, they are mistaken for "shared use paths". Actually, the Netherlands doesn't build shared use paths and the cycle-path network makes for fewer conflicts with pedestrians, not more. Read on for an explanation:

Urban areas
Anywhere that walking is commonplace, the Netherlands builds specific infrastructure for pedestrians. You'll find this alongside cycling infrastructure through most urban areas, and the walking infrastructure is generally wide and of good quality.

Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians is avoided because both cyclists and pedestrians have high quality infrastructure of their own.

At this location next to a school, there is both a four metre wide cycle-path and a 2.5 m wide walking path. An appreciable number of pedestrians are anticipated in this location. Cars cannot be driven parallel with these paths.
There are also very obvious walking paths separate from cycle-facilities in the city centre. Motor vehicles are allowed to access this area only for loading and unloading at set times.
Though it's not heavily used by foot, this secondary quality cycle path  (3 m wide) connecting suburbs to the city has a 2.5 m walking path alongside it. The road alongside has a 50 km/h (30 mph) speed limit.
Rural areas
In rural areas where distances are longer, for instance between villages or on routes connecting villages to cities, you wouldn't expect to see a separate walking path. This is because few people would choose to make journeys of several kilometres in length by walking. It simply takes too long for practical journeys.
But the cycle-path along which this racing cyclist is riding in the countryside has no separate pedestrian facility. The sign shows this to be a cycle-path shared with low speed mopeds (this is normal between towns but they're banned in towns), not a shared use cycle/pedestrian path. The road alongside has an 80 km/h (50 mph) speed limit.
On small rural roads in the Netherlands there may be neither separate cycling infrastructure nor separate walking infrastructure. But in these areas it can usually be expected that traffic levels are very low. Driving routes are unravelled from cycling routes in the countryside as well as in towns.
In a recreational area, unsurfaced paths like this may be used by both cyclists and pedestrians. However, most people cycle to events like this. Such paths are not used as through routes by bike and there's no motor vehicle access except for maintenance.
A comparison with the UK
In other countries, the situation is actually very similar with regard to pedestrian paths. It is normal that they exist in urban locations but that they may not exist in rural locations. For example, these two pictures are from the UK:

Just as in the Netherlands, Britain provides a pedestrian path in an urban area. There are no real cycling facilities alongside this 30 mph (50 km/h) road. In this example it is permitted to ride a bicycle on the pavement (sidewalk) but that is not convenient for cycling and promotes conflict between pedestrians and cyclists. Grotere kaart weergeven


Just as in the Netherlands, Britain does not provide a pedestrian path in a rural area where there will be few pedestrians. Unlike the Netherlands, Britain does not provide a path for cyclists either even though the speed limit on this road is 60 mph (100 km/h) Grotere kaart weergeven

Even many of the small country roads in the UK which cyclists and pedestrians both seek out to avoid the heavier traffic still have 60 mph (100 km/h ) speed limits.

It's the same idea, but a different implementation
The idea with regard to pedestrians is the same in both countries. Pedestrians are provided for only where there are expected to be appreciable numbers of pedestrians.

Special paving is used to
indicate safe routes for blind
pedestrians
While decisions about whether to built pedestrian infrastructure are similar in the UK and the Netherlands, cyclists are catered for far more favourably in the Netherlands than in the UK. This pays dividends for pedestrians as well. People who like to walk long distances are better provided for in the Netherlands than in the UK because instead of walking on roads with high speed traffic, they may use cycle-paths between towns to make their journeys by foot. This is far safer than walking on the road.

Cycle paths in the Netherlands are
required by law to be accessible
by wheelchairs and adapted bikes
Within town where there will be an appreciable number of both cyclists and pedestrians, both parties are better off in the Netherlands than they are in the UK because cyclists and pedestrians are each provided with their own separate infrastructure and conflicts between them are minimised.

These benefits are not only for the able-bodied but also for people with disabilities, though of course in the Netherlands many people with disabilities choose to cycle because that option is so much more attractive given safe conditions.

More information
See also how nearly car free town centres have improved conditions for pedestrians and how pedestrianized shopping centres in the Netherlands permit cycling, but are not through routes by bike.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Where the crashes are: Shared Space and other bad junction designs lead to crashes and injuries

A useful website shows where all crashes have occurred on Dutch roads. I've used it below to demonstrate the relative safety of different roads and cycle-paths in this country.

Is Shared Space safe ?
The Laweiplein Shared Space "squareabout" in Drachten has been the subject of much hype. Many claims have been made for a low accident rate here but the evidence does not support this.

Drachten is a small town of under 45000 people. The Laweiplein, highlighted in red, has had 10 reported between 2007 and 2012. That's a larger number of reported collisions than any other location close to the city centre. It's also higher than the number of reported crashes (7) on the busier but more conventional Dutch style roundabout a few metres to the east.

Drachten crashes,
injuries and deaths
2007-2012.
What's more, we should also look at the nature of the crashes. Four cyclists were involved in crashes on the Laweiplein, one of whom was injured. Only one cyclist involved in a crash at the other roundabout and that was not an injury incident. It would appear that the Laweiplein is more dangerous for vulnerable road users - a problem which has often been noted with Shared Space. The safety record of the Laweiplein clearly does not justify the hype from Shared Space enthusiasts. It would likely have been safer to give this junction a more normal roundabout treatment.

Amongst other sources, Wikipedia includes a claim that "yearly accidents were reduced to 1" in the centre of Drachten due to the introduction of Shared Space. Such claims do not stand up to much investigation. Even just the much praised Laweiplein has double this accident rate, and that's just one junction. Look at the rest of the city centre, a part of which is shown above right, and you see many more.

The Shared Space area of Haren is highlighted in red. The Shared Space layout road through Haren is where the largest concentration of crashes has occurred in this town between 2007 and 2012.

We visit this town on our study tours, cycling into the town on the relatively safe cycle-path which leads from the South East in this image and leaving on the relatively safe cycle-path to the North West. You can see quite clearly how the road both South and North of the Shared Space area has far fewer crashes than does the Shared Space itself.

A six year old blog post discusses some of the many problems in Haren and none of my objections from that time have changed.

Shared Space does not work well. The number of crashes which have occurred should speak for themselves. Claims have been made for enhanced safety in Haren just as in Drachten, but these are all in comparison with an earlier road layout with higher speed limits. It is probably that a more normal modern Dutch street layout would be safer than the current shared space. For example, the nearly car free streets in the centre of Assen (a have a much better safety record even though Assen's population is more than three times greater than Haren.

Also note the cluster of two blue and two yellow flags on top right of the image. These are residential roads which serve as a rat-run in Haren. They're over-used by speeding through traffic at rush hour times because drivers as well as cyclists seek to avoid the Shared Space and it was on these roads at rush-hour that I experienced the closest thing to real road rage that I've ever seen in the Netherlands.

Update: Shifting goal-posts - three more examples
No discussion of the shortcomings of Shared Space is ever complete without the sound of goal-posts being shifted, and this blog post has resulted in some of the same in a discussion on twitter.

I didn't pick the examples above because they were particularly bad, but merely because they've been discussed often. The wikipedia page claim about Drachten has come up many times and I've written about Haren before. Actually, neither of these two examples are particularly dangerous as Shared Spaces go.

Here are three extra examples showing the frequency of collisions at other shared spaces in the Netherlands:
Quite near the Laweiplein in Dracthen is "De Kaden", another much lauded Shared Space. The Noordkade and Zuidkade run on either side of car parking and trees from left to right on this map. The junctions on this street, at either end and in the middle, have shared space designs and each junction has seen incidents. In total, there have been more than 40 incidents between 2007 and 2012. This is a worse record than the Laweiplein, illustrated above. At an average of eight per year, this short road has as many crashes each year as some Shared Space advocates claim was the total for the entire city centre before Shared Space was introduced.
The main street through Muntendam, a village of only 4500 people, is a shared space. There's a line of incidents stretching the entire length of the shared space from top left to bottom right on the map.
Oosterwolde is a town of less than 10000 people. The shared space follows the red line on the map. Other streets in Oosterwolde also lack segregated infrastructure, particularly the west-east route at the bottom of the map. In my experience, it's not a very pleasant place to cycle.
There are many other examples. For instance, both the small villages of Onnen (population 430) and Boornbergum (less than 1500) have had fatalities within their shared spaces. However, I don't consider that we can find very much significance in such a small amount of data from villages like this. There is too much variation over time. The same applies, of course, for claims of a miraculous lack of incidents in other small villages.

I think it's sufficient to say that exaggerated claims of safety are made for shared space. Shared space should not be considered to be a magic bullet which removes danger. The one thing shown repeatedly to remove danger is slowing, restricting and removing motorized vehicles from where people walk and cycle. This applies especially to through traffic. Of course, when you take those vehicles away, the space is no longer shared. Read other blog posts about Shared Space, including video.

Not all dangerous roads and intersections in the Netherlands are Shared Space. Read on for other examples:

Roundabouts
Not all Dutch roundabouts are created equal. We visit this roundabout in Groningen on study tours as an example of something not to emulate. No fewer than 38 collisions have taken place here between 2007 and 2012, including several injuries.

That is not a design of roundabout which we recommend. It doesn't work well in the Netherlands and given the relative lack of experience of non-Dutch drivers with this layout I'd expect it to work even less well in other nations. For that reason, we recommend the safer style of roundabout design used in Assen.

This roundabout in Assen is exceptionally well designed and has proven to be safe. Cyclists are segregated properly from drivers on this roundabout and the design makes it easy for everyone to see what they should be doing.

Just four incidents occurred at this roundabout between 2007 and 2012. All of them involved only motor vehicles and there were no injuries. We will look closely at the features of this roundabout on this year's study tours.

The most dangerous junction in the Netherlands
Another site that we visit on the study tours in order to see how and why it doesn't work well is this complex junction, a gyratory which is the most dangerous road junction in the whole of the Netherlands. 29 collisions have occured at one side of this gyratory and another 10 at the other. While there is segregated cycling infrastructure at this junction, it's not well designed.

Every user of this junction has too much to take in. Cyclists, pedestrians and drivers all make mistakes all the time. You can see this in a video. We use this junction to demonstrate what not to do.

What causes crashes ?
The line made up by blue and yellow flags on the left is the motorway. No cycling is allowed on the motorway and all these crashes were between motor vehicles. The line highlighted in red is the equivalent main North-South route by bicycle, a busy cycle-route here in Assen. This cycle-path supports riding at very high speeds and is well used by racing cyclists as well as by recreational riders and the occasional dog walker.

No reported crashes have occurred on the cycle-route between 2007 and 2012. Crashes occur predominantly where cars are. Unravelling of routes keeps cyclists from danger.


In another example, rural roads are also punctuated regularly by blue and yellow flags. Only one of the flags on this map shows a collision between a car and a bike all of the others are between cars or between cars and inanimate objects. For example, the blue flag at the bottom involved a tree "in collision with" a car.

Cycling takes place almost entirely on segregated cycle-paths in this area and these have a very good safety record in comparison with roads. This is most easily observed on the map from the cycle-route along the red line, a very peaceful and popular car free recreational cycle-path which is entirely separated from the road. On that route, where cars are excluded, there have been no collisions at all.

Conclusion
We demonstrate good practice on study tours
as well as showing what not to do
Just because something is "Dutch", that doesn't mean it's good. The Netherlands has many excellent examples, but you have to be very selective about what serves as a model.

Cyclists fare best where their interactions with motor vehicles are limited and controlled. They fare best where infrastructure ensures that minor mistakes do not result in injuries.

Anywhere that we rely upon everyone behaving perfectly but where we do not protect the most vulnerable, there will be injuries.

Good design takes human nature into account and removes the causes of danger from those who are most vulnerable.

Update 16 April 2014
The BBC recently reported that Blackett Street, a Shared Space in Newcastle in the UK, is an "area of concern is Blackett Street, where four accidents have taken place in two years". People world-wide need to start to take note of how dangerous Shared Space has proven to be.

Where are the advocates ?
I've been writing about the problems with Shared Space since 2008. In the last six years there have been many hand-waving attempts to "prove" safety but no actual statistics have turned up.

What there have been are attempts to move the goal posts. This takes the form of claims that there's some better "shared space" which really works, either some other site than whichever one it is that I last wrote about, or perhaps some future design.

There have also been emotive suggestions that Shared Space is safe, even including "appeals to authority". For example, I was recently informed that Hans Monderman was a genius, that I should respect him for that reason and therefore not disagree.

Actual evidence in favour of Shared Space seems to be seriously lacking. Available statistics do not support  the proposition that this is a safe way to design streets.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

What do Victor Veilig and Benni Brems say about Subjective Safety ?

Over the last few years in the Netherlands, small yellow boys, 80 cm tall, have become a more common sight on the streets.

Victor Veilig ("Safe Victor") and his older German cousin Benni Brems ("Benni Brakes") are claimed by the manufacturers and distributors to remind drivers to slow down. Victor and Benni are light in weight and parents are told that they should place him outdoors when their children are playing outside and take him back in again when they are finished.


Advertisement by the insurance company Univé, who offer a free Victor Veilig if you buy their car insurance

Residential streets are supposed to be safe places. Children are supposed to be safe. What's more, children should have a degree of freedom over when they can play outside and not necessarily have to communicate and negotiate their exact hours of outside play with their parents so that the doll can be correctly placed by the road. It's all a bit absurd.

In fact, parents don't take this doll in and out of doors each time their children go outside.

These days, Victor is usually to be found chained permanently to a lamp post. Victor Veilig now has a use which goes beyond what the manufacturers intended. He has become become a negative indication of subjective safety. Victor's purpose now is to show where parents do not feel it is safe for their children to play outdoors. Here are three examples from Assen:

This one is in the new suburb of Kloosterveen. I'm mostly very enthusiastic about Kloosterveen because the overall environment here is good for cycling. For instance, there's a well designed shopping centre and a dense grid of good quality cycling infrastructure which helps a large proportion of children to cycle to school. But it's not perfect by any means. In particular, a mistake was made on this road. This feeder road is quite busy with cars and was originally intended to have a cycle-path. Indeed, for a while there was a temporary cycle-path while final designs were being decided upon. However, residents were given a choice of designs to choose from and the chosen design was without a cycle-path. At least one family finds the situation now to be unpleasant enough such that they do not think their children are safe.

In a 1950s area of Assen, again on a feeder road which carries a few too many cars. There is a primary school to the right of the crossing. Note that this junction has caused problems for a while. There are warning signs here, a raised table to slow drivers and also a pinch point at the crossing itself. This pinch point is itself badly designed as it puts cyclists into conflict with drivers heading in the same or opposite direction. There are two permanent Victors here. The other is hidden by the car in the centre of the image. This area was designed with very little cycling infrastructure and relies upon segregating drivers from cyclists by other means.

In a 1970s suburb, that in which we live. While cycling infrastructure exists in this suburb it doesn't quite make a full dense grid. This road with a 50 km/h speed limit runs the length of the suburb without a cycle-path. It's not much used as a through route because it is bypassed by a direct 70 km/h road and is designed to be indirect in order to slow traffic, however this is still the worst road to cycle along in our suburb. Two Victors have taken up permanent residence here - one blown over by the wind.
Rather than marking a place where children play, these dolls actually show where children do not play.

Look out for Victor Veilig in photos of infrastructure from the Netherlands. If you see him then it's a sign that the infrastructure that you're looking at probably does not meet the standards of parents who want their children to be safe. If a photo of Dutch infrastructure has a Victor Veilig in it or if you look at a street yourself and see Victor then question why he is there. If something is claimed to be a good example but Victor is present, then there is probably a reason why it is not such a good example and it's quite likely not something that you want to be imported to your country.

Read more about successful design for residential streets. Also read more about the importance of subjective safety for a high cycling modal share.

According to some Dutch sources, Victor Veilig was originally seen in the USA. What names does he have in English speaking countries ? Perhaps "Benny Brakes" or "Sam Safety" ? Perhaps even "Jack Jumpsoutofthewayratherquickly" ?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Discover what works to encourage mass cycling - building on genuine success is the path to progress

Study Tour reminder
The April open study tour begins in exactly one month. There are still free places and it's not too late to book, but you will have to be quick. If April doesn't suit you private tours can be organised on almost any date for individuals or groups.

We've run cycling infrastructure study tours in the Netherlands since 2006. The tours do not remain the same each year because the Netherlands does not remain the same each year. Progress is rapid here. There are always new things to see, always reasons to update the tour. What you'll see below is just a small part of what you can experience on the study tour.

Lessons learnt
Why is it that the Netherlands is so successful at encouraging people to cycle ? It's very easy to provide a quick answer: In the Netherlands, cycling is a safe, efficient, convenient and relaxing way to get around and it is this for the whole population, not just a hobby for a very enthusiastic minority.

The Dutch success is no accident, it's the result of more than 40 years of continuous improvement to cycling infrastructure, itself the result of continuous investment.

Thousands ride along this efficient and safe route every day. Young and old. This cycle-path is not an exception but of normal quality for Assen. Minor damage marked on the ground with paint last year has been repaired. There are no potholes
But what is meant by safe, efficient and convenient ? All these are subjective.

A high degree of subjective safety is vital. If people don't feel safe cycling then they won't cycle.

Efficiency is also subjective more than it is objective. If it feels like cycling is slow then people think their journeys will take too long by bike. In the Netherlands we see many measures to make distances shorter by bike and to let cyclists avoid busy junctions at which they would have to stop if travelling by car.

Study Tour participant inside Assen's central library
Convenience is another subjective issue. If cycle parking is remote from the destination then that works against cycling. In the Netherlands you can usually park your bike right next to shops, even in pedestrian areas and inside shopping centres. When new community facilities are built, cycle parking is included.

In many other countries, soft measures such as marketing of cycling or cycle training are put before building infrastructure. These measures simply do not work to increase cycling modal share.

You can't sell cycling when conditions are less than truly excellent because even if you can convince people to try cycling, if they don't find it to be safe they will give up after they've experienced the unpleasant reality.

Cycle training does not lead to more cyclingMass cycling does not exist without a very fine grid of very good infrastructure which goes everywhere and strong anti-car measures are not required if cycling has been made such that people choose to do it.

There are no counter examples. No place on earth has seen dramatic growth in cycling without improving the infrastructure to reduce conflict. The Netherlands is the most successful country by a large margin.

Good examples
The photos in this blog post come from one of last year's study tours. They show the everyday reality of cycling in the Netherlands and demonstrate the essence of what makes cycling so attractive here that the entire population makes a positive choice to cycle.

The school run in Assen. Enabled by door to door quality infrastructure. Dutch children cycle from a very young age, well before any in-school cycle-training begins. This is the case because their parents are confident of their childrens' safety.
A stretch of cycle-path which joins two sections of bicycle-road. The bridge was built to take motor vehicles over the bicycle path as a socially safe alternative to sending bikes through a tunnel. Before this was built, the cycle-route was interrupted by the main road.
Once busy streets in the centre of Dutch cities have undergone a second revolution removing through traffic. It's still possible to park a car here. Deliveries can still take place. However, these are now pleasant spaces to be in and the roads can be dominated even by a small number of bikes
When you never have to wait more than eight seconds to cross the road, and when the residential streets on the other side of the crossing cannot be used as a through route by motor vehicles, this gives cycling a competitive advantage over other modes while also improving the quality of life for those who live in those streets.
It's not only main routes which need to be wide, smooth, efficient, have priority over a side-roads and be lit at night. This is a secondary route in Assen.
On Study Tours we not only look at things, we also take measurements. Yes, the secondary cycle-path is over 3 metres in width. This is important in order to enable relaxed cycling for friends riding together, as in the photo above. It is vital that there is a high density of good quality infrastructure. It's also vital that routes are preserved even during works so that the habit of cycling is not lost. The next parallel route to this is a primary route outside the buildings on the right of the picture, but when this secondary route was dug up due to drainage works, cyclists were given half the road to ride on.
The view from a hill provides a dramatic example of how cycle routes are unravelled from driving routes and how this results in cyclists making safer, more pleasant and more efficient journeys as a result of shorter distances by bike and having to stop at fewer traffic lights (the top right of the photo shows a large traffic light junction which few cyclists use)

The Study Tours also visit residential areas. Woonerven, as seen in this 1980s development, are no longer in fashion in the Netherlands, but lessons learnt from them are still to be seen in more modern residential developments.
In the Netherlands, people smile as they cross busy dual carriageway main roads by bike. In this case, the road is in a tunnel so that we can cross in daylight and nearly on the level.
Integration with public transport is important. In the Netherlands, there can be hundreds of bicycle parking spaces at bus-stops and many thousands at increasingly beautifully designed railway station cycle-parks. But it's also important to make sure that buses don't cause danger to cyclists and that's why there are many well designed bicycle bypasses of bus-stops.
Recreational routes from the city into the countryside are provided for by spectacular bridges and take people by pleasant cycle-paths and nearly car free roads to all destinations. Providing accessible recreational cycling is part of what has enabled cycling to become normalized across the entire population.
Road junctions need to be designed properly. This is an example of a large Simultaneous Green junction - the best solution for cyclists where there must be traffic lights. See also good examples of Roundabout design (note that turbo roundabouts are for cars, not for bikes)
None of what is shown in the photos above is exceptional. Far too much attention is paid to isolated exceptional pieces of infrastructure when what is actually they are nearly not important at all. We show a few special most important is to have a very high density grid of very good infrastructure as shown here.

Don't gloss over problems
Everyone likes to see good examples but in our view it is important to note where things have gone wrong. While the Netherlands is the best place to find good examples of how to cater for cycling, this country is by no means perfect. It's important to copy only from the best examples.

We explain about common misconceptions and demonstrate infrastructure which has been tried and which does not work. Learn not only what is successful but also what not to do. Here are two examples:

Groningen has roads on which there are simply too many buses and too much conflict with cycles. If cyclists choose to ride on the pavement (sidewalk) this is a very clear message to planners that they have made a mistake.

Also in Groningen, this notorious roundabout has been the scene of many collisions. There are better roundabout designs than this.  There were 38 reported crashes here between 2007 and 2012.
On the Study Tour, we illustrate why these sites do not work well. As well as those examples, we also visit the most dangerous junction in the whole of the Netherlands, a gyratory system in Groningen. There are lessons to be learnt here. Promising to add inadequate cycling infrastructure to busy gyratories is absolutely not the path to more, safer and more pleasant cycling. Please take note, London !

Local elections
Political support is important, but cycling should not be a partisan issue. All sections of society can benefit from cycling.

We had local elections this week. It would be political suicide in the Netherlands for any political party to stand against cycling so, as usual, all of the parties had pro-cycling policies. The details do vary, of course. Different parties have different demographics and they see different ways to include cycling in their manifestos in order to suit their voters. Here are two of the local cycling issues highlighted by parties which I did not vote, both of which are important:


The first third of the route to Groningen, for which improvements are promised after the local elections. This will be familiar to previous study tour participants, though the study tour proceeds more slowly in order to explain and observe.

Route shown in the video
One of the parties which gained most in in the local elections made a campaigning issue out of a demand for a "proper cycling superhighway" between Assen and Groningen.

This prompted me to make the video above which shows the first third of the route to Groningen as a sort of video time-lapse. The start point is just 200 metres from our home, reached by 30 seconds of cycling along a non-through residential street with a 30 km/h speed limit. This may not be called a "superhighway", but it's already a very efficient route by bike and already well in advance of the sort of infrastructure which would be given a dramatic name in other parts of the world. I'd be delighted to see further improvements here, of course. The name of the path doesn't matter so much to me, though.

A recent mistake made in Assen. Study tour participants last year observing a Shared Space junction criticised in the elections this year. Watch a video of this junction to see the conflicts for yourself
Another local political party criticised a Shared Space junction in Assen and promised improvements. This newly renovated junction really is not satisfactory. There are too many conflicts here. Last year we took groups of study tour participants to see the newly opened junction so that they could observe the conflicts for themselves and in order to help them to understand why Shared Space doesn't work.

Book study tours through our website
At another location in Assen, Shared Space has been removed. It's been converted to a cycle and pedestrian space and this is a popular change. That will be part of the Study Tour this year. Get in touch to book a place.

Follow-up tour
This year we're also running a follow-up tour for people who have been on previous study tours. This will provide an opportunity to catch up with what's changed in the Netherlands. It's also good for people to be able to re-set their expectations. It can be difficult to keep up expectations for years after returning home. For these reasons we're welcoming back everyone who has been on a study tour in previous years. Get in touch to find out more.

Standard Dutch utility bicycle.
Read all about why it's special
Update 24 March
Berno asked me to update this blog post to mention the type of bicycle ridden by most Dutch people. Dutch utility bicycles are an enabling technology for mass cycling because they allow un-fussy cycling. Almost everyone in the Netherlands owns a bike like this and uses it for everyday reliable transport, even if they ride something entirely different for sport or touring at weekends.

Please read an older article about these bicycles.