Saturday, 17 October 2015

Good quality cycle-paths provide efficient cycling conditions from city to countryside and back again

In the last few months I've been busy with other work so have not had a chance to make so many updates on the blog as usual. However, we've still been cycling a lot. In this post you'll find videos showing efficient cycling routes from Assen out into the countryside

This video shows part of one of the routes which I often ride, starting from home and going out in the countryside before returning home. I work from home so 20 km or so ridden like this and returning home make up my "commute".

This year, the Dutch recumbent bicycle club (website here) has existed for 30 years. To celebrate, a wreath was sent around the country to all 20 local clubs as a relay. I took part on behalf of our local club (the Huneliggers), first collecting the wreath from Henk and Monique of Nazca Ligfietsen on the 10th of September and then organizing a ride to deliver it to Groningen on the 20th of September (read that story here).

What these videos demonstrate
This is what I rode in those videos.
Naturally, all my spares come from, our business.
  1. From a Dutch home in the suburbs it's necessary to ride only a short distance to reach quality cycling infrastructure which leads to everywhere in the whole country.
  2. Cycling infrastructure which allows cyclists to ride continuously and gives them shorter routes and fewer traffic lights to stop at than is the case when driving leads to cycling being very efficient and attractive.
  3. Being kept apart from motor vehicles improves safety and makes cycling far more attractive.
  4. This good quality infrastructure stretches across the country. It's not limited by city boundaries and routes are not limited - you can go anywhere. This is the grid which I've written about often.
  5. Recumbent bicycles (and particularly velomobiles) are so efficient that even a not really so strong guy like myself can cover 11.5 km in 18 minutes entirely under human power.
Most of our daily cycle journeys (shopping etc.) are made on conventional bikes, but we use exactly the same infrastructure and benefit in exactly the same way from the efficiency and safety of available routes. Everyone benefits in exactly the same way from good quality infrastructure.

Camera trouble
One of the things which has held back getting around to making videos and blogging is that I've had a lot of trouble with cameras. Both of the videos above not only demonstrate good cycling infrastructure, but they also demonstrate two different faulty cameras.

In the last year I've bought no fewer than three cameras which have developed a fault. I was particularly shocked by the attitude of FujiFilm (I wrote elsewhere about this) to reporting a fault with one of their cameras which managed only a few months of taking excellent still photos and video before going wrong. When I found that this wasn't a unique occurrence but due to a manufacturing / design error which seemingly affects all cameras of the same model, this only made things worse. You might expect that a major company would admit such a problem and act on it, but it turns out that FujiFilm's guarantee is meaningless. Instead of admitting that an identical problem reported by hundreds of customers might be something real which required them to do something, they seemingly have an organised procedure to blame each customer individually for causing the fault. We're left with an expensive door-stop.

I spent months trying to get FujiFilm to respond and got nowhere. This rather put me off major manufacturers so I next decided to buy an action camera from a Chinese company which had received good reviews. I picked the SJCAM SJ4000 because many people seemed to like it. It arrived on the afternoon of the 10th of September, I charged it immediately and the very first time it was used was to make the "Verzamelen..." video above. It's the longest video that the camera ever managed to make, but note that at the end of the video the pictures stand still. It had crashes. The user interface was frozen and it could only be reset by pulling out the battery. This was not an isolated instance. Over the next few days, the same thing happened sooner and sooner until it got to the point where I was lucky to get more than 30 seconds of moving images before needing to remove the battery to reset the camera. Not actually useful at all, so this was sent back a couple of weeks ago. I've yet to receive any acknowledgement from the company that supplied it that they've received it and nor have I received a refund.

I then ordered a competing model, the Denver 8030W from a Dutch toy shop which happened to have the best price. At the time of writing this, I've only owned this particular camera for two days but unfortunately, as you can see from the first video above, this camera doesn't record any sound to go with the video. I've sent email to the company but they've not yet replied. I'm still hopeful of resolving this. They've not had long and at least I can take this back to a local shop.

In the last year I've paid for three cameras from three different manufacturers and none of them work correctly. What on earth happened to quality control and customer service ?

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Deventer: An efficient route for cycling in a city which has much to offer.

A few days ago, Ranty Highwayman wrote about visiting Deventer. He covered the central streets quite well, but unfortunately, the central streets are not where you find the best developed cycling infrastructure in that city. Therefore, I've brought forward a long overdue blog post about Deventer, including a long video which I shot back in April 2014 just after a new cycle route had opened.

Efficient cycling infrastructure isn't limited to one corner of the Netherlands. Actually, there are great examples of infrastructure across the country. We run our study tours here in Assen and sometimes look very closely at particular aspects of the infrastructure in this city. Assen is better than average even for a Dutch city, but there are quite a lot of places which have better than average infrastructure and had we settled elsewhere in the country we'd have taken a closer look at what was on offer there instead.

A ten minute long video (sorry!). This shows most of a very high quality newly reconstructed route for cyclistswhich runs all the way from suburbs and villages to the east of Deventer right to the centre of the city. This is very good infrastructure even by Dutch standards.

A friend of mine (who does something entirely different on youtube) lives near Deventer so Judy and I have visited that city several times. I've cycled every cm of several possible routes along the 100 km which stretch between Assen and Deventer and occasionally written a little about the city on this blog or elsewhere. Deventer's a very pleasant city to visit. The ancient central streets are popular with shoppers and also a pleasure to cycle in. When people have asked me about other places which have good cycling infrastructure, I've sometimes suggested Deventer as another of those relatively unknown places in the Netherlands which is better than average.

Between villages and suburbs to the east of Deventer and the centre of the city, there's this cycle-path (featured in the video above)

Another day, another view. This is top quality infrastructure for efficient cycling. Efficiency is essential to make cycling attractive even for longer journeys. It's only by addressing all journey lengths and all journey types that mass cycling becomes possible.

Deventer also has other good examples of infrastructure in its suburbs such as this bicycle road.

Another view of the same bicycle road. The through route for bikes has priority over the minor route for motor vehicles.

Just as in other Dutch cities, through traffic has been diverted around the city centre in Deventer. The old central streets now carry a great deal fewer motor vehicles than they once did. When routes have been unravelled and motor traffic removed, city centre streets don't require obvious cycling infrastructure. The old streets in the centre of the city don't look the same now as they used to at the height of car oriented thinking back in the 1960s and 70s.

Free of charge guarded cycle parking, surrounded by historic buildings in Deventer

Cafe "culture" appears when cars are removed from cities.

Occasion delivery vehicles, but otherwise the central streets are for cyclists and pedestrians.

The centre streets of Deventer are used only by cyclist and pedestrians, except for service vehicles and those which set up and remove stalls on market days. Note how quiet these streets are: while tidying up, this driver can pull four trailers at once without causing any problem for anyone. Ranty Highwayman's blog post, linked above, shows many of the central streets.

I've cycled between Assen and Deventer on many occasions. In this case, catching up with racing cyclists who are as is entirely usual in the Netherlands, using the same high quality cycle-paths as everyone else.

Here entering a village with a low speed limit on a quiet country road. Country roads in the Netherlands have traffic unravelled from them in just the same way as do city centre streets. My route sometimes includes the town of Raalte, a town where cycling success was achieved for just the same reasons as elsewhere in the Netherlands, though a mistranslated article suggested otherwise.
Nowhere is perfect
Just because something exists in the Netherlands, that doesn't imply that it's good. Just as with other Dutch cities, not everything is perfect in Deventer.

Like other places, Deventer has a mixture of newer and older infrastructure. In particular much of cycling infrastructure near the city centre appears to be quite dated. Some things have been done better than others and in some places mistakes have been made. For instance, Deventer has at least one safe Simultaneous Green junction which has a perfect safety record for cyclists, but the adopted a less safe roundabout design resulting in a roundabout being the most dangerous junction for cyclists in the city. More worrying, recent removal of separate cycling and walking provision within an industrial area mirrors a change in Hoogeveen which had awful consequences.

Because I don't spend much time in Deventer, I don't know the details of what is happening there so it wouldn't be wise for me to organise study tours in that city.

Study Tours
While there are good examples across the Netherlands, on our study tours we take a very close look at the two cities of Assen and Groningen. These are cities in which we spend a lot of time and which we know well. We don't travel from place to place on these tours as that would mean giving a helicopter view of highlights which would be misleading. Instead, by looking more closely at a small area we can present a balanced and representative view of the whole, including examples of what works and what should not be copied. To find out more about Dutch cycling infrastructure, book a tour.

Monday, 17 August 2015

The most dangerous junctions in Assen and other Dutch cities. What makes junctions dangerous ? What can we do to address that danger ?

Though there isn't a huge amount of traffic at this location, and though speeds aren't particularly high (this is an intersection in a residential area between a 50 km/h road and 30 km/h roads), this is the most dangerous road junction in Assen for cyclists. It doesn't look like much - just a simple road crossing. But simple crossings like this can be dangerous for cyclists.

The problem at this junction is recognized. It led
to a redesign early in 2015 which makes the
junction look a lot smaller than it did. It is not
yet clear whether this will be enough to address
the safety issue in this location. Given that near
misses still happen here, I'm not sure that I believe
that enough has been done to solve the problem.
This junction was the scene of seven cyclist injuries in the six years between 2007 and 2013. Compared with other cities, especially in other countries, this number is low. For instance, I once wrote about how a single junction in Cambridge had seen 43 crashes with cyclists in six years and how another in London managed to ring up 89 cyclist injuries in just two years. Assen's most dangerous junction cannot compete with the danger faced by cyclists elsewhere.

This junction stands out in large part because cycling in Assen is very safe. Sedven cyclist injuries at one location is exceptional because in the same time period just 11 cyclists were injured at all of Assen's 28 locations with traffic lights put together and just two cyclists were injured across all 21 roundabouts.

The very good safety record of Assen's roundabouts is due to adopting a very safe design.

The traffic light junctions have a less obviously impressive safety record but this should be balanced against there being more traffic light junctions than roundabouts and due to traffic light junctions dealing with heavier motor vehicle flows than roundabouts. Many of the traffic light junctions used by cyclists in Assen have a design which is exceptionally convenient and particularly safe for cycling.

If Assen had not adopted such safe designs for larger junctions then it is likely that uncontrolled junctions like this would not be the most dangerous places for cyclists. But as a result of that policy elsewhere, the second and third most dangerous junctions in Assen for cyclists are also uncontrolled junctions - in this case where cyclists have to cross roads unassisted by traffic lights. These caused five and four cyclist injuries each (+ two fatalities - one of a cyclist and one of a moped rider).

Two weeks ago a follow-up study tour
group went to see why this junction is
dangerous. While we were there, both
Charlie and Mark photographed a near-
miss. The cyclist was not surprised to
be told that this was an unsafe junction.
The driver was shocked by her mistake.
Note that this happened after re-design.
Why uncontrolled junctions are dangerous
The problem with uncontrolled junctions is that they rely upon perfect driver and cyclist behaviour for their safety. If everyone always behaves correctly, everyone always manages to work out exactly what every other participant in traffic is doing, no-one is ever distracted or makes mistakes, then these junctions work perfectly. Unfortunately, these junctions actually have to be used by real human beings and people do make mistakes.

Dutch drivers and Dutch cyclists are not special. They're people too. Given them confusing situations and they'll make mistakes in just the same way as do people elsewhere.

The problem with this particular junction was illustrated vividly to us on a recent study tour when a near miss was caught on camera (above). This was a genuine SMIDSY ("Sorry Mate I Didn't See You") incident. The driver simply had not seen the cyclist. Luckily, she took a second glance left and stopped her car just in time so that no collision occurred. Both parties were shocked by what had happened.

Let us consider the pressures on this driver as she wished to pull out of this junction and turn right: At this position, the driver has much to too. She needs to check for cyclists in her own street who may try to overtake on either the left or right side of her car and who may potentially conflict with a right turn and also check the cycle-lane on her left for cyclists (including the one she missed). She also needs to bear in mind what drivers might do - both those approaching from behind (hesitation may result in being rear-ended) as well as those going both left and right on the road she's pulling into and also those approaching from dead ahead who may turn across her path. This requires a lot of concentration and also a lot of head swiveling in order to look in all directions at once.

The danger at uncontrolled junctions is due to many pieces of information to be processed at once.

The most dangerous junctions in other Dutch cities
Uncontrolled junctions are not the most dangerous locations in every Dutch city, but they do appear quite often. For instance, Groningen's most dangerous junction for cyclists is an uncontrolled junction which is also the most dangerous junction for all modes in the whole country. 12 cyclists were injured across both sides of the junction over a period of six years.

Second place in Groningen is a tie between two junctions, each of which injured six cyclists: One of these is a different uncontrolled junction and the other location is a roundabout of the unsafe design in an older suburb which allows through traffic (read more about suburbs further down the page).

This is the safe roundabout to copy.
Unsafe roundabouts:
The unsafe roundabouts in Groningen (see the last paragraph) follow a design where cyclists have priority over other traffic by using a concentric circle cycle-path around the main roundabout. Unfortunately, this is nearly as difficult for drivers to use correctly as an uncontrolled junction, with a requirement to keep track of cyclists and cars from several directions at once and involving nearly as much head swiveling as an uncontrolled junction. A study showed that this design offers cyclists only an 11% improvement in safety over an uncontrolled junction so it should be no surprise to us that roundabouts of that design also quite often appear amongst the more dangerous locations for cyclists in the Netherlands.

The less safe roundabout design was first trialed in Enschede so perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that Enschede's most dangerous junction for cyclists happens to be one of those roundabouts, where six cyclists were injured. Enschede's second most dangerous junction is an uncontrolled junction which injured five cyclists.

Heading west, the city of Deventer also uses the less safe roundabout design and there too the most dangerous junction is a roundabout. As in Enschede, their second most dangerous is uncontrolled.

Another city to use the less safe roundabout design is 's-Hertogenbosch. In this city, a roundabout which injured five cyclists and three moped riders is the most dangerous junction and second place is taken by another roundabout which injured another three cyclists and a moped rider.

Zwolle's most dangerous junction is another of those unsafe roundabouts, which injured seven cyclists, while second place is taken by an uncontrolled junction.

I have not been able to find a single example which where a roundabout of the safer design stands out.

Shared Space
The Laweiplein Shared Space in
Drachten, Many claims are made for a
low accident rate but it's the second
most dangerous place in the city.
Claims have often been made about improvements in safety in Drachten due to Shared Space junction designs. As it turns out, the most dangerous location in this small city is not a shared space, but another of those unsafe roundabouts, where four cyclists were injured and one cyclist died. However the second most dangerous place in the city, with three cyclists and a moped rider being injured, is a location which I've covered before: the Laweiplein Shared Space "squareabout" which has been central to many claims of improved safety in the past. Far from improving the safety of Drachten for cyclists, the Laweiplein is one of the main causes of danger.

Shared Space designs do not have a good record for cyclist and pedestrian safety nor for inclusiveness.

Traffic light junctions:
The most dangerous junctions in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam are large and traffic light junctions with an outdated appearance which include tram tracks and which have two-stage turns. These junctions, which injured ten and eight cyclists respectively, have similarities with those which have proven to be lethal in Copenhagen.

On the other hand, traffic light junction designs which remove all conflict from the junction don't stand out in these statistics.

Detail from the Amsterdam junction. The cyclist on the right of the picture is perhaps trying to reach the left turn box just left of the car. This really isn't a good junction design.
Dangerous streets
While it's relatively easy to find the individual most dangerous locations, it's more difficult to identify streets with an obvious line of injuries along them. I'll give just three examples from Assen and Groningen:
Weiersstraat in Assen. A location with a poor layout of on-road cycle-lanes causing conflict between all modes. I criticized this earlier this year (maps and data from the excellent ongelluken kaart).

Gedempte Zuiderdiep in Groningen. While buses get their own lane, cycles and cars are made to "share". An unpleasant street layout which uses cyclists as rolling traffic calming devices: resulting in a row of cyclist injuries along it.

Nieuwe Ebbingestraat in Groningen. There's plenty of width here for proper cycling infrastructure and this could be a pleasant road to cycle down, but none is provided. The street has much through motor traffic and many cyclists are injured both by moving cars and by parked cars, e.g. through dooring. Cyclists are again used as traffic calming devices here and the result is another string of injuries as seen above.

Video of Nieuwe Ebbingestraat: Groningen's most dangerous street for cyclists. The problems may look minor compared with some other places, but note now they arise for the same reasons as elsewhere: No or poor cycling infrastructure such as narrow cycle-lanes, advanced stop (bike) boxes leading to close over-takes, door zone cycling etc.

Whole suburbs can be made safe
Assen suburb of Kloosterveen.
Population 10000. No yellow:
No cyclist injuries recorded.
For the last 40 years or so, Dutch suburbs have been designed to have few connections by car and to discourage high speed driving. The result is that cyclists and pedestrian injuries are very rare within these suburbs.

We live in the Assen suburb of Pittelo, first to be designed along these principles and built between 1970 and 1975. There are many ways out of the suburb in all directions by bike, but just two exits by car, both of which go to the ring-road. As a result, there is no through traffic and there are no recorded cycling injuries over the last six years. The same characteristics are true of the very newest suburb of Assen, Kloosterveen, which also has zero cyclist injuries recorded.

Groningen suburb Vinkhuizen.
Population 11000. Cyclists
injured in several locations.
The Groningen suburb of Vinkhuizen has about the same population as Kloosterveen however it was built at the very end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s and came just too early to benefit from the new ideas about not allowing through traffic. This suburb has many more exits by car and allows through traffic both to an industrial area and another suburb. Many locations within Vinkhuizen have proven to be dangerous for cyclists, including both the roundabouts in this suburb, one of which is listed above as the second most dangerous junction in Groningen. Note that Kloosterveen has twice as many roundabouts as Vinkhuizen and that they appear on the busiest roads within that suburb. But these are all of the safer design and no cyclists have been injured at them.

Note that the most dangerous junction in Assen is also situated in an older suburban area, on a road which allows through traffic.

What is the role of infrastructure ?
Infrastructure of any type should be designed to serve the people using it. That may seem self evident, but time and time again we see infrastructure which is not designed in this way. e.g. streets in cities with a lot of cycling which ignore cyclists (as in the example shown in Groningen above, these can be dangerous). Infrastructure should be designed to accommodate the pattern of use which it is expected to receive, and should also be designed to take into account that human error is inevitable and therefore to reduce the likely consequences of error.

What improves safety ?
It is not enough to put a lower speed limit on a dangerous road design. 30 km/h speed limits are more common in the Netherlands than in any other nation: a third of the whole road network has this speed limit or lower. Lower speeds help a little, but note that many of the examples above are in low speed limit areas. It has long been recognized that lower speed limits do not ensure safety of their own accord.

Infrastructure which relies upon perfect driver and cyclist behaviour for their safety can also not create a perfectly safe result. Human beings make mistakes. "Accidents" are inevitable. Create situations in which there are too many things to do at once, especially where drivers' heads have to swivel repeatedly to look in several directions for things to respond, and you've created a situation where accidents will happen.

Uncontrolled junctions are unsafe compared with controlled junctions, but of course it's not practical to add traffic lights everywhere. Roundabouts of the "with priority" design are somewhat safer than uncontrolled junctions for drivers, but offer only an 11% improvement in safety for cyclists so these are not a solution to the problem.

The genuinely safe roundabout designs and safe traffic light junction designs lead to real improvements if they replace a more dangerous junction design, but of course they won't fit everywhere either.

Luckily, these larger and more expensive designs of junction are not required everywhere. In fact, they're only required where there are motor vehicles. Without the added danger of motor vehicles, especially of through traffic, uncontrolled junctions can have perfect safety records too: The safe suburbs discussed above (Kloosterveen and Pittelo) both have many uncontrolled junctions. Neither of these suburbs includes any traffic light junctions and only one of them includes roundabouts (four roundabouts of the safe design in Kloosterveen).

Almost all significant danger to cyclists comes from motor vehicles and therefore restricting car, truck and bus access from where bicycles need to go is the most effective way to improve cyclist safety.

  1. Residential streets should never be through routes by motor vehicle.
  2. City centre streets can largely be closed to car access and should also not operate as through routes.
  3. Main routes between these places which must be shared with drivers need good quality cycle paths and well designed junctions.
  4. Routes from which motor vehicles have been excluded have less need for such infrastructure because they will already not have the same clusters of injuries along them as appear along roads where cyclists and drivers "share" the same infrastructure.
  5. Data which exists shouldn't be ignored. We can tell from a map of where injuries have occurred where intervention is required.
  6. New isn't always better. Wide pavements do not improve conditions for for cycling. Unfortunately, such designs are now quite common around the world, including in the Netherlands.
  7. Shared Space where cars and bikes are mixed is not a success for improving safety.
  8. Paths shared between cyclists and pedestrians lead to conflict.

The most effective way to improve safety of cyclists is the same as it's always been: remove motor vehicles from where cyclists need to be and give cyclists their own space This not only improves safety for cyclists but also enables improvements in efficiency for cycling.

Sometimes it's necessary to build new roads or new bridges for cars in order to improve conditions for cyclists.

Study Tour
Study Tours. Click for booking information.
Since 2006 we've demonstrated the difference between safe and unsafe infrastructure on study tours of Dutch cycling infrastructure. We offer independent advice. See many examples in real life.

Update: Dutch Drivers
A news item published two days after this blog post includes the interesting fact that over 21000 speeding fines were handed out to drivers in Assen last year, who paid over €1.2M in fines as a result.

As I pointed out many times before, including above, Dutch driver behaviour is not different to that of drivers elsewhere. Safety for cyclists in the Netherlands comes primarily through good infrastructure design, not better driving.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A day at the races: Motor racing has no effect on cycling in the Netherlands. Nor does everyday driving. That's why people cycle.

I've never had much interest in motor sport. When I was a child I remember being taken to see motor racing twice and having found it noisy and unpleasant. Assen's TT circuit is world famous. It's known as the "Cathedral of motor sport" and attracts many visitors to the area. But motor racing was not one of the things that attracted us to the area and until yesterday I'd never been to the track for a motor racing event...

Thousands of local people arrived by

The Dutch DIY chain Gamma holds an annual Racing Day at Assen's circuit. It's free to attend this event if you have tickets from the shop or their website. When I bought some DIY materials a few weeks ago the cashier pushed a couple of free tickets into my hand so we decided to go and check it out yesterday.

As with any event in or around Assen, thousands of local people arrived by bicycle. But with this event attracting over 100000 people in total from across the Netherlands (more than Assen's population), it shouldn't be any surprise that a lot of people arrived by car and motorbike.

But far more people arrived from all around the country by car and motorbike
Just as noisy as I remember them
being as a child.
Assen recently built a new motorway junction by the TT circuit and this helped to keep cars away from the city and from cyclists but of course when lots of people try to drive to one place at the same time, that tends to cause problems. There were so many visitors that the police put out a warning that the car parking was full and suggested that visitors find alternatives. There was at least one injury on the way to the event and a huge traffic jam afterwards due to a crash on the motorway.

Curious about where those black
circles came from ? Wonder no more.
Tyres are clearly too cheap.
None of this had any effect on our 6 km cycle journey to the circuit. Our route was shorter than the shortest possible driving route, mostly unravelled from that for drivers and we had far fewer traffic lights to wait for than would have been the case by car. For us this was far more convenient than driving and clearly lots of local people thought the same as these are the reasons why people cycle to events. After we'd had a years' usual dose of fumes and particulates, we had just so uneventful a cycle ride back home again.

Three children and their parents wearing
"Kawasaki racing team" jerseys cycling
home from yesterday's event on one of
Assen's many safe cycle-paths.
My verdict: Well worth the price of admission ;-) In fact, it was actually quite a lot of fun - especially watching smaller older cars being driven fast around the hairpin on three wheels (not all of them finished the race intact). After watching this event, I got back on my bike and cycled home - just like thousands of other people.

Cycling is popular, motor racing is popular too
When I've been to the TT circuit before, it's been because there have been occasional cycling events there. The 2009 Vuelta a Espana had its prologue on the TT circuit, and that one-off event (for which we also got free tickets that time through a bank) attracted a fair crowd of 40000 people. But that's not so much compared with the 100000 people who can be attracted to the same location for motor sport events.

Motor racing is incredibly popular.
So is private car ownership.
Dutch people like cars a lot. They also like bikes. Many people have access to both modes of transport. Both modes of transport have their uses. Many people take part in or watch both related sports. An interest in any one of these things does not have to exclude any of the others.

Dutch cycling is not in the blood but in the infrastructure
It is sometimes forgotten by campaigners elsewhere that the Dutch cover 3/4 of all their km traveled by private automobile. There are enough cars and there is enough driving in the Netherlands that cars could be utterly dominant to the extent that they make cycling unpleasant. Indeed, that situation had already arisen by the 1970s in the Netherlands, when people owned far fewer cars than they do today. Domination of cars led to an increase in cyclist injuries and a steep decline in cycling.

In the early 1960s, British people cycled more than the
Dutch now. Without support, cycling declined sharply.
Dutch people now cycle for a higher proportion of journeys than people of any other country not because cycling is "in the culture" but because cycling to almost any destination is possible without having to deal with motorized traffic. Dutch cycling infrastructure has made it possible for cycling to survive alongside a rise in motoring, removing danger and noise and enabling journeys to anywhere by bike, even motor racing circuits.

Go back a few decades and you'll find that British people cycled for a higher proportion of their journeys than Dutch people do now. As cars came to dominate roads, the UK suffered the same steep decline as the Netherlands did, but because no measures were taken to prevent that decline the decline continued. The same happened across most of the world. For instance, in New Zealand.

Nations once thought to have "cultural" cycling can suffer declines just as well as can those where cycling was forgotten about decades ago. Twenty years ago, Denmark stopped emphasizing cycling, bringing about a decline. The fastest decline in cycling ever seen is that happening now in China, where cycling was once far more significant than in the modern day Netherlands.

Cycling can survive only where it is supported. Unfortunately, recent plans in the Netherlands do not offer the same support to cycling as was offered 20 years ago and this is putting Dutch cycling in danger. If cycling is no longer the most convenient and safe option then people will drive more. This is demonstrated by all the places where that has already happened - a very long list of places which includes the Netherlands.

A previous event in Assen: Every year there is a driving demonstration on city streets. People mainly attend this event by bicycle. No sign whatsoever in Assen of a sporting legacy leading to an en-masse switch to formula one racing cars...

This isn't a sponsored post. Our free tickets came in the same way as the other 100000 attendees free tickets - through buying DIY materials. Gamma's Racing Day is an entertaining event and I can see why it's popular.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Notes on a City. How problems which could be seen 40 years ago have not been solved and how an obvious solution was overlooked

In this blog post I highlight problems in Wellington, New Zealand. Please don't turn away just because you don't live in Wellington because many cities across the world have exactly the same struggles to cope with the volumes of traffic. You may well recognise the problems that Wellington faced and is facing as being similar to those of your own city.

A few days ago I came across a very interesting 44 year old film about the problems caused by mass motoring. Participants in the film talked about planning to avoid future problems. The film was made in Wellington, New Zealand so this blog post is in large part about Wellington. But actually, the film could have been made almost anywhere because the problems which it presents and the suggested solutions are common to almost anywhere. This film could even have been made in a Dutch city at that time as Dutch cities faced very similar problems.

But first of all, let's remind ourselves of what many cities around the world look like now:

Wellington New Zealand  - February 2015

Now lets look at the 44 year old film which shows what many cities in the world looked like in the early 1970s. I recommend watching it all eventually, but it is quite long. Perhaps watch the first minute now and then return after reading  the blog post:

Wellington New Zealand - 1971

Traffic jam in 1971. What's changed ?
One of the comments under the youtube video says "40 plus years on we still have the same unresolved problems...", which is of course a problem common to many cities across the world.

Planner trying to work out how to
resolve traffic problems between
Wellington, Hutt Valley and Porirua
What makes the film particularly interesting to me is that it doesn't only show the problems, but that expert and sensible people have thought about the problems and make suggestions of ways to try to resolve some of them. However what absolutely no-one in the video ever does is suggest that non-motorized transport in the form of bicycles could be any part at all of the solution.

I suspect that many Wellingtonians believe, just like people all across the world, that their city is not one in which bicycles could be practical. There will be people who think that Wellington's hills, wind and rain make cycling impractical. These are common myths. However cycling in Wellington most certainly is possible for average people for at least some of their journeys and the film provides evidence that this is true: While no-one ever talks about bicycles in this film, and the focus of the film is certainly not to demonstrate that cycling is possible in Wellington, the film-makers couldn't help but include bicycles ridden by Wellingtonians in their film.

People rode practical everyday bicycles in Wellington in 1971. Upright position, three speed hub gearing, mudguards, carrier.
The people who we see cycling in Wellington in 1971 are not sport cyclists. They are going about their everyday life using a bicycle as a practical way of getting about. These bicycles are suitable for socializing, for shopping trips, for going to work, for going to school, for carrying children.

Some politicians in New Zealand may not remember that cycling was once relatively normal, but I do.
This shot of a supermarket showed cyclists, pedestrians and drivers as visiting for their shopping. Of course, if you plan only for motor vehicles, motor vehicles are what you will end up with.
When the camera showed busy roads like this, hostile to cycling, no bicycles were caught on film. As roads become busier, most people will cycle less or stop cycling altogether.
An aspirational picture of a new suburb includes a bicycle, but it is not spoken about.
In a real suburb of Wellington there is no comfortable cycling infrastructure. This leads to cyclists being under pressure. Cycling on the pavement is a symptom of that pressure
Pedestrianization: Streets which once accommodated all traffic are transformed so that they don't accommodate any. This can result in making good conditions for people who visit by motor vehicle and use the supplied car parking, at the expense of making the destination awkward to use for those who cycle. Pedestrianized areas can be designed to allow and encourage cycling.
New Zealand's cycling decline may have started before
that of the UK but there will have been a time when New-
Zealanders too cycled more than the Dutch do now.
In the photos above you'll see evidence that into the 1970s, New Zealanders still used the same practical everyday bicycles as are seen in the Netherlands these days. You'll also see some of the factors which were already putting pressure on cycling and which eventually would lead to it being something which only hardened "cyclists" would be involved with.

Cycling was once a popular means of transport in New Zealand: "Cycling became a popular mode of transport in many parts of New Zealand for half a century," but "in the 1950s and 60s government transport funding and policies favouring motor vehicles as the transport of the future". The same decline was seen worldwide, including here in the Netherlands. It is only by similar government action to that which made cycling decline that cycling can be made attractive once again.

Unfortunately, cycling was not valued sufficiently in 1971 even to be mentioned by planners in the film.

Making choices
There is an interesting quote at the beginning of the film: "It is an indication of the influence of the motor vehicle, that it makes us take stock of things, even to the extent of asking what sort of lives we want to lead." A choice needed to be made. The film-maker realised that many futures could be planned depending on how people wanted to live.

While the problems caused by mass motoring were already highly visible 44 years ago, a choice was made in most places to continue to favour the motor vehicle. That has not changed over the last four decades, and the problems caused by making that choice are still evident.

In the 1970s, the same policies were being followed everywhere. The Netherlands is no exception. These photos from Assen in the Netherlands in the 1970s are very similar to the photos of Wellington. Assen looks different now because a different decision was made. The result is that the city centre has been transformed so that even small children can ride their bicycles in from the suburbs and enjoy a great degree of freedom when they arrive. The links underneath each photo following show how these places have changed in the last 40 years:

A Dutch supermarket in the 1970s. The car-park is more than full, conditions for cycling were not particularly pleasant. Take a look at how this location has been transformed.
Dutch city centre street in the 1970s. No space was allocated for comfortable cycling and pedestrians had little space. See how this street looks now.
1970s Assen street. Cyclist in the middle of the road waiting for a second transport revolution which would result in a very different street scene

Assen early 1970s: An aspiration shown to encourage bikes in the picture above was reality in this location. This cyclist is entering a newly built suburb using a tunnel which avoids a large traffic light junction. It still exists and is very useful today. Note how this cyclist looks just like those in the old film from Wellington. In the Netherlands, these people continued riding. But there's one important difference. This new suburb, built between 1970 and 1975 and very much part of the solution to the problem, was planned like most Dutch suburbs to be pleasant to live in, low-rise and very spread out compared with the high density type of housing under consideration by participants in the Wellington film.
Facts and questions
Routes followed by commuters
in Wellington are exactly as
discussed in the 1971 film
(source, licence: wikipedia)
Wikipedia has a good page about Wellington. The city has a population of just under 400000 people. Property market speculation pushed up prices so that city centre living is expensive, the result being that "The typical central city apartment dweller was a New Zealand native aged 24 to 35 with a professional job in the downtown area, with household income higher than surrounding areas. Three quarters (73%) walked to work or university, 13% travelled by car, 6% by bus, 2% bicycled (although 31% own bicycles), and did not travel very far since 73% worked or studied in the central city". Note that even in the very centre of the city, and even with a demographic group which is the very easiest to attract to cycling, people are more likely to drive or to take public transport than to ride a bike.

Wellington has a mild climate. Neither summers nor winters reach the temperature extremes of Dutch cities. So we can't blame the weather for the low rate of cycling

Hills are also not an issue in for city centre cyclists. Indeed, the route out to the Hutt Valley is also quite flat, and where there were hills on the way to Porirua a reasonably flat route has been hewn out of rock for the motorway.

Some of the suburbs of Wellington are hilly - comparable with those of Trondheim, where of course the weather is genuinely a challenge in winter yet the aim is to achieve 15% of journeys by bike by 2025.
Read: population density and cycling

The population density of urban Wellington is slightly higher than that of Assen (890 vs. 780 people per square kilometre) while the metropolitan area density is very much higher than that of Trondheim (290 vs. 37 people per square kilometre).

None of these popular justifications for a low cycling modal share would appear to apply to Wellington (nor to many other places) so what is real reason why so few people cycle in the city these days ?

You get what you plan for
Here's my hypothesis about why it is that cycling is still so unpopular in and around Wellington: The city and the surrounding area are treating cycling no more seriously now than they were in 1971.

The same could of course be applied to very many cities around the world. Here are some examples of Wellington cycling infrastructure. The absolute minimum has been done. Would you enjoy cycling in these locations ? Would you encourage your children or your partner, your parents or anyone else that you cared about to cycle in these conditions ?

Near the city centre. Hills are not a problem, but look at the road. It's five lanes wide road with a three lane wide advanced stop box. Only the bravest of cyclists will be able to make use of this to turn right.
On a commuting route: Five lanes for cars and trucks + a pavement for walking on, which you can also cycle on, but watch out for the parked (and parking) cars and the lamp-posts. Not an attractive environment for cycling. The distance from Lower Hutt to Wellington is less than 17 km. It's not at all unusual for Dutch school children to cycle up to 20 km to get to school. Would you want your children to cycle this route ? See it on Google Maps.
Another commuting route: On the right, a cyclist. Fantastic brave human-being riding between a six lane motorway and rock face on a narrow strip of bumpy asphalt. Bigger view here.
Another view, another brave person. Note that the path is not only narrow but it has posts on it which cyclists have to swerve around. This does not make for pleasant or safe cycling.
Many people have uploaded videos of traffic jams in Wellington to Youtube. No-one likes being stuck in a traffic jam, but when planners have concentrated only on driving and provided no real alternative for most people, it doesn't really matter how terrible the experience of driving becomes, people will still find driving to be their least terrible option and so they will still drive.

Still from a video of a 13 km long commute by bike in Wellington. This is a shorter distance than many Dutch children cycle to get to school, but the video maker describes it as "intimidating even for confident bicyclists A 100 km/h multi-lane road with a painted stripe for cycling on the wrong side of the crash barrier is not nearly good enough to enable mass cycling. Please do watch this video and compare it with the conditions faced by drivers. By car it's slow and annoying, but it clearly doesn't feel so dangerous as cycling.
Google Maps suggestions for a similar journey, Wellington to Lower Hutt.
By car: Start now, takes 19 minutes                          
By bus: One bus every 60 minutes, takes 35 minutes
Without a good alternative, people will continue to drive. I like cycling, but like the 29% of people who live in the centre of Wellington who own bikes but don't cycle, if I lived and worked in Wellington or a city like Wellington, then I might well drive instead of cycling. The infrastructure could not be better designed to make this happen.

This blog post has concentrated on Wellington in New Zealand, but because the problems faced by Wellington are exactly the same as those faced by many other cities, the same applies to almost Anytown in almost Anycountry. Policy's just the same.

Until a genuine choice is made to favour something other than the automobile, more and more dependency on motor vehicles is the only likely outcome. Cycling is a very fragile mode of transport. Cyclists are very obviously exposed to danger when they ride on busy roads or on inadequate paths next to roads, and this is why cycling is extremely sensitive to subjective safety issues. It's not realistic to expect that people will take to cycling in any appreciable numbers when the experience of cycling is akin to that of taking part in an extreme sport.

Cycling was once popular in almost every country. Motor vehicle use rose not only due to cars being attractive in and of themselves, but also due to motoring being subsidized by government. This pushed cyclists aside both in plans and literally on the streets leaving those who still cycled in an increasingly precarious position. It took billions in investment and a lot of time for cycling to decline to the point it has reached now. For cycling to recover will also require considerable investment from government as well as time. There is no easily reached "tipping point" beyond which cycling will automatically increase. If such a thing existed then cycling would never have decreased past that point.

In recent years, the Netherlands has led the world in cycling investment. Even here, the government has never spent more than a fraction of the amount on cycling that they spend on roads for cars, but this has been adequate to stem the flow of people away from cycling and to lead to a modest increase, In the Netherlands, the majority of trips and the vast majority of kilometres travelled are by motor vehicle. It would take a lot more than the Dutch have done to change that. However, at least in the Netherlands cycling has been made both accessible to everyone and very safe. No helmets required.

Cycle-helmet zealotry in New Zealand has no doubt done harm to cycling by making an already unpopular activity even less attractive. Much of the damage had already been done, in that cycling was already at a low ebb. However, helmets will make it more difficult even to grow cycling again and for that reason I oppose the mandatory wearing of helmets. In any case, any emphasis on helmets is in the wrong place. Successful campaigns to improve safety, especially of children, do not rely on secondary devices such as helmets to mitigate the results of crashes, but remove the source of danger so that crashes do not occur.
A grid of high quality go-everywhere cycle-paths is what keeps these children safe, not helmets. If New Zealand had done the same thing then Aaron Oaten's crash and resultant injury would almost certainly never have happened. Preventing collisions is far more effective than allowing them to occur and trying to prevent the worst injuries with safety equipment.
Compare the following two graphs showing the effect of both New Zealand's bicycle helmet law and the effect of Dutch cycle infrastructure:

Effect of New Zealand bicycle helmet law. ""Of particular concern are children and adolescents who have experienced the greatest increase in the risk of cycling injuries despite a substantial decline in the amount of cycling over the past two decades"

Effect of Dutch policy to make roads safer and build cycle-paths, especially concentrating on child safety. Between 1972 and 2013, fatalities on the roads dropped dramatically. Child road fatalities dropped by 98%.
The successful road safety policy removed the danger from where vulnerable people were. This led to a huge reduction in the number of people either injured or killed. The absolute number of child fatalities dropped by 98% over a period of time when the population size and the proportion of trips made by bicycle both rose significantly.