Monday, 25 August 2014

Assen's best bicycle "tunnel" is a bridge. How a crossing of a main road can be almost invisible to cyclists.


The video has a short spoken introduction but I then shut up and let you hear for yourself how quiet and peaceful this area is for a place where we cross four lanes of motorized traffic. This is not peak bicycle traffic but an average level of traffic for mid morning.

The video above shows the best "bicycle tunnel" in Assen. It's actually a bridge for cars. This deserves some explanation.

In the 1960s the canal which used to head to the centre of Assen in this location was filled in and a ring-road built around the city. Until late as early 2007, the ring-road was still at ground level. At this point Assen could be accessed by motor vehicles heading in from villages around the city. The lifting bridge was used by motor vehicles and cycle alike.

When cyclists wanted to go to the centre of the city they had to use a light controlled crossing and wait for a gap in the motor traffic. Boats could of course not access the centre at all.

A new route for drivers heading to the right on this picture
(i.e. west) is just off the bottom of the image. This new route
is also paralleled by cycle-path. Drivers didn't lose a route
as a result of this bridge being built, but cyclists did gain.
However, Assen has been growing rapidly and a new suburb on the west of Assen needed not only better facilities for access by car, but also required that cycling facilities were improved in order that the cycling modal share of the city would grow rather than shrink as people moved into the new suburb. That is why this area needed to change.

The ring-road was to be doubled in width for a short section to allow for the large increase in population at this side of the city. It's unrealistic for cyclists to expect that roads should never be improved as unless we're going to ban people from owning cars, people will want to drive the cars that they own. The Netherlands is remarkably free of obviously anti-car policy. The highest cycling modal share in the world is the result more of cycling being made attractive than of driving being made unattractive. When infrastructure is retrofitted to an existing city, as happened here, we do sometimes have to be pragmatic - hence the bicycle road discussed below rather than a cycle-path as the direct route to the city centre from this point. However we should never accept that cycling infrastructure comes second and should be built to a low standard. Cyclists should benefit even from new road building.

The existing road to the centre was no longer to be used for motor vehicles. Rather, this most direct of routes was changed into a bicycle road divided by stretches of cycle-path so that it could not form a through route by car. The existing lifting bridge became part of the bicycle road, also used only by residents' cars for access. This has now become a main bicycle route unravelled from motoring routes. As a side benefit, the canal could also now be re-opened as a public amenity (these days it's used for tourism, not for industry).


This blog post highlights just one of
many crossings of main roads and
railway tracks in Assen. Many
crossings are required in order
to avoid the funneling problem.
One crossing is not enough
Note that this is just one of many crossings of large roads and railway tracks in Assen, just one of many crossings which prioritize cycling.

Bridge or tunnel ?
A bridge for cyclists to cross the ring-road was considered, but this would have had to be extremely long to have the required gradual incline and of course any bridge requires cyclists to climb to a considerable height before they can ride back down the other side, which slows cyclists down. Cycle-paths should be built to maximise the speed of cycling in order to make this mode as attractive as possible. Therefore it is best to avoid high bridges.

The option of a tunnel was also considered. This would also have solved the problem of expecting cyclists to wait and it would have come without the price of sending bikes and their riders up an incline. However it would also have required sending people into a hole in the ground and it was judged that in this case the subsequent reduction in social safety could lead to less cycling.

The distance between the new suburb and the centre of the city was already long enough. It was considered to be important to keep journeys times so short as possible and to avoid any other reasons why people might choose not to cycle.

A comprehensive grid of cycling
infrastructure covers Assen as it does
other Dutch cities. Red=main routes,
Blue=secondary, Green=recreational
So the city chose to leave cyclists on the level and to build a bridge which carries four lanes of motor vehicles above the cycle-path. It is easier for motor vehicles to climb than for cyclists to climb.

Cyclists stay on the level, but with no need ever to stop for the road. Sound barriers were installed which make the sound of motor vehicles almost completely disappear. Cyclists now barely even notice when they cross the ring road.

If your aim is to encourage cycling then it's important for the cycle route to be as good as it can possibly be. This means it should be so direct as possible and have so few stops as possible.

Exceptional or unexceptional ?
Of course, one piece of cycling infrastructure can do very little on its own. There is often too much emphasis on exceptional pieces of infrastructure when what is truly exceptional in the Netherlands is something altogether different:

True mass cycling is enabled when the entire population is attracted to cycling and when all journeys can be made by bike.

Cycling is made attractive by segregating cyclists from motor vehicles almost 100% of the time because motor vehicles are what people fear most when cycling. In the Netherlands this has been done by building a remarkably tight grid of cycling infrastructure which would be considered to be exceptionally good in any other country. No-one has to make their journey in unpleasant conditions which might scare them off cycling.

The need for a high quality grid of traffic free routes was the most important lesson learnt by the Dutch way back in the 1970s and this is what has been built upon since that time. Nothing stands still. All cities across the Netherlands continue to improve their infrastructure. During the seven years that we have lived in Assen, the majority of the city's cycling infrastructure has been improved. Other places can't catch up by doing less, only by doing more.

We visit this bridge and ride the entire length of the bicycle road on our study tours. The whole of the uninterrupted route between the bridge and the city centre can be seen in a video.

Link to Bing Maps bird's eye view of the site of the blue bridge.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cycling with limited hearing or deafness

Floor has a hearing problem but that doesn't mean she can't cycle. A limited hearing sign warns people behind her not to rely upon being heard.
A hearing problem or even a complete lack of hearing can cut people off from what is happening behind them. This is a potential problem when cycling because cyclists rely upon ringing a bell or their voice in order to communicate that they wish to pass.

The same symbol can be used
on a rucksack
In the Netherlands, everyone cycles. That includes people with many disabilities including limited hearing and deafness. The Stichting Plotsdoven (Sudden Deafness Foundation) are amongst the people promoting the sign shown on the back of Floor's bike above as a way to warn cyclists that the rider ahead of them cannot hear their bell.

Short for  Slechthorend,
or limited hearing.
There has actually long been another symbol used on bicycles in the Netherlands to indicate the same thing. An SH sign is seen quite often attached to the back of bicycles.

Because the new yellow sign does not rely upon knowledge of Dutch and because the picture of an ear gives a greater chance that people will understand what the sign means without being told, this is perhaps a better idea as a standard for international use by cyclists with limited hearing or deafness.

For now, though, cyclists in the Netherlands need to know what both these signs mean.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Why tunnels are better than bridges for cycling

A couple of weeks ago a campaigner from Cambridge in the UK asked me a question about bridge parapet heights in the Netherlands especially with regard to clearing railway lines. He'd realised that he'd not had any problems due to climbing bridges in this country and assumed that the Dutch had standards which were more suitable for cyclists than the UK.

However, the answer to this question turned out to be more involved than just heights of bridges. Actually, in the Netherlands there are not many high bridges. Cyclists in the Netherlands use tunnels and underpasses far more often than bridges. There are very good reasons for this which I'll explain below, but first a graphic showing the facilities which exist in both Cambridge and Assen to cross railway tracks and major roads which would otherwise form barriers to cycling:
Crossings marked with an X are cycle and pedestrian exclusive crossings. Note that all but three of the combined crossings for cyclists and motor vehicles in Assen have separate cycling infrastructure. Crossings of the river Cam and canals in Assen are not included though they make much the same point.  There are many canal bridges in Assen - mainly cycling specific flat opening bridges which do not require riding uphill and none have obstacles upon them. Assen's many crossings form important links in the fine grid of high quality cycling facilities required for a high cycling modal share.

The diagram above does not include
bridges over rivers and canals. No
bridges in Assen require dismounting
like this example in Cambridge.
As you can see, in both cities, the railway line cuts the eastern part of the city from the western part while major roads have a similar effect on the western parts of the cities.

The maps show crossings of motorways and ring-roads only, excluding rivers and canals as well as roads closer to the centre.

Comparison of crossings in Assen and Cambridge
It's immediately obvious that there are far more green crossings (tunnels) in Assen than there are red (bridges). The reverse is true in Cambridge. What's more,

The railway has a similar effect on both cities, cutting off people in the east from the centre. More people live east of the railway in Cambridge than is the case in Assen.  Note that in Assen all the most commonly used crossings are either tunnels or level crossings while in Cambridge the majority of crossings are bridges.

It's a similar story with major roads. Both cities have a motorway running north-south west of the city. Cambridge also has a dual carriageway (a road built to motorway standard) running west-east across the north of the city, while Assen has a partial ring-road which runs around the west of the city. These roads are crossed almost entirely by tunnel or level in Assen while they are crossed by bridges in Cambridge.

All crossings in Assen can be used
without slowing down. This is one
of the many cycle and pedestrian
crossings of a major road in Assen.
Four metre wide cycle-path, separate
pedestrian path, gentle inclines, well
lit and we can see right through for
 good social safety. Built in the 1970s
well maintained: last resurfaced 2012
Note also that in Assen the crossings mostly have an X which indicates that they are cycle-specific crossings. There are also crossings shared with cars, but these include separate infrastructure for cycling.

In Assen it is rare for a cyclist to use a bridge, common to use tunnels, and very often we cross on infrastructure which is cyclist specific so that cars are rarely seen. In Cambridge the crossings are mostly bridges, usually along the same routes as used by cars, and in several cases you have to cycle on the road to cross major roads or the railway line.

Dutch standards for Tunnels and Bridges
CROW still recommend maximum
of 5% incline and that's what this
tunnel has. Complaints from some
local cyclists have led to this Assen
underpass being redesigned at 3.5%.
The CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic includes many details of how both bridges and tunnels should be designed to make cycling over and through them safe and convenient. I'm not going to repeat all of their recommendations here but will include some important points.
  1. The incline to a bridge or tunnel should be less than 1 in 20 (5%)
  2. Upward inclines: "Upward inclines require cyclists to make an extra effort and should be avoided where possible in the design of a bicycle friendly infrastructure."
  3. Downward inclines: "On long declines, attention should focus on the speed of the descending cyclist". It is suggested that planners should expect  "35 to 40 km/h" and that there should be "plenty of free deceleration space at the bottom of inclines, with no intersections, sharp bends or other obstacles in the way".
  4. Absolute minimum width of cycle-paths should be 3 m. That's permissible only if there's a separate 1 m minimum walking path on both sides of the cycle-path. Without a separate walking path (i.e. where no pedestrians are expected, this isn't shared use) the minimum width becomes 4.15 m, made up of 3.5 m cycle-path plus 0.325 m clearance between each side of the cycle-path and any railings or wall.
All the examples in Assen meet all these requirements except for one tunnel built in the 1960s which is a little too narrow.

Generally speaking, it is better that cyclists do not have to climb to cross roads or railway tracks. It is better to have cyclists continue on flat infrastructure and that powered vehicles should climb.

Only three bridges in Assen have a
significant inclines for cyclists. Most
are completely flat like this example.
Advice for bridges
  1. Gradients should not be constant all the way up the incline. Cycling speed diminishes when climbing. For relatively short inclines (height less than 10 m), the highest section should be less steep than the lowest section to enable cyclists to maintain an almost steady speed uphill.
  2. If a height over 5 m must be climbed, 'resting places' in the form of a horizontal section about 25 m in length should be provided before cyclists must to climb again.
  3. Wind nuisance is greatly increased on an exposed bridge so this should be taken into account. Climbs against the prevailing wind should compensate by being less steep. Wind barriers can be installed on bridges to reduce the nuisance to cyclists.
  4. It should be possible to cycle onto and over a bridge. Cyclists should never be required to dismount. Escalators or lifts to access the bridge are OK as a last resort measure.

Problems with bridges
The following are given as specific problems with bridges:
  1. There are often longer inclines than with a tunnel (because of greater height difference in order to clear railway lines, for instance - precisely the parapet height question which prompted this blog post)
  2. There is a possibility of fear of heights with a high bridge
  3. Bridges must be designed to keep height difference to be overcome by cyclists as small as possible
  4. Suggestion that with a cycle-bridge across the road: if necessary the road should be lowered to make the cycle-bridge less high.
CROW ideal tunnel impression. Short
open, well lit, separate pedestrian path
also of good width. Splayed out sides
Advice for tunnels
  1. Steeper gradients can be used than with a bridge because cyclists going into a tunnel first ride downhill and pick up speed which can be used to climb back out of the tunnel.
  2. Tunnels can be made less deep by moving roads and railways above them upwards.
  3. Social safety issues should be addressed by making it possible to see out of a tunnel before you enter, and by avoiding long tunnels.
  4. A "semi-buried" design can work well, with the road above rising by about two metres, effectively a small bridge. This makes the tunnel into an open structure and reduces the change in height required of cyclists.
  5. Tunnels require good drainage (often pumped) and should be designed to be easy to clean.
  6. Tunnel height should never be less than 2.5 m and width should be no less than 1.5 x the height in order that the tunnel feels comfortable to use.
  7. Lights and light colours are preferable in a tunnel to make it appear as 'open' as possible. The time spent in a tunnel should be minimised and sides should be splayed outwards.
Some of the suggestions refer to social safety issues. In short, infrastructure should not lead to a feeling of unease, especially after dark.

All the tunnels were retrofitted to
Assen. The process continues. This
tunnel dates from 2008. Note that this
is an example of where the road rises
slightly as the cycle-path drops.
Why tunnels are preferred
CROW consider that tunnels are "often more favourable". They make many points including:
  1. Tunnels have a smaller height difference than bridges. Only need clearance for the height of a cyclist, not for trucks or trains plus electric lines.
  2. Tunnels take up less space than a bridge because inclines are shorter
  3. Tunnels are easier to fit into an existing landscape.
  4. Tunnels offer protection from wind and rain
  5. Tunnels offer faster journeys than bridges due to less climbing
  6. In rural areas tunnels can also be useful for wildlife
There are also other advantages which may seem to be quite small such as that tunnels naturally provide shelter when it rains.

Tunnel disadvantages
A possible disadvantage is low social safety. It is important that cyclists can see out of a tunnel before they enter it. There should be no turns within the tunnel, no-where for a potential mugger to hide. Obviously tunnels should also be well lit.

Drainage is very important in tunnels. The Netherlands has many tunnels which are below the water table and require pumps. Nevertheless, it is rare that tunnels become flooded.

The best tunnel in Assen is a bridge
Conceptually, this is an incline-less
tunnel for cyclists
, not a bridge for
cars. It provides part of a direct and
uninterrupted route by bike from a new
suburb to the centre of Assen. This
bridge has no benefit at all for drivers,
only for cyclists. Re-opening the canal
for tourism was a side-benefit. This
replaced a large flat road junction.
If possible, it's best that cyclists don't have to change level at all. If motor vehicles can be sent into a tunnel or over a bridge then they no longer hinder cyclists.

In 2007, there was a traffic light junction at this location in Assen. For cyclists to use the road to travel directly into the city they had to stop at a traffic light. By 2008 this bridge had been built. It severs the pre-existing link by motor vehicle into the city, leaving the direct route as a bicycle road which excludes through motor traffic.

This bridge has no utility for drivers. It actually reduces their options as it is now impossible for a car travelling over the bridge to turn left of right as used to be possible.

Instead of building this bridge to carry four lanes of motor vehicles, a much smaller and less expensive bridge could have been built to take cyclists over the road, a small tunnel could have been excavated to take them under the road or a signal controlled crossing could have been installed on the level. However all these other options would have meant a reduction in speed and convenience for cyclists due to inclines for bridge or tunnel and delays at traffic lights for a level crossing. There could also have been social safety issues. The solution, to ensure the best possible service for cyclists was this bridge. Cyclists now have a smooth, level uninterrupted route which is well lit at night and has good sight lines in all directions.

Just as recommended by CROW, motor vehicles have to use inclines in this example rather than cyclists.

Short note about funneling
Illustration of how high cycle counts
can indicate a problem: A lack of
bridges or tunnels to cross railways,
roads, rivers or canals can force
people onto the same crowded route
Unless enough pleasant routes are provided, excess numbers of cyclists are likely to be seen on the few remaining routes. It can be especially a problem where there are too few crossings of railway lines, major roads or rivers. Such funneling can make for great promotional headlines ("N bicycles per day pass this point") but actually it's not good news for cyclists at all because this actually means a detour onto overcrowded cycle-paths and conflict.

It is far better for cyclists that there should be more available routes so that more people can make direct journeys and there is less of a need to detour to find a comfortable route. Detours should be minimised by providing extra cycle crossings of large roads, railway lines, rivers and canals. This makes cycling more viable for more people and therefore more attractive. This principle should not only be applied for what are considered to be practical routes - CROW state that "recreational routes can also form reason enough to remove barriers".

Reducing funneling in Groningen
Groningen has many students, making up a relatively transient population who while they are more likely to cycle are also likely not to know the local area well. The city used specific marketing to encourage people to choose a selection of other routes which would serve them better. However, it's important to note that this was only possible because a very comprehensive grid of cycling infrastructure already existed.

It comes down to having a proper grid
I've often railed against hype about exceptional pieces of infrastructure. They're nice to see, but not really very important. The fact is that a few impressive bridges or tunnels are of relatively little use unless they form part of a comprehensive grid of good quality infrastructure. The grid is really the exceptional achievement of the Netherlands. The grid is the thing which should inspire and be copied elsewhere.

Tunnels are less photogenic than bridges, but they are preferable for the reasons explained above. However, whether tunnels or bridges are built it is most important that there are enough of them, that they are of high enough quality and that they link everything else together.

Find out more
Both tunnels and bridges feature on our study tours.

The Cambridge map does not include the Newmarket road roundabout underpasses as they do not cross railway or motorway. Nearly at the geographic centre of the map above, these underpasses are right not well loved. They are bad examples for a number of reasons include low social safety and sharp turns at the bottom of inclines. It also does not include the Northfield avenue underpass for similar reasons. This is flawed mainly due to dangerous railings within it. There are also many bridges in Assen which are not included on the map because they don't cross main roads or the railway, but all those which have a significant incline in Assen are on the map. The point of the maps is not to show all bridges and tunnels but to show red vs. green. i.e. emphasis on bridges in the UK vs. emphasis on tunnels in the Netherlands.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Pragmatism. When campaigners and planners should use it. How such things as car parking and beer delivery in the Netherlands are made to coexist with excellent cycling infrastructure


Cycle-paths in red. The truck has to travel a considerable
distance along cycle-path to reach the club and then
must drive the same way back again to leave.
It may not look like it, but the photo above is actually an example of very good infrastructure being used as intended.

The photo shows where cyclists have gained a great cycling facility due to pragmatism. I'll explain, with help from the map on the right:

The club building was built on a strip of land between the large and wide ring-road (in effect an urban motorway) and part of the existing cycle-path network. There is no way to access this sports club except via the cycle-path. No other route exists and there is nowhere to build another route. Therefore there is no choice but for deliveries to the sport club to use the cycle-path. Football players and audience members also cycle. There's a car park nearby which can be used but it's a fair walk between there and the club.


The junction between two cycle-paths from where I took the photo. The speed bumps are designed to have no effect at normal cycling speeds. They are an effective measure to slow mopeds, permitted on this cycle-path, at the junction.

Trucks using the cycle-path leave in the same direction as they entered. They don't continue and use the cycle-path as a through route because there's a busy cycle-path junction in the way. The cycle-path isn't abused as a through route by drivers.

As part of redevelopment of this area, cycle-paths were widened and gained a smoother and more robust surface. This is a big plus for cyclists. The small cost is that a truck has to come along here perhaps once or twice a week to make deliveries. The alternative in this situation would have been to convert the cycle-path into a road or to not have built the sport club at all.

In this case, pragmatism means an obvious and large win for cyclists. It also serves footballers who cycle to the pitch and like to drink beer afterwards.

Examples in residential areas
There are many other examples of this way of thinking all across the Netherlands. Two of them within a few hundred metres of our home are shown here:
Two homes in this location in Assen have garages next to each other which open onto the cycle-path. The cycle-path is therefore used very occasionally by car by those two families. A very minor inconvenience for cyclists in comparison with the major gain of being able to use this cycle-path and its associated tunnel to avoid a large and very nasty traffic light junction. Cyclists never have to stop at those traffic lights because this facility exists. A major gain for cyclists due to a little pragmatism.

The house was built long before the cycle-path. The residents of the house need access by car to their garage. It's no problem at all that they are given this access. Cyclists gain a marvellous wide and efficient cycle-path. Most cyclists won't realise that part of this "cycle-path" is actually a road.
Bicycle Roads. Segregation without cycle-paths
Part of a bicycle road in Assen. This very popular very high quality route for cycling provides the shortest possible way into the centre of the city for people who live in a new suburb. It was only possible to provide this by being pragmatic. There is no through traffic here so the only motor vehicles along this short stretch of road are for access to ten homes situated along here. Most of the time, this works as a de-facto cycle-path which is 5.5 m wide. A huge improvement over this being a route into the city by car, as it was until 2007.
Cycling is safest, most pleasant and most efficient when cyclists do not have to "share" with motor vehicles. The greater the extent to which motor vehicle and cycling routes can be unravelled, the greater proportion of the road network can be dominated by cyclists. It's not possible to achieve this while roads remain as useful through routes by motor vehicle.

There are many ways in which cyclists can be segregated from motor vehicles without building cycle-paths.

Nearly car free streets in the centres of Dutch cities provide excellent cycling conditions while also allowing access by car. Pedestrianized zones in the Netherlands usually allow access by bike. These situations are almost opposites of one another, in that motor vehicles mustn't create problems for cyclists in the first while cyclists must not create problems for pedestrians in the second. We have examples of both which work extremely well.

Maintenance vehicles
It's a rare person who complains that maintenance vehicles will occasionally drive along cycle-paths, but of course they must do so.
Good maintenance of cycle-paths as well as such things as cutting grass or dredging canals next to cycle-paths will always require access by some maintenance vehicles. This cycle-path in Assen belongs to the local water board. It's an essential part of our flood defences but also forms a very useful cycle route. The slight downside is that we very occasionally have to share it with a maintenance vehicle.
Also in the countryside
In the countryside there are many cycle-paths used mainly for recreational use which were once farmers' tracks or which go through natural areas by following a similar line to vehicles used for maintenance within those areas.
This photo is from last Sunday's recreational rides through the countryside near Assen. A beautifully smooth cycle-path which was once a farm track. It's still, necessarily, used by the farmer so occasionally we meet tractors along here. The farmer has gained a much smoother tractor path than he had before while everyone else gains a wonderful facility for cycling in the countryside.
When to be pragmatic
Signage on another ex farm track
Cycles only - tractors excepted
Cyclists should never have their journey made less convenient, less direct or less safe due to motor vehicles. Cyclists should never be given a choice of either a "safe" or a "fast" route to take, all routes must be both safe and fast. All routes should work for all cyclists. We don't plan roads for timid new drivers differently to how we plan for experienced drivers, and the same should be true for cycling. Cyclists should not be forced to fight for space with motor vehicles as this is not a fight fought on an equal basis and it cannot be won in favour of the majority of people cycling, regardless of training or experience.

In practice, places which don't provide good infrastructure for cycling simply have fewer cyclists. Compromises on quality lead to fewer people cycling, so quality should never be compromised. Progress is not made by adopting low aspirations reflected in inadequate design guidelines as these in themselves come to stand between potential cyclists and cycling. Cycling expands in popularity only by winning a popularity contest, by being the most attractive contestant. To encourage people to cycle, cycling needs to become the most pleasant and convenient way to make a journey.

There will always be places where cyclists must come first but where access by motor vehicle is sometimes also required. We shouldn't be afraid of this, but instead make sure that it is something which is planned correctly so that 'sometimes' really does mean 'sometimes'.

Occasional use by a resident's car or by a tractor or maintenance vehicle, as shown above, is not a problem for cyclists using cycle-paths any more than it is if a cycle-path is occasionally used by an equestrian or pedestrian. This is where real pragmatism comes in. Near 100% segregation of cyclists from motor vehicles can be achieved so long as we accept that there will be very small compromises. There should never be wholesale compromises on quality. Nothing should be compromised easily which will diminish the overall experience of cycling.

Equestrians have their own paths
and are not normally expected
to be found on Dutch cycle-path.
This surface is better for horses
than the asphalt or concrete
required for a proper cycle-path
Where we can't be 'pragmatic'
While they are sometimes thought of as synonyms, pragmatism and compromise have quite different definitions. Pragmatism demands that dogma be put aside so that we can make a rational choice and take a practical point of view. As an example, while we don't normally want trucks to be driven along cycle-paths, I've yet to hear anyone argue against snow-ploughs driving along cycle-paths in winter. The examples above fall into similar categories.

On the other hand, to compromise is to make a concession. We should do this only as little as possible and if a good outcome can still be guaranteed. Of course, in real life there will always be compromises, but they should come as late as possible in the process of campaigning

Campaigners should always be pragmatic but compromises should be rare.

Problems for cyclists arise when other modes come to dominate what should be cycling infrastructure or if accommodating these other modes changes the design of what should be cycling infrastructure so that it in fact becomes more suited for another mode. This principle applies even if it affects only part of the day.

There's no point in suggesting that usually "empty" roads which fill with motor vehicles at rush hour or at school times are suitable for cycling because at those times of the day, which will also be busy times for cycling, they won't be suitable.

Designs encouraging cyclists and pedestrians to share cause conflict because these two modes are not compatible. Similarly, shared spaces for cars and bikes have proven to be dangerous. These also are not truly a cycling measure but readily demonstrate exactly the problems caused by allowing other modes to dominate.

Sometimes suggestions of compromise comes not due to another mode, but because of specious reasons such as false environmentalism. This also needs to be resisted. Any problem that can be caused by a cycle-path and cyclists using it is minute next to the problem which would be caused by building a road and people making their journeys by car instead of by bike. This comes up remarkably frequently.

Cycling declined quickly in the UK as planners
concentrated only on motor vehicles
and cars took
over the roads
Of course, not planning to accommodate cyclists safely at all is the biggest compromise and it remains the biggest danger. This is what led to huge declines in cycling in many nations. Dutch cycling also went into free-fall, but the decline was turned around in the 1970s due to concerns about rights and safety of children.

Any of the situations described in the last few paragraphs are a compromise too far because such compromises damage cycling.

Where motor vehicles dominate it's essential to provide proper cycle-paths and well designed junctions to prevent clashes between cyclists and motor vehicles and it's essential that these are conflict free. This is the only way to make cycling pleasant and convenient for the entire population.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Legacy ? What legacy ? Sporting events _don't_ change peoples' behaviour. But proper cycling infrastructure certainly leads to more cycling.

It's become popular for there to be claims that sporting events will be followed by a "legacy" of changed behaviour. Somehow, the public are expected to behave differently after seeing other people exercise. London's Olympics were supposed to have inspired a generation to take up sport and to improve the population's health. Similarly, the Tour de France starting in Britain this year is supposed to lead to an upsurge in cycling (despite the fact that 101 tours have not yet had that effect in France).


Assen. 31 July 2014. One of many motor racing events in the city.

If any place ought to be able to demonstrate the power of a sporting legacy, it's Assen. This small city has hosted the annual motorcycle TT since 1925. A special circuit for the TT, known as "The Cathedral of motorcycling", was built just outside the city in 1955. The TT is a huge event. For a few days each year the city's population is tripled by the enormous crowds of motor-sport enthusiasts who visit to watch the racing. Every local farm becomes a camp-site, the city puts on a huge party with live music in the centre until the early hours. It's a great event !


Assen. 1st August 2014. People cycle past the "donuts" left on the road by a Formula One racing car last night. Is this a motor racing legacy ? This is one of many excellent simultaneous green junctions in the city.
What's more, there are many other motor-sport events every year. But despite all this, the people of Assen make more of their local journeys by bicycle than they do by car. Why ? Cycling has been made extremely safe and it's more convenient than driving. People don't all drive around the city in Formula One cars or ride on racing motorbikes, they react to what works best for them. That is why cycling is the single most popular mode of transport in this city.

Assen 1st August 2014. The European Junior Cycling Tour is taking place in and around the city this week. This road is closed to normal traffic today so that the racers use it. This is fabulous, but it isn't what makes Assen attractive for everyday cycling isn't a few roads closed for a few days per year, it's the comprehensive network of cycle-paths like that on the right of the picture, which go everywhere and are open 365 days a year.
Assen also hosts a great number of cycle sport events. Cycle-sport is extremely popular in Assen - enough that the city has many facilities for different types of cycle-sport. In 2009 the first two stages of the Vuelta a Espana were in and around Assen. At the moment the largest youth cycle racing event in Europe is taking place right here in Assen, this being their 50th year in the city. But cycle-sport in the city no more influences the means by which people make everyday trips by bike than does motor-sport.

Sports are great, but everyday cycling has nothing to do with sport. Not even with cycle-sport.

The child on the right may decide that he likes what he sees. Perhaps he'll join a local club and start racing with those on the road. But he might also prefer football, or be more interested in reading than in any sport. Nevertheless, he's riding a bike now and will do so tomorrow as well because that's a sensible way to get around the city. Note that the car is supporting the cyclists. The road is blocked to through traffic.
Everyday mass cycling is not enabled by temporary road closures, it requires a permanent grid of excellent quality cycling infrastructure. If this is built to a high enough standard then cycling ceases being the preserve of a brave minority and instead, everyone can cycle. Good cycling infrastructure caters for cyclists of all abilities and all speeds.

Infrastructure which is good enough to enable truly safe and convenient usage by children riding en-masse to make school trips is also safest and most convenient for those who like to ride fast.

The Dutch don't cycle because it's "in their culture", people in other countries used to cycle just as readily as the Dutch do now. These days, the Dutch cycle more than anywhere else because the infrastructure makes cycling an easier choice here than anywhere else. There's no mystery. We know what is required to enable mass cycling: Build a grid, make cycling safe, convenient and pleasant for everyone, and people will ride bikes. This applies even in a town famous for motor racing.

Funding of events
By all means host events such as large cycling races. They're a great thing to see. But they should not consume funds intended for cycling infrastructure because once the race has gone through everything will go back to normal.

More smoke and noise here, and preparations for it in our local TV coverage. The TT festival can be very amusing. A few years ago it brought a jet powered motorbike to the city centre. Oddly enough, that also brought no "legacy". I've not seen even one person riding a jet powered motorbike around the city since then.

Friday, 25 July 2014

New infrastructure. A real improvement or making stop-start cycling even slower ?

This piece was originally titled "New British Infrastructure..." and the bad examples shown below are all from the UK. However, the exact same problems are seen around the world.

Cyclists often win "commuter races" because of their ability to get through traffic jams which hold up both motorists and public transport. Many existing cyclists enjoy the fact that they can make fast journeys have have predictable journey times. These give cyclists major advantages over using other modes of transport.

If cycling is to be spread wider through the population then other people need to see the same advantages. There is no point in giving people a choice between being able to ride slowly on inadequate cycling facilities or having to "take the lane" on the roads. Neither of these two options is good enough. Cycling must be both safe and convenient and we should not be asked to choose between one or the other of those two desirable characteristics.

Making stop-start cycling even slower

Unfortunately, many people who plan for cycling in the UK don't seem to understand the need for efficiency when cycling. Rather than creating cycling facilities which make cycling both convenient and safe, there is a consistent problem across the UK that facilities are designed to such a low standard that they are neither convenient nor safe.

From a Southend council website, the
Prittle Brook Greenway. Nice photo of
recreational use on a sunny day but this
is simply too narrow for a bidirectional
shared use path and its inadequate as
a main cycling route. Riders appear
to be approaching one of many places
where they will have to cross a road.
Southend-on-Sea
I wrote two weeks ago about Southend's lacklustre attempts at encouraging cycling. Quite apart from having used almost all their funds for two expensive schemes which are designed for motor vehicles and ignore the needs of cyclists, the blind corners, narrow shared-use cycle-paths and road crossings of astonishing slowness seen elsewhere demonstrate how the town is not working seriously to provide efficient go-everywhere routes for cyclists.

In response to my blog post there were several suggestions that I should especially have looked at the Prittle Brook Greenway because this is a highlight.

I decided in any case to look up what I could find about the Prittle Brook Greenway. The first item to come up was Southend's own information, a small part of which is reproduced here. The second item was a local campaigner's description of it as "a 2 mile long, 2 metre wide shared use path that involved 19 road crossings". Follow the link to see a surface which washes away in the rain on a path with blind corners and low social safety. A local civil engineer pointed out the lack of lighting and a previous problem with dog excrement as well as a later post discussing problems with crossings and with vandalism.

Would cyclists need this
advice to ride on Southend's
best cycle-path
if it were
built to a proper standard ?
The campaigner's description goes some way to explain why Southend council's official recommendations for this route suggest that under 12s should be supervised, that there should be "no racing" and that cyclists must "Look out for vehicles" and "take care" around pedestrians. I've seen paths like this all over the UK and I'm not sure I missed much by not seeing this particular example. It can be OK for an outing with children on a sunny day but this is not the sort of infrastructure which leads to mass cycling.

The truth is that I missed the Prittle Brook Greenway before because it didn't go anywhere that I was going. The most important result from Dutch research in the 1970s was that a dense grid of very high quality routes is required. i.e. Good infrastructure shouldn't be something that you have to look for, it needs to be everywhere.

Even if it is of very high quality, very direct and socially safe (unfortunately, Prittle Brook doesn't tick those boxes), a single path cannot achieve much on its own because it simply cannot serve every location. Southend has actually spent a lot of money. They could have transformed the town but they've instead directed it at the wrong projects. Neither a high enough quality level of facility nor the required dense grid have been provided for cycling and that's why cycling remains a niche mode of transport in the town.

Brand new infrastructure
in London's Olympic park.
Not an uninterrupted and
direct route. It's also very
obviously too narrow for
a bidirectional route.
Source: @twistandshout
London
I visited London last year. From a cycling point of view, I took two things in particular away from the visit:

Firstly, cyclists in London are a rare breed. Just as everywhere else where cycling is for a small minority, those who do it mostly fit into a particular demographic. School trips by bike are difficult to imagine taking place. You don't see a lot of pensioners or disabled people cycling either. Cyclists in London must be alert and constantly looking out for where the next threat will come from. Cycling isn't a way of getting about which anyone can choose as most people simply won't consider it in those conditions. Those who cycle in London have reasons to do so.

Secondly, there was an overwhelming sense of frustration and slowness. On Dutch cycle-paths, I expect to be able to get up to speed and to be able to keep cycling with the minimum of interruptions until I reach my destination. I rarely have to stop at traffic lights and am rarely inconvenienced by motor traffic. That's not at all how it is in London. Cycling in London feels quite competitive. People jostle for position in ASLs, there's a lot of sprinting from one traffic light junction to another, but overall progress is slow. Average speeds over a complete journey, even over short distances, are low. Compared with what I'm used to, I found cycling in London to be irritatingly SLOW and I was amazed by how long it took to cover even a short distance.

London has not learnt the importance of providing infrastructure of a high enough standard. The "superhighways" are well known to be not super at all but rather than copying from best practice and providing adequate funds to do a good job, London is still going its own way, thinking up new and absurd ideas, producing lots of press releases and trying to build the actual infrastructure on the cheap. For instance, less than a year has gone by since London proposed an absurd multi-stage right turn which demonstrated a complete lack of understanding what is required to make cycling both safe and efficient, and they've continued right up to the present time with designing and building infrastructure which is way short of the standard which is required for true mass cycling.

Amazingly, Bedford once had this
as a proposal. It's close to a proper
safe Dutch roundabout
in design.
But they scrapped that...
via aseasyasridingabike
Bedford
The continuing "#Turbogate" scandal in Bedford, where they claim Dutch inspiration for a roundabout design which is fundamentally different from real Dutch roundabouts, dates back a long way. I was first involved in trying to advise a Bedford planner about how Dutch roundabouts really accommodate cyclists way back in 2011.

Sadly, rather than accept the widely published and very reasonable criticism of their flawed design, Bedford and their backers (including Sustrans) have not accepted the widely published criticism but have continued to push a design which divides cyclists into two groups: those who will "take the lane" on the busy roundabout and those who will be too timid to do this and will instead use pedestrian crossings to pass the roundabout. Dutch cyclists never have to choose between "safe" or "fast". With one minor change which might actually make the roundabout more dangerous, building of this flawed and dangerous design started this week.

Northern Ireland
On-road cycle-lanes are amongst the more useless types
of cycling infrastructure and they should never be this
narrow
, but this is one of the better examples of
infrastructure in the DOE video. The width problem is
demonstrated in the video by the cyclist swerving out
before the grey car because she thinks the blue car won't
stop for her. via NIgreenways
Northern Ireland has its own problems. The nigreenways blog pointed out this week that the Department of Environment, "where local road safety promotion sits in isolation from the road builders", has produced a jaw-droppingly bad road safety video which gives ludicrous recommendations for how to stay out of trouble, such as that people should "avoid the busiest times" (i.e. don't use cycling as a practical means of transport for such things as going to work or to school) and makes one excuse after another for the terrible quality of the infrastructure which they have built.

It's the same problem as seen elsewhere in the UK. Northern Ireland's cycling infrastructure is not fit for the purpose of making cycling attractive and convenient for the entire population. That's why Northern Ireland, like the rest of the UK, has a very low cycling modal share.

Cambridge
I've written quite often about Cambridge because we used to live and campaign there, watching local infrastructure change at a glacial pace.

Cycling in Cambridge has perhaps the greatest help from demographics and local laws of any city in the world, yet it doesn't not have the highest cycling modal share of any city in the world. I suspect that if the city had infrastructure like Dutch cities then Cambridge could quite easily have a higher cycling modal share even than Groningen. Unfortunately, the current level of political commitment and investment prevents cycling in Cambridge from growing to its full potential.

While the city has the highest cycling modal share in the English speaking world, it doesn't make a useful model for other places because the causes of the relatively high cycling rate of Cambridge are not things that can be duplicated. Much of the cycling in Cambridge takes place despite the infrastructure rather than because of it.

Since we left the city there have been changes, but they've not made a very big difference. There is still no sign of the comprehensive grid of high quality infrastructure required to get everyone cycling. For instance, it took 12 years of discussion and a lot of campaigning before the busy Gilbert Road was changed, but the outcome even on this one km length of road wasn't nearly what it could have been.

It's part of the plan to deliberately
make the cycle lane narrower when
it passes the bus stop, specifically to
slow cyclists down. That creates
danger for cyclists and should not
be a feature of a real cycling facility.
Source: Cambridgeshire CC
More recently there have been proposals to change Hills Road and Huntingdon Road. These proposals have been a long time coming and were eagerly awaited. I used Huntingdon Road regularly when we lived there so I looked at this part in detail and explained in a long comment on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website the many problems with the design for this short length of road. Please read that link to find out more.

To summarise, they're planning to change just one side of approximately one mile of road (you're on your own on the return journey). There are many problems packed into this distance, which will make for a far too varied and "exciting" mile of cycling. Consistency may be boring but everyone knowing what comes next is a safety feature. Just one of the issues with the plan is enough to illustrate the gulf which exists between what Cambridge really needs to enable cycling for everyone and what the plans which currently exist in the city promise: "the plan is for this already narrow cycle facility to be even narrower and even more dangerous at bus-stops. Here it will shrink to a totally inadequate 1.5 m, and this is to be done deliberately in order to slow cyclists down. If this were a cycling facility designed to actually facilitate cycling then it would try to make cycling faster and more convenient, not to make cycling slower."

After the bus stop design which makes
you slow down you then come to this
junction at which you'd better speed
up and "keep your wits about you".
A lethal junction design. New for
Cambridge but exactly like junctions
not seen in Assen since the 1970s.
That's just one of the problems. There are other faults such as being too narrow for safe passing and lethal junction designs and that it gives up entirely before the biggest junction. But in my view the most damning thing is that even this much awaited very short length of facility is not actually to be optimized for cycling at all but will instead include features deliberately designed to make bikes slower and therefore also less attractive.

Rather than seeing the existing level of cycling in Cambridge as good for the city, good for the people of the city and as something to encourage more of, planners in Cambridge view cyclists as if they are a problem which it is somehow their job to solve. This is precisely the attitude which has prevented Cambridge from achieving its potential as a cycling city.

Leeds / Bradford
What happens at large traffic light and
roundabout junctions in Leeds now ?
BBC Radio Leeds rode along a cycle-
path new enough not even to be open
yet and found many problems in a
short length of cycle-path. Amongst
them are that the new facility simply
ceases to exist at major junctions,
where it is needed most.
The Leeds-Bradford cycling "superhighway" proposal was announced with the customary blitz of publicity surrounding all new cycling schemes in the UK and achieved some considerable press already, but like most new infrastructure in the UK it's designed in such a way that it will be far from convenient to use.

Its telling that the official blog of the project (they have their own strange blog software so it's not possible to link to the correct page) includes statements like the following:

"Cycling in a segregated cycle lane [...] might be slower, for instance when they are congested, or when we are required to make two-stage right turns, waiting for signal phases." i.e. they're planning to make the cycle-paths too narrow so that it's difficult to pass safely and to use junction designs which are already known to be both inefficient and unsafe for cyclists.

"Many current cyclists are used to speeds of 20 miles an hour or more (going downhill) and a lot of current cyclists are, for want of a better phrase, speed freaks. It will not be easy to maintain this along all of the segregated routes." i.e. existing cyclists for whom journey time is important (that's everyone who cycles if they're late for an appointment, for work or for school) as "speed freaks". Rather than being seen as a group of users who need to be supported and assisted to make their journeys in safety, they're seen as a problem. Rather than planning for the entire population, these planners want to design infrastructure for a mythical person who is never late, never in a hurry and has all day to meander around and to work out how to use their complicated design. They are asking people to choose between "safe" on their cycle-paths or "fast" on the road. No-one should be asked to choose between those two things.

There's nothing "super" about these "superhighways". The criticisms which have come up are not of segregated cycling infrastructure in and of itself (there are no speed limits on Dutch cycle-paths) but of the poor designs which are being pursued for this project.

The City Connect project in Leeds and Bradford has designed down to extremely low standards (to read more, see The Alternative Department of Transport's extensive criticisms of the plans). By building cycle-paths too narrow for safe use at speed, and by implementing copies of junction designs known to be both dangerous and inconvenient rather than copies of the safest and most convenient designs of roundabouts and traffic light junctions, they are guaranteeing that the most efficient place for a cyclist to be along this route will remain the road and not the cycle-path.

But aren't these places "making a start" ?

The King's Hedges estate in Cambridge
is one of many examples of where not
quite good enough infrastructure for
cycling was not improved upon or
linked with other areas to create a
useful grid. The result is that these
paths are not heavily used because
they do not lead to many destinations.
This could have been "a start" over
30 years ago but it was not.
When examples like these are criticised, it's quite common that someone will suggest that "it's a start". People have a hopeful idea that building substandard infrastructure now will somehow lead to better infrastructure later. They'll say that "everything has to start from somewhere", "something is better than nothing" or suggest that providing infrastructure like these examples works to allow people to "gain experience" or as a "gateway drug" to more cycling in the future.

Unfortunately, none of this is true. There is no "tipping point". i.e. no level of cycle-usage from which only growth is possible and no level of cycle-usage from which an increase in funding for cycling in inevitable.

What's more, none of this is new. There already exist dozens of existing examples of older inadequately designed infrastructure which wasn't quite good enough when first built and which remains not good enough decades later.

We don't need to keep repeating the same experiment and achieving the same result. We have known for decades that isolated islands of not quite good enough infrastructure do not work as this was the most important result from Dutch research in the 1970s. Islands cannot create the comprehensive good conditions which are required for true mass cycling and they cannot demonstrate the potential for such a comprehensive grid. All that is achieved by repeating these errors is that time passes without real progress being made. That is why the UK and other countries are more than forty years behind the Netherlands.

The Dutch already avoid these mistakes

When you're working towards a high cycling modal share, it's important to make cycling as convenient, as pleasant and as safe as possible. All these things must go together. To encourage everyone to cycle, facilities must enable all types of cycling.

While planners in the UK spend time trying to make cyclists slow down, the Dutch CROW guidelines emphasize the need to speed cyclists up. The Dutch work to remove those things which could slow cyclists down or lead to discomfort when cycling as these can put people off cycling.

In the Netherlands, having to stop frequently when cycling, having to cycle slowly, having to ride single file, not having ridght of way and not having enough easy turnings all count as nuisances. These nuisances are recognized as working against cycling and must be reduced.
In the Netherlands, cyclists are seen correctly as already a slow means of transport. Even the fastest cyclist does not reach speeds which are easily reached in a car. A requirement for "low speed at conflict points" is met by slowing down motorised vehicles not by slowing cyclists. It is recognized that forcing cyclists through narrow gaps, pushing them into conflict with each other or with other modes and limiting efficiency of junctions all have negative effects on cycling. Cycling needs to be made faster so that it competes with motor vehicles. Having to slow down, even rarely, is a "nuisance" and nuisances are designed out of the cycling network.

Wide high quality cycle-path in
Assen. It's good for relaxed cycling
and also for fast cycling. Everyone
is safe here.
Consider what this paragraph implies: "Cyclists have no standard traits. On the contrary, the Dutch cycling population is characterised by a broad composition in terms of age, gender, physical capacities and reasons for cycling. In certain conditions, the fast commuter cyclist is indicative for the design (in terms of design speed, for example). More often than not, however, the group of older cyclists with limited physical capacity will determine the limits (in terms of gradients and crossing times, for example). In still other cases, the design will be geared to young, inexperienced, sometimes careless cyclists (in terms of eye level, red light discipline and the complexity of intersections, for example)."

Dutch racing cyclists and other fast
riders
use cycle-paths even when
riding in large groups. And yes,
they all got across in one green light.
So the Dutch view is that there is no standard cyclist, and everyone should not and cannot be reduced to a common level. Rather, the infrastructure for cycling needs to support all cyclists, whatever their ability or degree of strength. Designs may be varied in some locations, for example to make conditions extra safe for children near schools, but that doesn't mean abandoning the other cyclists at that location. The only way to achieve true mass cycling is to accommodate the entire population's needs.

Far from seeing cyclists as "speed freaks" who need to be slowed down, the design speed for corners on Dutch urban cycle facilities is set as a minimum of 20 km/h for minor cycle-paths rising to 30 km/h for through routes because "people must be able to cycle at high speed". Yes, the intention is to enable people to safely cycle as fast as they wish to. That is how to make cycling speeds competitive with other modes and therefore make cycling attractive.

Another Cambridge example. At the
end of the decline from a bridge there's
a bend which hides dark coloured
bollards just before cyclists must come
 to a stop for a road. This does not
come close to Dutch requirements for
"free deceleration space".
The Dutch recognise that speeds of "35 to 40 km/h" are not at all uncommon downhill and this is why there should be "plenty of free deceleration space at the bottom of the incline, with no intersections, sharp bends or other obstacles in the way". The requirements for speed in the relatively flat Netherlands are way above the speeds that Leeds and Bradford see as problematic due to "speed freaks" going downhill and clearly above the speeds that Cambridge planners think will be achieved along Huntingdon Road. And of course its not just those two. Look at Bedford, Northern Ireland, Southend or London and you find similar constraints, low standards and treatment of cyclists as a problem.

Low aspirations lead to a lower cycling modal share. The full potential of where you live can only be achieved with the very best infrastructure. Copying from and starting to emulate the best examples from the leading nation is the most efficient way to make a real start. Until you have caught up, there's no reason to try to re-invent the wheel.

Avoid repeating mistakes: take a Study Tour

We run regular cycling infrastructure study tours to demonstrate to politicians, planners and campaigners from all over the world what the best quality cycling infrastructure in the world looks like.

The frequency with which the same mistakes are repeated elsewhere demonstrates that there is a widespread lack of knowledge of how to progress. We can help with this, but only if people seek our advice.

My daughter went to a music festival over the weekend. She sent me this photo of the cycle-parking: bicycles as far as the eye can see. This is what true mass cycling looks like, but photos like this sometimes mislead. This volume of bikes is not here as the result only of providing cycle-parking. The most important part is the comprehensive grid of extremely high quality infrastructure which goes everywhere, which accommodates all types of cyclists whether or not they're in a hurry and makes everyone safe. That's what enables huge cycle parking facilities across the Netherlands to fill up.

It's startling how many countries have cycling design guidelines which include ideas which are deliberately designed to slow cyclists down.