|Locations of the six new bridges|
When I first heard of this project I hoped that by this date I would be writing about impressive new cycling facilities which resulted from the new investment. Unfortunately, the planning process has been rather opaque so far as the public is concerned. We've seen flashy videos but not a lot of detail. thus far it has been could have written about six new wonderful bridges. It would have been dishonest to write about the new proposals based on nothing but the flashy plans presented and very little information was made available before building. At best, this could have been a chance to improve conditions for cyclists. It could also have been a sideways move for cyclists. However while these works bring obvious benefits for drivers, the outcome appears to be to make conditions slightly worse for both cyclists and pedestrians in Assen. The three bicycle bridges were completed first, at the end of 2014, and I won't gloss over the problems that they cause.
Bike Bridge 1
|The old bridge has been relocated to a|
quiet location in a suburb where its
5.3 m width and separate provision
for cyclists and pedestrians is far
more than adequate.
|The 4 m wide replacement will|
inevitably cause conflict between
cyclists and pedestrians.
Conflict is particularly a problem where paths are busy (the three locations highlighted in this blog post can be very busy) and at narrow points such as bridges . Everywhere in the world where shared use paths have been built this same problem occurs. That shared use paths didn't work well was understood in the Netherlands at least a decade ago and planners in this country were once careful to avoid creating these problems. Lessons from the past appear to have been forgotten. The new bridge is to be "shared" by cyclists and pedestrians together, meaning that people who attempt to use the cycling route as it was intended to be used - i.e. as an efficient route to the city centre - will now be delayed whenever pedestrians are crossing the bridge and those pedestrians will experience the same discomfort due to cyclists being "too fast" as is experienced in other countries.
Bike Bridge 2
|The old bridge was obviously ready|
for replacement in 2008. I expected the
new one to be an improvement
|Very slightly wider than the obviously|
inadequate bridge which came before.
Bike Bridge 3
|The old bridge was 5.5 - 6 m wide|
A separate path for pedestrians
|Architectural drawings made the new|
bridge look wide, showing just two
people at a time crossing.
A local campaigner asked a councillor why the bridge had been built more narrow. The reason given was one of "bezuinigingen" - budget cuts. In this project which is being funded with a total of €1.5 billion and which will lead to much more convenience for drivers elsewhere in the city, we are being asked to believe that a slightly too narrow bridge for cyclists is the item on which savings must be made.
|A view of the new bridge with the original crossing shows how the pedestrian crossing built to line up with the old bridge now leads into the water because the new bridge isn't nearly so wide as the old. Note the pedestrian in front of a cyclist approaching a bollard, which creates a dangerous pinch point for the cyclist and leads to close passing which makes the pedestrian feel uneasy. This photo was taken just a day after the new bridge opened. The conflict was visible immediately. It's just as you'd expect in any place where cyclists and pedestrians are supposed to "share".|
Path alongside Het Kanaal
|Not all pedestrians will be able to use|
their new path because there are steps.
The replacement path does not have a parallel pedestrian path so there is now conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. The new path has the same three metre width as the old cycle-only path, but it is surfaced with bricks which give a less smooth ride to cyclists than the old asphalt.
It is planned that a separate path for pedestrians will be built, but rather than taking the same line as the old pedestrian path, this will take a less convenient route alongside the water. There are several reasons why pedestrians won't want to use this new path: It's a board-walk so will be rough to walk on, it doubles as mooring space for boats, and it also requires use of steps, so will not be accessible to all pedestrians. Pedestrians will continue to use the cycle-path because they are not being provided with a usable alternative.
The three other bridges are for driving cars over as well as for cycling. In each case there is no bridge in the current situation as the canal was filled in some years ago. Details of the car bridges are not public. The only information easily available is in the form of pictures from the architects which feature no cyclists at all.
|(5) Many of those cyclists will turn|
left. In future they'll have to cross
straight over and then wait again to
make a left turn.
|The only publicly available picture|
of the new bridge at (5). We can't see
what is happening here.
|Existing arrangement at Nobellaan (2)|
|The only publicly available picture|
representing the new bridge at (2)
Crossing the road safely here will become more difficult because there will be two lanes of cycle traffic and three lanes of motorized traffic to cross in one go without anywhere to stop in the centre. A few years ago, Assen was demonstrating very well how building central reservations could make crossing easier in far less busy locations than this, but the ambition to make crossing easier and safer appears to have been forgotten about.
|Ahead of the bridge are these on-road cycle-lanes, Newly built in 2012, they force cyclists to ride next to buses and trucks (which do not keep to the 30 km/h speed limit). There is no reason for this low quality infrastructure. There is no lack of space here. The pavements have been built extremely wide and space has been found for plants in the middle of the street. Almost all cyclists make a left turn across the road next to the tall building. It's been known to be dangerous since at least 2005 but this street redesign did nothing to improve the situation.|
|"Assen Cycles". In 2005, there was|
a real ambition to increase cycling
|When we first arrived in Assen, many|
cycle-paths were surfaced with tiles.
Almost all were upgraded to asphalt
by 2010. With the new projects we
now see asphalt replaced by bricks.
We moved to Assen in 2007 because we were impressed both with the existing infrastructure and also the ambition for more cycling. In 2011 I wrote about how things would continue to get better. An official document said that "By 2015, so many journeys as possible must be by bike. Bikes must more frequently take priority over cars". Sadly, I don't see much of that ambition in the new plans. Assen now has an enormous amount of money to spend on infrastructure, but the new proposals include few improvements for cyclists and several off them are actively hostile to cycling. Funding is being found for expensive projects which look great in architectural drawings but which are not thought through from the point of view of a cyclist. Much is being spent to create huge areas of concrete which no-one will use, simply to satisfy an architectural trend. By blindly following this trend, the city risks undoing much of the good that was achieved in the past.
What you read about above is not something unique to these bridges (there are other plans which I may well write about later) or even just to Assen. Across the Netherlands there is now far too much emphasis being placed on appearance of projects and not enough on their functionality.
No country and no city is immune from declines in cycling. No place gets a free pass, no place has cycling so embedded in its culture that people won't stop cycling if it becomes unpleasant or dangerous. Cycling already declined declined across the Netherlands when policy favoured motoring in the mid 20th century. When Assen was an unpleasant city for cycling, cycling declined in Assen too. Cycling is a very fragile mode of transport. It will only remain at a high level or grow if facilities for cycling are kept to a very high standard.
Other newly built problem areas in Assen
Other examples of where Assen has made recent planning mistakes include:
- The unpopular and dangerous Kerkplein Shared Space
- A new shopping centre built with no provision for bicycles in a city where most shopping is by bicycle
- The area outside the new cultural centre.
The view from overseasMost of my readers are from outside the Netherlands, and having read many positive stories from Assen in the past I suspect some will be surprised at my sentiment in this blog post. No place is perfect. I try not to present an unrealistic picture of the Netherlands and that is why I have written about problems in Assen and elsewhere in the Netherlands many times before. I don't write blog posts about the newest infrastructure or regurgitate press releases which claim improvements in safety which are not confirmed by actual data. It's why I caution about assuming that everything Dutch is worth emulating. It is only worth copying from the best examples in the Netherlands. Increasingly, the best examples are not necessarily the newest, and they are usually not the most well publicized either.
Some of these bad examples have been part of our study tours for the last few years. We will be running study tours again this year and again they will offer an honest and independent appraisal of what works and what does not work in the Netherlands, with no commercial reason to push one solution over another.
Good infrastructure in Assen
Assen also has much very good cycling infrastructure. Read more about the best examples of infrastructure in Assen.