Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Sometimes, winter weather is so bad that conditions stop people from cycling, driving and even walking...

-5 C where we live (gr is short for
"degrees" in Dutch). We are warned
of an extreme risk of black ice.
December was extremely mild. In fact, December 2015 was the warmest ever recorded, with no frost at all.

The warm weather continued into New Year's Day, when we went for a very pleasant ride through the countryside, but by the 3rd of January everything had changed. Part way through my ride, I found I was accumulating ice - particularly on my mirror.

On Sunday I had more ice than mirror
Winter has now well and truly arrived. It's "only" -5 C ("feels like" about -15 C, apparently) and we've had much lower temperatures in previous winters, but we've never had such widespread black ice as we have at the moment. There have been many crashes on the roads and that's why there a "code red" emergency has been declared and everyone has been told to stay home rather than risk travel. Even a skating marathon has had to be cancelled because of cold weather.

Of course, when told to stay home because of the weather, some Dutch people see conditions suitable for play, so the local news has been full of videos of local people doing things such as skating along roads.

I find studded tyres help enormously with the usual winter conditions, but in my opinion even they are not really enough to make the current conditions safe. But if you have three wheels (one studded tyre fitted on the back) it's relatively safe to go for a short outing, so that's what I did this morning in my velomobile, taking photos on the way:

I first headed out into the countryside on a small recreational path. It looks quite clear, but actually the surface is like a very rough skating rink. I had to limit my speed to 10 km/h in order to ride in anything approaching a straight line. Not suitable for two wheels.

The same path. Three wheels make it much safer !

On this photo you can see what the surface was like. Cyclists who went along here a few days ago left ridges behind, which have now frozen solid. These grab your wheels and make riding in a straight line dangerous. Everything in-between is super slippery ice.

Heading back into civilization on the same skating track.

"Civilization" turned out to be just as dangerous. These residential streets offered no grip whatsoever.

Main cycle-routes have been swept and salted so these are relatively safe. Some people are cycling - but numbers are nothing like the normal level for Assen, 

In a local shopping centre most cycle-racks are empty and many of those who are here with bicycles are walking rather than riding.

I don't normally go shopping by velomobile, but I did today. It's not nearly full, but this is plenty for us to eat over the next few days.

Main cycle-route on the way home. Snow-ploughs are not quite so wide as cycle-paths so we usually end up with a bit of ice at the sides..

The main routes were mostly OK.

In this case, nearly half the bicycle road was unusable

While here the whole width looked OK, but in some places it was rather slippery. Hence this woman choosing to walk.

Bridges are often particularly slippery because they freeze from underneath. But this one was fine.

Approaching the centre.

Few people had reached the city centre. It was nothing like the busy-ness of the time just before Christmas.

Another person who found walking more to her taste than riding.

More nearly empty cycle-parking

Car parks too were nearly empty too. People are put off driving as well as cycling by conditions like this. This one was particularly slippery and dangerous.
A cycle-path which was barely cleared of ice at all, offering very little space for this cyclist to pass the pedestrian (both wanted to use the very narrow surface where there was grip - the pedestrian is not walking on the separate walking path)

Residential street / ice-rink

More treacherous pavements for pedestrians, so these people are on the cycle-path, which at this point is actually OK.

Another walking cyclist.

Completely empty school cycle-parking because the schools are closed. In the past they've remained open and the cycle-parks have been full with much lower temperatures, but that's not realistic with these slippery conditions.

Some paths seemed to be fantastically clear for no obvious reason. This has obviously been swept, but it's not a main route.

Another residential street. Not many cars moved today. Many people have stayed home.

Assen has many cycle-tunnels. Conditions were fine for cycling through this one, and probably so for the others as well as they tend to be on main routes.
After perhaps the slowest 11 km long ride I've ever made, I'm back home. These days it's warm inside without a huge heating bill because we've invested in insulation and saving energy, Our monthly combined gas and electricity bill has dropped to around €50, a huge improvement over the extraordinary amount which it cost to live here when we first moved in.

Later in the day: work to do
There's always work to do at and today was no exception. We packed ten parcels for customers in Australia, the USA, UK and here in the Netherlands and as usual took them to the post-office by bike. The usual delivery bike wasn't usable today because of the ice so today's consignment of parcels was delivered by velomobile and trailer:

We use a post-office which is quite close to our home. This video shows the entire distance there and back again by two nearly identical routes.

Later in the day I read the sad news that someone died today in Assen due to the ice. A pedestrian slipped on a street in Kloosterveen, where I cycled this morning for shopping. He fell hard on his head and was fatally wounded. My condolences to his family. Clearing ice from paths, cycle-paths and roads is very important.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas photos

I've been very busy with other work lately so blog updates have had to take a back seat for a couple of months. Over the last few days I've taken a few photos of people in Assen, out and about, enjoying the traditional pre-Christmas activity of spending money.

There was a continuous stream of people cycling past this spot yesterday.

All ages, all demographics.

All ages, all demographics.

All ages, all demographics.

All ages, all demographics. For cycling to achieve a high modal share, it must attract everyone. I.e. everyday cycling must be both convenient and safe. The experience should be pleasurable and not akin to an extreme sport. In particular, subjective safety is of paramount importance.

Shopping by bike is of course normal for many people.

Almost everyone rides a bicycle optimised over decades as a practical and reliable means of everyday transport

It's quite common to see a parent in a hurry giving a tired child a helping hand.

All age groups cycle

Let's not forget that cycling infrastructure isn't only for able-bodied "cyclists"

It's legal to walk one dog while cycling in the Netherlands... but two would be dangerous.

Bakfietsen are great for carrying small children, but of course it's more difficult to find a parking space for a larger bike.

Because there are no cars in the city centre, children can ride their own bikes in safety.

In the city centre square (which was once a car-park).

Outside a department store. Luggage racks, comfy saddles, capacious panniers, mudguards, coatguards, chainguards, permanently fitted locks and lights are all part of what makes for a reliable everyday bicycle.

Bikes next to the Christmas market. There were not enough racks so like most of the bikes in these photos, these are not parked in racks. Front luggage racks are a very popular and practical addition to any bike.

The city centre is officially completely pedestrianized. But the strip on the middle which looks like a road is for bikes. I explained about this in a post from last year.

A surprisingly large number of people make their journeys to the centres of Dutch cities by car, despite the queues that they have to endure to do so. It's important not to give a false impression of how many journeys are by bike vs. car in the Netherlands.

Standing in exactly the same place and pointing the camera in the opposite direction I had a fine view of the people who had chosen to cycle making their journeys without any delays at all. Unravelling of modes allows cycle journeys not to be affected by queuing cars.

Amongst the many parked bicycles everywhere you find some evidence of a real minority in he Netherlands: Approximately 1% of journeys in this country are made by moped.
Local shopping centres also attract many people by bike. All the racks were full today, and there were lots of bikes parked outside the racks.

But just as in the centre, some people come by car even if it means they have to drive around a lot to find a parking space


Oliebollen, a type of doughnut, are very popular at this time of year (and more so on New Year's Eve)

City centre cycle-parking after dark.

Pub(cafe) on one side o the street, shops on the other. Both with bikes outside

Lamp-post. Bicycle.

The Drentsarchief

The Nieuwe Kolk. Assen's combined library, cinema, theatre and concert hall. The sign points to the indoor cycle-parking. Unfortunately, the road outside this building isn't really very good for cycling.


The new pancake boat is extremely popular

The reflections from the traffic jam on the other side of the canal were quite pretty but I was glad not to be part of this queue.

Instead, I was happy to be part of the free-flowing cycle-traffic using the bicycle road on the other side of the canal.

Judy visited a hairdresser in a village 15 km away today. Longer journeys are hassle free when decent cycling infrastructure runs the whole distance.

A friend combines delivering the mail with impersonating Santa. It's safe to stop and chat because we were not standing on busy roads.
Study tours
If you wish to find out about how the "miracle" of mass cycling was achieved in the Netherlands, we're taking bookings now for our next open study tour in April.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Whatever and however you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you the best of luck.
I downloaded the design for this Koch snowflake hanging from our Christmas tree, but I've also made several of my own part designs, most of them for cyclists, free to download.