Monday, 6 April 2015

Edisonstraat in Hoogeveen. A road redesign which had fatal consequences. What lessons can be learnt ?

On the tenth of February, a 63 year old employee of the Fokker aircraft company in Hoogeveen was seriously wounded at 7:30 in the morning while cycling to work as a result of a collision with a car driven by a 19 year. The next day, he passed away in hospital. Shortly afterwards, one of his colleagues contacted me and asked that I take a look at recent changes in and around Edisonstraat where the collision occurred.

Edisonstraat was redesigned a few years ago as part of an attempt to improve the flow of motor vehicles on the ring-road to the east of Hoogeveen, especially to benefit car commuters who had suffered from congestion in the past. Particularly of importance to this blog post, a main road through a mainly industrial area was re-aligned because traffic jams formed there. It is quite possible that the new design which resulted has met that primary aim, however for cyclists the new arrangement is undoubtedly less safe than before.

It would be unfair to say that cyclists were completely forgotten during the new works because fresh red asphalt cycle-paths are evidence of there having been some thought about those who cycle. However the quality of design for cyclists is poor. The end result is requiring cyclists to take a detour if they wish to remain safe, or to use roads which are more dangerous now then they used to be if they wish to make an efficient journey.

What's went wrong with Edisonstraat ?
The cycle-paths which used to run alongside Edisonstraat provided a direct route to work for many people in Hoogeveen. In particular, they led directly to and from one of the biggest employers, Fokker, at Edisonstraat 1. Not only did these cycle-paths offer a direct route for cyclists, they were had also proven to be extremely safe. There are no recorded incidents involving cyclists on the ongelukkenkaart.

Unfortunately, when main roads in this area were re-aligned to increase capacity for more motor vehicles the cycle-paths were removed along Edisonstraat leaving cyclists to have to ride on the road amongst motor vehicles.

Cyclists have little choice but to travel
on the right side of right turning
vehicles at this junction. That is the
only way to reach the cycle-path which
runs left-right in this photo
In addition, a roundabout which had a perfect safety record was removed and replaced by a junction which gives east-west traffic priority. A roundabout with consistent priority on each arm has been replaced by a square junction which gives cyclists priority across one arm, no priority across a third arm, and no crossing at all on the fourth arm. The roundabout particularly improved safety for cyclists because as drivers were made to divert from a straight line this naturally slowed the traffic. The new junction design encourages far higher speeds than before

Green line - original route. Red line - new route
The original direct north-south cycle-route has been replaced by a route which involves a detour and two sets of traffic lights. In a distance of just 200 m, these two sets of traffic lights can easily add more than a minute to journey times.

Unsurprisingly, there is evidence from tyre marks on the ground around the junction that many people on bikes avoid using the new longer route but find more direct routes which follow a line similar to the older faster route even if these are in some cases dangerous. It's clear from watching the way people use this road and junction that not just a few but many people choose not to take the suggested detour. Most of them do so by riding on the "wrong" side of the road across the junction following the route that I take in the last part of of the video above. Unfortunately, the new road design makes even this relatively dangerous.

The fatal collision occurred on a part of Edisonstraat where cycle-paths had been removed. If those cycle-paths had not been removed then the same collision could not have happened. Therefore it is very difficult to come to any conclusion which doesn't include removal of this safe cycling infrastructure as at the very least a contributory factor.

The blue line shows a possible relatively safe new route.
A new route should be constructed which restores safe cycling on the direct north-south line. This could be constructed on the west side of Edisonstraat. There is plenty of space. In addition, action needs to be taken at the new crossing to reduce traffic speeds and make crossing the road safer than it is now.

However my suggestion of restoring one of the cycle-paths only addresses some of the issues. Re-building the roundabout and restoring cycle paths on both sides of the road around that roundabout would be the best way of restoring the previous high level of safety in this location. Note that it is known that the design of roundabout which was used in Edisonstraat previously reduces the injury rate for cyclists by 87% over an un-signaled junction. Better examples of a similar roundabout design appear to be rather safer again, while this particular un-signaled junction has proven itself to be dangerous.

Old design vs. new design
Because this part of Edisonstraat is no longer the ring-road of Hoogeveen, it's clear that planners thought this meant it no longer required a cycle-path for safety. This has been disproven by unfortunate recent events. The road still carries a lot of through traffic from the industrial area of which it is a part. This includes many trucks as well as a lot of commuting traffic. The space where the cycle-paths used to exist has not been re-used for anything else and it would still be relatively easy to re-instate the cycle-path in order to make cycling safe once again on Edisonstraat.

In each case the top photo is the old situation and the bottom photo shows what exists now:
There's still plenty of space on both sides of the road for cycle-paths. Still plenty of traffic which cyclists would be better off avoiding.

The corner of Edisonstraat and Siemensstraat is a relatively good place for a cyclist priority crossing. Drivers will in any case already naturally slow down for the corner and this can be encouraged further by good crossing design with a raised table and obvious cyclist priority. There is plenty of space here to ensure good sight-lines.
Other obvious problems with the new design
Desire lines should not be ignored by planners. The huge number of tyre marks in the grass here show where people actually want to cycle.
Unfinished path edges and sharp corners on the path increase danger, especially at times with low visibility.

As they leave the city, riders of mopeds limited to 45 km/h are required to join the cycle-path at this point. Cycling infrastructure in rural areas should be suitable for moped speeds. The standard of design for moped infrastructure is often poor across the Netherlands. I don't believe it to be safe to leave a 50 km/h stream of traffic safely at this point and successfully negotiate these kerbs, narrow path and sharp corners at speed. Note that while the budget for this project didn't stretch to sufficiently safe cycling infrastructure, it does seem to have been adequate to pay for a house sized folly.
"Take care! Dangerous crossing".
Any junction which needs a sign like
this is not well designed. Note that the
signs were in place for at least a year
before the fatal collision occurred.
Safe road designs do not require warning signs
That those responsible for the new road and junction felt they had to install signs to tell people that it is dangerous does not inspire much confidence. Perhaps drivers might be careful when they first drive past such a sign, but human beings don't remain in a constant state of alertness over long periods of time. After a short time, signs like this simply become part of the scenery and are ignored.

Signs do not solve the root problem of a junction being of a dangerous design. The real solution for dangerous roads is to redesign the road, not to install signs.

Note that this new junction design is not only dangerous for cyclists, but for all road users. There have also been crashes between cars at this junction. However the consequences are always more serious when vulnerable road users come into contact with motor vehicles.

Good infrastructure design is important.
Bad cycling infrastructure design isn't merely an aesthetic problem. It's not something which matters only to fussy campaigners. Badly designed infrastructure kills people.

There are many aspects of what makes up good infrastructure, and nice new red asphalt is but one of them. An efficient direct route with an older surface is far more useful to a cyclist than a super smooth detour which is designed to look nice. Unfortunately, the new design in Hoogeveen scores well so far as minor issues are concerned (smooth red asphalt, countdown timers on traffic lights) but less well on the important issues (direct route, not waiting at traffic lights). Removing the existing direct and safe route by bike and replacing it with a choice of indirect and safe or direct and dangerous presents people with a choice which no-one should have to make. i.e. get to work on time vs. perhaps not get to work at all.
Never present a choice of efficient but dangerous vs. inefficient but safe. Everyone will find themselves tempted by the fast but dangerous route at some point in time. Usually cautious adults late for a meeting, reckless children fearful of arriving late at school, and anyone who simply gets fed up with extra delays will opt for the dangerous route. Design should always take real human behaviour into account.
What works
There are many posts on this blog which illustrate the types of infrastructure which work best to make cycling efficient and safe. Much of the Dutch success is based on building of good cycle-paths everywhere they are required. Unfortunately, mistakes like this are made. It's important not to assume that cycling infrastructure is good just because it's Dutch.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Eliminating the risk of "Dooring": Good cycle infrastructure design keeps cyclists out of the door zone and saves lives

Alberto Paulon is the second cyclist in the image. The collision happened  few video frames after this image. Read more about the incident here and here.
A few days ago on a road in Melbourne Australia a car door was opened. Alberto Paulon was cycling past the car at the time. He collided with the door, fell into the path of a truck and, sadly, he died. This tragedy could and should have been avoided.

Injuries and deaths due to "dooring" incidents are common around the world. Such incidents are sometimes viewed as an unfortunate side-effect of cycling, a problem requiring driver and/or cyclist education. Cyclists should not be under constant threat of death depending on how they position themselves on roads. There is no reason for roads to be designed in such a way that danger results from mistakes by their users when they could be designed to reduce the chance of mistakes becoming tragedies.

Door zone collisions can be almost entirely eliminated by changing the design of roads. This blog post illustrates how that can be done.

What's wrong with Sydney Road, Melbourne ?
The road on which this incident happened is in the Brunswick area of Melbourne, which has a high rate of cycling for an Australian city. Unfortunately, while the people who live in and use the shops in this area cycle quite frequently, the road is designed to serve those who are passing through in motor vehicles and no proper separate space has been found to keep cyclists safe.

A twenty-one metre wide road is more than wide enough to allow cycling in safety, and more than wide enough to provide cycling facilities which are free from the "door zone" problem. However this will require making a choice of what the purpose is of Sydney Road.

Is the purpose of Sydney Road to provide a route for trams, for motor cars and trucks or is it a local shopping street. While there is an attempt to make this road serve all types of users it is likely that it will not serve any of them well. Cyclists are amongst the most vulnerable users of any road and therefore amongst those users most likely to be injured or killed as a result of inadequate infrastructure.

A narrower road in Assen is much safer for cycling
The photos below come from Groningerstraat in Assen. Groningerstraat is a through road of approximately 18 metres wide. This makes it three metres narrower than Sydney Road in Melbourne. Despite its relative narrowness, Groningerstraat provides a very high quality environment in which to cycle. It's very convenient and also very safe. Dooring is almost impossible in Groningerstraat.

Layout of Groningerstraat. 18 m in total are divided between 1.8 m wide pedestrian paths, 2.2 m wide unidirectional cycle-paths, 2.8 m wide lanes for motor vehicles leaving space for green buffers, drainage and car parking. Thanks to Streetmix.
Safe, sociable side-by-side cycling is possible in both directions along Groningerstraat.
Car parking alternates from one side to the other along the length of the road. The pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is constant.

Angled "forgiving" kerbs are used so that a cyclist who makes a mistake and collides with the kerb will simply mount the pavement and continue for a while rather than being injured. Note that in this photo the cyclists shown are riding racing bicycles. It was taken during one of several large racing events which take place in Assen. Racing cyclists use cycle-paths in the Netherlands because there is no advantage to riding on the roads.
The drain provides a gap between parked cars and the cycle-path. It provides a significant part of the total space required to open a car door. In any case, the cycle-path is wide enough that two people can pass an open door side-by-side in safety. If there are more than two side-by-side then cyclists can mount the forgiving kerb should they have to. Remember that in the Netherlands it is usual to ride on the right so most people wouldn't come close to a car door and in any case there is no risk of falling in front of a motor vehicle if they crash for any reason.
There are several reasons why cycle-paths in this position do not create a dooring risk.
  1. It is normal in the Netherlands to cycle on the right, and that places an individual cyclist as far away as possible from parked cars as they are passed.
    1. The drain / buffer between parked cars and the cycle-path is wide enough for a significant proportion of the total car door side.
    2. The cycle-paths are of a width which allows two cyclists passing side-by-side to very easily pass an open door in safety.
    3. If a cyclist swerves away from the car then they may meet the kerb between the cycle-path and the pavement, but this is an angled "forgiving" kerb over which it is possible to cycle in safety so swerving won't result in injury.
    4. The Netherlands is a left hand drive country. Therefore doors of cars parked in the conventional direction (the blue car above is parked against the flow) will most frequently be opened on the opposite side of the car from the cycle-path.
    5. It is possible for cyclists to swerve, stop or even crash without any danger of being run into by a motor vehicle. This means that the very worst outcomes are avoided because riding straight into a car door won't result in a secondary collision involving another motor vehicle - the cause of the death in Melbourne.
    Subjective safety principles require designing roads so that they are easy to use and forgiving of mistakes. These principles are credited with reducing the rate of injury and death on Dutch roads.

    Other Dutch examples
    A through road in Groningen with shops on both sides. Layout is similar to Groningerstraat, but this older example doesn't have a forgiving kerb or a gap between parked cars and the cycle-path. In-between parked cars there is additional danger to cyclists due to the metal posts shown above. Such posts should never be used to separate cycle-paths from roads. On colliding with such a post, a cyclist will almost certainly fall and that fall could be onto the road where a secondary collision with a motor vehicle is likely.
    A less good example from Assen. Because the cycle-lane is on the wrong side of parked cars, there is a risk of dooring resulting in a secondary collision. On-road cycle-lanes are not good cycling infrastructure. In this case there are factors which reduce the risk. A 0.5 m buffer between parked cars and the cycle-lane offers some space for a door to open and the 2 metre width of the cycle-lane offers some swerving space for cyclists. Also these cars are parked by residences so do not move so frequently as they would if parked by shops. Note that at this location also the motor vehicle lanes are 2.8 m wide. This is wide enough for all vehicles.

    This road leads through villages south of Assen, providing a safe route for cyclists to the city and beyond. Approximately 1 km of the route is shown in the video. On the other side of this road there is a canal. It would make no sense at all for cyclists to have to cross the road in order to ride in the opposite direction to that which I'm riding in so a bidirectional cycle-path is provided on one side only. This is older infrastructure so not ideal in several ways (narrow for a bidirectional path, not always a smooth surface) but it functions well and provides another example of how to deal with on-road parking and entrances.

    Cyclist injuries are rising across the English speaking world

    Tracey Gaudry from the Amy Gillett Foundation is quoted in the ABC news story as saying that The road toll is decreasing across the country on the whole except for bicycle riders. So what is happening is that the work that is being done to protect occupants of motor vehicles, not enough is being done to protect vulnerable road users, including bike riders." The same is true across most English speaking countries because while there has been a rise in the numbers of people cycling, there has not been any significant improvement in the safety for cyclists.

    The blue line shows a clear rise
    in cyclist injuries in the UK.
    I have long been of the opinion that the concept of "safety in numbers" is a myth. Recent increases in injuries where the cycling infrastructure has not been improved would appear to confirm this (for example, recent statistics from the UK). The Netherlands has the best cyclist safety record in the world because the infrastructure is designed in a way which reduces the chance of cyclists being involved in collisions which could result in injury or death. Countries which do not follow this lead

    Click here for details of the study tours.
    Lots of "Sydney Roads", not many "Groningerstraats"
    Many roads across the world have the same problem as does Sydney Road in Melbourne. Many of them could be improved by following the same engineering principles as are demonstrated above. On the other hand, there are relatively few roads like Groningerstraat in which these principles can be demonstrated. That is why this road has featured on our study tours since it was rebuilt in 2007.

    Groningerstraat also demonstrates other examples of good design, such as an extremely safe and convenient traffic light junction and a very well designed and safe side-road crossing. Assen has many examples of good infrastructure which extend well past this one road. To see and learn from these and other examples of good design as well as to have problems caused by bad designs pointed out, book a study tour.

    There is a campaign in Melbourne which has been calling for a cycle-path along Sydney Road for some time.

    Wednesday, 4 March 2015

    London. 42 years behind and counting. The revolution still hasn't started.

    Two years have now passed since London's cycling "czar" told the world that his city was 40 years behind Amsterdam. London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has now been in power for more time than it took to transform the entirety of the Netherlands for cycling, with no substantial progress occurring under his time in office. London's record on achieving press coverage is phenomenal. There has been a lot of noise made about cycling. Unfortunately, well-designed infrastructure is another thing altogether.

    According to London's plans from two years ago, the peak year of expenditure is 2015. Yes, this is it. What does not get done in 2015 has less chance of being done later. This is the year when expenditure on cycling reaches its peak of £18 per person per year. That's about 2/3 of the usual Dutch level of expenditure. For the other years of the plan the expenditure level will be less than £10 per person per year, under 1/3 of the Dutch level. As I pointed out two years ago, the plans simply were not ambitious enough. London can never 'catch up' with the Netherlands by spending only a third as much for a limited period of time. Perhaps this is why the target in London is for a mere 5% of journeys to be made by bike.

    A selection of proposals from last year
    Sadly, proposals for new infrastructure in London remain inadequate. Here are a selection of those which I've seen over the last year.
    Dangerous central cycle-lane leading into advanced stop boxes (including one in the fourth lane over). That's not cycling infrastructure, it's yet more paint.
    How many lanes and places to cross ? Why ? This proposal was praised in some quarters as at least including some segregation of modes. What it actually does is demonstrate that the designers don't understand that bicycles are not the same as cars. Cyclists don't need extra traffic lights which apply only to them, they should be able to avoid traffic lights in order to make cycling journeys faster.
    "Gobsmackingly bonkers". More ASLs, on-road lanes and the addition of a cycle-path which for some reason goes straight through the middle of a roundabout. Safe roundabouts for cyclists look entirely different to this idea.
    The "cycle waiting bay". A bizarre idea. How many people actually want special places where they can wait beside the road before continuing their journey rather than infrastructure which allows them to complete their journeys both safely and efficiently ?
    'Advanced' lights, on-road lanes, multi-colour cycling facilties, dangerous multi-stage turns.
    The ludicrous ideas
    London's "Skycycle". It doesn't actually
    exist of course and hopefully never will
    because this is neither convenient nor
    Of course we've not only seen lacklustre plans like those above, but also completely preposterous ideas. Cycle paths were proposed both in the sky and below ground, both of course far more expensive and less convenient places to put cycling infrastructure than where sensible people have been requesting it - ground level.

    But why stop there ? The Bounceway offered the intriguing idea of trampolining to work, backed by a grant from Transport for London to a company which went bankrupt shortly afterwards.

    There was also a proposal for a bridge full of trees over the Thames which it may or may not be possible to cycle over.

    Discussing these things has wasted many hours of many peoples' time, detracting from focus on what the city should really be doing. It all demonstrates that London is still missing the big picture.

    What London should really be doing
    The lacklustre but serious proposals demonstrate that those working on road designs in London simply do not understand how to create good quality cycling infrastructure. The crazy ideas demonstrate something else: that those in charge don't know what to ask for.

    What London needs to do now is exactly what the city has needed to do for the last 42 years:

    Cycling doesn't need buzzwordspress releasesmocked up pictures which show inadequate plans or exaggerated claims. Cycling in London doesn't need people on the other side of the planet to be told about things that you might get around to doing in the future. Stop putting so much effort into trying to get good press and far too little into achieving results.

    Length of headlines is far less important than length of cycle-path. The actual need of cyclists to be able to ride from wherever they live to wherever they need to go should not take a very poor second place to appearing to do the right thing to the world's press.

    London has started to use the language of a grid, though they've misunderstood the intention. This is a very fine grid. To try again to make it clear, I'll explain how it is from my home in the Netherlands. I have to ride for just 30 seconds along 30 km/h residential streets with no through traffic (we live in a cul-de-sac - a design of street which naturally reduces through traffic) to reach either of two very high quality cycle-paths (this one and this one) which between them provide me with an efficient and safe route to every possible destination in the whole country. This is nothing special - it's normality in the Netherlands. What's more, the cycle-paths making up the majority of the grid are built to an extraordinarily high standard and maintaining the integrity of even small parts of the grid can require some surprisingly large works. This is what leads to the very high degree of subjective safety required to make cycling attractive to everyone.

    Click here for details. We'd be very happy to
    show TfL people what is actually required
    in order to help to prevent them from making
    further mistakes
    Another concept which appears to have been misunderstood on its journey across the North Sea is that of unravelling of cycling routes from driving routes. London's "Quietways" are implied to mean something similar, but the emphasis is completely wrong. Rather than cyclists having direct main routes, they are given back streets. What's more, London's "Quietways" cannot even be expected to be quiet. This simply isn't good enough to effect mass cycling.

    Where cycle-paths cannot be fitted along narrow streets, unravelling removes motor traffic so that even the youngest of cyclists can get right to their destinations in the Netherlands.

    We'd like to help London to do the right thing, but this is only possible if the city will let us help.

    Where the money goes
    2015 is to be the peak year for investment in cycling in London. However this doesn't mean that the figure of "£18 per head" allocated only for this year can be spent on new infrastructure projects in the city. It can't be spent in that way because their are already many other things for which the funds have been pre-allocated. One of the largest sinks for money is the public bike hire scheme in London.

    I visited London just over a year ago
    Cyclists still look like this and there
    are good reasons why that is so.
    London is building public fountains rather than providing running water to every home. One of those "fountains" is the bike share system. I've been pointing out why bike share systems are not really a solution for mass cycling since 2009.

    Five years ago we discovered that London's hire bikes had already cost £23000 per bike, making them the most expensive bikes in the world. Operating costs for the system remain very high at around £24 M per year. This figure is around 1/6th of the total funding available for the peak year of 2015 and more than 1/3rd of that for other years, greatly reducing how much money is left over to spend on infrastructure which could enable everyone to cycle.

    Londoners owned more than a million bikes before the bike hire scheme started. A lack of bicycles was never the reason and is still not the reason why so few journeys are made by bicycle in London. The problem was and remains a lack of truly safe places to ride a bike.

    Does London have unique journeys ?
    Londoners use their cars for almost
     exactly the same purposes as the Dutch
    use their bicycles
    People often imagine that their own cities have problems which don't exist in the Netherlands and that this makes it more difficult to accommodate cycling. That really does not apply to London. Londoners makes the same journeys as Dutch people, both by length of journey and for purpose. However rather than making these journeys by bicycle, Londoners use other means including the car.

    Attractive, safe, go-everywhere cycling
    infrastructure is missing from London
    Travelling by bicycle is not attractive in London now because of the conditions which people face on the streets of the city scare the masses away. We already know how to attract everyone to cycling.

    There's a very good working example of what truly works a few kilometres to the East of London and I'm very happy to demonstrate it to anyone who is interested.

    It's important to stop over-selling what London has done
    Unfortunately, the over-selling of London doesn't only affect the UK. Hype from London spreads around the world. This leads to people in such places as Tokyo and Belgium seeing London as an inspiration - and therefore looking most firmly in the wrong direction rather than seeking to emulate best practice.

    New funding announcement
    Some readers may be aware that the British government announced extra funding for cycling two days ago. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, the extra funding announced is far too low a figure to make a real difference. In order to match the Dutch level of expenditure, the UK needs to spend more than £2 Billion pounds per year on cycling, but all that has been promised is £114 milion spread across four years and only available to be spent in some areas of the country.

    How the DfT illustrates their funding
    claim. It's a long way from what Dutch
    children look like when they cycle
    The latest announcement follows a familiar pattern by using big and impressive sounding numbers in a way that may well confuse readers so that they think that cycling is being funded well. In reality even the largest number in the announcement ("This brought the total investment in cycling by this government to £588 million") reveals a paucity of ambition. That £588 Million spread across the five year life of the present government leaves us with British government funding for cycling which is still at a rate which is only around 1/16th of that required to match Dutch levels of expenditure. This level of funding does not represent an improvement over the early 1990s when cycle funding already hovered around one pound per person per year.

    Read more about the Deputy Prime
    Minister's cycling revolution.
    The Deputy Prime Minister claims that Britain is "in the midst of a cycling revolution". This is the sort of language which we have heard many times before, and also claims that "this money can help Britain become a cycling nation to rival the likes of Denmark and the Netherlands". It's simply not possible for Britain to begin to rival countries which are decades ahead in cycling until the government takes cycling seriously. Far from proving that the government has begun to do that, this announcement actually proves that cycling is still not being taken seriously in the UK so we should expect a continuation of cycling at a rate of around 1-2% of journeys.

    You can't catch up by running slower than the people who are ahead of you. The UK's cycling decline took decades of under-investment and to make cycling normal once again requires decades of a high level of investment.

    Britain last week
    I was in Britain last week to visit family. While there, Sustrans called on people to celebrate 20 years of the National Cycle Network so I dutifully borrowed a bike to ride along roads which are far busier than they should be in such a small town in order to take photos.

    NCN 33 wiggle onto a muddy beach.
    If the tide is in, what then ?, swim ?
    We're supposed to #celebrate20 this ?
    What passes for the National Cycle Network in this part of the UK consists of several signs threatening a £500 fine to anyone who dared to ride on a wide pavement to avoid the traffic, followed by a very small and out of the way sign telling people to ride on the pavement for a short distance, and then an inconvenient wiggle down onto a beach which has mud so sticky that one of the world's very few hovercraft rescue services was established in the area to pull people out of it.

    Celebrate what, precisely ? This is not the efficient go-everywhere cycling infrastructure required to get the masses to see cycling as convenient.

    I also visited a new housing development which was repeating the same mistakes as other new developments in the UK. was designed only for cars, but with the twist of providing so little space for cars that there's nowhere to park them but over the pavements. In order to convince people to use alternatives to driving, the alternative must be realistic. Carrots work better than sticks.

    The same mistakes are being repeated time and time again in the UK.

    Update March 22 2015
    London has "quietly" abandoned the target of a 5% modal share for cycling by 2026, leaving no real target for growth at all. It's perhaps worth reflecting on what I wrote about this target two years ago:

    'setting a target of only around 5% of journeys by bike is not very ambitious at all. Nowhere in the Netherlands has such a low modal share and Britain has been promised more than this before. The lack of a serious target shows that this is not a real attempt to "catch up".'

    Now that even that lacklustre target has been abandoned, what now for London ?

    The video below shows current cycling conditions in London. For three seconds starting at 1:06 you can actually see a brand new cycle-lane which was opened just a few days ago. Yes, it lasts just three seconds on the video. A 5% cycling modal share will remain beyond London until there are real changes to the infrastructure. No quantity of press releases and no amount of training will ever cause the population as a whole to cycle on streets which look like this:

    Thursday, 12 February 2015

    Street design hostile to cycling. Jan Fabriciusstraat in Assen is an example of a greater Dutch malaise

    The enormous and extremely expensive Florijn As project is changing Assen. While there are many benefits for drivers due to the Florijn As project, there are few changes which are good for cycling. There is plenty of glossy publicity material available on the website of the project but actual detailed plans have not been easy to access. In this case, I had a chance to view the plan on the right only on two half morning open days late last year.

    I was surprised to find that the works being presented as part of the Blauwe As segment of the project extended beyond Het Kanaal and also involved changes to nearby Jan Fabriciusstraat. It was also a surprise to find out how hostile to cycling the plans for "improvements" to this street are.

    Jan Fabriciusstraat 2010 vs. 2014. Rather than
    continue the cycle-path to provide a safe route
    for cycling, as was obviously once intended, the
    entire area ahead was turned into pavement.
    It is now planned to remove the res of this
    cycle-path and for cyclists to ride in a far
    more dangerous position left of the bus-stop.
    Jan Fabriciustraat is extremely wide. There is no problem at all with providing well for cyclists in this location, as is demonstrated by the current arrangement in the northern part of the street. Next to the road there is currently a 4.5 m verge, a 3.6 m cycle-path and a 4.5 m pavement. The area is wide enough that a bus-stop built as part of the verge has ample space for bus passengers to stand as well as for the cycle-path and a generously wide pavement. This cycle-path has existed in a half finished state for several years, having been built to serve relatively new buildings on the Northern part of the street. It was clearly the intention of planners at that time that the cycle-path would be extended to the south when the next "block" was re-built.

    Unfortunately, when the new Citadel development was built, the architects choose to ignore the good design of the existing infrastructure and instead send cyclists onto this busy through road. Rather than bikes crossing a side-road 5 metres from the road at 90 degrees and with maximum visibility of cyclists by drivers and visa-versa, a dangerous junction was created where drivers are required to turn their heads 180 degrees and look through their cars to see cyclists and where cyclists find it hard to judge what drivers will do next.
    The photos above show a view pointing towards the south of the cycle-path shown on the left here. If there is space for trees with the redevelopment, surely there is also space for cyclists. Moving cyclists from a safe wide (3.6 m) cycle-path onto a narrow (1.3 m wide) on-road lane on a road which policy has recently made even more busy will not improve cycling safety.
    On-road cycle-lanes do not work well. The problems that they cause are well known and can be observed across the world and all across the Netherlands. But we don't need to go far to see the problems because they can already be seen on the short section of Jan Fabriciusstraat already transformed, as demonstrated in my video above, and in a very similarly designed street a short distance away within Assen.

    That this is an inadequate design has already been demonstrated quite comprehensively so why is the same mistake being repeated ?

    What are standards for ?
    The designer of these lanes in this location hasn't even tried to make the best possible job of them.
    1. Current Dutch recommendations call for a 2 to 2.5 metre width for on-road cycle-lanes, and an absolute minimum when space is tight of 1.7 metres. But these lanes on a very wide road with much traffic are just 1.3 metres in width.
    2. Good practice calls for bus-stops to be bypassed so that conflict between buses and cyclists is reduced but that has also not been done in this instance. Indeed, it is proposed to remove a bus-stop bypass and push cyclists in the cycle-lane into conflict with buses.
    3. The problems which result from drivers turning across cyclists in on-road lanes at side-road junctions are well known but have been ignored even though there are good examples right here in Assen of how these junctions should be designed.
    As a result of the hostile conditions for cycling, most people who cycle here already use the pavement and not the on-road lanes. Where the cycle-path should have been continued there is now a ten metre wide pavement. Cyclists have been provided with a narrow 1.3 m wide on-road cycle-lane. The architects may have thought that this empty pavement outside their new building (Citadel) would look nice, but it's of no practical purpose whatsoever. On-road cycle-lanes in the Netherlands are supposed to be an absolute minimum of 1.7 m wide if space is tight. On this road, just 1.3 metres has been allocated for cyclists. Poor design which didn't take account of how real people behave has created a de-facto shared use path with the inevitable accompanying conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.
    Textured paving for blind people
    It's also of note that there is very little textured paving to help blind people in this new development. Combined with the huge areas without any kerbs, especially between where pedestrians walk and where trucks park, as well as where various items of street furniture are placed, it would appear that the walking environment for people with blindness are not good. That's a contrast with the older very successful treatment of city centre streets where there is extensive textured pavement.

    Citadel / Cite. Misleading impressions.
    The developers "impression" of what the Southern end of Jan
    Fabriciusstraat would look like. No cars, no bikes, no trucks
    making deliveries, but lots of confident pedestrians walking
    care-free across what is in reality a busy road. See photos and
    videos above for what this really looks like.
    I wrote about the problems with the Citadel centre shortly after it opened because somehow the developers had not only rebuilt this road with the narrow on-road lanes shown above but also forgotten to include proper cycle parking for this new shopping centre in a city where most shopping is by bicycle. It was an absurd thing to have happened and at the time I assumed that the problems would somehow be resolved. That has not happened. Cyclists still have to use a temporary indoor cycle-park in the car garage.

    We're now facing the situation where rather than the problems caused by this new development being tackled, they are to be spread further along the same street.

    Another impression, of the situation shown at the start of this
    blog post. Note that no cars are shown, no bicycles either. Lots
    of pedestrians standing around doing nothing at all. This is
    not at all how it looks in reality.
    It's important to learn from history in order not to repeat it.

    Rather than progress, what is being proposed here is a return to the policy of 50 years ago when cycle-paths were being removed from Dutch cities to make space for more cars. Like most cities, Assen fought these mistakes in the 1970s and 1980s and recovered from this mistake.

    But in this case we need look no further than the misleading architect's impressions from the existing development. These images never did represent reality. Why are we continuing to develop the city based on images like this which are designed to mislead ?

    What the street really looks like. It's no accident that deliveries happen here as that's what the architect designed. It's also no accident that people cycle on the pavement here because the cycle-lanes on the road are inadequate and unsafe. The difference between the architects imagination and real life is due to the designer not having taken into account actual usage.
    On the other side of the road, a dangerous bus-stop has already been built. Children use this route to get to and from school. Have the designers of the Florijnas project forgotten about stop de kindermoord ?
    This design doesn't work anywhere
    There are complaints about similar road designs across the world. e.g. Perth in Australia

    Why is Assen following a trend which has proven to be a mistake elsewhere ?

    "Assen Cycles". As recently as 2005,
    Assen had a real ambition to increase
    cycling Where's that ambition now?
    Other recent mistakes in Assen, and across the country
    Other examples of where Assen has made recent planning mistakes include the unpopular and dangerous Shared Space at Kerkplein, the construction of inadequate new bicycle bridges across Het Kanaal,  and the area outside the new cultural centre. In each of these cases, just like Jan Fabriciusstraat, architects produced imaginary impressions of what the areas would look like in the future which were not grounded in reality and which absolutely do not represent the reality of what happened after their designs were built.

    A fifteen year old photo of good cycling
    infrastructure. We became interested in
    the Netherlands because of good
    designs like this, which are now taken
    for granted. No-one can make a career
    of proposing slight improvements of
    what already exists so we are seeing
    change for the sake of change rather
    than real improvements.
    The Netherlands led the world in cycling between the mid 1970s and just a few years ago because the people involved quietly got on with engineering excellent solutions to the problems which cyclists faced. The result was more, safer, cycling. It was engineering, not architecture or marketing, which grew cycling in the Netherlands. The same problems remain now and the same solutions are required but we're not seeing the same solutions. Unfortunately, the people who did the very good groundwork decades ago have now mostly retired and their contribution is being forgotten by the new generation of planners, who are far more interested in promotion of their ideas than in taking on the problems that they are causing. "Innovations" should not be praised until the results have been evaluated.

    It's important to note that this problem is not localised to Assen. This is a national problem. The Netherlands is unfortunately repeating the same mistakes as caused a decline in cycling 50 years ago and the likely outcome is that cycling will again start to decline again.

    We first became interested in moving to the Netherlands around 20 years ago. What impressed me then was that this nation was very quietly getting on with building ever better cycling infrastructure and the results were plain to see everywhere: Cycling was growing, cycling was becoming safer. The Dutch saying "Meten is weten" (Measuring is knowing) was very much in vogue. The country wasn't making much noise about what was happening, they were getting on with engineering a better world for Dutch people and this most certainly involved improvements for cyclists.

    In Groningen, the latest innovation is a
    logo for traffic lights. The city stopped
    properly in cycling ten years
    ago. This is most certainly not a return
    to real progress.
    This has changed. It seems now that marketing is being substituted for engineering. Rather than genuinely but quietly making things better, the country has started to boast about achievements with a view to exporting the services of Dutch companies. Unfortunately, what they've been offering is not nearly so high in quality as what was being built here, and now we're seeing the same low quality design taking over in the Netherlands as well.

    The view from overseas
    We have hosted hundreds of visitors from outside the Netherlands on cycling infrastructure study tours here in Assen. Given the content of my last few blog posts, readers may wonder whether there is anything worth seeing. First of all, as I emphasized at the end of the last section, it's important to note that the problems which I write about are not confined to this one city. Other cities in the Netherlands are making the same mistakes as Assen, but it seems that almost no-one is writing about these mistakes.

    The Netherlands still leads the world in cycling and Assen still has better infrastructure on average than most other Dutch cities. That's why we live here. There are plenty of good examples of infrastructure here as well as the less good and we show both of these on the study tours.

    There is nothing at all for us to gain from presenting a fairy-tale view of a perfect cycling environment. We are not employed to represent the city, and we certainly do not engage in city marketing. We present the reality, "warts and all".

    I don't write blog posts about the newest unproven infrastructure or regurgitate press releases which claim improvements in safety which are not confirmed by actual data. I caution against assuming that everything Dutch is worth emulating because it is only by copying from and improving on the best examples in the Netherlands that real progress can be made elsewhere. The best examples are not necessarily the newest, and they are usually not the most well publicized either.

    Come and see
    Click right here for more details.
    This year is our tenth of running study tours. We again 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.

    Tuesday, 10 February 2015

    The end of free car parking in Assen and how this has caused problems for cyclists

    Veemarktterrein a few years ago. Not full, but quite a lot of cars were parked here.
    For many years, the Veemarktterrein a few hundred metres east of Assen city centre offered free car parking. Anyone could park their car here for as long as they wanted free of charge. The attraction of free parking wasn't enough to make people drive when they had a better alternative so though it was free of charge, this car park almost always had spaces in it. This area on the edge of the city had a valuable benefit for cyclists because it helped to keep cars out of the city centre streets.
    The same car-park this week on market day. The cars haven't disappeared - they are now driven further into the city causing consequences for cyclists.
    The policy on car parking changed at the beginning of this year. A charge of €1.30 per hour was imposed for parking in this previously free car park, with a limit of €5 per day. At the same, car parks in the city centre which were already the cheapest in the Netherlands had their maximum charge halved to just €6 per day. The result of this policy is that the out of town centre car park is no longer attractive to drivers so they continue right into the city and use multi-storey car parks which were previously often largely empty.

    The result is many more cars are driven into the centre of Assen and this causes more conflict between motorists and cyclists.

    The crossing of Het Kanaal at the Venebrug is not signalled and is shared with pedestrians. This is one of the locations where there are now more problems due to more cars

    The inner ring road is shown as a red line. The previously
    free of charge car park is the green area on the right. Blue
    squares show the locations of car parks which have
    been made more popular by the change in policy.
    Note how these are close to red spots: points identified
    as dangerous to cyclists in the Fietsverkeernota 2005.
    The Inner Ring Road has been made more dangerous
    Because the city centre car parks are reached by driving along the inner ring-road, extra motor traffic is being generated along the streets which make up the ring.

    Locations along this route have long been known to be problematic for cyclists. Several of them were pointed out as being dangerous to cyclists and in need of improvement by the Fietsverkeernota of 2005.

    Locations where there are now more cars and more danger for cyclists include the following. Where there are links below, further information can be found about problems in those locations:
    1. The Kerkplein Shared Space
    2. Weierstraat outside De Nieuwe Kolk
    3. The difficult left turn from Weierstraat into Minervalaan
    4. The crossing of Nobellaan by Het Kanaal
    5. Crossings of Het Kanaal
    6. Jan Fabriciusstraat
    7. The junction of Stationstraat and Oostersingel
    8. Zuidersingel

    Wednesday, 28 January 2015

    Of six new bridges in Assen, three are only for cyclists and pedestrians. But they're not good enough. I'll only cheer about new infrastructure when it is an improvement.

    This blog post was written after some of the new infrastructure had been built but before a public meeting which presented some details which were previously unavailable. See the note at the bottom of the blog post.

    Locations of the six new bridges
    In the past, Het Kanaal ("the canal") was an important trade route for barges which went close to the centre of Assen. It was cut off last century during the period when emphasis was on motor vehicles and much commercial shipping moved from the canals onto roads. The Blauwe As (Blue Axis) project in Assen seeks to re-open Het Kanaal for recreational use. Six new bridges are being built. Three bridges are for bicycles and pedestrians only, the other three also accommodate cars. Each of the bicycle bridges has replaced a previously existing bicycle bridge while the bicycle and car bridges will replace junctions where the canal had been entirely filled in. It's a very well funded project, a €50M part of the Florijn As project which in total will cost €1.5 billion.

    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 bridge shown at (1: Vaart / Het Kanaal) on the map above featured on my blog four years ago. It had previously been moved as a part of a large and successful project from another position nearby to this location in order to complete a high quality direct route for cyclists. The bridge combined a 3.5 metre wide cycle-path with a 1.8 metre wide pedestrian path, allowing both cyclists and pedestrians to access the city centre without conflict. While this bridge was 5.3 m wide in total, that still made this the narrowest part of a very high quality route from a new suburb to the city centre. At the time when the route was re-constructed, it was considered to be important that cycle journey times should so short as possible in order to make cycling into the most attractive mode of transport from the new suburb to the city.

    The 4 m wide replacement will
    inevitably cause conflict between
    cyclists and pedestrians.
    Unfortunately, some of that good work from seven years ago has been un-done. The replacement bridge is much narrower at just four metres wide in total. There is no separate surface for pedestrians. Conflict occurs between pedestrians and cyclists required to "share" because pedestrians are much slower than cyclists and they meander while cyclists travel somewhat faster and need to maintain their momentum.

    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
    The second bicycle bridge is number three on the plans above. The Venebrug, This is the only one of the three which is a small improvement over the old. The original bridge at this location was already much too narrow, just 3.5 m wide. It never had a separate path for pedestrians and this bridge was therefore one of very few places near the centre of Assen which demonstrated the problems caused by shared use. Luckily the problems were only on the bridge itself and the bridge is quite short. At either side of the bridge there was separate infrastructure for walking so the problem was at least on a very small scale.

    Very slightly wider than the obviously
    inadequate bridge which came before.
    The replacement bridge in this second location is fractionally wider at 3.8 m, so can be seen as a slight improvement over the old, but this is so only because the original was so inadequate. A mere 30 cm improvement in width when the older bridge was so obviously inadequate and should always have provided separately for pedestrians isn't something to get excited about. A chance to upgrade the experience for both cyclists and pedestrians has been missed.

    Bike Bridge 3

    There is a very obvious difference in width between the old bridge and the new bridge in this location. The separate pedestrian crossing which was designed for the older bridge now lines up with nothing at all. This video demonstrates how minor conflicts arise even at quiet times.

    The old bridge was 5.5 - 6 m wide
    A separate path for pedestrians
    prevented conflict.
    The third cycling bridge is shown as bridge 4 on the plans above. The Molenbrug is on a main cycling route which has always been far busier than the Venebrug. That is probably why this bridge always was considerably wider. This bridge had a separate path for pedestrians. I never measured this bridge. Estimating from Google Earth it appears that it was around 5.5 m wide.

    Architectural drawings made the new
    bridge look wide, showing just two
    people at a time crossing.
    The replacement for this bridge is the biggest disappointment of the three. At just 3.8 metres wide, this is the biggest percentage reduction in width. Even on a relatively quiet winter afternoon, as shown in the video above, you can see the problems caused by the new bridge. It is very obvious that pedestrians need a separate path. Again, how did Assen make such a mistake as to build this inadequate infrastructure to replace an existing and successful bridge ?

    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 Venebrug is linked by a path to the Venestraat. In 2008, this link consisted of a 3 m wide cycle path and a separate parallel 2 m wide pedestrian path. The old cycle-path was of smooth asphalt and no conflict occurred here because of the separate paths.

    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.

    Car bridges
    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.

    The bridge at location (6) is to look like this. It appears to be neutral so far as its effect on cyclists is concerned but we don't have much to go on. There is already a signalized crossing in this location for bikes. The cycle-path shown along the side of the canal doesn't exist at present so this could be one small gain.

    (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.
    Note that bridge 5 is to be better than it originally looked. See the update below.

    The bridge which I'm most concerned about is that on Groningerstraat, shown at (5) above. This is currently a very efficient Simultaneous Green traffic light junction. I use it often to head home from the centre of the city, turning left diagonally across the junction in order to make a quick journey.

    The only publicly available picture
    of the new bridge at (5). We can't see
    what is happening here.
    From what we've been able to make out, this junction will no longer have simultaneous green traffic lights. A representative of the company behind these works talked about getting rid of the diagonal crossing. The impression I was given at the meeting is that cyclists will in future be required to stop twice in order to make a left turn: If so, then this is another step backwards from good design.

    Existing arrangement at Nobellaan (2)
    Note that bridge 2 will actually work better than described in the following paragraphs. See the update below.

    The last bridge for cars is that on Nobellaan, shown at (2) above. This is part of our most direct route from home into the city centre so we use it often. Behind the viewpoint of the camera in this photo there are rather good cycle-paths. It is from this point onwards that the quality of our current route to the city centre drops. It was my assumption when I wrote about this location at the start of 2012 that the old low quality infrastructure would be improved upon by lengthening the cycle-paths which lead to this location until they eventually took cyclists safely to the city centre. That has not happened and it appears that nothing will improve with the new bridge. What's on offer here is low quality provision for cyclists: on-road cycle-lanes with all their attendant problems. A few hundred metres onwards from this location we reach the bad example cycling infrastructure design in a new development which I covered in my last blog post.

    The only publicly available picture
    representing the new bridge at (2).
    There is no island in the middle to
    help with crossing the road.
    You'll note from the map at the blog post that there is supposed to be a walking and cycling route between (1) and (3) which crosses the road at this point. Unfortunately, there is no good way of crossing the road at this point now and this will actually get slightly worse in the future if the available pictures which represent the route are accurate. The existing partial central reservation in this location offers a modicum of safety for cyclists and pedestrians when crossing because it separates the two opposing flows of motor traffic, but this does not exist with the new situation.

    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.

    Update February 18
    Our local newspaper carried this article today:
    Building of the new bridge at location 2 on the map at the top of this page is starting in two days. The short meeting to which people are invited to see the plans doesn't take place until an afternoon 13 days from now. Therefore there is no chance for anyone to say "no" because building will start before those who might object to the plans have seen what is on offer. So much for democracy.

    I attended the March 3rd meeting and new information was presented which removes my objections about this bridge.

    Let us remember that this bridge will make worse an already bad situation for cyclists following a primary cycle route along the North side of Het Kanaal. In the future there will be no crossing point. In a few days time, a primary cycling route is to be severed by the new bridge.

    The existing space in the middle of the road is long enough that one can wait with a bicycle in the middle and therefore it is not necessary to cross all three lanes of motorized traffic at once.

    Children use this on their way to and from school. How will it be possible for them to cross safely when the new bridge is built ? Have the designers of the Florijnas project forgotten about Stop De Kindermoord ?
    Further along the road
    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.
    A short history: The last ten years in Assen
    "Assen Cycles". In 2005, there was
    a real ambition to increase cycling
    in Assen.
    By 2005, well over 30% of all trips within Assen were by bicycle yet the ambitious "Fietsverkeer nota" document from that year was modest and talked only about how Assen had "the potential to become a real cycling city". At that time, just €4.5 Million could be allocated for the work on cycling infrastructure but this was spent wisely, an enormous number of improvements were made and the cycling modal share increased as a result.

    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.
    The 2005 document discussed such things as how important it was to improve links to areas for shopping, employment, schools, entertainment and the railway station. It was recognized that cyclists needed smooth asphalt or concrete surfaces in place of tiles or bricks, that a fine grid of high quality facilities were required to make cycling attractive to all destinations, that cycle-paths needed to be wide in order to reduce conflict, that cycle-routes should be direct, that cyclists should have the shortest possible waiting times at traffic lights, or none at all, and that the Simultaneous Green traffic light design with two greens for cyclists in each cycle of the traffic lights was desirable. There were many other recommendations in this excellent document.

    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:
    1. The unpopular and dangerous Kerkplein Shared Space
    2. A new shopping centre built with no provision for bicycles in a city where most shopping is by bicycle
    3. The area outside the new cultural centre.
    The view from overseas
    Most 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.

    March 2015 update
    There was a public meeting today in which parts of the plans could be seen which were not available before. People who lived along the route were invited to see plans at an earlier stage, but not those who live elsewhere in the city and use these routes. Better communication could have helped avoid concerns about the quality of the work being carried out.

    My concerns have not been completely addressed. I still have concerns about the widths of the new cycle-paths (three metres seems to be as much as we'll get) and the widths of cycle bridges noted above are still not adequate. I also still also most certainly have concerns about Jan Fabriciusstraat. However the situation at two of the bridges for which little information was available when I wrote the blog post above is definitely going to be better for cyclists than I was led to believe previously:

    Bridge 2:
    It has always been difficult and dangerous for cyclists heading south to make a left turn to continue east north of the canal, on what is currently a primary cycle route. Crossing the road in this location was assisted slightly by a gap between traffic lanes which will be taken away by the new design and this caused concern.

    In the future, a traffic light controlled junction will make it easy and safe for both left turns and crossings to be made on the south side of the canal, linking with a new cycle-path which doesn't exist at present:

    Bridge 5:
    At this bridge there is currently a simultaneous green traffic light junction. Motor vehicles can use the road North of the canal in both directions and south of the canal in order to head North. With the new situation, motor vehicle access is restricted to southwards only for vehicles north of the canal and there is no exit for motor vehicles from the city centre south of the canal at this location.

    In the past it was possible to make a left turn onto the far side of the canal in order to head west. We now have the option of making a left turn immediately onto the cycle-path on the south side of the canal, without having to wait for traffic lights.

    Good infrastructure in Assen
    Assen has much very good cycling infrastructure. Read more about the best examples of infrastructure in Assen.