Monday, 12 January 2015

How poor design creates conflict: An inconvenient and dangerous junction in Assen.

Poor infrastructure design causes conflict wherever it exists. This is just as true in the Netherlands as in other countries. It should not be assumed that employment of Dutch architects is enough to produce good results for cycling. We can't even guarantee that in the Netherlands...

Just over two years ago, a huge new cultural centre, De Nieuwe Kolk, opened in Assen to accommodate the library, cinema, theatre and other arts related facilities. It's a very impressive looking building and it provides some great facilities for local people.

Whether it makes sense for a city of just 70000 people to spend €100M on such a facility is not a subject for this blog. However the quality of design of the newly built road outside the new building, and the problems which it causes for cyclists most certainly is a subject for this blog:

How poor design leads to conflict and danger
All the problems shown in the video and the photos below occur within a 100 metre long stretch of new road. Not only the road but the large building next to it is also completely new. It is situated on top of an entirely new under-ground car-park which goes down several floors and required disturbing everything which already existed (plumbing, drainage, electricity etc.). There was a very good opportunity to improve conditions for cycling here as part of this work. To have done so would have cost a tiny fraction of the cost of the development as a whole. Sadly, that opportunity was not taken.

The enormous space between buildings on either side of the road (at its widest about 60 metres) has been used in order to create a specific look and to cater for the needs of motorists. It has not been used for the maximum benefit of pedestrians and cyclists.

The pavements (sidewalks) for pedestrians are incredibly generous even though the number of people who walk on them is low. Decorative steps to reach the main entrance of the new building take up a huge amount of space and a central reservation which accommodates a small number of plants is also several metres in width. Buses have functional bus-stops, taxis have a taxi-rank and there's a large loading area opposite the building.

Motor vehicles were very clearly the main priority of the designers. This road works well enough by car, providing a direct through route which is part of the busy inner ring-road. There are two pedestrian crossings to look out for, but apart from that, motorists rarely have to slow or stop.

That leaves one mode of transport which has to be fitted in around the others: Cycling is important in Assen. Assen residents make an average of nearly 1.2 journeys per day by bike and more shopping takes place in the city centre by bicycle than by other means. City centre businesses rely upon people being able to ride bikes to the city in order to survive. Sadly, making cycling safer and more convenient was not at the top of the agenda for this design. On this route to the city centre, cyclists have been provided with nothing more than on-road cycle-lanes. No attempt at all was made to improve on the inadequate previous layout. It has been known for many years that merely lowering speed limits limited effectiveness for improving cyclist safety but that's the only positive step which was taken. While a 30 km/h speed limit applies to this section of road, many people drive their cars faster because the road clearly can be driven along at a higher speed.

The result is that within this short length of road, cyclists experience the wide range of problems as shown in the video above and the photos below.

Architect's dream
Before starting with my photos, showing how the area really looks in daily use, here's one of the photos used by the architects to publicize their work on the new building. My vantage point for making most of the video was amongst the light sculpture on the steps, coloured purple in this photo:
Note that the architect's photo, taken soon after construction of the building. This emphasizes the appearance of the area, de-emphasizes conflict due to its design, doesn't give any hints as to how cyclists should behave here. Note that it shows no outdoor cycle-parking. This was retro-fitted at a later date after people realised how inconvenient it was to access the new building by bicycle. Note the line taken by the car headlights. Even in the best photo that the architects could take, cars consistently enter the cycle-lane when going around the corner. These points are expanded on below.
Cycle-lanes on bends encourage drivers to cut corners
There are many perpetual problems with on-road cycle-lanes, one of which is that drivers have a natural tendency to encroach on these lanes as they go around corners. This happens regularly on both sides of the road in this location. You can see it even in the architects' photo above. The white tracks left by the headlights of a passing car show that this car also entered the cycle-lane when going around the corner. Good cycling infrastructure should keep cyclists away from motor vehicles.
Drivers everywhere have a tendency to enter cycle-lanes where they go around corners. The Netherlands is no different. This is one of the reasons why use of on-road cycle-lanes erodes the safety of cyclists.
U-turns cause motor vehicles to enter cycle-lane
Because there is a designed in space for drivers to make U-turns, they do this regularly. However, the lanes for motor vehicles are not wide enough to avoid problems so nearly every car or van which makes a U-turn enters the cycle-lane in order to do so.
A still from the video above. Cars which are about to U-turn pull into the cycle-lane in just the same way as cars which are parking. In the video I was overtaken by this car which then pulled to the right and slowed down. I pulled out slightly to pass but the car then turned left across my path.

Note that bollards are used in an attempt to prevent cyclists or drivers from encroaching on the wide and usually empty pavement at this point, but nothing protects cyclists within the cycle-lane.

Taxi rank / loading bay entrance
Not only do drivers make U-turns, but they also turn across the cycle-lane to enter a taxi tank and loading area.

Take note not only of where the car is turning into but also the following danger just a few metres further along - a bus-stop which requires buses to cross the cycle-lane.
Bus-stops without bypasses
Assen has many good examples of how cycling infrastructure can be designed to avoid conflict with buses at bus-stops, but none of them served as examples for this busy street. Instead, cyclists on this short stretch of road experience all the same problems as cyclists anywhere else in the world where proper bus-stop bypasses are a rarity. Cyclists are endangered by buses overtaken by buses which then pull into the cycle-lane across their path and buses have a tendency to pull out of bus-stops while cyclists are riding past.

In the past, the east-bound bus-stop was before the corner where at least there were reasonably good sight lines. It has now been moved to after the corner.
A view in the opposite direction from the photo above. A bus-stop immediately around a bend. Assen has many bus-stop bypasses which remove conflict between buses and cyclists. Almost all of them are located on roads which are less busy than this one. Neither bus-stop built as part of this new development includes a proper bus-stop bypass to keep cyclists safe so there are clashes between cyclists and buses pulling in and out of the bus-stops.

Cyclists can't turn left to cross easily to the city centre
Many cyclists from the west of the city turn left at this point to enter the city centre. Turning left from a cycle-lane in a country where the convention is to drive on the right requires taking a good look over one's shoulder while also judging what is happening in front. This is increasingly difficult with age. Many older people cannot look around so easily as they could when they were young.

Making a left turn also often requires a cyclist to accelerate to pull out in front of a car. This is another factor which discriminates against those who are less able and it requires a level of confidence that the driver behind is paying attention.

At this location there are additional problems due to design:

  1. The left turn takes place on a bend where motorists often cut the corner.
  2. It happens at the same point as where pedestrians may cross the road and where motorists may (or may not) slow down or stop due to those pedestrians.
  3. It's almost exactly at the point where motorists can make U-turns, which leads to unpredictable behaviour as drivers swerve right into the cycle-lane before they making a sharp left turn.
  4. Drivers never turn left at this point so any motor vehicle which manages to pull alongside and begin to overtake very effectively blocks cyclists from being able to make their turn.

This is a very busy cycle-route. Most cyclists need to make a left turn here to enter the city centre. This is difficult because they are encouraged to ride on the right side of motor vehicles and because the pedestrian crossing is located exactly where cyclists also need to cross. Note that again someone has chosen to use the pavement rather than cycle-lane (disability buggies have the status of bicycles in the Netherlands). Any bus in this position is likely to swerve right immediately after the pedestrian crossing in order to enter the bus-stop.
Cycle-parking design inadequate
When the new building opened, an indoor cycle-park opened with it. This initially looked quite good, but it was not well thought through. Access was relatively difficult in comparison with parking outside the building, and the double layer stands used are of a poor design which does not support bicycles well (it's possible for a bicycle to fall out from them and land on the floor). What's more, the architects got some of the details very wrong. For instance, the indoor cycle-parking is not at ground level but requires going down some steps for access and while there is a wheeling gutter, this doesn't reach ground level but requires that people lift their bicycles. As a result of these problems, local people refused to use the cycle-parking and the council was forced to provide additional cycle-parking where it always should have existed - close to the front door of the building. Because of the planners' obsession with huge empty spaces, it was easy to find room for the cycle-parking but unfortunately, there is no good way of accessing this parking without cycling on the pavement:
The most convenient cycle-parking for the new building was retro-fitted outdoors in this location after local people objected to having to use a less convenient indoor cycle-park. This was intended by the architect as a huge empty space beside the building. Note also the pavement cyclist. Many people prefer to cycle on the pavement here rather than the road.
Cycle-lanes not wide enough for passing
These cycle-lanes measure 1.9 m wide, meeting recommended widths for cycle-lanes, but at busy times there are often too many cyclists here and people who wish to overtake must use the main traffic lanes. This of course brings another potential conflict - between cyclists and motorists.

At busy times these cycle-lanes are not really wide enough.
Lack of pedestrian crossing points
Not only cyclists but also pedestrians are inconvenienced by the new road layout. There are crossings only at either end of the building while many people have a reason to cross at points in-between.
No matter what planners might hope, pedestrians simply won't walk long detours to cross the road. This photo also gives another view of the popular conveniently placed outdoor cycle-parking which the planners thought cyclists didn't need.
A lot of people cross the road while pushing their bikes because there is no other way to make a left turn into the cycle-lane on the other side of the road and ride away from the camera on the correct side of the road.
Neither pedestrians nor cyclists can cross the road except at either end of the long building. The distance is simply too great.
Pavement cycling
In any place where cycling on the road does not feel safe, people will cycle on the pavement (sidewalk) instead. Pavement cycling is actually quite rare in the Netherlands because in most locations cycle-paths are provided which make people feel safe enough not to use the pavement or motor through traffic is removed making it safe enough to use the roads. However, where the infrastructure does not support safe cycling (such as in Shared Space areas or places like this) many people vote with their wheels and take to the pavement. The solution to pavement cycling is good cycling infrastructure:

Many people prefer to cycle on the pavement here rather than the road. The sight of cyclists on the pavement should be seen as a flag which indicates that road and cycle infrastructure design is not adequate. Children do it.
Cyclists should not be forced to break the law in order to achieve safety. Women also cycle on the pavement here.
And the cycle-lane is unattractive enough that a significant number of men cycle on the pavement here too.

Parking in cycle-lanes
Another of the perpetual problems with on-road cycle-lanes is that drivers just can't seem to avoid parking in them. That happens here too, and it usually takes place right at the point where it is most dangerous - i.e. right on the bend and where U-turns, cyclist left turns and a pedestrian crossing collide:
Cycle-lane parking is a problem everywhere that cycle-lanes exist. When drivers park in the cycle-lane this makes the already difficult situation around this junction even worse.
Google Maps immortalized another of the cycle-lane parkers.
Why now ?
You may wonder why I have waited until 2015 to publish a blog post about problems caused by infrastructure which was completed in 2012. This area has already featured as examples of "what not to do" on our study tours but it took time to get around to writing about these problems.

I held off at first with public criticism because the situation here had not really been made significantly worse than it was before. It's not realistic to expect that all steps taken will progress cycling. There will always be occasional mis-steps. Almost everything that changed between 2007 when we moved to the city and 2012 was good.

When I wrote in 2013 about what had been achieved in the last six years, I briefly mentioned the problems with the indoor cycle-parking at this location but was otherwise positive about almost everything except a new shopping centre and the road outside, which I was surprised to find were designed as if cyclists didn't matter at all. This has turned out to be part of a destructive trend. Current plans for Assen are simply not so good as those from ten years ago. More again on this soon.

The 2005 fietsverkeernota showed three
locations where cycling safety should
be improved which were close to the
new development above. (Highlighted
in yellow). An opportunity missed.
We moved here in 2007. We decided upon Assen after exploring much of the Netherlands and finding that this city combined the sort of life-style that we wanted with some of the best cycling infrastructure that we'd seen anywhere. What's more, Assen was not only already good but also had a huge ambition, expressed in an official document, to improve itself further for cycling.

Elsewhere in Assen: An old
but wide cycle-path which
was obviously intended to be
continued has instead been
cut off. Current plans are
to remove it altogether,
making a bad situation worse.
Improve or decline
Unfortunately, this no longer seems to be the case. Assen's ambitions are no longer what they were.

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 declined right across the Netherlands when policy favoured motoring and when Assen was an unpleasant city for cycling it declined in Assen too. Cycling is a very fragile mode of transport.

Where the cycle-path should have
continued: cyclists now ride on the
pavement even when there's a truck
parked on it. Few use the road.
Cycling can only be maintained and grown by investing in ever better conditions for cyclists. That is precisely what the Netherlands did from the 1970s until very recently and this successfully reversed the decline up until the 1970s. Stopping investment now, on the grounds that the cycling infrastructure is "finished" (an expression used by a councillor in a recent meeting at which I spoke about problems with another new design for Assen) will lead not to a constant level of cycling despite changes elsewhere to favour driving, but to a decline in cycling. This is doubly true when current plans in many cases will degrade conditions for cycling.

There will be more on the problems with the new plans in subsequent blog posts.

Overseas readers: Don't copy anything just because it's Dutch
The Netherlands has not turned against cycling, but across the Netherlands it seems that many of the principles on which the high cycling modal share of this country was built are now being pulled apart by people making change for the sake of change. Cycling is taken for granted by planners and architects. New plans fit cyclists around the edges of currently fashionable things deemed to be more important, such as the extra wide pavements shown above or nice lights.

The Netherlands still leads the world on cycling, but that doesn't mean that everything in this country is good for cyclists, nor that every Dutch designer or architect has any real understanding about how to design good infrastructure which encourages cycling.

It is important to be skeptical about claims any made by any architect or urban designer from any country. With the rise of interest in Dutch cycling infrastructure it's especially important that you don't approve of anything just because it's described as Dutch, but instead seek to build infrastructure which emulates the best of what they Dutch have achieved.

We are interested in what works, not what is currently most fashionable. In our independent study tours we show you not only the very best and most effective cycling infrastructure but also the mistakes which the Dutch are currently making and which you can learn not to make.

Other examples of where Assen has made recent planning mistakes include the unpopular and dangerous Shared Space at Kerkplein and a new shopping centre built with no provision for bicycles

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The devastating effect of Shared Space on the blind.

Shared Space represents a return of "might is right" to roads which could instead have been transformed to favour cycling and walking.

I've long been opposed to Shared Space because of its effect on all vulnerable road users. In 2008 I quoted the UK Guide Dog's association who said that "All of the participants reported greater difficulty" in Shared Space areas. The video below, produced in the UK, further shows the effect of Shared Space on blind people:

In the past I've visited many Shared Spaces in the Netherlands and well as in the UK. This includes Exhibition Road in London and the Shared Spaces in Southend-on-Sea.

Another UK example mentioned in the video is Poynton. Many claims were made for the safety of the new arrangement in Poynton before and just after its conversion to Shared Space, but now that a few years have passed we can see that the new layout in Poynton has proven to be ten times more dangerous for pedestrians in the period after conversion to Shared Space when compared with the period before.

Shared Space in Assen. Able-bodied
cyclists don't like it either. Note also
how well "place-making" worked out.
It's become one of very few places in
Assen with a fly-tipping problem.
Not just a problem in Britain
One participant in the video makes a point that it is British planners who don't understand Shared Space. There's a suggestion in the video that it somehow works better in the Netherlands but this is not really so. In reality, Shared Space doesn't work well in the Netherlands either and we see exactly the same problems in this country as are seen in the UK. Vulnerable road users are disenfranchised by Shared Space in just the same in the Netherlands as in the UK.

Hans Monderman's own pet schemes are not excluded from this criticism (see previous posts about Haren and Drachten).

Real statistics
Advocates of Shared Space continue to make claims of safety without any supporting statistics. Earlier this year, I revealed how the claims of safety are not backed up by Dutch road traffic crash statistics, which actually show quite bad safety records for many Shared Spaces compared with their surrounding area.

Counter the hype
Shared Space is a hype. This was acknowledged even by Hans Monderman during his lifetime. I would like think that had he remained alive, Hans could have countered some of the myths which grew up around his idea and slowed down its adoption. Sadly he is no longer here to do that.

Shared Space has become a deception which everyone needs to counter. It's not good for blind people or those with difficulty in moving, not good for people who are aged, not good for pedestrians and not good for cyclists. It's not even particularly great for car drivers who feel pushed into making strange manoeuvres.

People with disabilities can benefit from cycling infrastructure
While Shared Space creates problems for people with disabilities, good road and cycle path design can make conditions better for people with disabilities. Campaigners for cycling and for disabled rights should be allies. Read more about this subject.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Shared Use Paths create conflict and cause complaints about "speed"

Many countries build combined infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Wherever these shared-use (aka multi-use) paths exist, there are complaints due to the conflicts which occur. Many of the complaints are from pedestrians who find the speed of cyclists unacceptable on paths which they use for walking. This is a wholly avoidable problem.

The cyclists in the video above demonstrate well how most take extraordinary care around pedestrians. Every cyclist in the video has his or her journey made inconvenient by the presence of the pedestrians but they all slow down, even slowing so far as slowing to walking pace to climb an incline, a situation where cyclists naturally would like to keep their momentum as it requires less effort to climb without braking first.

What you see in the video is quite typical behaviour for cyclists anywhere in the world when they encounter pedestrians, but taking care in this way isn't enough to stop there being complaints. Cyclists are still likely to be regarded as a problem because their behaviour is different to that of pedestrians. Cyclists appear to invade personal space around pedestrians, to "squeeze past", to wobble and to swerve in and out. Even when taking care, their behaviour seems aggressive and unpredictable to many pedestrians. Complaints about excessive speed of cyclists on shared paths are often a result of perception by pedestrians rather than being due to cyclists riding past pedestrians at genuinely high speeds.

A short distance away from the location
in the video there is separate
infrastructure for pedestrians, but
unfortunately not yet for cyclists.
A few metres away from the bridge there are roads much like those in many countries on which motor vehicles routinely and legally travel at considerably higher speed than any cyclists in the video. Pedestrians rarely complain about excessive speed of motor vehicles on roads like this because those vehicles are driven on infrastructure segregated from pedestrians. Unless drivers leave the road and drive on the pavement (sidewalk), there is no invasion of pedestrian space and no close passing. Conflict between pedestrians and motorists is reduced by separating them.

Pedestrian zone in the centre of Assen
with a "road" for cyclists. A language
which everyone understands. This
design reduces conflict and complaints
All countries seem to understand how to build roads to cope with the speeds of motor vehicles and also how to build separate infrastructure for pedestrians to reduce conflict. The benefit of giving different and incompatible modes of transport their own space and not expecting them to share are understood widely. Why is there a blind spot when it comes to cycling infrastructure ? The aim is the same. Cyclists are neither car drivers nor pedestrians and should not be treated as if they were identical to either of these other two groups.

The only place with "sharing" in Assen
city centre is a central square. It's a
destination not a through route.
And its size .
The requirements for cycling infrastructure are not even particularly difficult to meet. Even the fastest of cyclists make their journeys at a fraction of the speed which can be reached by a car and the much lower mass combined with that speed presents a fraction of the danger of motor vehicles. Cycle-paths do not need to be so wide as roads for cars and infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels do not need to cater for such large vehicles or large weights as equivalent infrastructure for motor vehicles.

Where conflict between cyclists and pedestrians occurs, it is almost always due to cyclists being forced to use infrastructure which is not designed for them at all.

Infrastructure on which cyclists and pedestrians are expected to share equally does not properly take the requirements of either group of users into account and creates conflict situations.

The Jeremy Vine incident

A Royal Parks spokesman suggested
later that the speed limit perhaps
should not be applied to bikes
An incident this week in London gave a good example of what happens where there is a pretense that pedestrian infrastructure can also be used by bicycle. Radio presenter Jeremy Vine was stopped by police for speeding when cycling. How did he come to be stopped ? He was exceeding a speed limit of just 5 mph (8 km/h) on a path through a London park. The police saw this as a high enough priority that police officers were in the park to stop errant cyclists.

Despite considerably hype from the city, London is still a very difficult and dangerous place for cycling. Paths within parks in the city are well used by cyclists because they offer a rare opportunity for cyclists to make part of their journeys away from traffic. They also can offer relatively direct routes. Extremely low speeds might be acceptable for some cyclists making recreational trips but anyone trying to get somewhere at a speed competitive with other modes of transport needs to travel at more than jogging pace. 5 mph is much slower than a normal cycling speed. Almost anyone on a bicycle will exceed that speed without trying. It's clear that such a limit makes no sense for cyclists.

There followed some debate about whether or not the law applies in this specific case, but that's not really the point. Whether or not it's legal to cycle here at above 5 mph, there's still a problem: Infrastructure in parks in London which supposedly allows cycling is not good enough to make for safe and convenient journeys at normal cycling speeds. The shared nature of paths like this is itself a very large part of the reason why there is conflict. Police were present to stop cyclists in this park because there have been complaints in the past due to previous conflicts. Trying to impose an extremely low speed limit on one of the slowest means of transport is not a solution to the problem. What needs to happen is that proper consideration is made of why conflict occurs and action taken to improve infrastructure to the point that the conflict is reduced. In a city there will almost always be too many pedestrians and cyclists to allow them to share paths without conflict. Shared-use paths don't make sense in crowded cities.

Blaming victims of bad design
The idea that "speeding cyclists" are a problem which needs addressing is not new. Low speed limits to control cyclists are also remarkably common. Glasgow, for instance, wanted a 5 mph limit like that in London "to ensure other parks users’ safety" while allowing motor vehicles to travel at twice the speed. San Francisco discussed a 10 mph limit for cyclists crossing the Golden Gate bridge (the speed limit for motorists is higher of course), Sydney has a 10 km/h "advisory" speed limit over a bridge. Christchurch is planning for 15 km/h on "major cycleways".

The video from Sydney is worth watching. Note first that the bridge really is very wide. It could easily allow for normal cycling speeds if only there was a separate area marked for cyclists to reduce conflict (this should preferably look like a road as in the Assen photo above to reduce confusion). Also note that the fastest cyclist was travelling at just 23 km/h. 23 km/h is not fast at all for a regular cyclist. It's well within the range of normal speeds for cycling, a speed which in my experience is exceeded by many Dutch people on standard town bikes when going shopping. Participants on one of our study tours earlier this year may remember following a young student in Groningen who was applying her make-up while cycling at a consistent 27 km/h on a normal upright Dutch bike. I don't actually believe that speeds above 10 km/h are considered to be high speeds in Sydney except when the people under observation are cyclists. Perhaps Sydney residents can tell me whether there is any place at all within the city where drivers of cars are expected to observe a 10 km/h speed limit on one of their main through routes.

Ignoring the real danger
Each year, there are more than 1.2 million deaths across the world due to crashes involving motor vehicles and tens of millions more people are injured. Cyclists and pedestrians are often the victims of such crashes. There are no similar figures for deaths and injuries due to cyclists because the scale of the problem is infinitesimally smaller. Despite this, it is cyclists who are emphasized as a risk. You may wonder where these attitudes come from. What type of organisations would support such a notion as that cyclists go "too fast" and cause danger when it's so clear that morgues and hospitals the world are full of the victims of motor vehicle crashes, not of bicycle crashes.

A code of conduct for cyclists
consisting almost entirely
of asking the users of paths to
compensate for the problems
caused by low quality design
of those very same paths
Sustrans. For 'cycling' but against cyclists ?
Sustrans is a British organisation which claims to be interested in "enabling people to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys" and which is behind the UK's "National Cycle Network". Unfortunately, in a scramble to be able to claim to have a large quantity of cycling facilities they long ago forgot about the importance of quality and as a result they are now in the position of defending inadequately designed shared-use paths which make up a significant proportion of their network. Many people, including myself, have criticised the inept designs of infrastructure which Sustrans still approves of, pointing out that they create conflict and danger. Sustrans' reaction to conflicts caused by the design of their infrastructure has been to publish a "code of conduct" for cyclists.

In their code of conduct, Sustrans point out themselves that their paths "aren’t suitable for high speeds" and suggest that "if you wish to travel quickly [...] this is better done on quiet roads". For all their claims about having provided a network of cycling infrastructure, they're actually admitting that this network is not suitable for cycling. All the emphasis is on cyclists being told to modify their behaviour except for just one clause each regarding dog walkers and pedestrians. When not telling cyclists to go elsewhere than to ride on the cycling infrastructure, Sustrans tell them to "slow down", "be patient" or use a "sensible speed" in order to work around the needs of other path users.

But what is a "sensible speed" for cycling ? That rather depends on one's perspective. If Sustrans were genuinely building routes for "SUStainable TRANSport" then these routes would be usable at normal cycling speeds. If Sustrans' National Cycle Network already truly met "the highest possible standards" then there would be no complaints, no reasons for Sustrans to tell cyclists to go elsewhere and no reason to impose limits.

Cyclist speeds cannot compete with motor vehicle speeds. The speed of cyclists is naturally limited by the limited power available from a human body. The highest speeds achieved by cyclists are comparable with the lowest speed limits imposed on motor vehicles. Countries which have no difficulty in building an extensive network of roads on which motor vehicles travel at 50-120 km/h shouldn't have any difficulty at all in building cycle-paths which can cope with cycling speeds which on the flat are seldom consistently above 30 km/h and peak speeds rarely above 50 km/h.

It's an absurdity for cycling infrastructure to be designed such that it is unable to cope with the relatively modest speeds which even fit cyclists achieve on their everyday journeys.

A photo chosen by Sustrans to illustrate
their National Cycling Network shows
why there are problems with it. The
cyclist has to ride on the wrong side
of a narrow path facing any oncoming
cyclists because the path is narrow
and full of pedestrians. Any path with
that many pedestrians on it is not a
cycle-path. This pattern of usage
guarantees that conflict will occur.
Sack-cloth and ashes
Sadly, Sustrans representatives have been repeatedly vocal about cyclists being "a menace that needs taming".

You might wonder how other cycling organisations in the UK reacted to an organisation which puts such a point of view and publishes a code of conflict which puts emphasis firmly on their members, fellow cyclists, as being a cause of trouble rather than pointing out that planners had done an inadequate job. Surprisingly, the answer is that many other organisations joined in. British Cycling gave its support and CTC endorsed the Sustrans code of conduct.

What's more, spokespeople from CTC and Sustrans got together to ask other cyclists to pick on an "anti-social minority", requesting that people "take action by pointing the finger" at other riders. It seems they'd all rather encourage a minor form of vigilantism and create an out-group of cyclists to blame instead of addressing head-on the problem of inadequate infrastructure which causes the conflicts to occur. It's hardly a secret that Sustrans' shared use paths are inadequate as even the photos chosen by Sustrans to illustrate their network actually demonstrate the problems with it.

With friends like this...

A meandering network
There's nothing wrong with building a network of meandering walking routes for people to enjoy by foot. But call it what it is. That's not how you create a network of convenient cycling routes which provide a realistic alternative to driving a car to make journeys. There's something very wrong indeed with pretending to have created cycling infrastructure or indeed an entire cycling network if actually cyclists are only welcome to use this network at a pace which makes cycling inconvenient.

If your cycling infrastructure can't cope with the speed of bicycles then it's simply not of high enough quality. A bridge which divides instead of connecting is not a success.

Racing cyclists, children, pensioners,
we all need the same efficient grid of
go-everywhere infrastructure
What's really required
To encourage people to cycle, cycling must be fast. It is important that cycling journeys are made efficient and safe as otherwise cycling does not compete with other modes of transport. The Sustrans representative draws false equivalences with the Netherlands and Denmark as being places where people cycle slower, but it's simply not true. No-one has time to waste on inadequate infrastructure which slows them down. There is no demographic group in this country or any other which wants their journeys to take longer than they have to and no excuse whatsoever for building infrastructure which has that result.

Infrastructure which requires cyclists and pedestrians to use the same paths can be acceptable where there will be almost no usage by one of the groups but it will always leads to conflicts in any place where numbers of users are high, especially when there are large numbers of pedestrians. Normal Dutch practice is to build cycle-paths without separate pedestrian paths between towns where distances are relatively large and there will be few pedestrians, but paths inside villages and towns should almost always have separate paths for pedestrians. This avoids the need to built a separate pedestrian path in places where there will be little if any conflict due to the low numbers of users, but also avoids conflict where we know there will be many users.

The first video was made in Norway a few weeks back but the problems demonstrated by it are are common to anywhere that cyclists and pedestrians are forced to mix.

Sadly, the main Dutch campaigning organisation has also fallen into the trap of campaigning against cyclists rather than concentrating on where real danger comes from.

Monday, 10 November 2014

City centre streets. Perfect for children on their own bicycles, if the city is truly planned for cycling. Cargo bikes shouldn't be required.

Something which people who visit Assen often notice is the lack of cargo-bikes. Somehow an expectation has grown up that cargo bikes are the way of transporting children by bicycle. Actually, children have their own legs and really should be able to use them to transport themselves as soon as they have the ability to ride a bicycle. This of course is only possible if the infrastructure is very very good, and over most of this city that is indeed the case. It wasn't always like this, but motor vehicles were removed from the centre several years ago and that left behind conditions where everyone is safe.

The photos below were taken within ten minutes a little after three o'clock on an afternoon a couple of weeks ago:

All ages and abilities served by one type of infrastructure. The youngest daughter in this family rides on the front of Mum's bike while her slightly older sister rides her own bike. They're heading directly towards the city centre. Directly towards the same streets as shown in the following photos. It's not unusual to see children this young cycling to the city centre. A comprehensive grid of very high quality infrastructure makes this possible.

The city centre streets are used by bicycle by people of all ages. The woman in the centre has more experience, but lots of experience isn't required to be safe here. The youngsters on the right are already able to make their way through the city without an adult to accompany them.

Of course some children are accompanied by parents. These two are heading towards a large square in the middle of the city which was once a car-park.

The youngest child sits on Dad's bike while her older sister rides her own bike.

Mother and son.

Young teenagers have complete independence. This group rode through together. Presumably the lessons for the day had ended.

Another mother and son. The mother's bike has a fold down child-seat on the back, which is possibly used sometimes for a younger sibling.

They're all moving in the same direction, but they're not all looking in the same direction. Cycling is very social in the city centre. People are always looking out for their friends and family. A lot of smiles, a lot of waves.

More youngsters riding home from school together. The city centre streets make a good route to many locations.

Teenagers attending secondary school (age 12 upwards) are likely to have further to travel. 

Eating while cycling and riding no hands. These are comparatively safe things to do when there are no cars on city centre streets.

Mum indicates a right turn. The children also will turn up onto the forgiving sloped kerb .

Teens again, riding sociably side by side.

Very young children ride on the back of their parents' bikes. But those who cycle on their own bike are often also very young.

Where have the cars gone ?
Red dots show the locations which
feature in the photos above. Traffic
lights are no longer needed
through traffic has been removed.
The car park no longer exists. There
are now zebra crossings to make it
easier to cross the "road" for bikes.
The photos above show very typical views of the centre of Assen in 2014. Many other Dutch cities look similar. However, it wasn't always like this.

In the 1970s, the number of children being killed on the roads reached a peak. Cycling was in decline in the Netherlands at that time.

Assen, like other cities, was full of motor vehicles. Cars, buses and trucks dominated the city centre streets. Cyclists who remained on these streets were under pressure. The situation was much like that of many cities now. There was "no space for cycling infrastructure" and car parks were full.

If Assen had continued on the path which the city was on, it's unlikely that people would cycle so much in the city as they do now.
Pedestrian zone.
Cycling allowed
on given routes.
Note generous
delivery times.
The problems in the centre of the city were turned around by a second revolution which returned old streets which pre-date motor vehicles to people rather than allowing the problems due to allowing motor vehicles to dominate them to grow.

The city centre area is now a large pedestrian zone. What looks like a road in all the photos above (except the first one) is actually a stripe through the pedestrian zone on which cycling is permitted. Signage at each entrance to the pedestrian zone points out this status.

Cycling and walking are the most popular means of transport for shoppers in Assen and these are the modes which are best catered for in the city centre.

Of course it's not just the city centre which has cycling infrastructure. An extensive and fine-grained grid of high quality infrastructure stretches across the entire city so that no-one has to cycle in conditions which are not subjectively safe. This is the only way of making cycling accessible to everyone.

When our children were young we still
lived in the UK. The streets were not
safe enough for them to ride their own
bikes so we used this Ken Rogers trike
with child seats. It worked well, but
we wouldn't have needed it in Assen.
What about parents ?
In many places, people who didn't bother with a car before they had children find that they need one once they have children. Of course it is in many ways better if people switch to using cargo bikes to carry their children rather than using a car, however the experience of the children themselves is not so different if they're transported by a parent with a bicycle rather than being transported by a parent with a car.

A high percentage of parents using cargo bikes to transport their children is better than having the same parents driving cars, but while a growing number of cargo bikes might indicate a growing confidence amongst parents it should be seen as a step in the right direction but not as an end in itself.

There are quite a lot of cargo bikes in
Assen. They're used for many other
reasons than to transport children.
Why not cargo bikes ?
So long as they're used for carrying cargo, there's nothing wrong with cargo-bikes at all. There's also nothing wrong with them for carrying small children.

It is only when cargo bikes are seen as a solution for carrying children who are old enough to ride their own bikes (i.e. 4+) that this indicates a problem. The problem is not with the bikes or their riders but with the environment for cycling.

If parents don't think that the local cycling infrastructure is sufficiently safe for their children to have control over their own movement then this indicates that the infrastructure is sub-standard. Children should have conditions safe enough that they can have control over their own movement and not have to rely upon their parents for lifts, either by bike or by car.

Mother of three in Groningen
Where the cycling infrastructure is very good, cargo bikes are relatively rare and mostly used for carrying cargo. It's better for parents and for children if children can be given the freedom to control their own movement.

I'm not criticizing anyone for using a cargo bike to transport their children. People who do this in difficult environments should be applauded for making a positive choice which is not always rewarded by society. We made a similar choice when we lived in the UK and our children were small. We first used a tricycle and later moved on to trailerbikes (also uncommon in the Netherlands for the same reason). It was not always easy to do this because other parents could be quite critical and drivers were sometimes quite aggressive around our children.

It's not always so good as this in the Netherlands
Cities across the Netherlands vary in how easy it is for everyone to ride bicycles. For instance:
The Netherlands is still far and away the most successful country on earth at encouraging people to cycle, and at encouraging people to let their children cycle, but you should never assume that this country always gets everything right.

A truly high cycling modal share requires that everyone should be able to cycle everywhere. That is what true mass cycling is all about.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why do cyclists fear being banned from busy roads ? Is it faster to cycle on roads than cycle-paths ? What really makes cycling safe and convenient for everyone ?

Assen's cycle-racing circuit a few days
. All types of cycle racing are extra-
ordinarily popular in the Netherlands,
hence even many smaller cities have
specially built cycling circuits on
which people ride extremely quickly.
A fear which is often expressed, especially in the UK but also in other countries with little cycling, is that adoption of Dutch style cycling infrastructure will somehow lead to people being forced off the road. It is usually assumed that the road is the efficient place to cycle and that being forced off the road will be a problem for keen cyclists.

In fact, bicycles are at their fastest on specially built segregated infrastructure and on closed roads. If you don't believe me, try following this link, and also this one.

The no-cycling sign seems to wind up
some people. However when there's a
better alternative by cycle it's not a
problem to leave this road to the cars.
There is nothing inherent about being on a road with cars which makes cycling efficient. In fact, it's quite the reverse. For example, it is only because cars exist that traffic lights were ever invented. When cyclists have to stop at traffic lights, this is because the route which they are using is used by, or crosses, a route for cars.

The people who worry most about being banned also sometimes point at the Netherlands as being a place where cyclists have lost a right to ride on all roads. But how important is it to Dutch cyclists that they're not allowed to ride on every road ?

If you don't like the sign banning bikes,
then how do you feel about this sign ?
Both result in cycling without cars.
Where are the complaints in the Netherlands?
Actually, it turns out that this is not important at all. What matters in practice is that cyclists have a high density grid of high quality efficient routes to use to get to all possible locations. It's not very important at all that cyclists should go to the same places as cars can go to by following exactly the same routes. There's no reason to assume that the routes that cars are allowed to use are also the best routes for cyclists.

Unravelling of cycle routes from driving routes means that cyclists don't have to put up with infrastructure which is necessary for cars and the inconvenience of sharing roads with cars is removed. In the Netherlands cyclists often don't have to stop for traffic lights precisely because they're not riding with cars.

For example, in the city centre of Assen most streets are either not accessible by car, or have been made less useful by car than by bike. The result is very good conditions for cycling. Indeed, it's more efficient for cycling now than it used to be because getting rid of the cars meant that the many traffic lights which used to be present and which once delayed cyclists on city centre streets are no longer required.

Through the countryside, country roads have been made unusable or un-attractive to drivers and here too there are many cycle-paths which take more direct routes.

By making a distinction between cyclists and drivers, it's also possible for drivers to be built the sort of junctions that they need without cyclists needing to being aware of them at all.

Motorway south of Assen. I've never
even been tempted to cycle here.
Why doesn't anyone complain about being banned from Motorways ?
How effective is the law which requires cyclists not to use motorways ? I would say it's barely worth having that law at all. People are sufficiently unenthusiastic about cycling on motorways that it is extremely rare that anyone does so, and the law is only part of the reason why people don't do so. It is so rare that people actually do ride their bikes on motorways that those who do this often end up on television. I've never heard of anyone fighting for the "right to ride" on motorways.

Distances here are often shorter by bike
than by car. It's not often so in the UK.
In the UK, main roads are sometimes built with dual carriageways and these are often motorways in all but name. The same speed limit applies and traffic levels can be very high. The main difference between dual carriageways and motorways is that it's required that motorways have a parallel route for the banned slow vehicles (not just bikes, also tractors, low power motorbikes etc.).

I still have the large collection of
Ordnance Survey maps which I
built up of places where I rode as
a touring cyclist in the UK.
Detailed tour planning was
required to minimise use
of unpleasant roads.
No vehicles are banned from dual carriageways so no parallel route has to be built. Despite the lack of an alternative route, cycling on dual carriageways is also almost unknown in the UK. That there is a law to ban people from cycling on motorways but not from dual carriageways is pretty much beside the point because few people cycle on either. In effect, dual carriageways and other busy roads already have a ban so far as most people are concerned. Cycling on such roads is so unpleasant that very few people care enough about their right to ride a bicycle in such conditions that they actually do so.

In the Netherlands I spend much less
time planning and much more time
enjoying fantastic conditions for
cycling. Being banned from roads
is simply not an issue when
cycle-paths are like this.
When I lived in the UK I was one of those rare people who actually did ride on dual carriageways sometimes. I would generally plan my routes to avoid unpleasant roads but if they were the only efficient route to my destination, I'd use them. This wasn't because they were pleasant but because I had a lack of choice.

However we have to recognise that even a short length of busy road may as well be a thousand miles so far as most people are concerned. Most people simply will not cycle in those conditions regardless of their right to do so.

No real reasons to complain
In the Netherlands I've never had a reason to ride on a road so unpleasant as those which I sometimes used quite frequently in the UK. Just as the UK provides an alternative to motorways for slower vehicles, the Netherlands provides cyclists with alternatives to unpleasant roads. These alternatives very often take shorter routes and quite often combine that with more pleasant scenery. They can even have a better surface than the road. It's not a hardship to use these routes at all, this just makes cycling more pleasant.

Retirement in the Netherlands...
All types of cycling are incredibly popular in the Netherlands because all types of cycling are enabled by having a comprehensive grid of high quality infrastructure.

While the cycle-paths are filled by commuters and children on Monday to Friday, Saturday is when you'll see any number of shoppers, Sunday mornings are when you'll see many racing cyclists and sunny Sunday afternoons are when the cycle-paths become especially filled by people of all ages just going out for a pleasant ride.

Touring is incredibly popular in the Netherlands. It's a mainstream activity here, not something for a small minority, because it's accessible to everyone. Whether you ride long or short distances, fast or slow, it's all possible.

Not perfect, but serious problems are rare
Of course the Netherlands is not perfect for cycling, but conditions on cycle-paths which really do not work for cyclists are rare. In seven years I've only found one place where the cycle-path was so seriously inadequate that I really wanted to ride on the road. You can see it in this video:

Of course if all cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands was as poor as that shown in the video this would indeed be a problem for cyclists. This cycle-path is not of high enough quality to support a high and growing cycling modal share. It should have been replaced by something which meets current standards many years ago. Note that this is absolutely not the norm. This is just a short bad section in one town. The rest of the grid is better and that's why cycling works.

Note: Please don't make the mistake of assuming that the video above demonstrates the typical quality for cycle-paths in the Netherlands. The video aboves shows a cycle-path which is well below average quality. It is highlighted here in order to make the point that it is not good enough. Watch other videos which demonstrate normal quality paths on which it is possible to make very good progress by bike.

Should cyclists be banned from roads ?
Would I ban cyclists from riding on the roads ? Of course not. I wouldn't ask for this because there seems little point in asking for it. Nothing to gain. In places where there is no alternative route of sufficient quality and directness it would be a disaster to ban cycling on roads because that would make it impossible for the small number of people who cycle now to continue to do so. I would never support banning cyclists. It may seem surprising therefore that I chose to move to a country where cyclists actually are banned from a significant proportion of the road network. Read on:

Fast Dutch cyclist choosing to ride on
the cycle-path, though parallel with
a main road and a motorway
Given infrastructure of high enough quality it actually doesn't matter terribly much if you can ride on the road because there is no advantage to riding on the road. When cycle-paths are more pleasant and more convenient than the roads, people simply don't opt to ride their bikes on the road. Not even fast cyclists.

In the Netherlands, cycle-paths don't (usually) make people ride slowly. Even some very fast races occur on cycle-paths. When infrastructure is of this quality, a ban from riding on the road is academic. It makes no difference to anyone. In the Netherlands that is the point which has been reached very nearly almost everywhere.

One proper network for everyone
No-one designs different infrastructure for beginner drivers vs. experienced drivers because this would be ridiculous. It's just as ridiculous to design cycling infrastructure which is not good enough for all cyclists.

An underpass near our old home in the
UK. I saw school children crash into
barriers installed supposedly to prevent
"fast" cycling. This falls well short of
Dutch standards for underpasses.
If it doesn't work for a relatively fit and fast cyclist then it's not of good enough quality for beginners or children either. If that sounds unlikely, look at the video above a second time. Watch how when the infrastructure is too narrow even school children cause stress to the people who they overtake or who are coming in the opposite direction.

Crashes and injuries are more likely for any cyclist wherever the infrastructure quality is lower than it should be. Wherever complaints are heard about "fast cyclists", it's usually an overly simplistic reaction to conditions which make cycling unsafe for everyone.

Unaccompanied children and racing
cyclists have the same needs.
High standards are important to achieve a high cycling modal share and a high degree of safety. Experienced and fast cyclists have nothing to fear from proper cycling infrastructure because their needs are actually the same as everyone else's needs. i.e. direct, comfortable and safe cycling.

Cycling infrastructure which isn't good enough for everyone isn't good enough for anyone.