Sunday 1 November 2009

Commuting speeds

Show route on Google Maps
Back in 1995, when I was 29, I lived in the village of Melbourn in Cambridgeshire and worked for a computer company on the Cambridge Science Park.

The route was 13 miles ( 21 km ) long and typically it would take 50 - 55 minutes for me to cycle to work. The route was mainly along the busy and unpleasant A10. There was a shared use path alongside, but as is normal in the UK this was a bad joke, it had never been more than 60 cm or so wide, was overgrown with, and grown through by, weeds, often blocked, and it gave way to every possible side road. As is normal in the UK, I generally stuck to the road despite the 60 mph / 100 km/h speed limit. I also had to stop for a lot of traffic lights and negotiate some large roundabouts in order to get to work, so my average speed of 14 - 15 mph ( 22 km/h ) was actually not that bad under the circumstances.

Show on Google Maps
My current commute is from Assen to Groningen. It's a distance of 30 km ( 18.6 miles ). 40% longer than the old commute.

The quality of the route here makes a huge difference. Roughly 28 km of my 30 kms are on cycle paths, and they're wonderful. The surface is (mostly) miraculously smooth, roads give way to the cycle path where they cross and I rarely have to stop. There is only one set of traffic lights on my entire route, and it defaults to green for bikes. On average I stop about once per commute. Often I don't stop at all for the whole distance.

My commute time is if anything slightly less now than it was back in 1995. It took under 50 minutes both ways on Thursday and Friday, an average of 36 km/h or 22 mph. Today I worked an extra day for the test ride day, and took it easy coming home. This resulted in a 55 minute ride home.

Part of my route as it passes through
a village. This cycle-path is 2.5 m
wide and unidirectional. This photo
shows a study tour group. It's one of
the locations that we visit.
Being 43 years old instead of 29 surely ought to count against me, but there's no doubt that I'm commuting somewhat faster now than I used to. Of course, it does help to have a somewhat quicker bike, but it would be a fair bit faster here on any bike. A lot of the difference is due to being able to get up to speed and keep it. Cyclists benefit enormously from cycle routes being unravelled from driving routes so that hold-ups caused by motor vehicles don't affect bikes.

Longer distance cycle commuting is so much more practical here than in the UK, so it's hardly surprising that long distance commuting by bike is also so much more popular here than in the UK. While in Britain less than 1% of all journeys of any length are by bicycle and most of those cycle journeys are very short, the Dutch cycle 15% of their journeys between 7.5 km and 15 km and 3% of their journeys over 15 km. 3% may not sound like much, but this is a measure of long journeys only, excluding the more popular short journeys.

Update 2014: This video shows the first 10 km of my old commuting route, a Fietsroute+ which goes between Assen and Groningen. It's already excellent, but in our recent local elections there were calls for this to be upgraded to make journeys by bike even more convenient.

A network of long distance, direct and convenient cycle-paths designed to enable long distance cycle commuting are currently being constructed (called "fietsrouteplus" and "fietsnelwegen").

Read other posts about cycling quickly in the Netherlands.


Maarten said...

You wrote "…and it gave way to every possible side road."

I once came across a nice article that explained why this is so bad. It could have been on citycycling, or perhaps on the CTC website. For the NVHPV I'd like to find this article (and the picture that came with it). Do you have a reference to this or a similar article?


Karl McCracken (twitter: @karlonsea) said...

David - lovely comparison of what can be achieved with the right kind of infrastructure. For the life of me, I cannot understand this obsession in the UK with making cycles give way to motorised traffic at junctions. Everyone says that they want more cyclists, but until they get over this one issue, it'll never be convenient, and never become a reality! Grrr!