Sunday 29 November 2009

A good through road transformed into an excellent through road. Costings of improvements for cyclists

In 2007, when we moved to Assen, this road, Groningerstraat was being redeveloped. It is a popular route for cyclists as it provides the most direct route possible to the city centre from the North of the city.

The road was dug up to a considerable depth, all the way from the front gardens on one side of the street to the front gardens on the opposite side of the street. Then everything in between was replaced. A complete new road was built for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

While the road was dug up, the electricity, gas, telephone, sewage and other services were updated at the same time. This is the normal way of organising things in the Netherlands because it prevents wrecking the new surface in order to do maintenance.

The new road was then constructed, including very much upgraded cycle facilities as you can see from these before and after photographs. The new cycle path is 2.5 m wide on each side of the road (each side is unidirectional), has a completely smooth surface (an upgrade from the old tiled surface) and provides much better segregation from motor vehicles. The cycle path has priority over every side road.

We were surprised not only at the quality of this work, but also at the price. A budget document from the city shows that the cost of this work for a 0.4 km section (both sides of the road so 0.8 km of cycle path) was just €200K (see the item on the second page: "fietspaden langs Groningerstraat, tussen Thorbeckelaan en Kanaal, verbreding fietspaden naar ca 2,5 m, rood asfalteren, voorrang bij de kruispunten, € 200.000"). That compares very well with costings I've seen for cycle paths of a much lower quality in the UK.

And not only is the amount taken from the cycling budget for this piece of work low by UK standards, but the total budget for cycling in the city is extraordinarily large by UK standards.

The budget for the two years covered by that document is arranged under different headings. Each heading has its own budget. These come to a total of over € 5.7 M to be spent on cycling in Assen over the two years covered by the budget. That works out as a cycling budget of 43 euros per resident per year over these two years.

The combination of low cost and high budget is what makes it possible to get things done so quickly.

The junctions were also renewed, including a simultaneous green junction shown in another blog post, which cost just €32000 (the first item in the budget document)

Some more photos. One extra "before" and three "after" photos.

Note that there are children in several of the shots. It's quite normal here for children to travel right to the centre of the city on their own bikes. This is perhaps the ultimate expression of parents feeling confident in the safety of the cycling environment.

This level of subjective safety is vital to achieve a high cycling rate including all demographic groups.

Note also in this photo how on-road car parking was preserved for residents. It's important that residents concerns about car parking were also addressed when the new work was done. Not taking care of this can result in conflict between cyclists and residents, or cars being parked on the cycle path.

Also you'll see how it's possible for friends to ride beside one another, and how everything is possible while motor vehicles are kept at a distance.

The cycling rate in Assen is now 41% of all journeys. While it's not the highest rate in the Netherlands (Groningen has a higher cycling rate), that's still a higher rate than any city in other European countries. More journeys are made by bike here than are made by car. Infrastructure like this is has made this possible.

I've featured this road twice on this blog as a comparison with Gilbert Road in Cambridge, a road near where we used to live in the UK, which is much the same width and had much the same budget for cycle infrastructure, but which received far inferior reconstruction for about the same price.

It was also featured to show how secondary school children cycle along this street as part of their route to get to school from villages outside the city.

Also see a newer blog post which illustrates why "dooring" is not a problem on this road.

The explanatory captions on this video are only visible when you play it on a computer and not on a mobile device.

The photos were taken on Saturday afternoon when there were quite a lot of people about. I made this video on Sunday morning when the shops were shut and very few people were doing anything. However, the video shows the infrastructure of the entire length of the new part of Groningerstraat. This quality of cycle path makes for efficient as well as safe cycling.

Several other blog posts cover other aspects of this street's highly successful design cycling. Please click here.

The "before" photos come from an official document of the local government of Assen, and the bike that I rode to make the video is a Sinner Mango velomobile.


  1. I notice that the "before" photos have the cycle path in the door zone of parked cars. The "after" photos show that this particularly dangerous practice has been eliminated.

    It is with great regret that I must write that Toronto is still afflicted with a few bike lanes where the most dangerous place on the whole road to cycle is in the centre of the bike lane.

    It is my policy to refuse to use all such lanes and to "take the lane" of the general traffic lane.

  2. I have also noticed that in the UK costs of engineering are much higher than what you can find in France (even in Paris). Simply have a look at prices per km for building on-street-running trams in France and compare it to Britain. For a much lower price, French engineering companies will also offer a door to door upgrade of every street where the tram passes wich you rarely get in Britain.
    I believe it is due to different factors:
    - low competition market (most councils have "frameworks" where they commission one contractor for all their work, the rates are supposed to be low but still). Moreover the market as not developped as much as in contiental europe as UK local authorities spend a lot less in infrastructure compared to other countries.
    - generally, in the UK, spending on the infrastructure are much lower which make the unit costs higher.
    - finally most of the underground utilities (water, sewage, gaz, electricity, etc) are privattly owned and utility companies often ask for large "compensations" for moving their infrastructure(though street renovation often offer them brand new infrastructures for them). But they are in a different logic (quick income favored to long term investments)
    - Also local authorities (in France at least) have far more staff, which reduces the outsourcing and allows authorities to manage by themselves these kind of projects without being forced to commission all kind of "consultants". Avoiding this allows them to save large amounts of money on projects.

  3. I can see on the pictures that the bike lane is coloured red, and that made me think why they are coloured at all?

    In my native Denmark, the only bike lanes that are coloured are the ones crossing busy junctions and they are coloured blue.

    I have only seen red bike lanes in the UK and on your pictures.

  4. The only internet page answering that question is Wikipedia. It says that there is no law to regulate the colour, but most bikepaths are red. Now, most people are so used to it, that it's hard to change. Still, not all bikepaths are red. I used to live in Doetinchem, where the route I rode to the trainstation featured no red paths at all. Now I live in Nijmegen, and still hardly any red paths on my way to university.

  5. @Rasmus: The only reason I can think of is to make them stand out more. Many bike lanes and paths still have the same colour as the road, and there is a lot of parking on bike lanes, intentional or not. At the end of David's video where he turns right, he could also have turned left into a street which has two bike lanes along a narrow road (one way). The bike lanes have the same colour as the road and are separated from it by intermittent lines. It's a no parking zone but many drivers park their cars "for just a few seconds" in the bike lanes. Giving them a different colour may help to point out their separate status.

  6. I have a question on this and some of the other paths, which I bet, has been answered before. Does each household have a drive or carpark right next to the house and the road or just the road or a combo? One of the major issues with putting something up here through even dense residential areas is that there is an entrance aver 30feet or so which means that a physical separation is less physical since there are huge chunks of open space every bit. I noticed this part is similar with the on street parking next to the lane but I presume there is a bit less of I don’t want to be near cars so they don’t run me over mentality... It just seems that breaks ever 30ft somehow makes it less likely to be built or even less effective... anyway nice upgrades for sure, stop making me jealous :P

  7. "Note also in this photo how on-road car parking was preserved for residents."

    Somehow, I cannot see where they preserved parking. Maybe the picture has changed?

  8. Brendan: Look a bit closer. Here's a link to the same photo a little larger. Look at the far side of the road. Or, indeed, look at Streetview where you can also see the parking quite clearly.