Monday 30 August 2010

A bit of maintenance

I recently noticed that a bumpy spot on a cycle path and a rough path on a road nearby had both been marked for repair. Both marks appeared on the same day, and were in the same style, so presumably they were to be addressed at the same time.

On the left is the road and on the right is the cycle path. Minor damage which might not have been noted in other countries, or may have been left to grow into a pothole, is marked for repair.

A few days later, this is the situation.

And finally here it is after the work has been completed. In both cases, the surface is back to being completely smooth.

Now here's the point of this blog. Cycle paths and roads are treated equivalently. Both are maintained to a high standard, by the same people, with the same equipment. Both repairs come out of the maintenance budget. Cycle path repairs don't come out of the "cycling budget", which is around 30 euros per person per year and spent on new infrastructure, not fixing the old.

This is all a world away from the situation I was used to in the UK, where in fact it's quite likely that this level of damage to the surface would not have been considered to be enough to warrant repair in the first place.

The photo of the machinery and workmen was taken in the same place at the same time as the middle photos were taken.

Friday 27 August 2010

Commuting in the rain

There's quite a lot of rain in Northern European countries, which is why it's a very good idea to ride a velomobile which is particularly good for riding in rain. The Mango has a fully enclosed drive-chain which doesn't get wet and dirty, so lasts a long time even if used in bad weather.

More Mango posts here, in which amongst other things you'll see it raced in the summer, and ridden through ice and snow in the winter. Also, a blog post about the speed bumps on the cycle-path.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Dutch children must cycle at an earlier age

An interesting piece on the front page of our local newspaper in Assen this week, with a headline "Children from Drenthe must cycle earlier."

The article reads: Primary schools are opening on Monday. The holidays are over, and this is reason for Safe Traffic Netherlands to restart their "The schools have begun again" campaign.

Also in this region, children will be travelling to school in large groups for the first time. In September there is a peak in the number of traffic victims in the age group 0-14 years. A salient detail is that one third of these victims are on the way to or from school. Children are an unpredictable group.

The article goes on to explain that in 1972 the average age at which Dutch children went unaccompanied to school was six years. By 2006 this had risen to 8.6 years of age. The reason given by parents for this rise is that they find the conditions too dangerous. This is an issue of subjective safety of course.

The approach suggested by the safety pressure group here is different to what might be expected in the UK and other countries. They are suggesting that children should be allowed greater freedom earlier as more and earlier experience makes children safer on the roads: Practice in traffic is an important part of bringing up children.

VVN calls on parents to send their children to school by foot or by bike as often as possible. It is important to choose the safest route possible and to practice this route with your children. Children only learn by doing, and children become safer as they travel independently to school.

A safe road environment around the school is important. Other participants in traffic around the school play a part.

The view is that it isn't children who cause a problem but adults, and that children should be able to travel unaccompanied by the age of six. An average age of eight, as now, is a bit too old.

Preventing danger to children on the way to school and home again takes several forms, including banning cars from stopping near schools and providing cycle routes which are safe for children to use, even over quite long distances and in winter.

Veilig Verkeer Nederland has also been running spots on the radio about the danger posed to children by drivers:

The longest running TV advert in the Netherlands was is also from this organisation:

VVN are also the organisation which takes care of school cycle training in the Netherlands.

A comparison with Britain is interesting. In Britain there has been a much deeper drop in walking and cycling to school. Now only 12% of seven to 10-year-olds go unaccompanied to school and an enormous national media storm and threats of social services being called in occurred over the Schonrock's children after their parents allowed them to cycle to school unaccompanied. Read the family's own response here. The idea of sending children unaccompanied to school by bike is mainstream in The Netherlands, though of course children here benefit from infrastructure which supports that choice.

In other news, cycle training for children in England is apparently about to be cut altogether as the government considers scrapping "Cycling England", the organisation which for the last few years has been responsible for the "cycling demonstration towns" and other initiatives to support cycling. This comes as part of the austerity measures needed to help the ailing economy - not that the problems Britain currently faces were in any way caused by cycling. This makes no sense at all, of course, but sadly nor did many of the initiatives that Cycling England supported, as the late Chris Hutt used to point out.

Unfortunately, it looks a lot like business as usual for British transport policy. Initiatives come and initiatives go, and people keep forgetting that they've been let down time and time again. There's no real interest in achieving a higher rate of cycling, no overall picture of what is needed, and no consistency to carry on with any policy for long enough that it makes a difference. That's why cycling is flatlining in Britain.

Britain isn't the only place with a problem, of course. We campaign for the right of independent travel for children everywhere.

There are many other examples of school travel in the Netherlands on this blog. Unfortunately I must also point out that for all the good they do, VVN is also a bit too close for comfort to a certain Swedish car manufacturer and their dubious ideas about road safety. Another blog post explores the origins of Veilig Verkeer Nederland?.

Monday 23 August 2010

Road works vs. the Dutch cyclist

On the way home from Groningen on Friday I found that the road had been redirected onto the cycle path. Sounds alarming, but actually there was nothing to worry about. Barriers had been erected and a tarmac temporary cycle path had been built so that cycling could continue as normal.

It's quite normal for this to happen. These are some of the other videos I've made of similar things which have happened in the past, some of which have also appeared on this blog tagged with "road works vs. the dutch cyclist":

Cycle-path is dug up

In this example, the road is converted to one-way with temporary traffic lights so that cycle flow is unimpeded.

Riding in a bus lane

Here the cycle-path was being resurfaced so bikes were directed into the bus-lane. This would have created a conflict between bikes and buses had buses not been temporarily banned from their own lane. Bikes are completely incompatible in the same lane as buses and therefore they are never mixed.

Riding on a dual carriageway

Here the cycle-path is again being worked on, so one half of a dual carriageway has been taken for cyclists while motorists use just the other side. Again, it removes any potential conflict which could have occurred had cyclists been expected to use the road with cars and trucks.

Sometimes there are temporary bridges installed, both small and large.

And why does this all happen ? Well, cycling is fragile. If people have bad experiences they may stop cycling. If it is desirable to create and maintain a high rate of cycling then a good degree of subjective safety must also be maintained.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Brain injuries and the Dutch cyclist

An Australian reader pointed me at this document which is about head and brain injuries amongst Dutch cyclists. Yes, there are also some people in NL who think that helmets for cyclists are a good idea.

Rather than reacting emotionally we have to look at the numbers to make sense of this. The overall risk to Dutch cyclists (it's on page two of the document) of a "head/brain injury" is 153 per billion kilometres ridden. That means that one such injury is one per 6.5 million kilometres ridden.

On average, every Dutch person makes a trip by bicycle 5.6 times per week. This works out as an average across the whole population of 2.5 km cycled every day. That's the highest figure for any population in the world. If we assume that people cycle every day of their lives to the age of 80, and that they cycle that 2.5 km every day of their life, they will ride a bike for a total of 73000 km during their lifetime. Divide it into 6.5 million and you find a figure that a typical Dutch cyclist can expect a "head/brain injury" once every 90 lifetimes.

Note that it doesn't say how serious the injuries have to be in order to be included. However, it does give total numbers of head/brain injuries per year as 550 + 1600 = 2150 which is more than ten times the total deaths of cyclists per year from all types of injuries. For the sake of making the maths easy, let's lazily (and very inaccurately) assume that every death when cycling is due to a head injury. We then find that the risk of death due to head or brain injury when cycling is actually around once per 900 lifetimes.

Also, note that the article points out that cycle helmets can only reduce the rate of deaths due to head injuries by 29%. So, if a helmet is worn by that typical Dutch cyclist, it will save his/her life every 3100 lifetimes or so.

Death occurs once in every lifetime. i.e. Other causes of death are more than 3100 times so significant as deaths due to cycling without a helmet and that applies even in this country where there is more cycling than in any other. It applies even if for the sake of simplifying the calculation we make the horribly inaccurate assumption that cyclists never die of any type of injury. This in a country where 93% of the population rides a bike at least once a week.

To summarize, deaths due to head injuries while cycling are not a major public health issue and should not be treated as such. Helmets are not the answer to cyclist deaths. Good infrastructure is what makes cycling safer.

A contrast with another cause of death:

A couple of days ago I saw some other statistics, about a much more common cause of death and injury. This covered the risk of car crashes to Britain's children. In this post is the alarming statistic that one in 27 children in Britain, more than one in every classroom, can be expected to be killed or injured in a road crash by the time they are 16.

Think about it. If the risk is similar in other age groups, then there is a chance of one in five that you will be injured or killed in a road crash during your lifetime. That's a risk due to motor vehicles which is many times greater than that faced by cyclists in the Netherlands not wearing a helmet.

Britain's roads are actually amongst the safest in the world, for drivers. However the risk of death or serious injury from road crashes elsewhere is higher in every other country than this one, where there are more cyclists than in any other country.

Previously I covered the efforts that car manufacturers have put in to make driving appear safe.

Also... 2.5 km per day may not sound much, but this is the highest average cycling per day per person figure for any country in the world. It's the average distance cycled for absolutely everyone, all age groups, through the entire year, averaged across an entire lifetime. By comparison, English speaking countries all hover around 0.1 km per day by bike per person (look it up if you don't believe me). In all places, keen cyclists of course cycle a lot more than the average. Long distance journeys by bike are also more common in the Netherlands than in any other country.

(and no, we don't sell helmets...)

Sunday 15 August 2010

Rütenbrock 2010

Yesterday there was a race in Rütenbrock in Germany. Rütenbrock isn't too far away, it's 50 km between here and there. Last year, I rode over there with Harry to take part in the event. This time, Judy and I rode together. It made for a very enjoyable day out.

The cycle paths between here and the race are (mostly) rather wonderful. This one, for instance, which goes on for many kilometres, during which you can pretty much ignore the few cars on the road alongside.

There were four Mangos in the race. Peter's Mango Sport RE, Harry's Mango Sport, Wilfred's Mango+ and my own yellow Mango classic.

It was great fun. The Rütenbrock circuit is quite unusual in that it twists and turns on roads through the village. The road is a bit rough in places, and the corners are very tight for a three wheeler, with speed bumps and posts to negotiate as well. It's quite common to end up on two wheels on some of the corners. This makes it fun. Also, there's a great atmosphere. The course goes through residential areas, and people sit in their gardens to watch and to cheer the contestants on. Fantastic.

Judy took many more photos during the race:

(also viewable here.)

Peter made a video of the one hour race (and has his own blog post):

Harry made a video too. I appear in this one myself at 2:11, and Harry comments about my giving the low-racers too easy a time:

Wilfred also blogged about the race and made videos.

I was right behind both Peter and Harry for the first few laps, but Peter got away quite quickly, and then Harry did too. In the end, Peter finished 10th, myself 16th, Harry 26th after getting a puncture in the last lap and Wilfred 28th. Full results can be found here.

Ymte won the race - he often does ! Daniel Fenn was perhaps best placed to beat him, but due to a mechanical problem he had to stop. It seems there was a bit too much weight shaving off a wheel hub...

After the race Judy and I rode back home again. Judy's computer recorded 111 km for the day's riding there and back (and once around the track to see what it was like), which is a new record for her in one day.

And for me, I'd done the two races as well so my computer said just over 160 km for the day. It's also ten months almost to the day since I got my own Mango and by the time we got home, the total recorded was just over 9100 km.

Judy rode her Sinner Spirit. You can see the different Mangos available here or read about the adventures of my own Mango over the last ten months here.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

The most expensive bikes in the world ?

Cycling in the UK is on a very small scale. Under 2% of journeys in the country as a whole are made by bike. In the capital, London, the figure is also around 2% of journeys by bike.

London's new cycle hire scheme has provided 6000 bikes across sites in Central London. It's been widely reported as something which will transform cycling in London.

But is this really likely ? Can these bikes ever become the "tipping point" needed to kickstart London cycling ?

And what's more, is it good value for money ?

Rather prematurely, the scheme has been reported in some places as an instant success based on each bike being used about once per day. Initially, the promoters of the scheme in London claimed that the bikes would each be used ten times per day, though this has never happened on any other public bike share scheme. If every one of the bikes was used ten times per day, between them they would have adequate capacity for just 0.3% of journeys in the city. If each is ridden just once per day per bike you're talking about 0.03% of journeys by bike share bike. And these numbers only really count if everyone who rides the bike share bikes wouldn't otherwise cycle. If existing cyclists use the bikes then that has a neutral effect on the modal share. Does this look like a transformation ?

A shortage of bikes was never the reason for the low cycling rate of London. In fact, it's estimated that there are over a million bicycle owners in London. The Bike Hire bikes have increased the number of bikes in London by less than 1%. The problem is not a lack of bikes, but that Londoners in the main don't cycle because conditions for cycling in London, as with the rest of the UK, are terrible when you compare them with Dutch cities. Londoners are scared to cycle, and it's quite obvious why. This problem cannot be resolved by making fractionally more bikes available. It can only be addressed by making conditions for cyclists better. Spending a bit more on London's "superhighways" for bikes might have helped, as unfortunately those have been rather underfunded (around 20 million pounds / €24M / $31M) and they have been built to a very low standard.

We've touched on money, in that the Superhighways didn't get enough of it, so how much has London spent on the bike hire scheme ? Well, it's surprising. So far, the scheme has cost 140 million pounds (€170M / $220M) to put in place. That's over 23000 pounds (€28000 / $37000) per bike. A huge figure ! Given the specification, and the quantities bought, it's quite generous to say that the bikes themselves have cost around 500 pounds. That leaves around 22500 pounds worth of "overhead" per bike (46 times the value of the bikes themselves). Some of this will be due to such things as the docking stations and IT required to make the scheme work. However, there no doubt also a lot spent on such things as publicity, consultants to advise about the scheme and people to write lots of press-releases about how wonderful it all is (the considerable press that the scheme has attracted is a result of these). If the scheme is to expand outside the currently limited area that it covers, the costs will grow considerably, and the overheads will continue along with them. Even Transport For London can't provide an estimate of the cost of future expansion.

Later figures show that the operating costs for the scheme amount to an astonishing 2500 pounds per bike per year.

I might feel differently if bike share schemes had a proven track record of success in altering the modal share - but they do not have a track record of success. As a result, I find it hard to see how this can be regarded as good value for money - especially as it has consumed such a lot of funds which could have been used to build decent infrastructure for cycling.

There are other problems yet to be addressed. In Paris, almost every bike was either stolen or vandalized within two years and had to be replaced. Is this more or less likely to be a concern in London ?

Why did London look the long distance across the Atlantic to a nation where very few journeys are made by bike (the bike hire system comes from Canada, where 2% of journeys are by bike, just like in London) for inspiration about how to improve the cycling rate ? Why not instead look the short distance across the North Sea to the most successful example of a cycling nation here in the Netherlands ?

How much money is that?
Somehow people don't seem to realise how ludicrous the amount of money spent on London's bike share. Let's work it out as a number of other bikes that could have been bought and simply given away for the same money:

At retail prices, not asking for any discount at all, London's £140 million could have bought and given away 250 Pashleys every day, for a year, plus an additional 160 Bromptons every day for a year plus an additional 100 Bakfietsen every day for a whole year.

In total that would make another 190000 bikes on London's streets over the year of the giveaway. Nice ones, too, from good manufacturers. We're not skimping on quality with our hypothetical give-away.

That might sound like an impressive number, but it's less than a fifth of the number which people in London already own and don't use because they are scared to cycle on the streets. That's why it's the roads which need to be changed not the supply of bicycles increased.

This is one of the inexpensive bikes
referred to on the left. It has all
the essential features of a reliable
everyday bicycle
But those are really nice bikes. What about if we economise a little ? At the time of writing in the Netherlands, the very cheapest traditional bikes with mudguards and chainguard, of lower quality but similar in appearance to the Pashley in the photo above cost about €110 retail. That's about £70. The wholesale price is presumably somewhat lower, but if London had spent its £140M on these bikes at retail price it could have bought no fewer than 2 million bicycles to give away.

The bike shops wouldn't like the city to give them away, but the city could have worked with local bicycle shops, giving away vouchers for these bikes, perhaps also vouchers for servicing after six months or a year. It would surely have been better for London to support local businesses than a multinational from Canada.

It's fair to ask whether the free bicycles would find themselves unused in a shed, but each only has to be ridden an average of twice to beat the value for money of the bike share system in terms of rides per pound.

Central London is an ill-defined area with a population of around 1.5 million people, which rises considerably in daytime due to incoming workers. The total population for the city is around 8 million. If you're feeling charitable you can multiple the 0.3% maximum effect of London's bikes by 4 to get a little over 1% in just a part of the city. But this really is extremely optimistic. You have to believe that all the bikes work, that all are used ten times per day even though that's not happened yet in any bike share scheme (at a later date we found out that they were used only a quarter so often), and that all the users are people who wouldn't otherwise ride their own bikes.

If you need parts for a traditionally built bicycle then you're in luck. If you need parts for an unusual bicycle or to convert a less practical machine to be better for everyday use I can probably also help you. If you're looking for parts for an e-bike I certainly will help you if I can, but it may not be possible to find what you need. Please do ask, though.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

European Junior Cycling Tour 2010

Today, Judy got a few nice photos of the European Junior Cycling Tour which is in Assen this week. This annual event in the city is the biggest youth cycle racing event in Europe. These photos show racing on the main ring road around Assen.

The competitors are of all age groups from 6 years upwards and over 700 competitors have arrived from Norway, Denmark, Germany, Lituania, Finland, Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles, United Kingdom, USA and Switzerland

This poor chap is being followed closely by the broom wagon.

The local TV news also caught some of the action:

Fun over the weekend with Peter and Nipper

We had a busy weekend again. On Saturday, some of us joined in the time trial at Nijeveen about 40 km south of here. Peter and I rode down there together to take part.

Peter made a video of his ride in the time trial:

My ride looked similar, but the scenery didn't go by quite so quickly... I have an excuse in that the tyres I've currently got fitted are terribly slippery in the wet, and it rained during the event. However, everyone who'd done this time trial before seemed to be slower this year than last - except for Peter who rode two minutes faster than last year with his new Mango. H@rry was the fastest of the three Mangoteers on this occasion.

Peter has the first of a new version of the Mango - the Mango Sport Red Edition. While the Mango Sport remains the lightest weight Mango, the Red Edition is a luxury version of the light weight version. The weight is a little higher than the more stripped down Mango, but it's still a very light weight velomobile and comes with everything built in - even including extra features such as USB outlets on the dashboard to run your MP3 player. There is more about the Red Edition including links to photos here.

While Saturday was all about riding quickly, Sunday was completely different. Judy and I met cycling holiday customers for a coffee in the morning, and in the evening we took Nipper (of the Bicycle and Ukulele blog and Taunton Tweed Cycle Chic) away from where he was staying with his wife and children to ride around for a bit and to visit a local cafe.

Nipper is a member of the Night Owls band from Taunton in the the South West of the UK. That's quite close to Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge, where I lived for many years. He knows a lot about the sort of problems that cyclists have in the area.

Without his band, Nipper played and sang on his own at the cafe, using a compact ukelele which fitted easily into his Brompton's bag. He was terrific, and the local crowd showed their appreciation with much applause and free beer !

Sadly I didn't have a camera with me which could record sound, but together, the band sound like this:

Certainly a gezellig weekend...

The Night Owls are available for weddings, functions and gigs.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Monday 2 August 2010

Comparisons of British vs. Dutch streets

One of the most popular excuses for why cycling infrastructure on the Dutch model is not built in other countries is that of space. Many people honestly believe that their city, be it London, Los Angeles, Sydney, Cambridge or wherever, has streets which are narrower than usual and can't provide cyclists with the necessary space.

An anonymous reader recently sent me a group of "photos" taken from Google Maps Streetview which illustrate similar streets in the UK and in the Netherlands. The streets are so similar they could almost be before and after photos, and in fact if they were all from the Netherlands that is what they would be.

In each case, any cycling provision provided in the British example is narrow, while that provided on a similar street in the Netherlands provides a far better cycling experience.

The difference in subjective safety is obvious. And of course this is why Dutch people feel confident to cycle so much more than people of other countries.

I'm sometimes asked why I concentrate on what has been done in the Netherlands. The answer is simple: proven results.

In how many countries are more than a quarter of all journeys made by bike ? Just one: The Netherlands. In how many are more than a 20% made by bike ? Still just one. More than 15% ? Denmark joins the Netherlands. More than 10% ? Finland - with Sweden and Germany just scraping in. More than 5% ? Belgium, Switzerland and Austria.

What the Dutch have done is quite amazing. They've been wildly successful even by comparison with second place, and second place is taken by a country with similar, though less well funded, policies. There is no example of a successful alternative route to mass cycling.

Click through for the full set of ten comparisons, shown a bit larger than these two sets of photos. Or take a look at some of the other excuses that people sometimes make for why their country has a low cycling rate.

For another direct comparison of British vs. Dutch policies, take a look at what passes as a London Superhighway vs. the Dutch equivalent.

This post is tagged with "beforeandafter" because while they're not actually "before" and "after" photos, they could so easily be so, if only the will to make these changes existed in Britain.