Monday 29 November 2010

Countdown timers on cycle traffic lights

There are now a variety of different types of countdown timer used on cycle path traffic lights in the Netherlands. This is one example from Assen. Update: In 2016 this junction was transformed in a way which made it far less convenient and more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

And another from Groningen. They're not limited to just these two examples, nor to these two cities, but are appearing all over the country as crossings are upgraded.

It's very useful to have an indication like this of when the lights will turn green. You know to regulate your speed as you approach the traffic light, so can ride more efficiently.

The bridge in Assen was featured on the blog before, when I used the example of the one-way streets into which it leads. The example in Groningen heads towards the main railway station, which has also been covered before.

Both of these sets of traffic lights also illustrate two other very important things:
  • Traffic light cycle times for cyclists are short. This leads to a low average delay for cyclists at these points, often lower than the average delay for drivers. This increases the competitive advantage of bikes over cars.
  • Permeability for cyclists. In both cases in these videos, we're crossing in a direction where motorists can't also drive, meaning that cyclists get more direct routes. Again, a competitive advantage for bikes over cars.

Not the same as London and New York
Please note that these timers are installed for exactly the opposite reason to those recently installed in London, where similar technology has been used to make pedestrians walk faster in order to reduce delays to drivers, a rather unpleasant idea which Britain imported from the USA. The Dutch use this technology to help cyclists and pedestrians, not to hinder them. It's another good idea seemingly "lost in translation".

There are several other posts showing how traffic lights in the Netherlands don't unduly hinder cyclists.

Sunday 28 November 2010

What is a huneligger ?

Quite a few times now I've posted about rides with the Huneliggers, but I think some people are a little confused about what a "huneligger" is. I've seen some refer to the velomobiles that many of us ride as "huneliggers".

Actually, the name comes from Hunebed and ligfiets. Huneliggers is the "Drents Gronings toerligfiets club". i.e. A group of people who like riding recumbent bikes here in Drenthe and Groningen. Ligfiets is the Dutch word for a recumbent bike. The hunebedden deserve a little more explanation:

One of the hunebedden is shown in the photo above. The word literally means "giant's beds", but actually these rock formations are ancient stone tombs. There are 54 of these in the Netherlands, 52 in the province of Drenthe and 2 in Groningen.

The information board explains how the Hunebedden were built around 5000 years ago by the "Trechterbekervolk" (in English, Funnelbeaker people - both languages name ancient people for the artifacts that they left behind). These structures were built to accommodate the dead and were originally covered in soil, which has eroded over time. The stones weigh from 2000 to 20000 kg and were arranged by tens of people working together with levers, sleds, rollers and ropes.

Today I rode my Mango velomobile to visit one of the hunebedden:

I have two recumbents. My velomobile is a Sinner Mango, and I also have a Pashley PDQ.

Many thanks to Théan Slabbert for sending me his music to use. It was -5 C as I set off today, which makes it very much Mango weather. Inside the Mango I was warm with just a T-shirt and leggings and no gloves, but to keep my head and neck warm I had a warm hat and a scarf knitted by my Mum. We organise tours in the area which include visits to the hunebedden.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Reality vs. Myth: The "dangers" of Dutch cycle paths

"Vehicular Cycling" is a survival technique where cyclists are a small minority without proper infrastructure. It's widely practised in the UK and USA. Indeed, when I lived in the UK, I also cycled according to such principles. In its own context, in a country with a minority cycling culture and no real government support to enhance infrastructure so that cycling can grow to its full potential, it makes sense.

However, if cycling is to become "normalized" - i.e. something that the majority of the population sees as a part of their life, which parents encourage their children to do, and spouses encourage their partners to do, then it needs something different. All three types of safety become important. Dutch cyclists are the safest in the world due to infrastructure which keeps them apart from what is the greatest danger to any road user: motor vehicles. They also feel the safest due to street designs which emphasize both social and subjective safety, and this leads to a very high degree of participation.

Dutch cyclists are not only the safest in the world, but also the Dutch cycle more than people of any other nation. Almost the whole population (93%) rides a bike at least once a week. Every type of person cycles. During weekdays, more than a million journeys are made by bike every hour. The infrastructure is the reason why.

Unfortunately, some cyclists from minority cycling countries still don't understand this, and some campaign aggressively against the very infrastructure which could help to bring a higher cycling rate due to improvements in subjective safety. This video from Mark Wagenbuur shows some of the commonly repeated mantras of the more aggressive anti-cyclepath "vehicular cyclists" and demonstrates how they are misleading and wrong, at least when applied to properly designed infrastructure as shown in the video, and as is the norm in the Netherlands.

Well designed cycle paths, and streets designed to prioritize cycling over driving, increase both the safety and speed of cyclists.

Some people may question whether cycle paths as in the Netherlands are necessary to achieve mass cycling. My answer to this is very simple: There are no counter-examples. Mass cycling has not been achieved anywhere in the modern world without cycle paths. The more money spent on cycling, the better the result. Luckily, even the best infrastructure in the world isn't actually that expensive, and cycling is something that any country can afford to do properly.

Monday 22 November 2010

Direct cycle routes in old and new towns

Another excellent video from Mark Wagenbuur, illustrating how direct cycle routes can be accommodated in both new and old towns. Note how in some cases nothing more than bollards are required to segregate cyclists from motorists.

I've several more posts showing how cycle routes can be planned to be faster and more direct than the roads in the Netherlands. Some of the better examples are from Assen, Groningen and Houten. Making cycle routes shorter makes cycling a lot more attractive, and is a good part of the reason why the Dutch cycle more than people of any other nation.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Testing and recording bicycle bells

In most countries of the world it's a legal requirement to have a method of warning people that you are approaching on a bike. In some countries, such as the UK, the human voice is considered to be adequate. In other countries, such as the Netherlands, a bell is a legal requirement on a bicycle.

I've got a bunch of bicycle bells here at the moment as we've wanted for some time to have these available in the webshop, and as with other things in the shop, I've specifically bought in those that we like. However, rather than just listing the bells, I decided we should do this well. Let's test them to find out how loud they are, and also have sound samples so that people can hear what the bells sound like. And here are the results, ranked in order of how loud they are from one metre away, and with recordings of each bell. Click on their pictures if you'd like to buy them:
Widek 80 mm Ding Dong bell (€9.88)
106 dBA
"Ping" bell (€2.50)
100 dBA
Gazelle handlebar grip bell (€25 for pair of grips with bell)
98 dBA
Spanninga "Turning" bell (€3.09)
96 dBA
Classic Brass bell (€5.83)
96 dBA

If you have space for it on your handlebars, the Ding Dong bell gives the most sound. Note that there are many copies available of this bell, often painted in different colours, and all that I've heard sound dull in comparison. It's rather subjective, but to me it also gives by far the best sound of the bells. Just listen to that sustain. The Ping bell, which is smallest and weighs just 20 g, is best for those with limited handlebar space or who are concerned about weight, but while the sound is loud, it has little sustain so is not really as effective as a traditional bell. The Classic Brass bell has a remarkably pleasant tone due to the brass, and 96 dBa is still very loud.

And for the geeks amongst us, this is how it was done.

I used my old Radioshack sound-level meter to find out how loud the bells were. Each bell was held one metre from the SPL meter. These tests were all done in the same way, so they are directly comparable with one another. However, because this was done indoors and with reflective surfaces (the wall and table) nearby, you would get different figures if you measured out in the open. Each bell was rung a few times in succession, as you might if you thought you were about to collide with someone. I think it's reasonably representative of what you might do if you were really trying to get someone's attention. With a single ring, the slow rise-time of the analogue meter missed the peaks. As a result, this helped the ping bell result more than the others. A single "ping" doesn't really sound louder than some of the quieter bells. The loudest bell subjectively with a single ring was definitely the ding dong bell.

In any case, the peaks were quite a lot louder than the figures here. By the end of the test, it was not only the bells, but also my ears that were ringing.

These and other practical components for
bicycles are available from our web shop
A Sony WMD6C "pro" walkman was used to make the recordings. I'm not a big fan of Sony, but this was always a splendid product. I found the quietest room in the house, and used a long microphone lead so that I could be at the opposite end of the room from the recorder. I did in in this way for two reasons. First because I wanted to get away from the fan noise of the computer - the walkman is much quieter and easily portable - and secondly because I liked the idea of playing with the walkman again. It's a great piece of equipment which I now rarely use. Yes, an analogue recording on a cassette, but not any old cassette deck. The recordings give a pretty good idea of the sound of each bell, though reproducing the sound at a level anything like so loud as in real life is actually quite difficult to do.

I'm not going to pretend I don't care about technical issues, around cycling or anything else. I don't think it's cool not to know stuff. I'm proud to be a geek...

This blog post can also be read on the DutchBikeBits,com blog.

Monday 15 November 2010

A proper obstruction

Dutch cycle paths are not completely perfect. Nor are the roads. There are over 29000 km of separate cycle paths in this country and 120000 km of roads. It would be a miracle if all of it was perfect in every detail all the time.

Mostly the problems are quite minor, and the result of older provision not having been updated, or surfaces being a bit past their best. However, very occasionally you find something which is simply bad design.

On a recent ride to visit a friend in Deventer, I came across this example. It was not on the main route, and I shouldn't have been here. I only found it after making a wrong turn into a housing estate. As you can see, I had to get out of the Mango and pick up the back end to turn through this tight corner between unnecessary barriers which had been put in the way.

I suspect this also causes problems for people who have child trailers, bakfietsen, or any other more unusual bikes.

Nowhere that you have to get off your bike and lift it can be classed as good quality infrastructure. It's precisely the sort of nonsense that is so readily and commonly criticised in the UK. Indeed, I used to criticise it myself. And there's a Dutch website which keeps a log.

However, the big difference is in the frequency with which you find such things. This is only the second such obstacle that I've found in the three years that I've lived in the Netherlands, and I had to travel 60 km and accidentally take a wrong turn through a narrow alley to find it. In Cambridge, I could find any number of such things within a very short distance from home. So many, in fact, that I stopped bothering to take photos and update the website on which I put them.

Grotere kaart weergeven

The other horrible barrier that I found is here. It's worth pointing out that the only reason I found this obstruction in Raalte is because I was seduced into going too far along a very nice cyclepath in the town. It was when I decided to change direction that I found this short path and its barrier. Raalte has plenty of other good cyclepaths which make the efficient network needed to support a high cycling rate.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Non-stop relaxed cycling in Utrecht

Another of Mark Wagenbuur's videos. He says: A bicycle friendly junction in the historic city center of Utrecht in the Netherlands. A main hub for cyclists going to the city shopping center and back to its suburbs. It is actually a bridge with a junction on either side. Cars are discouraged to use this bridge. For motorized traffic almost all the streets are cul-de-sac streets. The result is a friendly junction with large numbers of cyclists that weave in a very relaxed way. Note that hardly anyone ever stops. The cycling really is non-stop.

Mistakes are made every now and then (there is even a near collision between a car and a child on a bike in the video) but mostly all traffic flows very well.

And now watch this video explaining about the junction:

Mark continues: A motorway was planned on this very spot in the 1950s and 60s. When building for that road began, there were increasing protests against it and all the demolitions that went with it. The opposition became so strong, that in the 1970s the works were stopped and the road was never finished. Building was stopped just before this area was reached. That is why the bridge stayed as it was.

Since then motorized traffic was diverted and it has decreased so much that even this 1930s bridge became too wide. Half of the bridge is now side walk. The other half is mainly used by bicycles. Cars driving here really have to be in the area.

The unfinished city ring road never really served a purpose. It took the city 30 years to realize that it was best to reverse the situation. After bringing the water back to a place where the road was never built (there the old city moat had been a parking lot for 30 years) it was clear to everybody that this was really what should be done. It took yet another 10 years for the works to start to bring back all the water. Soon the 1970s inner city ring road that should never have been built in the first place will be completely removed.

It could so easily have worked out completely differently...

This type of road often confuses outsiders. It looks initially like any road anywhere else in the world - "shared" equally by drivers and cyclists. Sometimes people who ought to know better but have actually missed the point entirely feel that they have a need to point out that "there are also lots of places when cyclists have to mix it with other traffic" in the Netherlands. However, that is to completely miss the point. Actually, cyclists are nearly 100% segregated from drivers in the Netherlands.

Due to the way that planning of roads works here, this "mixing it" is not on an equal footing at all. Cycle routes are unravelled from driving routes. The second video shows an example. This is is a through road for cyclists, but not a through road for drivers. In fact, drivers are strongly discouraged from using this road, and that's the reason why there are so few in the video. It's not an isolated case, but the norm for most such areas in most cities in this country. Similar results are achieved across the country by using one way systems and bicycle roads.

Cyclists are segregated from the majority of motorists even on roads like this where there are no cycle paths. That is why the majority of cycling happens without interaction with drivers, even though there are 130000 km of road in this country and "only" 35000 km of cycle path. That is how subjective and actual safety is maintained even when the road appears to be open to cars.

I should point out that the priority at a junction like this in the Netherlands works such that everyone, whether driving or cycling, should give way to anyone else, whatever mode of transport they are using, who comes from their right. The speed limit is 30 km/h. And yes, I tried responding directly on Carlton's blog to point out that he'd got the wrong end of the stick, but my reply did not appear there. Explaining such things is a part of what we have tried to do on our study tours.

Monday 8 November 2010

Preparing for snow

I know it's actually only Autumn at the moment, and we've barely had any frost yet, let alone a single flake of snow, but preparations for the snow and ice in winter have begun.

The video shows what has been happening in Emmen. They've been trying all the equipment out to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises when winter arrives.

As a reminder of what winter is like, and how well these preparations work, take a look at the posts from last winter.

Emmen is the largest city in Drenthe. It's got a larger population than Assen, the capital of the province, where we live.

Oh, and we've got studded tyres if you want them...

Friday 5 November 2010

Amsterdam video

A nice promotional video from Amsterdam. You'll see a good cross-section of cyclists. It could, of course, be anywhere in the Netherlands.

I first saw this video a while ago, but didn't get around to putting it on the blog. Judy saw it (again) today and said she liked it - good enough reason to put it here in case any of you had not seen it before.

Monday 1 November 2010

The worst cycle path in Drenthe

Our local paper, the Dagblad van het Noorden recently listed the 12 worst cycle paths in the province of Drenthe (we live in Assen, the capital of Drenthe).

The winner was a recreational cycle path near where we live. While most cycle paths in the Netherlands are wide, smooth and a pleasure to ride on, this one is narrow, not properly surfaced and a bit bumpy. However, it's recreational ! No-one forces you to cycle along it.

Actually, I quite like it. I've ridden along there a few times, and it's a nice change from the normal "perfect" bike paths. It's very much a recreational path.

The winners of this prize, the Natuurmonumenten organisation, are somewhat displeased, as they see it as an old cart track which they made accessible, and which the ANWB then made a part of the local fietsknooppuntennetwork of recreational routes. This caused it to be used more often than it used to be due to signs and maps telling people to use it for recreational trips.

Anyway, here's a short film, which we made back in March when we rode along this path:

See more about normal standards for cycle paths.

Update 2012 - work to improve the surface has made a considerable difference

Thanks to Frits for sending the article - I missed this copy of the paper. The newspaper title reads "Old people fall here in bunches". No doubt a bit of an exaggeration, but it reflects the fact that in this area it's quite normal to come across bunches of old people out in the countryside enjoying riding their bikes. "The worst cycle path in Drenthe" is included on one of our cycling holiday routes :-)