Friday 24 December 2010

December photos

A few photos. Some from today, some from a couple of days ago...

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday 19 December 2010

A Sunday ride through a snowy landscape

A bunch of us met for a huneliggers ride through the countryside again today. Wonderful weather for it.

It was -7 C this morning, and had "warmed up" to -6 C by the time the ride itself started. That's still T-shirt weather with a velomobile, so of course I rode in my Mango, but whenever you get out you need to put a coat on sharpish. And of course you also need to wear a good warm hat and scarf while riding. But not gloves.

The countryside just looks so fantastically wonderful on a day like this. That is the reward for going out on a cold, but bright, day like this.

The sun was relatively strong for a winter day, and there was no wind to speak of, so it was really rather pleasant. Good company is vitally important too, of course, and that's the reason to meet up with a bunch of people and ride together. Today, Peter, Robert and Harry were already at the start point. Harry set off towards home quite early as he had only come for the Marathon Winter studded tyres which I had brought with me. Peter and Robert both also live in Assen, so we rode back together through the countryside.

The cycle paths locally have not been swept quite so well this year as last. The weather has been difficult, thawing and re-freezing repeatedly. However, the "superhighway" stretch between Assen and Vries was quite good. I had few problems yesterday cycling within the city.

Here's the video of today's ride:

The game that is being played is called Klootschieten.

In a recent post, I explained what a huneligger is.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Winter's here...

Last weekend we had a big thaw, and we took the opportunity to go and collect a Christmas tree from one of the local growers. I rode the Xtracycle again, as it's good for moving long things.

On the way back we saw the amusing sight of a car driver trying to use a bus road but coming up against an obstacle which has featured before on this blog. You can see in these photos why the driver changed her mind and turned around:

After the mild weekend, the cold weather returned, and there was snow and ice for the rest of the week. My children cycled to school on Wednesday morning, just like every other morning. It was -2 C, and there was snow on the ground but there was no suggestion of travelling any other way:

Orders have continued to come in to the Dutch Bike Bits shop and as ever the customers parcels have made their way to the post office by bike.

In this case I had seven parcels in all, for customers in Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, the USA and one staying within the Netherlands. Four of the customers had ordered Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tyres in the 20" size (which we have in stock now), and those are the parcels stacked on the back of my bike.

It was very pleasant riding to the post office in the freshly fallen snow, but on the way back it turned into a blizzard, and I saw these two people and one umbrella on a bike going in the opposite direction to a snow-plow on the same cycle path. I guess they sorted it out before they collided:

I also did a day's work in Groningen yesterday, setting off at 7 in the morning when it was -5 C (23 F) and returning at about about -2 C. As ever, the 60 km round trip went without any drama, I went a little slower than usual and took care on the corners so it took an hour and ten minutes in each direction. Though fresh ice had fallen/formed on some of them afterwards, the cycle paths had all been swept except for the same five metre long portion in the middle which was missed last year (the centre photo here):

It's -7 C this morning. My eldest daughter is travelling today to see grandparents in the UK before Christmas. Some of the Dutch trains are working on half hour services instead of quarter hour services at the moment, and there might be some delays, but it seems they're all running. I don't think they'll have any problem with getting to the ferry terminal, not on the ferry, but I'm a bit concerned about the trains in Britain. As ever there are reports of "Travel Chaos" despite weather which other countries seem to be able to cope with, and indeed which Britain also used to be able to cope with:

However, some problems have been caused here too, as you can see from this news report from here in Assen:

The other major thing this week was the meeting about the Netherlands Cycling Embassy, which was the subject of another blog post.

Monday 13 December 2010

Assen railway station bike shop: Longer opening hours, more guarded cycle parking spaces

A small story in the local newspaper. Longer opening hours at the bike shop at Assen's railway station. The shop was previously open from before the first train in the morning until after the last train in the evening. Now the opening times each day will be from 5 in the morning until 2 the next morning, easily covering the times for trains. At any time, the shop will be able to offer bike sales, repairs, rentals (for normal rental bikes and also OV Fiets bike share bikes.

The longer shop hours also mean better availability for the approximately one thousand secure indoor cycle parking spaces (this has quietly increased from 750 places last year), though of course the 1550 outdoor spaces can be accessed at any time.

Such long opening hours are quite exceptional in the Netherlands. It is rare here for shops to open late at night, and virtually all shops are shut on Sundays and on Monday mornings. As such, this bike shop will be one of very few shops of any kind which are open at such hours. Outside these hours, there is still the vending machine.

View of the indoor cycle parking from a platform at night-time.

Outdoor parking on the Western side of the line.

Outdoor parking on the Eestern side of the line.

Assen's population is 65000. The railway station has parking for 2550 bicycles. That's one space for every 25 of the population. You can work out a comparable ratio for your own town. There are other posts about railway station cycle parking.

Update 2013
New plans for the railway station will expand the size to 3500 bikes to keep up with increased usage. Another blog post will include details in the future.

Assen is not a university town. This is a fairly typical amount of railway station cycle parking for a normal Dutch town without hoards of students to boost cycling numbers. You find such numbers even in villages, at railways stations all across the country.

Monday 6 December 2010

Groningen Railway Station cycle parking revisited again

It's sometimes difficult to keep up with progress on cycle parking. I've covered the parking at Groningen's main railway station twice before: First I wrote about the cycle park built in 2006 for 4150 bikes, and then I wrote about how this cycle park had been expanded to accommodate an additional thousand bikes, bringing the total to around 10000.

Today it's the turn of the "Fietsflat" in Groningen, an additional one thousand bicycle cycle parking facility which has been built at the station to cater for the ever growing demand.

So here it is. An additional two storey cycle park.

This is not entirely a new structure. Actually, a slightly smaller, two storey cycle park was erected in this location as a temporary structure while the main cycle park was being built. However, by the time the big new cycle park was open and in use, the usage had grown such that the temporary park was also full. That's the reason why the Fietsflat came into being as a permanent structure. Unfortunately, this is often full too...

In the video you see the main "fietsbalkon", now expanded to (officially) 5150 spaces, and also the Fietsflat. You don't see the other smaller parking areas around the station, nor the indoor guarded cycle park which accommodate the rest of the bikes..
Explanatory captions on this video are only visible if you view on a computer and not on a mobile device.

Groningen's population is 188000. The main railway station has parking for around 10000 bicycles. That's one space for every 19 of the population. You can work out a comparable ratio for your own town. There are other posts about railway station cycle parking. Until 2015, cycle-parking capacity at this railway station is to be expanded at a rate of 500 bicycles per year.

Friday 3 December 2010

Sixteen new long distance cycle routes

It's just been announced that 16 new long distance inter-city cycle routes will be built across the country with central government support of 21 million euros and local council support making up the rest of the 80 million euro combined cost of the schemes.

The new routes are targeting places where presently there are traffic jams on the roads, the intention is to convince drivers to cycle. Not only commuters, but also employers are interested. Cyclists are less likely to be ill, need no car parking space, have more reliable working hours due to not getting stuck in traffic jams, and also improve the environment.

These routes are particularly planned to support existing busy commuting routes of up to 15 km in each direction as this is seen as a distance which you can reasonably expect people to ride.

The existing cycle paths will be upgraded to have better surfaces, better signs and better lighting. Also there will be improvements to bridges and tunnels.

A faster cycling route improves how well cycling competes with driving. The potential is large because more than half of all commutes in the Netherlands are over a distance of under 15 km.

In the Netherlands, 35% of all journeys under 7.5 km are already by bicycle. Also, 15% of journeys between 7.5 km and 15 km take place by bike. For all distances over 15 km, the numbers drop to just 3% of journeys. However, even for these longer distances that's still a larger percentage by bike than people make even of short journeys in many other countries.

See more articles about funding. It's not entirely clear how much of the money here is new, and how much comes from the existing pot. Also see more articles about the Netherlands' growing network of intercity superhighways for bicycles.

Thanks to both my colleague Harry, and also intercityfietser who both alerted me to this. It's infrastructure on a country sized scale, not merely a city sized scale. But in the usual Dutch way it's being talked about rather modestly, and has not been the subject of press releases sent all around the world...

The statistics for cycling modal share over different distances came from "Cycling In The Netherlands", one of the documents linked from our articles page.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Oh London...

There's a new report out describing the impact of the London "Superhighways" and Bike Hire schemes on transport in the city. This report comes from the London Assembly Transport Committee. It can't get more official than that.

Over the last couple of years, both these schemes in London have been accompanied by the most amazing amount of hype. Having seen what was proposed I was skeptical from the beginning about both the superhighways and the bike share scheme.

These projects were so wrong-headed that they could never achieve what the promoters said they could achieve. Some people criticised me for saying this. However, if you read the report yourself you can see how well it has all worked.

A few highlights:

Bike Share

The original wild estimates of 10 uses per cycle-hire bike per day (which I pointed out long ago were rather unlikely) have of course not been met. Actually each bike is used on average about three times per day.

In planning, they assumed a "5% shift from car to bike", defined not as a proportion of the modal share currently by car (the scheme could never get anywhere near that) but with rather an odd usage whereby they were talking about 5% of the trips on the bikes being by people who would otherwise have used a car. This would have worked out as a mere 3000 trips per day converted from car to hire bike. However, given the much lower actual usage of the bikes and that the conversion ratio from drivers is actually "less than 1%", the number of trips being made by bike instead of by car is actually under 150 per day. Even 3000 is trivial in the context of a city of eight million people.

TFL originally predicted that the largest shift would be from walking (34%), the second largest from buses (32%) and with 20% of users using the bikes as alternative to the tube. The tube figures are born out in reality (though note this is with a much lower level of usage in total, so it's nowhere near the estimated not the same absolute number) but only 8% of users would otherwise take the bus and 7% would otherwise walk. 1% are the afore-mentioned car users. Almost half of all users would otherwise use their own bikes. 84% of registered users of the scheme own their own bike.

Now if we take that 20% of riders who would otherwise take the tube, how much of an effect of "relieving capacity" might this have ? 20% of users amounts to about 3500 trips per day displaced from the tube to the bikes. However, London Underground boasts of around 1.2 billion trips per year. Do the maths and you find that the Boris Bikes have displaced just 0.1% of tube traffic.

Thus far, the city seems unsure how much sponsorship money they will get from Barclays. I'm not the only one who doesn't know what's going on with this - even the committee describes the funding as "opaque". The corporate advertising is splashed all over everything already, but how much Barclays will actually pay is still unknown.

The bike hire scheme has previously been reported as already being "self funding". This never stood up to any inspection, but now we've been given actual numbers to look at. In reality it doesn't seem to come close to doing this.

Of course, the same can also be said of almost any large government infrastructure scheme, so that's not a criticism in itself. However, it's also unclear as to why they say that the bike hire should pay for itself ? This is never a consideration when building roads.

I'll leave it to others to criticise the slow roll-out of the scheme and problems which have occurred with registration and use. Some problems are to be expected, and whether this is better or worse than any other big project of the British government is open to debate.

Currently the plan is to eventually have 6000 bikes and 400 docking sites, compared with the scheme in Paris which currently has 24000 bikes and 1750 sites. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is quoted as saying that he wanted to overtake it, and that a London hire bike was a Rolls Royce compared to the Parisian "deux chevaux" [Citroen 2CV]. Those are words, not actions.


"60 per cent of respondents did not feel safer using the cycle superhighways and two-thirds did not feel they were respected by other road users." - hardly surprising given what they look like.

Users' comments:
  • “The superhighways are not wide enough, stop abruptly at junctions and are extremely badly positioned on roads.”
  • “I found the experience rather scary being sent from one side of the road to the other. I will not be doing it again.”
  • “Just when you need them [cycle superhighways] - at major junctions, roundabouts and so on – they vanish. A novice cyclist, persuaded to venture out by the superhighways, is left high and dry just when they need most help.”
"The London Boroughs Cycling Officers’ Group has highlighted the importance of prioritising cyclists at junctions and getting rid of car parking over the cycle superhighways. Gina Harkell, the Vice-Chair of the Group, suggested it would be really nice if one of the cycle superhighways was “a truly dedicated route for cyclists such as those found in Holland, Germany and Denmark.”"

"Sustrans has highlighted that the greatest barrier to Londoners cycling, or cycling
more, is fear of traffic yet the cycle superhighways generally follow busy arterial roads and provide no or minimal segregation from traffic."

"All 12 cycle superhighways will be installed, as planned, by 2015." - does it really have to take this long ?

One user said: “I cycle to work along the Barclays cycle superhighway to work in the Barclays building in Canary Wharf where there is not enough cycle parking! Oh, the irony.”

The conclusion of their report is overall quite remarkably positive given what they've reported on.

Everyone would of course like to see cycling increase in London and around the rest of the UK, but even with the positive spin they conclude, as I do, that not nearly enough is being done to encourage people who don't cycle to want to cycle.

To achieve the target now set by the Mayor, the bike hire scheme needs to be used for 40000 trips per day and the superhighways need to be used for 120000 trips per day. London is a city of 8 million people. At a rate of 2.5 trips per day (this is fairly average worldwide) that means that Londoners currently make around 20 million trips per day. If the targets are met, and 160000 trips per day are converted into bike trips by the new schemes then they will have succeeded in a less than 1% modal share shift. However, that's not actually on the cards at all. Currently, only a fifth of hire bike users didn't already cycle in London. That makes for around extra 3000 trips per day. The survey also shows that the "superhighways" currently are used by 5000 people per day, of which only 1% are new cyclists. That's 50 people. If we generously assume they do all of their 2.5 trips per day, every day, by bike they add just 125 trips. Take these numbers and divide them into London's total number of trips by all modes and you find that the massive expenditure on hire bikes and superhighways has resulted in a modal shift of just 0.01%.

London needs a lot more than that.

The problem remains what it always was. A lack of subjective safety. If you want Dutch levels of cycling in London, you need people to feel as happy cycling in London as they do in the Netherlands. These schemes have come nowhere near providing this.

So far, London's initiatives have proven to be merely a very expensive demonstration showing what not to do if you want mass cycling.

Update the next day
There's some more analysis of numbers here

And to think that it's not that long ago that Dutch newspapers were getting worried that the Netherlands would lose its number one spot for cycling due to initiatives like this. They also believed the hype, that somehow this country would be overtaken. Thanks to Freewheeler for putting me on to this.