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.


  1. In Britain cyclists are obliged to use 'A' roads if they want to travel longer distances in the most direct way possible. Once you get outside towns and cities it's striking how few cyclists you see. On A roads like the A3, the A11 and the A12 you can drive the entire length and never see a single cyclist, which is hardly surprising as traffic volumes are very high and speeds are often also very high.

  2. The comments on various news sites were rather interesting. Most of those who took the trouble of writing in said the money should be spent elsewhere, meaning roads for cars, as nobody in his right mind would use a bicycle for such distances - remember that all of them have at least one bike at home for short trips. Others said these superhighways would attract even more of the lycra crowd, the semi-racers who are already such a pest on regular bike paths. And a minority said it was good to see that at last we were to follow the example of more enlightened countries like Denmark ...

  3. Frits: As the article points out, plenty of people actually do already use bicycles for such distances.

    I've noticed before that there is a remarkable degree to which Dutch commentators believe what more publicity conscious overseas cycle promoters say they've done. Adding to a national network of routes, the first of which dates back to 2003 is not really an instance of "following the example" of a place which is now putting in faster cycle paths within one city.

  4. David - What I meant to point out is that there was a remarkably large number of people who thought this a bad idea. Now I do know that the nay-sayers are always more prone to expressing their views than the aye-sayers, but the Dutch are reputedly staunch bike users. They also apparently take their bicycle infrastructure so much for granted that they don't see it anymore. There was one commenter on the news that Copenhagen was to get a superhighway along Norrebrogade, who wrote "why can't we have a road like that in Holland?". Blind, I would say.

  5. Frits: I think you're absolutely right. Many people take it completely for granted, not realising that what they have is actually quite exceptional.

  6. In this particular topic (long distance commuting) i would be careful attacking the lycras - i know a few people here who sometimes commute 50+ km one way and they do use cycle gear and racing bikes etc - because frankly at this distance it makes a difference.

    These guys can still cycle in normal clothes for shorter distances, of course.

  7. Very nice. Our very own Mr Hammond has just annouced £600 million for infrastructure, much of which is for motorways. He claims that £1 spent brings £6 in benefits, so that trumps us cyclists!
    I suspect that the benefits are to Shell and Esso rather than the NHS.

    Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

  8. Ahhh, what does it take to move to Holland these days?
    Dave, maybe you could also make money by providing bike study group outings to places outside of your country; you could call them "Reality Check Study Groups".

  9. The interesting point for me about this is that the Dutch government - or perhaps their technical advisers - understand the idea that motor traffic congestion can be reduced by making cycling infrastructure more attractive to use, and that this is a much cheaper way of dealing with congestion than building more roads.

    Having cycled through, and driven through, the Netherlands on a number of occasions, I have to say that the former, however incomplete the routes at times, was always much more pleasant. Despite its love of the bike in the towns and cities, the motorways between them are remarkably full of cars whenever I've driven them. Clearly there are petrol heads in the Netherlands as well, and I'm sure their influence is considerable. I've driven Apeldoorn to Arnhem (28km) on a number of occasions, and frankly found the roads absolute hell.

    Any initiative that encourages people out of their cars on stretches like that has to be welcomed. And it just goes to show that work still needs to be done in "cycling friendly" countries as well as in the anglo-saxon failures.

  10. Daniel: You won't find me attacking people in lycra. Indeed, I'm wearing some now... I just got home from my lightweight 30 km each way commute (I know there are plenty of people who ride further), in less than an hour, using one of those superhighways, which had no ice or snow on it whatsoever even though it's -6 C.

    Michael: It's tempting :-)

    Inconvenient Truth: I quite believe the roads can be a pain to drive on, as though I've never been stuck in a traffic jam here, I've observed them from my bike and from trains.

    So yes. Plenty of "petrol heads". "Top Gear" (imported from the UK) is quite a popular TV programme. However, something interesting happened with car ownership rates back in the 1990s.

  11. Well well, David. These figures for car ownership are indeed revealing. But it's not only the absolute ownership figures. The direction in which they are going is also important. Darlington, relative to the rest of the country, is a low-car-ownership town (poor and northern). But as car ownership continues to rise locally and nationally, it is highly aspirational for most social groups. So cycling typically has a low social status, even amongst policy makers. Indeed it is often forgotten altogether when the word "traffic" is used.

  12. I am so incredibly envious of your bike paths/routes. They make a great deal of sense. Over here in the U.S. the answer to congestion is always to add more highway lanes.
    That never solves the problem.
    Don't forget that not only do these paths solve problems for commuters, but they also provide recreation and exercise. I look forward to a future visit to your country so I can try out your trails for myself.
    By the way, I hope you don't mind if I report your findings/news on the trailsnet blog. Thanks for the information.

  13. @David, i know, i was just referring to the opinions quoted by Frits.

    @Inconvenient Truth "cycling infrastructure [...] is a much cheaper way of dealing with congestion than building more roads." - especially considering that building more roads actually generates more congestion.

    but to give you ideas of some small car-friendly developments here:
    - speed limits on the motorways will be raised from 120 to 130 kph although all scientists and experts warned that this decreases capacity, thus increases congestion, and of course increases emissions. (actually i agree that it is a bad idea but nevertheless it is a small change so whatever.)
    - the highway between Delft West and Schiedam will be built although it has been shown that in 10 years the congestion will be back at today's levels here.
    - there are plans for a toll bridge between Almere and Amsterdam but apparently no money to extend the rail bridge to two tracks. (both projects would be terribly expensive.)

    - however, a direct highway between Amsterdam and Rotterdam seems to remain taboo, although there is already a high speed rail line. this is great.

  14. Daniel: I've been following the news items about the 130 km/h thing with interest. It seems that it'll be difficult to get the speed limit raised as quickly as the petrol heads would like, and in many places. There are to me very interesting reasons why: the effect of extra noise and air pollution was mentioned quite a lot.

    That speed limits are frequently lower on motorways here when they pass near dwellings (to avoid, or at least reduce, those two problems) is something I've never seen elsewhere.

  15. Raising the speed limit by 10 km/h in such a small country (= relatively short distances) doesn't save much time at all, but at that speed (130 km/h) cars can drink quite noticeably more petrol, and thus produce more polution. I believe cars are most efficient at around 90 km/h.

  16. Looking at a very simple model of traffic flow - that sounds a great deal more technical and impressive than it was. I estimate that purely on speeds and safe following distances that increasing vehicle speeds from 120 kh to 130 kh will increase the carrying capacity by ~1%. That's an extra 15.9 cars per hour @2s following interval an extra 10.6 cars per hour 10.6 @3s following interval.

    Please note this makes no allowance for changes in accident rates etc.

    Pollution will be worsened.
    Kinetic energies will increase by 19%.

  17. @Daniel - I think you should also consider that there will be no blanket speed limit raise from 120 to 130 km/h. It will only apply to certain roads at times when conditions allow for it, in other words when everybody already comfortably exceeds the limit. It's all very cosmetic, to keep drivers happy. It certainly will not solve congestion. Anecdote: my brother in law drove from Nieuwegein (south of Utrecht) to Hilversum (north of Utrecht) this Monday evening, along 3 and 4 lane highways, a distance of 30 km or 20 miles, for which he needed 2 and a half hours. Walking would have been easier.

  18. @Friets you are right, this would only be a small change. this does not make it a positive change, though, as it still generates more pollution and slightly promotes driving.

  19. @Micheal Blue - Turn that first digit upside down and it's about right. Of course that's for cars as we know them; high speed, multi-ton armored personnel carriers.

    Cut that figure in half and design cars to operate at maximum efficiency at that speed and they might achieve efficiencies that astound you.

    But who's going to buy a car that keeps getting passed by bicycles? I mean, other than the people buying those high speed, multi-ton armored personnel carriers that are already getting passed by bicycles.

    People are funny critters.

    @Amoeba - Your model is too simple. It only applies to a fixed number of cars circling endlessly. If it worked that way, traffic jams would be impossible. Since they occur, it doesn't.

  20. I drive tractor-trailer for a living (articulated-lorry to you mates). I also ride long-distance on a bicycle for recreation, and I've taken long-distance car trips for vacation. For me, I have no problem with high speed limits for cars and trucks. It comes down to maintaining space in front of you and on the sides.

    As for sharing roads with bicycles, unfortunately, most of the USA takes a cro-magnon view of that.

    Where we should really start in most parts of America as far as cycling infrastructure goes is something simple and too often and too easily overlooked among we avid cyclists: Parking facilities for bikes. They're cheap and easy to erect and install. This will encourage more cycling, and build the constituency for cycle paths.

    It took a trip to Germany and Switzerland to realize the immense and overlooked convenience to park a bike at a rack or locker, and secure it accordingly.

  21. I don't think the motorway and the bicycle improvement programmes are in opposition per se in the NL.
    Sure, they may compete for budget allocation but I suppose they're not seen as targeting the same issues.

    People seldom use the motorway for 10 km trips. Similarly, they don't go on their bike to travel 100 km.

    The question on which mode of transportation to promote for short distance trips has been settled in the NL: whether it's by foot, by bike or by public transport, it's definitely not by car.

    Car-free city centres all around the NL show that the "petrol heads" have lost their case on this aspect of the transport policy and overall urbanism.

    For medium distance trips, the authorities seem to be moving forward quite successfully with bicycle, with this Fiets Filevrij initiative.

    These motorway programmes are no good news in general but I see it more as a failure for the train lobby -- the train being the only real competitor to the motorway in a small country.

    Plus don't forget that there's the whole aspect of freight transport in the NL, due to all the stuff that is moved in, out and through the country (Rotterdam, etc). Lorries have to drive somewhere, maybe it's better on motorways than local roads (along bike paths)...

    The bicycle can't solve all the problems in the world but the NL government seems to do what they can to make the bicycle help whenever it's possible.

    That is incomparable to any other country.

  22. "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... "

    Well it definately should. Do the Dutch not do PR? , as the Danes seem to understand it... Even with such a pathetic modal share, there is a chronic shortage of bicycle parking at many British railway stations.

  23. @christebull there is huge bike parking shortage in the netherlands too - although that is a great problem to have :)

    i.e. there are thousands of people in every city who really want to cycle to the station to take the train - a wonderful, wonderful problem.

  24. @Colibri i agree in general. although still too many people use cars too for short trips, but maybe not motorways.

    you are also right that the "train lobby" could do better. as the industry is failing (for now) to capture all the benefits of two gigantic investments, the Rotterdam-Germany freight line and the Amsterdam-Antwerpen high speed line, no surprise that some people lost a bit of trust in the rail industry.

    nevertheless, the rail industry also has a very "good" problem - even the 4 per hour, 12 car, double deck trains are packed at the rush hour. not much spare capacity there either.

    there are projects to provide more capacity, e.g. raising the speed on Utrecht-Amsterdam to 200 km/h, 6 intercitys and 6 local trains on main corridors per hour and finally running 6 trains an hour on the high speed line (2/h now) - all of them a bit delayed now.

    i could tell more but it is a bit off topic :)


All comments are moderated so your comment may not appear on the blog immediately after you send it. Sensible debate is encouraged. Please do not waste my time with spam or trolling as such posts are always deleted.