Thursday 31 March 2011

A secondary cycling route in Utrecht

Sometimes people think we only show major roads outside the cities’ built up area which makes it ‘logic’ that there is room for wide good quality cycle paths. But people even say that from videos shot in the center of a city.

Yes, it is true that we usually show the main cycle grid, and there are of course lesser important routes too, so why not have a look there now.

The above video shows a secondary route in Utrecht that is not part of one of the designated main cycle routes. In an earlier post David has already pointed out that a city cannot only have a few main cycle routes, there has to be a tight secondary grid too, so distances to the grid are never too big.

As becomes clear, a secondary cycling route is more varied than a main cycle route. This is true for the surface as well as for the types of lanes and separate paths (tracks). There are also more “twists and turns”. It is striking however, that even on a secondary route the cyclist never merges with motorised traffic (apart from a few service roads where only residents drive). To show everything as clear as possible the video is not sped up. It is also one long shot, no editing at all. Somehow the camera didn’t only record the wind this time either, so the sound is all ‘real’ too!

The route is almost 4km (about 2.5 miles) for which I took 12 minutes, so the average speed is 20kph (about 12.5mph). It is possible to cycle faster, but not while holding a camera in one hand. Routeplanners state a car would also take 12 minutes for almost the same route (they have to make a detour twice).

The start is in the old center of Utrecht, Vredenburg square, where a market is held twice a week and all the major shops can be found. The video ends in Zuilen, a former municipality now suburb, where incidentally my father was born.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Gilbert Road in Cambridge / Groningerstraat in Assen

"Cycling Campaigners surveying options
in Gilbert Road." I'm second from the left.
As you'll see, there is really no lack of
space in Gilbert Road.
Several times I've written on the blog about Groningerstraat in Assen, and sometimes mentioning the way that this street shows how Gilbert Road in Cambridge, a road which used to be part of my cycle commuting route when I lived in the city, ought to have been developed.

The similarities are many:

The interesting section of Groningerstraat is 1 km long, while Gilbert Road is about 100 m longer. Both are main routes for cyclists. There is a secondary school (age 11-17) on both roads. Both are on routes to primary schools (age 5-10). Both are also used as through routes for cars.

Most importantly, the widths of both roads are almost exactly the same. So what is done in one could so easily also be done in the other.

I wrote an article about it for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter, and they published it a couple of days ago, edited for length, though space was found for three other articles which disagree with me. I have to say that it does amuse me a little that Martin makes a case that removing trees would especially have been a problem in Cambridge. There is no reason why this should be so. In fact, it seems that roads in the Netherlands always become greener when they are transformed. Assen has a policy of maintaining green spaces which has no equivalent in Cambridge.

My piece gives a potted history of what has happened in campaigning on Gilbert Road. As it was edited down, I've repeated it below with the removed paragraphs in italics:

Gilbert Road is a missed opportunity

Cambridge has a higher cycling rate than any other city in the UK. What Cambridge does is followed by other cities, and what Cambridge's campaigners do is followed by other campaigners.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign has recognized that Gilbert Road is a problem for a very long time.

In August 1999, Kevin Bushell wrote of being a "long suffering user" of the road in an article in which he thanked the council for that years minor improvement - the addition of advanced stop boxes.

In the same article, Clare Macrae discussed the possibility of making the existing advisory cycle lanes mandatory "in the hope of stopping cars parking in the lanes just when they are most needed."

Two newsletters later, Clare reported on the outcome of a meeting to discuss Gilbert Road: "One thing was very clear – many, many people are very concerned about the increased speed and volume of traffic on Gilbert Road. Towards the end, councillors held a vote on whether people were in favour of improving cycle safety, by making the cycle lane mandatory. The response was overwhelmingly in favour, with only four 'no's. However, people seemed to want more imaginative solutions to their traffic problems than just mandatory cycle lanes."

"Advisory cycle lane on Gilbert Road
with a much improved width". One
blogger calls this "Great for cycle
campaigners, maybe not so great
for cyclists
Fast forward to 2011 and what do we see ? The "more imaginative solution" is no-where to be seen. The advisory lanes are a little wider, though still advisory. There is a car parking restriction now and some people have reported that this makes road much better for cycling now.

However, how effective this measure actually will be is something we will only really know in the future. In other places in Cambridge parking is a long term problem despite it being illegal, including outside the shops in Milton Road just around the corner from Gilbert Road.

The problem with this scheme is its lack of ambition. The campaign asked for little more than was built. No-one really ever asked for a "more imaginative solution" as discussed 11 years earlier.

What's more, a lot of time and energy was expended in opposition with local residents who didn't want to lose their on-road car-parking spaces. The last thing that cyclists need is to be placed in opposition with motorists and residents, who actually we could do with having on our side when redevelopment is called for.

So, could it have been done different ? I think so

In 2008 we hosted a Study Tour in Assen which was attended by several campaigners from Cambridge. I showed them a street here in Assen, Groningerstraat, which is striking in its similarity with Gilbert Road. It has traffic lights at either end and another set in the middle. There is a secondary school part way along, as well as it being on the route to primary schools. It is also a popular commuting route by bike.

Groningerstraat in Assen. It's the same
width, but space has been found for
pedestrians, cyclists, car-parking and
driving down the road.
However, the similarities end when you see what has been done with the road. In Assen we have a segregated cycle path on both sides of the road, 2.5 m wide in most places, 4 m wide in some places. Cyclists are kept apart conflict with both pedestrians and drivers, increasing both actual and subjective safety for everyone. At junctions, cyclists have priority over every side-road. At the traffic lights, the junctions allow cyclists to save time by safely and legally making right turns on a red light (equivalent of left on red in the UK), and two out of three of them also use the "simultaneous green" system for cyclists. This lights up green twice as often for cyclists on the cycle paths as for motorists on the road. The result is that you can make much more efficient journeys by bike than by car along this road.

What's more, on-road car parking was preserved for a large proportion of residents, avoiding planning conflict with residents, or creation of an "us and them" attitude between motorists and cyclists.

Yes, there is room for all this. It was achieved in a road was measured by Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee members as being almost exactly the same width. And yes, it's affordable too. It cost less from Assen's cycling budget to transform Groningerstraat than it cost in Cambridge to do the much less ambitious work in Gilbert Road - though perhaps the different contractors used for the two jobs have some influence on that.

I have blogged several times about the features of this road, and you can read all about it here:

No conflict on Groningerstraat.
I'm left with wondering why it is that photos and videos of this road, which provides an excellent live example of what Gilbert Road could have become, were not used for campaigning in Cambridge. This type of infrastructure has many benefits for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. For the Netherlands it's fairly ordinary, but in the UK it would certainly have been a "more imaginative solution". Why were horizons limited to just different versions of quite narrow on-road cycle lanes ? Why was a conflict with residents over car-parking spaces ever an issue ?

What has been achieved in Gilbert Road is an incremental improvement, but not nearly the best possible outcome. If progress is to be made in cycling then campaigners need to start asking for the best, not watering down their proposals before even approaching the council. Publicity and support are required. If the schools, residents, cycling campaign members, the CEN, the councillors etc. had all been shown a proposal which would keep cyclists safe, keep school children safe, preserve car-parking spaces, and also result in a neat and tidy appearance, who would have been against ? The campaign could have included visiting the model for the proposed road here in Assen so that people could experience it for themselves, on a bike, by foot and in a car. Why not ?

If any place in the UK can make the move towards a higher standard of infrastructure design for cyclists, it is surely Cambridge where there is the highest rate of cycling in the UK. However, the ambitions of British cyclists, and of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, simply are not high enough. As a result, cycling remains a minority pursuit in the UK. It simply won't achieve the status of "normality" amongst the majority of the population until it is made as easy, as convenient and as safe (both subjectively and in actuality) as it is in the Netherlands.

I welcome the start of the Cycling Embassy for Great Britain, as this group will complement the existing campaign groups in the UK while also campaigning for real change in the way that infrastructure is viewed.

And that's the end of the article. There is a difference here in what is considered to be the best way forward. I have argued for many years that there needs to be a more strategic view amongst cycling campaigners. That people need to be shown what is best so that a decision can be made with more information. Campaigners need to have vision. Fighting little battles over minor issues repeatedly does not make progress. In the worst cases, inadequate improvements can set bad precedents. There are already people posting photos of cars parked or driving in the cycle lanes in Gilbert Road, after the ban. Not to mention that buses can stop in the cycle lane.

The Dutch approach has been extremely successful. It's worth trying to emulate. However, while campaigners are too timid to even ask for best practice, there is no chance of achieving it.

June update
I recently wrote more about not aiming too low when campaigning, and also about that issue of trees.

I should make it clear that I don't think there was any subterfuge involved in editing out selected paragraphs of my article. Space is limited in a printed newsletter, perhaps more so than usual in this issue of the newsletter which included three articles to disagree with my edited text.

Other blog posts explain why on-road cycle-lanes are not a good solution for cyclists.

Monday 28 March 2011

Holland... in England

The Fens in the East of England have often been compared with the Netherlands. The landscape of the Fens is low-lying and there are very few hills.

Many of the engineers and labourers who drained the Fens and made them inhabitable brought their experience of how to do this from The Netherlands, just 200 km away across the North Sea. Many people of Dutch descent stayed in the area. Not only is the landscape incredibly similar to a lot of the Netherlands, but Fen people actually have a genetic connection with the Dutch.

What's more, part of the area is actually officially called South Holland. The local council of this area has a tulip as part of their logo.

Several years ago, Jonathan Meades made a very amusing programme called "Double Dutch", pointing out (amongst other things) the similarities between Holland and "Holland":

You can also see parts 2 and 3 on youtube.

But, there is also a big difference. While cycling rates in this area of the country are not as low as in some other parts, they are still incredibly low compared with the Netherlands.

When we lived in the area, I would sometimes cycle the 90 mile distance between our home in Cambridge and my in-laws home in a rural Lincolnshire village. On these journeys I'd ride through this "Dutch" landscape past dykes and canals and windmills, with no hills to climb. However, I'd rarely see other cyclists. Such a lack of cyclists would be unthinkable on a similar journey in similar landscape here in the Netherlands.

So what's causes this difference ? As well as not seeing other cyclists there are also next to no cycle paths. None at all on my route, which is entirely different to when I make journeys of the same length here in the Netherlands and have decent quality infrastructure the whole way. As ever, how much people cycle comes down to the infrastructure. Good quality infrastructure creates both actual and subjective safety. There is a reason why you don't see large groups of cyclists out and about by bike, or pensioners or children going places by bike in Lincolnshire on anything like the scale that you do in the Netherlands. The difference comes about because nearly all cycling in this area is on roads and no good alternative routes are provided with cycle-paths. Some of the roads that cyclists have to use are really quite nasty, such as the A16 and A17 with their 100 km/h speed limits. Not everyone gave me quite so much space when they passed as they give the Google Maps car in this image:

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

When I crossed the Fosdyke bridge (in the second photo) this road bridge was the only method for many km across this river, and cyclists had no alternative but to ride on this very busy road. It's part of Sustrans' NCN 1, and the British part of the North Sea Route. Cycling tourists are actually encouraged to come here, and the tourism board even creates Dutch language literature which compares the possibilities of cycling in Lincolnshire (as well as other parts of the UK) favourably with The Netherlands.

The reason why "Holland" and Holland are not the same comes down to the rather more successful policies, campaigning and infrastructure design on this side of the North Sea.

In The Netherlands it feels, and is, safe to cycle even when there is fog.
See also blog posts about the strange and very non-Dutch pedestrianized zone in Boston, Lincolnshire and about how the same traffic calming concept is implemented in villages in Lincolnshire as in Dutch villages, but how it differs greatly in practice from the same idea as actually built in The Netherlands

Thursday 24 March 2011

Rotterdam remedies a lower cycling rate

Rotterdam in the province of South-Holland, is the second largest city in the Netherlands. It is best known for its important port, the busiest in Europe. The cycling rate, although very high compared to any other country, is low for the Netherlands. About 25% of all trips in Rotterdam is by bicycle. This is much lower than Amsterdam, where that figure hovers around 40% or Groningen where it is almost 60%. This may have to do with the fact that Rotterdam is very different from most other cities in the Netherlands.

Rotterdam sky line

Rotterdam is younger than most larger Dutch cities. It started off as a fishing village when around 1270 a dam was built in the river Rotte. Only after the railways and a waterway to the North sea were finished in 1872 the port could really develop. It soon made Rotterdam a proud and important city. A city that was able to build Europe’s first skyscraper and tallest office building in 1898. But Rotterdam lost its historic heart in World War II, when in May 1940 the Nazis bombed away the entire city centre to make the Dutch surrender.

The Centre of Rotterdam in 1940

When the city was rebuilt from the late 1940s the city planned to do that 'according to the demands of modern fast traffic' and after the example of US cities. This resulted in wide multi-lane city boulevards right through the centre and big high rises, on a scale unknown in any other Dutch city. This is the reason that especially visitors from the US can relate to Rotterdam better than to any other city in the Netherlands.

But the 1940s Rotterdam planners also came up with something entirely new: the main shopping area was created as the world's first pedestrianised street. When it was finished in 1953 it soon served as an example for numerous car-free shopping streets around the world.

Luckily a long standing Dutch tradition was also not forgotten and the new wide streets were built including separate bicycle infrastructure. But just building infrastructure has proven not to be enough.
First and foremost the city wanted to strengthen the regional cycle network. It needed to better connect suburbs where people live to the centres where they need to go to do their shopping, go to school and work and stay for leisure etc. It also wanted to create two longer-distance high quality regional routes to Delft/the Hague and to Dordrecht. These should be completely finished by 2013.

Cycle grid Rotterdam: the routes in red were sub-standard
In recent years the city was not satisfied with the current relatively low rate of cycling. Investigations revealed the following possible reasons:
  • The quality of the cycle network was not up to modern standards.
  • There was a lack of bike parking possibilities with homes.
  • There is lower interest in cycling among the non-Dutch/new-Dutch residents.
  • The city has exceptionally good public transport (metro/tram/bus/train).
To increase the modal share of cycling the city’s cycling policy and action plan for the years 2007-2011 set a number of goals:
  • To make cycling more attractive by making cycle routes safer, faster and of a higher quality.
  • To increase the parking possibilities at both beginning and end of cycle journeys.
  • To target specific groups to get them to cycle more (youth, working people and immigrants).
Concrete measures to make a cycle route faster involve giving cyclists right of way more often, making short cuts, shorten red times at junctions and making the surface of cycle paths smoother.

Video showing cycling in Rotterdam
Apparently a number of the goals of the policy were met. By looking around the city most of the cycle network seems to be up to standards now and the rate of cycling is rising. This results in more and more cyclists visibly riding on good quality infrastructure in the streets of Rotterdam.

Most of the background data came from the ‘
Actieplan Rotterdam fietst’ (Action plan Rotterdam cycles) by the council of Rotterdam on the site of Fietsberaad (in Dutch only).

article on the fast cycle route between Rotterdam and Delft is available in English.

Monday 21 March 2011

A touring toolkit

Unless accompanied by a car carrying equipment, cycle tourists need to be self sufficient to some extent. You can't predict when breakdowns will occur. Obviously what tools you carry with you depends on how far you're going and what you think you'll need. Weight is always an issue.

Unless I'm just riding into town and back, I always carry tools with me. A few days ago I decided it was once again time to check that the contents of my tool-kit still made sense. A few items had been used up, like patches, and a few tools needed to change for my new bike.

Everyone travelling any distance will surely carry a pump and spare inner tubes. However, other things are also useful to have. Even on shorter rides, the walk home or to the nearest bike shop can take quite some time, but when riding longer distances and if you may be a longer distance from "civilization" then it's even more important to be well prepared.

At the moment, my toolkit contains the following:
  • Multi-tool. This is actually the only new thing in my tool-kit. A Beto multi-tool. It includes all the sizes of spanner, screw-driver and Allen key which I may need. Previously I had to carry more than one such tool to cover everything.
  • In the past I also carried a separate chain tool, however my new multi-tool includes one, so that saves a bit more weight.
  • The puncture repair kit is a Rema Tip-Top kit. I've used these for years as they have, in my opinion, the best quality patches. This one has been part of my kit for years, but is newly stocked with patches and glue.
  • When removing and refitting tyres, it is best to do so without using tyre levers as they can damage the tube further. However, if you have tight fitting tyres, or you find yourself doing the work with cold and wet fingers then a good set of tyre levers are well worth having. The Schwalbe tyre levers are well shaped, and wider than most, which minimises the risk of damage. I've had this set for years and they work well.
  • Well made wheels shouldn't go out of true in normal use. However, accidents happen and I like to be prepared. Spokey Spoke Keys are perhaps the lightest weight good quality spoke key. Mine has had a lot of use over the years, both building wheels at home as well as straightening them on tour. Usually in order to keep moving with a single broken spoke you merely need to slightly loosen off the two spokes either side of that which is broken so that the wheel straightens out. However, carrying a few spare spokes of the correct size means that replacements can be installed and the wheel can be made perfect again quite quickly.
  • A little duct tape wound onto a stick, some bendable wire, and a few zip-ties don't weigh much and don't cost much. However, they can be used for many repairs. In the past I've used tape to hold together broken lights, zip-ties to affix mudguards and wire to keep on a heavily loaded rack.
  • The white "paper" in my toolkit is actually cut out of a Tyvek junk mail envelope. It cost nothing and weighs almost nothing, but it is strong enough to make an excellent "boot" to put between inner tube and tyre in the event of a bad cut.
  • A pocket knife includes a few tools that the others don't have - such as scissors to cut the Tyvek, a sharp knife which can be used for a range of things, and a bottle opener which is rather a nice thing to have with you for a beer at the end of a long day.
Things not shown in the photo include the inner tubes (I carry two, and do any puncture repairs needed at the end of the day if possible), a spare folding tyre in case of damage to a tyre, chain links to join a broken chain, and a spare brake cable. Of course, I also carry a pump.

Different people have different ideas, of course, and some like to travel lighter than others. We've ideas for a touring toolkit in our webshop.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Beware the cyclists of Spring...

They look innocent enough, but beware...

I'm sure many people in the Northern Hemisphere have noticed the number of extra cyclists who've appeared recently.

It's the same here in the Netherlands.

I went on a great social ride today, and we saw literally thousands of other cyclists on a ride through the countryside North East, returning through the centre of Groningen and between there and Assen. Thousands were out enjoying the sun on their bikes. Yes, even here cycling gets a boost at this time of year.

So what's the problem ?

I have to be clear that the these extra cyclists are of course no problem at all. It would be ridiculous to complain about there being more cyclists out when the weather is beautiful as it has been today, than a few weeks ago when the temperatures were hovering around zero and it was misty.

However, there's a danger here for campaigners. Every year at about this time, people forget that they're looking at an annual trend and think there has been a genuine increase in the rate of cycling. It all looks so positive, so real. I've often wondered if the boost each spring is the reason why campaigners often seem convinced that cycling is "on the up" when year on year figures in many countries show it is reducing or stagnant. Human memory is fallible and easily fooled by a temporary boost which hides a long term trend.

Spring, or September, are both good times of year to make impressive sounding cycle counts. The numbers which result are far better than if you take an average over the entire year. However, accurate counts and accurate statistics about cycling result not from this but from mundane counting procedures.

At this time of year, it looks positive not just where you live, but everywhere. Enjoy it. Ride your bikes a lot. However, keep in the back of your mind that this doesn't necessarily mean that any progress has been made.

Campaigning has to carry on, based on facts and not just on how pleasant it is to ride on a sunny day. More people will cycle everywhere if subjective and sustainable safety are provided.

To achieve a high modal share and excellent degree of cyclists for cyclists of all ages, the Netherlands provides the best example to copy. However, even when looking to the Netherlands, campaigners need to vigilant as it is all too common for the whole point of things to be lost in translation when taken to another place.

Enjoy spring and summer, ride your bikes a lot, but keep your eyes on the prize.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Rotterdam cyclists

Most of the Netherlands’ highest buildings can be found in Rotterdam and no other Dutch city has so many 4 lane streets right through the center. Foreigners report Rotterdam is the city in the Netherlands they can best relate to. But… unlike most of their home towns, Rotterdam has a complete network of high quality bicycle infrastructure.

More on Rotterdam in an upcoming blog-post. But first, this teaser:

Thursday 17 March 2011

Bike share the Dutch way

On the "bike sharing world map" there is one strikingly blank country. You guessed it: the Netherlands. You could think that in a country of 16 million who possess 18 million bikes there would be no need for sharing bikes. But that would be wrong: the Dutch do share bikes and on a large scale.

Since 2007 when Paris first started (after the example of Lyon), every self-respecting modern city seems to have bike share. Milan, Brussels, Bogota, London, Melbourne: some 200 cities worldwide. It is interesting that most of these schemes call itself 'free'. Yes, the first half hour is free, but keep the bike 2 hours and it will cost you 7 euros (Paris) or 6 pounds (London). Keep it even longer and Paris charges you a ridiculous 151 euros for 20 hours! Clearly these programs are designed for short use. For single trips, not round trips. If you have a meeting somewhere in town you can only hope the meeting place has a nearby bike-station too, for the rental fee would cost you dearly after a two hour meeting.

The Dutch have –like so many things to do with cycling- a different approach. Their nation wide program started in 2003*. What the Dutch started was not so much new, it was modernising what had existed in the country for decades. Almost every train station in the Netherlands has manned bike parking facilities and in most of those it has always been possible to hire a bike. But every station had its own way of doing things which took a lot of time and hassle.

In 2008 the national OV-fiets program was taken over by the Dutch Railways*. Literally the name means 'Public Transport bicycle'. That is exactly what it is: an extension of public transport. Trains go almost everywhere in the Netherlands, but they do not get you entirely from A to B. To bridge that final part of your journey this bike scheme is perfect.

The very visible yellow/blue public transport bikes

How does it work

You become a member for 10 euros per year. You get a subscription card with a pin-code or the subscription is directly connected to the card you already possess for train travel. That way you don’t end up with multiple cards in your wallet and it is once more underlining the fact that this is an extension of your train travel. With the card you can hire bicycles. In a manned station you simply present the card. The person manning the bikes scannes your card and the bike you take with you and you are on your way. Takes about 5 seconds. The hire fee is always for a 24 hour period and costs you just 3 euros which is less than a round trip by bus in any Dutch city. You can go where ever you want to go with the bike and you can even take it overnight. It has a lock so you can also park it. This scheme is designed for (longer) round-trips. It expects you to return to the train station to get back to where you initially started your journey.

When you return, the bike gets scanned again and you can continue home by train. If you kept the bike longer, the next 24 hour period costs you 5 euros extra.

There are also un-manned stations where the system works just like any other electronic bike scheme. You swipe your card and enter your pin-code. A bike is electronically released and you take it with you.

The fee for the bike hire is automatically withdrawn from your bank account. A standard payment procedure in the Netherlands and this is arranged when you become a member. You can keep track of your journeys on-line.

The scheme is a success. About 85,000 people are member now. They made 835,000 trips in 2010 alone from one of the 230 bike hire stations that can be found all over the country. The bright yellow/blue bikes (the colours of the Dutch Railways) are very visible in the streets of the Netherlands.

This bike hire scheme is really designed for residents, as it involves a membership that has to be arranged in advance. But for tourists other bikes can be rented from almost every train station too.

About 230 rental stations all over the country
I have had a subscription for OV-fiets for two years now. And it is wonderful, it really gets you to many more destinations. I have found myself cycling in places where I had never cycled before. What I like best is that with one subscription you can hire two bikes. So when you are on a journey with a friend you can both cycle to the end-destination together.

Shared bikes can be very convenient on a personal level. But they can never be an important factor in mode share. For that you need people riding their own bicycles.

* Update: Initially I stated the program started in 2008 but that turned out to be incorrect. The facts are as stated now.

Some figures:
YearLocations Subcriptions Bikes Rides

More cycle parking at Groningen railway station

The Fietsberaad reports that Groningen is still trying to find more space for cycle parking at the railway station.

Just ten years ago, there were only around 3000 cycle parking spaces at the station. In 2007 the Stadsbalkon was opened, this was originally intended to increase capacity to 4500 spaces, but it became obvious during building that this wasn't enough and actual capacity at the end of 2007 was nearly 6000 spaces. However, this was also not enough. In 2010, another 1000 spaces were added to the Stadsbalkon, and then an extra park was opened bringing capacity to an offical 9280 spaces, enough for one in 20 of the city's population to have a bicycle parked in racks at the railway station.

However, there are frequently over 10000 bikes parked at the railway station, and so this is being expanded again. The local government is providing an extra 500 cycle parking spaces each year until 2015 and residents have been asked where this should go.

More cycle parking at Duiven railway station

Duiven is a small town of 22600 people. The Fietsberaad reports that here too, the cycle parking is being expanded at the railway station.

Actually, in this case so is the car parking, from 45 to 89 parking places. The cycle parking, on the other hand, is being expanded from 640 to 1128 parking places. Of these, 136 will be secure lockers for bikes.

After the new cycle park is opened, Duiven will have a bike parking space at the railway station for every 20 residents. This is a fairly typical ratio in the Netherlands for railway station cycle parking.

Duiven is also to be the first place to receive an underground dispenser for OV-Fietsen. Other dispensers are above ground and take up more space. The underground version will take just 2 m x 3 m at ground level. Bikes in the store can be arranged at a spacing of just 20 cm apart making good use of the available space.

Some of Duiven's existing cycle parking can be seen on Google Maps Street View:

Grotere kaart weergeven

OV-Fiets is the remarkably often ignored Dutch bike share system. It's probably the largest in the world now, as it provides thousands of bikes across the whole country. It is designed particularly to complement public transport journeys by providing a bike to ride after you reach your destination.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Kick stands and tyre pressures

Spanninga Easy 30 mm version
The kickstand failed on one of our rental bikes at the end of last year.

A bicycle which falls over unless leant on something is a nuisance, even just in storage, let alone in use. Leaning on brick walls causes damage to the bike. Other surfaces can be damaged by the bike. Therefore, I've replaced the broken part with our favourite type of single sided stand, the Spanninga Easy kick-stand. This is a long stand which is sturdy enough that it will support quite heavily laden bicycles safely.

Luckily, with most bikes, fitting a kickstand is an exceptionally easy job to do. It fits to the bracket provided as part of the frame, with one bolt just in front of the rear wheel, and just a single tool is required to do this - an 8 mm Allen Key.

The stand simply has to be held in position with one hand, while the bolt is done up with the other. It takes just a couple of minutes to do.

It's a good idea to put a little grease on the thread of the bolt so that it won't seize up over time, and to put some on the mechanism of the kickstand as well to make it run a bit smoother.
Most bikes use the "30 mm" version of the stand. Dimensions of both variants are in the web shop.

Bike with working kick-stand, so which no longer has to be leaned on something.

And now something about tyre pressure and tyre choice...

The bike in the photos above is fitted with the same tyres as I've currently got on my Mango for winter commuting - the Schwalbe Marathon Plus. The great advantage of these tyres is that they are virtually impossible to puncture. As a result, they're our choice for most of our bikes, most of the time. If you prefer riding to repairing punctures, these are the tyres to go for.

They're also quite fast tyres... but only if pumped up quite hard. I realised on Sunday morning that after months of riding the narrow Marathon Plus tyres on the front wheels of my Mango were well under the maximum recommended pressure of 6.5 bar ( 100 psi ). In fact, they'd got down to about 5 bar ( 75 psi ) which is low enough that they roll much worse. I'd been disappointed by my speed of late, but of course pumping the tyres up to the recommended pressure restored their previous performance.

It's one thing to have to stop and fix a puncture in the middle of the summer when it's warm and the sun is shining, but something else altogether in the winter when it's dark and cold. That's why I use them especially in the winter.

But now it's just about Spring... and Summer is around the corner. This time of year, punctures are less likely, and in any case I don't quite so much if I get them. Soon, I'll take the Marathon Plus tyres back off my Mango and replace them with something which is a little more fun to ride with. For everyday summer use, I intend to switch to the the Marathon Racer. They still have a puncture resistant layer, so punctures should at the least be rare in summer conditions, but it's a much thinner one making them lighter and faster rolling than the Marathon Plus. They're well suited for everyday riding.

For racing, I've a pair of only slightly worn in Continental Grand Prix tyres for the front, or perhaps Stelvio or Durano. These are all nice fast rolling, narrow, durable, puncture resistant and light weight tyres with decent grip on the road, and should work well combined with a Marathon Racer on the rear.

Repairing a puncture in a
Comp Pool which I fitted
to Judy's bike
However, I've also some more unusual tyres which I might use again, but only if the right opportunity presents itself: Three Avocet Fasgrip tyres. These are a real curate's egg of a tyre. They're fast, they're durable, but they have a magnetic attraction for sharp objects on the road so you get lots of punctures. The lightest sprinkling of rain results in no grip whatsoever, and even more punctures. I don't sell these. I don't think I could live with myself if I did. However, a colleague of mine at the Ligfietsgarage sold them to me personally (they don't sell them to the public either), describing them as "just like the Tioga Comp Pool". I should have taken this as a warning, but of course I'm a glutton for punishment so I instead took it as a recommendation. He was absolutely right. They really are just the same. I should have known what I was letting myself in for. But with both of these tyres there's a pay-off in the right conditions in that they do genuinely have low rolling resistance - so long, of course, as they're pumped up to their recommended pressures, plus a bit more if you're really daring... I raced with the Avocet tyres last year.

Tioga's Comp Pool is long out of production. I thought the Avocet was out of production too but it's still on the manufacturer's website. Occasionally someone comes out with a new tyre which is described as "just like the no longer available Tioga Comp Pool". Sensible people run away when this comparison is made... Speed without such compromises comes from the more sensible tyres which I mentioned earlier.

Monday 14 March 2011

Stairs are dangerous - wear a helmet

In 2008, 716 cyclists died on the roads of the United States. It's quite a death toll - it would of course be better if there were fewer. However, by comparison, 12000 people die each year on stairs in the same country. It's much the same pattern in any country. Stairs are much more dangerous than bicycles. Nearly 17x as dangerous.

This article provides a list of helpful tips to prevent injuries from falling:

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to help prevent injuries from falls.

Keep muscles and bones strong, by following an exercise regimen:

  1. Strength training with weight bearing and resistive exercise works for all age groups.
  2. Practice exercises designed to help improve balance.
  3. Exercise at least three days a week to improve strength, flexibility and balance.
  4. Choose low-impact exercises, such as yoga, tai chi and Pilates to avoid stress on joints.
  5. Stretch daily to improve flexibility and mobility.
Make your home safer with simple improvements:

  1. Good lighting, without extension cords, to eliminate dark areas.
  2. Slip-resistant walking surfaces.
  3. Grab-bars and a night light in the bathroom.
  4. Handrails on both sides of stairs extending one foot beyond last step.
  5. Remove throw rugs from doorways and hallways.
If you have fallen before, follow these recommendations:

  1. Consider a full physical evaluation and balance screen, including vision and hearing tests.
  2. Wear shoes with good support, such as lace-up oxford shoes with leather soles and rubber heels.

What's more, "The actual number is probably much larger. We believe most stair incidents are not reported". This is a scandal ! Stairs are demonstrably dangerous. So much so that they are the second largest cause of unintended injuries in the United States. When will we see national campaigns about stair safety, advocacy of helmets and special safety clothing for use of stairs ?

Why are Stannah stair lifts only marketed to the elderly ?

Children should be taught to use Stannah stair lifts. We can save lives with a campaign for this. Parents should set an example by always using a stair lift themselves.

Oh, hang on, there's a worse problem
Wait. Stairs are only the second largest cause of unintended injuries. What's the largest cause ? You'll perhaps not be surprised to hear that Motor vehicles are actually the largest cause of unintended injuries. Perhaps we should be putting our efforts on safety there.

And it gets worse. If you look not just "unintended injuries" but at "preventable causes of death" for the USA, the picture changes again. Now the 43000 deaths per year due to Traffic Collisions looks a little less significant as there are five other greater preventable causes of death. However, up there in the number two position, are 112000 deaths per year due to "overweight and obesity".

With this, cycling comes into the picture again. If the population can be convinced to take regular daily exercise as a part of their everyday lives, there is a very good chance of reducing that enormous death toll. If these people cycle instead of drive, they not only will reduce their chance of being one of 112000 dying each year due to being overweight or obese, they'll also reduce their chance of having anything to do with the 43000 deaths due to motor vehicles.

By comparison, the 716 deaths of cyclists now look a bit less significant. So why are cyclists the focus of so much "safety" campaigning ? In any case, helmets can only do so much. Of those 716 cyclists who lost their lives on American roads in 2009, only some will have died due to a head injury. Of those who died due to a head injury, only some won't have been wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. And of the non-helmet wearing cyclists who died of head injuries amongst the 716, only some might have had their lives saved by wearing a helmet. The potential gain to society by scaremongering over bicycle helmets is small. By comparison, the potential gain by encouraging people out of cars and onto bikes is enormous. Also the potential gain by re-arranging the streets to resemble those of the Netherlands is also enormous. Dutch cyclists are the safest in the world, with a death rate per km cycled 5x lower and an injury rate 27x lower than in the US, even though helmets are very rarely seen except on sport cyclists.

Note that because many of the other preventable causes of death catch up with us only as we get older, if you're an American aged between 1 and 44, the most likely preventable cause of death for you is a motor vehicle crash. For children aged between 9 and 18, it is the most common preventable cause of death worldwide.

If you want to make children safer, and cyclists safer too, then don't campaign for cycle helmets, or for improvements in stair safety either. The thing to do is to copy what has been done in the Netherlands. In particular, this campaign, and always keep an eye on the need for a high degree of subjective safety.

At present, there is a "wrong headed" attempt to make cycle helmets compulsory in Northern Ireland. The last day to sign a petition against this is today.

Update a bit later in the day: Some people in the comments are getting a bit too interested in exact statistics for how dangerous stairs are. Actually, this isn't really the point. The point is that there are many things more dangerous than cycling, however you count them. This post is about keeping a sense of perspective about different risks. There is simply too much scaremongering about cycling.

Note that exercise is listed as one of the things that improves your chances when climbing stairs. Cycling is also low impact exercise, so ride a bike and you're safer there too. In the photo at the top, Judy risks climbing the stairs of a local lookout tower - without wearing a helmet. I'll end on a serious note: Hold the rail when you walk on stairs. It might save your life.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Maastunnel Rotterdam

The oldest traffic tunnel in the Netherlands can be found in Rotterdam. It connects the two banks of the River ‘Nieuwe Maas’ (New Meuse). The first talks of creating a tunnel date back as far as 1899. Since Rotterdam has always been an important port (from 1962 to 2004 it was even the busiest port in the world) a bridge on this location would have had to be constructed too tall to allow sea ships passage. After long debates the decision to construct the tunnel was finally taken in 1933.

Maastunnel ventilation building
Maastunnel South Ventilation Tower and SS Rotterdam

The tunnel was built from 1937 to 1942. It consists of a set of pre-fabricated tubes that were sunken into a trench that was dug in the river floor. This technique had never been used in Europe before. Two adjacent tubes are for motorised traffic (2x2 lanes). Right next to those there are two stacked tubes. One for pedestrians, on top of which there is one for cyclists. Motorised traffic reaches the tubes via long access roads. Pedestrians and cyclists enter their tunnel from an entirely different location by escalators. Therefore, as a cyclist you could be unaware there even is a tunnel for motorised traffic.
In yellow: cyclist's access to the tunnel

Construction of the tunnel started in 1937. When World War II reached the Netherlands in May 1940, Rotterdam was heavily bombed. The entire historic city centre was wiped flat. However, the tunnel was spared and it was completed during the Nazi occupation. On the 14th of February 1942 there was a secret opening ceremony without Nazi participation.

Prime example of separate cycle infrastructure
The tunnel is a magnificent and early example of elaborate separate infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians versus motorised traffic. The visible ventilation towers with copper dome roofs are of high architectural quality. With the tunnel they have been a landmark for Rotterdam for almost 70 years now. About 75,000 vehicles and about 4,500 cyclists still use this tunnel daily. In the 1950s a staggering 40,000 cyclists used the four escalators on either side of the tunnel every day. In the morning three were used in the direction of the centre and in the evening it was the other way around. Nowadays there are far less cyclists. Partly due to the decline of cycling in the 1960s and 1970s but also because there are more bridges and tunnels now.

The video shows a ride through the tunnel

The actual bicycle tunnel is 585 meters (640 yards) long and the deepest point of the tunnel is 20 meters (66Ft) below the surface.

After the first bridge in 1878, the Maastunnel was only the second permanent connection across the river. Since the tunnel was built several other bridges and tunnels were constructed. Reducing the importance of this first tunnel. Besides more tunnels for motorised traffic outside the city centre, there are now also a railway tunnel and a metro tunnel. Cyclists wanting to cross the river in the city centre have a choice nowadays between the Maastunnel and two bridges. The 1981 replacement of the original 1878 bridge and the Erasmus bridge aka the Swan from 1996. But they can also use the elaborate regional "waterbus" network. On the waterbus bicycles can be taken for free.

Why this isn't so important as you might think Exceptional infrastructure like this is always interesting to see, but what causes people to cycle in large numbers is the very tight network of everyday, but high quality, cycle routes.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

This is not a cycle path

This video has explanatory captions which are only visible on a computer and not on a mobile device
I cycled to Azor in Hoogeveen and back home this afternoon to get more front luggage racks for the shop. A 75 km round trip pulling a trailer, which makes for a decent mid-week workout.

I went after lunch and returned just after the schools had shut, so there were a lot of school children making their way home both in the same and the opposite direction to me. A few of them are in the video and photos below.

Most of the first half of the route between here and Hoogeveen is on roads, not cycle paths. However, these are not roads as you probably know them. Yes, in theory they are "shared" with cars, but in practice you only very rarely see a car using them. Some years ago, a parallel road with a higher speed limit was built to take the through traffic. The only cars which use the minor road are those which are accessing properties along it. Today I saw no cars using the minor road in either direction, but I did see a lot of cyclists. On the parallel road with the 80 km/h speed limit there were quite a few cars, but no cyclists. It is illegal to cycle on that road, but we lose nothing due to that.

The Netherlands has 35000 km of cycle path, vs about 130000 km of roads. However, this doesn't imply that when you cycle on the roads that you have to "share" with large numbers of cars. Rather, you are segregated by mode, even when on the roads. What I'm highlighting here is road, not cycle path, so is not part of the 35000 km cycle path total. There are a lot of roads like this in the Netherlands, both in rural and urban settings.

Sometimes it seems that cyclists from the UK in particular get particularly vexed over the issue of being "banned from roads". However, in this case it really makes no difference at all to cyclists. We get the better half of the deal, in fact, with a direct route which is only very rarely invaded by a motor vehicle. What cyclists need to fight for is better conditions for cycling, which result in more cycling. Spending time in defending a position of being allowed to use roads which the majority of the population find unpleasant may slow the decline of cycling, but it will never grow it. The best defence is a good offence. In the case of cycling, growth comes by fighting for cycling conditions with a level of subjective safety such that everyone will want to cycle, and direct routes which make cycling efficient. The Dutch have done this for a while now, with great success relative to other countries.

Most of the still photos which follow were taken heading South, so that's why the main road is on the left in some of these photos, while it's on the right in the video:

A lone cyclist on the service road, while the parallel road for cars has several cars. Note that the street light is on the quiet road.
Several more cyclists on the quiet road. The main road is now on the left of some housing, so it's temporarily out of sight.
An adult cyclist blithely passes by a sign saying that he's banned from using the main road. Somehow he seems not to be concerned about this. 

Another adult cyclist, passing another sign, who doesn't seem to mind one bit about being banned from the road on the left.
Two girls riding together with no concerns about motorists.
One of the points where the service road becomes a cycle path. This makes it discontinuous for drivers, and is another reason why the road we're using only has cars on it which are being driven to access properties along it.
Now on the cycle path. This boy doesn't seem to feel sufficiently threatened by the traffic that he thinks he needs to hold his handlebars properly.
An elderly couple out for an afternoon ride. They're heading towards a roundabout, which if you're on the cycle path you completely avoid.
I'm also quite glad I'm not on the road. It wouldn't improve my feeling of safety either. Subjective safety is the big question. If there's not enough of it, people don't cycle. It's not just "for beginners". Experienced cyclists also also benefit from conditions which make cycling more pleasant.
On the way home now. We're on the cycle path on this side of the trees, the cars are on the right. Here two bikes are being used by four teenagers. Coming in the opposite direction are another elderly couple out for a ride.
Two more girls heading home on the cycle path.
Back on the road, with more children heading home from school and using the full width. The cars are on the other road to the right of those trees.
Another group of children riding home together. They were more spread out before they saw me coming in the opposite direction and made room.
None of the photos or video show cars using the minor road. This isn't just due to me being selective - I saw no cars using that road today.

The route highlighted by this post is shown on the map below. If the only route here by bike was the main road then there is simply no way that there would be this level of cycling, especially by school children. Few parents would see that option as safe. That is why even "on the road" it is important to have segregation of modes.

A 17 km one way distance to school

Conditions like this are what makes the difference between 1% of journeys being by bike in the UK, USA, Australia etc. and 26% of journeys being by bike in the Netherlands. It's the reason why 16 million Dutch people make more cycle journeys between them than 300 million Americans, 65 million British and 20 million Australians all added together. It's also the reason why Dutch cyclists are the safest in the world.

Hoogeveen and back is quite a regular journey for me now, and I've videoed it twice before. Article originally referred to 29000 km of cycle-path. This was incorrect - the Netherlands now recognises 35000 km.