Thursday 30 June 2011

How wide is a Dutch cycle path?

Surprisingly Dutch law doesn’t state how wide a bicycle path should be. But even though there aren’t any legal requirements there are some very strong recommendations.

One of these recommendations is the design manual “Tekenen voor de fiets” which in Dutch is a pun and means both “Designing for the bicycle” and “Committing to the bicycle” thus making clear that cities and towns following this manual make a deliberate pro bicycle choice and commit to take cyclists’ safety seriously in their municipalities.

Each municipality follows its own rules. At the border between two municipalities this cycle path doubles in width because of that.
Cycle paths

The manual mentioned above states that a one way separated (protected) cycle path should not be narrower than 2 meters (6.5Ft).

This was calculated as follows. Under Dutch law the maximum width of a bicycle is 75 centimetres (roughly 30 inches). But a cyclist can never ride in a completely straight line. Cyclists will always move sideways slightly. The distance they move from their straight line depends on skill, speed, age, experience and the weather but is set to be 25 centimetres (about 10 inches). That would equal an absolute minimal width of 100 centimetres (about 3 feet or 40 inches). But there are more factors that need to be taken into account. There is what is called the ‘shy-factor’ that indicates needed space around obstacles (pot holes, debris, bollards) but even the shadow of the kerb is a factor. Also important; the Dutch feel that cyclists should be able to ride two abreast. Not only because cycling is a social activity but especially because that means a parent is then able to ride next to his/her child. To top it all off, it must be possible for other cyclists to overtake these two riders. All this leads to that minimum of 2 meters. But when a cycle path sees over 150 bikes per hour, that minimal width goes up to 250 centimetres or 8.2Ft. For rural bicycle paths the manual advises to have an additional space between the cycle path and the road-way of 50 centimetres (20 inches) that has to be free of obstacles (like road signs or trees).

Cycle lanes

Just like cycle paths there is also no law for the width of cycle lanes. It is believed they can be a bit narrower than paths because if necessary it is possible to swerve out of the way of obstacles into the road-way.

That is why another recommendation, the “Handbook Road design” (for rural roads) gives a minimal with of 125cm (almost 50 inches). The Cyclists’ union feels that should have been at least 150cm (almost 60 inches) and such lanes should never be next to parked vehicles. Most cities follow the Cyclists’ Union or go further. The cities of Utrecht and ’s-Hertogenbosch both state a minimum of 2 meters (6.5Ft) for their (new) cycle lanes in their own road policies.

Let’s see what all this means in reality.

So the recommendations are actually followed very well. Why is that?

Because cycling is so normal in the Netherlands and almost everybody is at one time a cyclist, the public pressure to create good cycling infrastructure is enormous. The authorities in charge of the roads and streets feel obligated to stick to the recommendations. But there is another reason: liability.

The Dutch Civil Code states that authorities in charge of roads and streets carry a large responsibility for the state of their roads and cycle paths. Article 6:174 states that they have to compensate damages a road user suffers because of a poor state of a road.

Even though this means that a cyclist would have to prove that a road was in such a poor state that his or her damage is a direct result of it, it is still a strong incentive to keep the roads in a perfect state of maintenance. And while you are doing maintenance it is easy to keep the design of the roads up to the latest standards as well.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Cyclevision 2011

This year, Cyclevision was held at FlevOnice in Biddinghuizen in Flevoland. The campsite was about 100 km from home, but there was a complication in that the first event was on Friday evening at a track another 20 odd km from the campsite. I wasn't sure for a long time if I'd go, because I wasn't sure I wanted to cycle there and then take part in an event the same day. It also seemed impractical to turn up on Thursday evening for a race which didn't take place until after 8 in the evening on Friday.

Eventually I decided I would go, and make the most of it. I do it for the fun. It doesn't really matter if I perform less well than usual because I'm never in contention for any prizes anyway.

Harry also decided to ride there on Friday, so we went together. However, because I had a meeting to go to on Monday morning I decided I must come back early, missing Sunday's events. That left only Friday and Saturday.

Friday's event was a one hour time trial, held on the same 2.8 km long high speed test track as Cyclevision had used at the 2002 and 2003 events which I also took part in. Therefore it was a chance to see if I could go faster than back then. Due to having a much faster bike, I was sure I would do so, and so it turned out. However, my speed wasn't particularly impressive. Perhaps 130 km of "warm up" is just too much.

Anyway, here's the video I made going to, during and after the race. Apart from the race itself, there's quite a bit showing the cycle paths I came home on afterwards:

There are many other reports, videos, photos of the event. You can find them on the website.

Many thanks to all those involved in organising this excellent event.

Grotere kaart weergeven
The last part of the video shows most of the first third of my route home. It is (more or less) as shown on this map.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Monday 27 June 2011

Cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build

I've often written before about the growing network of inter-city cycling superhighways in the Netherlands.

Sometimes people wonder how the country can afford to build such infrastructure for cyclists. However, given the benefits which accumulate to the country from increased cycle usage, cycling should never be seen as a cost so much as as a benefit.

A new report from the Fietsberaad spells this out for the superhighways:

The proceeds that can be attributed to bicycle highways considerably outweigh the costs. The next couple of years approximately €100 million will be invested in bicycle highways in the Netherlands. That will lead to future annual profits of at least €144 million in travel time gained, better health and environmental benefits.
Goudappel Coffeng consultants has calculated this by means of a traffic model. It employed two different scenarios: one involving the construction of 675 km of bicycle highways and another one with the additional assumption that by 2020 half of all cyclists will employ an electric bicycle.
The number of car journeys will fall by 0.7% in the first scenario and if the electric bicycle continues its advance, by 1.6%. The number of journeys by public transport falls more: by 0.9% and 2.7% respectively. The number of bicycle journeys increases by 1.3 and 3.3% respectively.
Goudappel also studied the mobility effects for the region Rotterdam/Den Haag in particular. There car use decreases by 1.4 and 2.3% respectively and public transport by 2.3 and 3.9% respectively. The number of bicycle journeys increases there by 2.2 and 3.8% respectively.
For the entire country, improved bicycle provisions will cause travel times by car to fall by 3.8 million hours, as a result of less congestion, and 9.4 million hours due to increased use of electric bikes respectively. Assuming a value of € 10 for an hour’s travel by car, this will yield approximately € 40 million a year in the case with only bicycle highways, growing to €100 million with bicycle highways in combination with an increased use of electric bicycles. Health effects will contribute another €250 million to the ‘electric scenario’ according to the model calculation, as well as €8 million thanks to the CO2 reduction. Overall this leads to a profit of €358 million. For the scenario without electric bicycles Goudappel calculates proceeds of €144 million annually.

While it's normally quicker to cycle than to drive in the Netherlands, it's also worth reflecting on that cycle infrastructure makes journeys better for drivers too.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Cycling sisters

David is away this weekend at Cycle Vision so I thought I would write the blog for a change. What he doesn't know won't harm him will it?

A few days ago I was cycling home from college and whilst waiting to cross the canal a young woman and a little girl drew up beside me. The little girl looked at me, smiled, and said "fietsen leuk" - "cycling is nice". I smiled, agreed with her  and asked if they had time to stop and talk to me, luckily they were happy to do so. We stopped on the cycle path and chatted for 10 minutes and I took photos.

I discovered that they are sisters, the older sister is 19 and has just graduated and the little sister is 5 and has Downs syndrome. They often cycle together on this special tandem which they have hired from the local council for 4 years. They pointed out the waist and foot straps which keep the little girl safely on the bike even if she decides to ride "no hands" or looses concentration. Both parents also regularly cycle with the little girl and they have bought her a trike for later on for independent cycling. It was nice to meet them both, I forgot to ask their names, so thanks to the lovely cycling sisters.

Friday 24 June 2011

Raalte - a town without "clearly visible reasons" for its high cycling rate ?

A new Fietsberaad article discusses how Raalte has "a high percentage of bicycle use without any clearly visible reasons".

When I read this article, I immediately thought this was the type of press-release from the Fietsberaad that was ripe for quoting out of context by that special breed of cycling campaigner who is against cycle-paths. David Arditti pointed out this morning that this has indeed happened.

For a reader with no experience of the Netherlands, the Fietsberaad article is actually very misleading. I've cycled through Raalte a few times now, on the way to visit a friend in Deventer. Last time, I stopped for a beer at this cafe before continuing:

Grotere kaart weergeven

The cafe is on the edge of a pedestrian area, which as is normal in the Netherlands also allows bicycles. While sitting there, any number of bikes went past. It is not a busy through route for cars.

On the way into Raalte, I rode on this cycle path, which linked up with all the other cycle paths and cyclist oriented roads which made up my 100 km journey that day:

Grotere kaart weergeven

When in Raalte, I rode on these cycle paths to get to the cafe in the centre:

Grotere kaart weergeven

Grotere kaart weergeven

Grotere kaart weergeven

Note that just like elsewhere in the country you can see all age groups cycling and especially children cycling on their own, with the high degree of subjective safety necessary to make this a reality.

On the way back out of the town, I rode along here:

Grotere kaart weergeven

For the Netherlands, this infrastructure, joining up everything, is just considered to be normal. You can go to any town in the country and find this cycle paths and roads prioritized for bikes which link up everything. Elsewhere, this would be exceptional, but for the Dutch, this is not something to make a fuss about. That is what the article is trying to say - that the town has had success with promotion of cycling given normal infrastructure for cycling but without any extra special big projects for cyclists.

It's misleading to think that Raalte used only "audacity" to achieve a high cycling rate. Like anywhere else in this country, the infrastructure of this town emphasizes cycling as a means of transport in a way you don't find outside the Dutch borders.

Please don't make the mistake of believing that the "audacity" mentioned in the Fietsberaad article has anything at all to do with promoting cycling in other countries. It doesn't. Only when you already have the extensive and well designed infrastructure can you can say you don't have to do much to get people to cycle. They're starting from a completely different base here.

Please read Mark Wagenbuur's comment which goes further in explaining the headline is a case of an unfortunate translation of the original article more than anything else.

To copy Dutch success you need to copy successful Dutch policy
We offer study tours in order to help to educate people about real cycling policy. We show what truly works as well as demonstrating what does not. Lessons are learnt from both these things. Because we're native English speakers we do not suffer from the translation difficulties which can otherwise occur.

Like the rest of the country, Raalte isn't perfect, of course. I found an obstruction there last year. However, that wouldn't have been possible if not for the fact that the cycle paths existed, and one particularly pleasant one coaxed me into riding towards the wrong end of the town.

Thursday 23 June 2011

When the shops close on a Saturday

Dutch shopping habits are often frowned upon by foreigners. Shops close early (6pm on working days) or are even closed all day (on Sundays). This means that most working people can only go shopping on a Saturday. At least before 5pm, because shops close even earlier on a Saturday...

What's that got to do with cycling? Well... why don't we stand on a street corner one such Saturday from 4 to 5 pm and see all the people coming back from that very shopping trip. The whole demography of a Dutch city cycles by right before our eyes! And it's pretty!

Many people carry bags. A lot of the bags are just hanging from the handle bars. Officially that is illegal, but that would not be widely known.

Note that all ages are represented. Not just the 20 to 40 year old commuting males. In fact that age group seems under-represented in this video. And, since this is a Saturday, hardly anyone is a commuter in this video anyway. Many children cycle on their own, some are even also unaccompanied. A great number of the cyclists are over 60, men as well as women. The weather wasn't very good that day, just 16 degrees (61F), it was very windy and it had rained off and on... but that didn't stop any of these people from taking their bicycles to go shopping.

All signs of a healthy cycling culture. But it may be under threat.

On June 22nd many people in the Netherlands became rather concerned by news reports that the European Commission would want to make it mandatory for all these cyclists to wear high visibility vests. For the Dutch an alarming thought. One Dutch member of the European parliament immediately stated: "This [report] implies that cycling is dangerous when in reality it is the safest means of transport. Cyclists should not be yellow canaries". Which from the Dutch view point is understandable. Just imagine all the people in the above video in those vests or even worse, the ones in this rush hour video. It would blind everybody! So is this really what the European Commission wants? It is always good to go back to the source of such reports. I found the press release and the message is not quite what it became in the Dutch press: "High-visibility reflective vests should be carried in vehicles for all occupants, say MEPs. Cyclists, too, should be encouraged to wear helmets and reflective vests after nightfall, they add".

"Encouraged" and "after nightfall". So not mandatory and not at all time. Still, from a Dutch view point a ridiculous idea going against everything cycling stands for in the Netherlands, where road deaths have already decreased enormously by investing in good cycling infrastructure.

Monday 20 June 2011

The failure of British electoral reform and how it relates to cycle campaigning

There was recently a failed attempt to reform the electoral system in the UK.

Britain has for many years had a first past the post electoral system. It results in absolute rule by a small majority, and many people don't like this. Due to this system, no vote that I cast in the UK ever counted for anything, as no-one who I ever voted for got any power at all.

Many people would like to see this system replaced by a system of proportional representation which results in the views of the country being proportionately represented in parliament. This has been discussed for many years in the UK, and many people want such a system. No-one's votes would be "wasted" simply because they live in an area where they are outnumbered by people with a different view. The Netherlands has a proportional representation system, as do many other countries, and while there is much whining in Britain that this would create problems, it seems to work just fine here.

Anyway, how does this relate to cycling, and how to campaign on cycling ? Well, the recently lost vote in Britain was not on switching to a truly proportional system, but instead about a switch to using Alternative Vote. This actually is only a very minor tweak to what the country already had, and keeps the problem of the winner-takes-all aspects of FPTP. Frankly, it makes no real difference to the injustice of the voting system in the UK, but merely makes voting more complicated.

The end result of campaigning for something which no-one really wanted and few were enthusiastic about is that nothing has changed. Britain is keeping the old system. According to some, the chance of a lifetime has been lost.

However, frankly, I've rarely seen a campaign less likely to succeed than this one. What a large number of people in the UK wanted was real electoral reform, giving proportionality. There was never, and could never, be huge demand for a very small change to the existing system. The public were left wondering why they should be interested in a mere procedural change. Why bother ?

An "achievable first step" ?
People in the "Yes" group openly talked about this as "an achievable first step" towards PR, even though it's not a step at all. There is no natural progression from AV to PR. No reason for AV to exist before PR is possible.

Reform campaigners had been fooled by the opposition into making a compromise before their campaign got started. As a result, they were asking people to vote for something they never wanted in order to perhaps get to vote again later for something they did want. Naturally, there was little support for voting for something that few people ever wanted in the first place, so the campaign was always doomed to fail.

This has echoes in cycle campaigning. Self-styled "realists" amongst cycle campaigners ask not for what is actually needed and possible, but for what they think is "achievable given current standards". This also will fail to achieve mass support, and fail to achieve even the minor changes that they work towards because they will inevitably be forced to compromise again before implementation. Even the best possible result of such a style of campaigning is that a poor standard of cycle infrastructure results.

Why are both these groups so timid ? Why are they diluting their own message, and therefore losing supporters before they've even had a chance to build a movement ?

Applying the same thinking to recent successful campaigns
Let's consider what other campaigns in recent history would have achieved if they'd taken the same approach:
  • Mahatma Gandhi achieved something by actually making a stand. He did not ask for slightly lower taxes on salt, he made salt himself without paying tax. Despite the obvious risks involved, this attracted a mass following.
  • Nelson Mandela, with the ANC's Defiance Campaign demanded "conditions which will restore human dignity, equality and freedom to every South African." They did not ask for a slight improvement in conditions, but true equality.
  • Martin Luther King said "we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." (read the whole speech. It's powerful stuff).
  • The incident with Rosa Parks on the bus didn't end merely with the section sign on the bus being in a fixed position so that she wouldn't have to move in the future, but with the end of segregation on the bus and a good start on ending it in other places as well.
  • Harvey Milk didn't ask just ask for gay people not to be beaten up on Tuesdays.
It is possible to get a mass movement behind real change, but not behind irrelevant change. Campaigners need to keep this in mind. When working towards change for cyclists in the UK.

These children in Assen have a right
to safety which is enforced by
sympathetic infrastructure design.
Equality ?
Why talk about civil rights and equality campaigners in the context of cycling ? Well, what else are we asking for but the equal right of cyclists to go about their lives in peace and safety without harassment and danger ? Campaigners must be bold. They must ask for the best possible result they can imagine, not an easy compromise. Compromises might be inevitable along the way, but no successful negotiation starts by asking for less than you really want and nothing good will come of celebrating a bad compromise as if it's the best possible outcome.

The Dutch campaign about child safety was the right approach. It was a big, bold issue behind which everyone could be allied, whether or not they were interested in cycling or "cyclists". This resulted in a reduction in the annual number of child deaths on the roads to a twentieth of the previous figure. That success helped to pave the way for the infrastructure which everyone in The Netherlands benefits from now.

Many people fall into the trap of having low aspirations. Make sure you're not one of them. You don't have so much time as you think.

Saturday 18 June 2011

OV-Fiets also popular in Assen

Here's an item from our local TV station in Assen about OV-Fiets and its popularity in Assen. OV-Fiets is the nationwide Dutch bike share scheme. This is not based just in one city, but available all across the country.

I've often shown photos of the outdoor cycle parking at the railway station in Assen, but here you'll see a view of the interior as well.

The number of OV-Fietsen at Assen has been expanded from 40 to 60. Extremely convenient for those commuters who now use the system each day.

The numbers don't sound huge. However, 60 bikes in a town with 65000 residents actually compares very favourably with other bike share systems in larger population cities. There is 1 bike per 1100 people in Assen, vs. one per 1300 for the very much hyped bike share scheme in London, for instance.

In other "dimple on a pimple"
news, NS now has a small trial
of electric OV-Fietsen. These are
also welcome of course, but let's
not get too excited.
By way of comparison, there is parking for about 2550 bikes at the railway station, or one for every 25 residents, as well as of course ample cycle parking elsewhere in the city. Of the total number of bikes being ridden, only a very small fraction are OV-Fietsen.

Bike share is a fine idea as a supplement to a cycling culture. It's nice to have bikes available for use at different locations, and can be a boon to some commuters. However, it doesn't in itself make a cycling culture. It's something which might reasonably receive a small part of cycle funding, but never a large part of total expenditure because it can only ever play a small part in the total picture.

The electric OV-Fietsen were launched with bicycle ride by retired cycle races.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Massive number of train passengers take the OV-fiets

The popularity of the OV-Fiets (Public Transport bicycle) knows no boundaries. I have written before about this nationwide shared bicycle rental system of the Netherlands’ Railways. It made headlines again in the Dutch newspapers recently because the one million bike rentals per year threshold will be passed this year*. OV-Fiets expects 1.1 million round-trips** for 2011, up from 835,000 in 2010. Another mile stone: the number of subscribers will pass the 100,000 mark this year. Up from 34,000 in 2008 when the Netherlands’ Railways took over OV-Fiets.

"Massive number of train passengers take the Public-Transport bicycle"

Investigations bring to light that OV-Fiets subscribers travel more by train, “because they can get to more places easily”. Sharing their enthusiasm with family and friends leads to more subscribers.

"Public-Transport bicycle immensely popular in the city"

Interestingly enough this program is not recognised by the people behind the bike share world map. They keep the Netherlands as a blank spot in the world of bike share programs because they feel the OV-Fiets system doesn’t meet their description of: “short-term bicycle rental available at a network of unattended locations” by either “coin deposit” or “high-tech”.

Many of the over 250 OV-Fiets rental locations in the country are indeed manned and thus attended. But a great number of the locations is not. In the video below you can see how the bike share system works at the railway station in the town of Heerlen in the extreme (and hilly!) South of the Netherlands. This is an unattended indoor bicycle parking facility. Where many people park their own bicycles but where you can also get your Public Transport bicycle, by use of electronics.

As can be seen in the video it is not the bike that is stuffed with electronics, only the entrance into the facility and the way you get to the key is taken care of electronically. Apparently this is all not high-tech enough. Oh well, just another thing that many people in the world don’t understand when it comes to the extremely effective cycling measures in the Netherlands.

* Although "one million trips per year" may seem like an awful lot, it is actually nothing of the sort. In the Netherlands people on their own bikes make "one million trips per hour".

** Other bike share programs are single-trips per rental. OV-Fiets is almost always a round trip (compared to two rentals in other programs) because usually you take the bike back to the initial rental point.

While we are debunking figures here: just how ‘massive’ is massive? The Dutch Railways claim there are over one million train travellers per day. So that would be 365 million per year. These 365 million travellers make one million bike trips by OV-fiets. Doesn’t really sound ‘massive’ now does it? Especially compared to the figure of 40% of train travellers using their own bike to get to and from the stations.

Bike share programs can be very convenient for an individual, but they will never really contribute to a higher mode share.

Monday 13 June 2011

False "green" excuses not to build cycle paths

Sometimes, cyclists are their own worst enemies. The people who should be most enthusiastic about building a better environment for cyclists, in which cycling is safer and quicker than the alternatives, and therefore attracts more people to cycle, are instead those who object to the construction of the facilities which would make this possible.

I've seen several variants of the "green" case against cycle facilities:

Cycle Paths will cause flooding
This is an interesting one. People believe that the run-off from a cycle path will cause drainage problems. The cases which I have in mind were discussions in Cambridge about surfaces for new cycle paths. Some campaigners were asking for soft and porous surfaces on cycle paths on the grounds that these would be less environmentally destructive than asphalt or concrete.

They're right, of course, on a simplistic level. However, the cycle paths being discussed were routes for transport, for many commuters and students. They were an alternative to taking a motor vehicle along a road. There are then several reasons why this argument is wrong:
    Dutch cycle path designed to
    operate also as a drainage ditch
  • Roads are always surfaced with asphalt or concrete, causing just the same drainage problems. However, these are built with a wider surface.
  • Roads add the problem of run-off containing oils and other fluids from the vehicles using them.
  • The level of maintenance needed is much higher than that of a cycle path because heavier vehicles destroy the surface they run on much faster than do lighter vehicles.
  • Seen as an alternative to an additional lane on a busy road, even the best quality of cycle path uses fewer resources and causes fewer drainage problems.
  • It is possible to construct a cycle path so that it also acts as a drain.
For these reasons, the drainage argument makes no sense. Cycling should be encouraged for many reasons. A surface which makes cycling more difficult, or indeed becomes slippery or difficult to ride on when wet does not encourage cycling.

Cycle Path lighting will cause light pollution
A related argument, from the same place, was that proper lighting on a cyclepath would produce excessive light pollution. Specifically I remember this as an argument about a cyclepath which would parallel the A14 - a very busy road near Cambridge.

Solar powered studs embedded in the
surface don't work because they don't
light the surface but only show where
some of the edges are. In this example
from Cambridge, stud lights hid the
kerb from riders and caused crashes.
This makes no sense for much the same reasons as the drainage argument makes no sense.
  • Any possible harm caused by cycle path lighting is much smaller than that caused by existing lighting and vehicle headlights on the parallel road.
  • Every person riding a bike uses bicycle lights which cause less light pollution than if they had been driving a car.
  • If the cycle path is successful enough that road expansion does not go ahead, then the savings can be far greater than the costs.
Here in the Netherlands, energy usage and light pollution by cycle path lighting is minimised by both use of LED light fittings and dynamic cycle path lighting which turns on only as it is needed.

Not all cycle paths have to be lit at all times. However, Good lighting in some locations is essential not only to make sure that cyclists can see where they are going but also to overcome problems of low social safety.

Trees would have to be removed
A third argument, used quite recently by campaigners in Cambridge to argue against building better provision for cyclists was that old trees would have to be removed. In the particular case, the concern was about trees which had been standing since the 1930s.

There are several reasons why this argument also doesn't stand up.

22nd April 2008. Trees removed
for major works on this bicycle
road have just been replanted
I was told as a child that money "didn't grow on trees". However, the one thing which certainly does "grow on trees" is of course trees themselves. Cutting urban trees and replacing them causes only a temporary change.

Eventually, any urban tree will become too large and need replacing. This is an ongoing process in all cities. It happened right outside our home when we lived in Cambridge. To bring forward the replacement of a few trees to enable construction of top class cycling provision (as in the photos on the right) benefits the environment.

13th May 2011. Three years later,
the new trees already look good.
There is a specific problem in Britain of both the cities and countryside losing trees. However, that must be addressed by campaigning in other directions than specifically against cycle paths.

The Netherlands manages to plant a lot of trees and to build cycle paths. Indeed, Assen is built around six woods, one with trees dating back to the middle ages. There is a strong policy for tree planting which has no equivalent that I'm aware of in the UK.
From a hill you can see how green Assen is. The many cycle paths have not had a negative effect.
Cycling is often promoted as "good for the environment". Often cycling campaigners are also interested in other environmental issues, and that is of course a good thing.

However, the bulk of the population are not "hair shirt" environmentalists willing to make compromises in comfort when they cycle. A high standard of provision is required to attract those not predisposed to cycling to take part. The average person needs a higher level of subjective and social safety than "cyclists" need. They won't cycle if it is something which is endured rather than enjoyed.

The good news is that cycling remains both beneficial to the environment and also cheaper than the alternatives even if cycling facilities are built to a high standard. If cycling is to reach out from the few to become something which is truly for the masses then it must be attractive and inviting. It must offer a level of comfort as well as offering direct and efficient journeys. Building cycle facilities to a lower standard, whether to save money or because it is more "green" is a false economy.

There are many myths and excuses sometimes used to explain why there is little cycling elsewhere. Many people find it easier to propagate these than to face the real reasons.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Let’s cycle to the beach

Thousands of people took their bicycles and went to the beaches last weekend in the Netherlands. For many it was a long weekend starting with Ascension day on Thursday. The weather was more typical for August than for early June and so it was perfect for a day to the beach. Not only the North Sea but also most lakes in the Netherlands have beautiful sandy beaches. And they are often more easily reached by bicycle than by car. Which only enhances the relaxed atmosphere around these pleasant beaches.

People on their bicycles around two of the city’s beaches in ’s-Hertogenbosch (a.k.a. Den Bosch) on Saturday 4th June 2011.

After all the focus on infrastructure in our past few blog posts it is maybe time to see the people again for which all this infrastructure was built in the first place. It is obvious that Dutch cycling infrastructure is being used in high numbers and by people of all ages, all classes and all backgrounds. When you are used to taking your bike for your trips, be it for commuting or running errands, you are much more likely to use your bicycle for your leisure activities too. And nobody seems to be doing it on their own. You see families, friends, young and elderly couples, large groups, you name it, all on their bikes having a good time together. And doesn't it look good!


Wednesday 8 June 2011

Three Way Street - Chaos in New York

Mike Rubbo sent me a link to this video by Ron Gabriel. It's very nicely made, and shows very dramatically the points of conflict which he saw over a brief period of time.

However, I think the way Ron himself as well as other people who have commented on the video talk about what they see is quite telling.

The discussion on Vimeo and on the blog is about "long-standing bad habits" of users of various modes, about "selfish people" and enforcement of the law.

I don't see the behaviour at this junction as being about "bad habits". What I see is simply a very badly designed junction which almost invites people to behave in the way that they do.

Dutch road junctions don't look like and work like this - the designs are different for a reason: A long-standing theme of Dutch road design is the concept of Sustainable Safety. Conflict is removed, collisions are therefore rare and the consequences of those collisions which remain are relatively small compared with other countries. Roads are made self-explanatory so that excessive signing is not depended upon to reduce bad behaviour but the way in which people behave is changed because of their environment. Less "enforcement" is needed when people have no reason to want to do dangerous things. This has resulted in the safest roads in the world.

The links below take you to several examples of these principles at work, some of which if adopted in New York could reduce the problems at junctions like this:
Most of these examples deal with cycling more than other modes. The others deal with pedestrians. There are reasons for this emphasis.

It's quite common in other countries that cyclists are singled out for more criticism than other groups. There is a reason for this. While there are sidewalks for pedestrians and roads for drivers, cyclists have no true place of their own and are left with a choice of "sharing the road" rather unequally with motor vehicles or riding illegally on the sidewalk. Cyclists are an out-group not only in social terms but also in terms of road design.

Road design overall is in general rather too dominated by motor vehicles. That's certainly the case in New York, and while New Yorkers walk quite a lot, conditions for cycling remain poor. This contributes to the still very low cycling rate of the city. There is an inadequate level of all three types of safety for cyclists and the lack of subjective safety is especially clear from watching the video.

Even amongst those who are brave enough to cycle in the city, few would want or encourage their children or grandparents doing the same thing.

There is a solution to this problem, but it doesn't come from maintaining the design status quo while enforcing rules. Design of infrastructure needs to change to reflect the usage which you want to have and to encourage people to behave in a safe way. It's especially important at intersections.

Cycling Province of the year 2011: Drenthe

Our local paper reports that Drenthe, the province of which Assen is the capital, has been voted as cycling province of the year for 2011. "Recreational cyclists find Drenthe the most attractive".

One of the areas of Heath in Drenthe. Beautiful, and with no motor access.
5000 people voted in an online poll, giving a score for such things as the attractiveness of the countryside and the quality of cyclepaths. Drenthe scored well due to the amount of space (it's the least densely populated part of the country) and quietness.

Talking to a customer in May in one of the ten Stiltegebieden or "silent areas" in Drenthe. This place is about 10 km from Assen and can only be reached by foot or by bike. It's very nearly completely silent. You have to get off your bike and stop to notice this. Usually you can't hear anything at all.
Drenthe really is a fabulous place to cycle. That's why we moved here.

We organise cycling holidays in Drenthe.

Monday 6 June 2011

Huge infrastructure projects finished quickly: Moving a canal sideways

Before we moved over here, something that impressed me on visiting was that so much infrastructure was new, and that each time we visited we would see a change since the last visit. Huge projects seem to manage to get completed on time and to a reasonable budget here, very much in contrast to where we lived in Britain.

Cycling from the outskirts by the ring-road to the centre of Assen on a nice sunny Saturday along the Vaart NZ bicycle road in Assen. On the bicycle road, the first 4:10 of the video, there were 59 bikes, three cars, two mopeds. On the other side of the canal, the main route for cars and a secondary route for bikes, there were 15 cars and an unknown number of bikes. I'm not going to even try to count the bikes in the city centre.

One particularly impressive piece of work which we've seen in Assen since we moved here is the renovation of the Vaart, a canal from the western edge of the city to the city centre. This stretch of canal is 2.5 km long, and 1.5 km of it was moved sideways by two metres in order to make the Northern side narrower and the Southern side wider. This had to be done because more space was needed on the Southern side in order to provide both a good quality segregated cycle path as well as pedestrian space, residential car parking and a route for drivers. The Northern side could afford to be a little narrower as it was to become a bicycle road and would no longer function as a through route for drivers.

The red line shows the extent of the works.
As well as the work to move the canal itself, the road was completely reconstructed on the South side of the canal and some of the North side of the canal and extensively reworked on the rest of the North side. The work also required a large bridge to be constructed to carry cars on the dual-carriageway ring-road over the cycle path in order to keep the cyclist route uninterrupted, as well as two new lifting bridges for cars and bikes, one new bridge for bikes only and moving an historical bridge into a position where it could be used by cyclists and pedestrians, but block motor vehicles.

The public face of the works was this humorous map. Zoom in to see individual cartoons of different aspects of the work.
While work was carried out, two temporary bridges were constructed to maintain routes for cyclists.

We moved to Assen in August 2007. The work shown in this post dates from 2007 and 2008, just before I started writing the blog. However, I took some photos, and a very interesting book provides some others:
15th October 2007 - View from the Southern side of the canal. Soil is being dug from the other side of the canal to fill this side, thereby moving the banks of the canal on both sides North by two metres. (The same location can be seen on Google Streetview)

15th October 2007 - The sidewalk and cycle path on the Southern side of the canal are now usable though the road has not yet been started. At this time, I spoke to someone in the council office about how impressed I was with this new cycle path. He told me it was just the secondary route, and that the bicycle road on the Northern side of the canal would be the primary route for cycling. At the time the photo was taken, only the first layer of asphalt, black, is on the cycle path.

While the road was taken up, gas, electricity, water, telephone and other services renewed their infrastructure to avoid the road being damaged prematurely in the future. (Google Streetview)

8th April 2008 - At the far western end of the canal. In the 1960s, this part of the canal was filled in and a large flat road junction built at this location (you can see how it looked here). When we moved into our home, at the end of August 2007, the earth had just been broken for the start of construction of this bridge. Now it's in use. The result is that cyclists can now ride to the centre of the city without having to stop to cross the road. Drivers who used to go in this direction have been redirected onto another bridge further North. The canal has not yet been dug out, but it will be done - providing a way for boats also to get to the city centre. The red colour comes from red tarmac, not paint. Additional white lines have not yet been painted on. (Google Streetview)

8th April 2008 - After the existing crossings of the canal were removed, two temporary cycle bridges were put in place to maintain cycle routes across the canal. This is important as if people stop cycling it may be difficult to get them to start again. There are many examples of cyclists being helped around roadworks on this blog.
13th April 2008 - This is the second temporary bridge which maintained cycle access during the works.
22nd April 2008 - On the Northern side of the canal, the existing road surface has been dug up to allow the centre to be changed to make this visually a bicycle road. New trees have been planted to replace those taken out when the canal was moved this way. (Google Streetview)
5th May 2008 - the centre is now partially in place on the bicycle road. One of the temporary cycle bridges is visible on the right of this photo. Much sand is left over from constructing the centre of the road. (Google Streetview)
30th June 2008 - the bicycle road is nearly finished. New trees have been planted to replace the old trees, the sand is dispersing. (Google Streetview)

30th June 2008 - the Southern side of the canal now has a road as well as cycle path, and the cycle path now has its final layer of smooth red tarmac as well as white painted markings, for the secondary route, and sidewalk. Note the small dark green bridge on the left of the photo which had historical significance. This was moved into a position where it could be used by cyclists on the bicycle road (primary route) on the other side of this canal. The cycle path has for some time now has its secondary layer of asphalt in red. (Google Streetview)

This bridge existed on the North side of the Vaart until the late 1970s, when motor traffic levels became too much for it.

This photo, taken in 2007, shows the same location from the 1970s until 2007. At this time it was was prioritized for motor vehicles.

In 2008, the historically significant Witterbrug was moved to this location in order to provide a route only for cyclists and pedestrians. Bollards are now used to prevent this also being a through route for cars. (Google Streetview)

Another blog post shows a different view of this bridge.

View from the city centre of the end of the canal in 1960 and 2007. This had originally been the "Kolk" - a wide part at the end of the canal large enough for boats to be turned around. However, it was filled in and used as a car park.
The end of the canal now. The car park has gone. It is now possible to travel by boat to the city centre once again, and to turn a boat around once you get there. The road on the left of the canal is the southern side of the canal, with the road and secondary cycle route. The road on the right of the canal is the Northern side, which is the bicycle road. The canal remains the same width as before, but both canal banks have been moved about two metres North. (Google Streetview)

A previous blog post shows what it is like to cycle from here to the centre of the city.

Works to the right of this photo are ongoing to build "De Nieuwe Kolk", which will combine library, theatre, cinema and arts facilities in an easy to reach place. This will include some underground car-parking facilities, in part to replace what has been lost here.
Google Earth images from 2007 and 2009
This is just one of the larger projects which have been completed in Assen since we moved here. The city is now in the planning stage for completely renovating another canal.

The photos from 2007 and earlier come from "Assen Verandert" - a book showing a lot of "before and after" photos which we reviewed three years ago. The title of the book means "Assen Changes", and it continues to change, meaning that a surprising number of 2007 images are now also representations of the past.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Rolling out a red carpet for cyclists

This blog post does not show an example of good cycling infrastructure. Please see the note at the bottom of this guest blog post which explains why.

The red of the cycle paths and lanes in the Netherlands is really standing out. It makes clear where the realm of the motorists stops and that of cyclists starts. Some people think the red is paint but that is not the case. It is actually a thick layer of very smooth red asphalt.

The video below shows how a Dutch street with separate red cycle lanes is created. Four rolling machines were needed for this street. Two roll out the red asphalt for the red cycle lanes and two the black asphalt for the lanes for motorised traffic.

The road was resurfaced because it wasn’t up to the very high Dutch standards anymore. Workers spent about two weeks scraping off the old top layer and then in one weekend the four machines rolled out the new top layer in a single sweep. According to the local newspaper about 700 metric tonns of asphalt for the 1 kilometre long street.

Before: earlier repairs clearly visible and an uneven surface.

After: new lids and a very smooth surrounding road surface.
The road is now very smooth again and the cycle paths are very clearly marked with a un-interrupted white lane (which means motorised traffic may never enter the cycle lanes, so there is “no stopping at any time”).

Before: an uneven and worn surface due to years of use.
After: very smooth new asphalt with a bright red cycle lane.
It may be interesting to know that this whole resurfacing exercise is only a temporary measure as the road is expected to be changed into a 30kph (18mph) zone within the next 5 to 10 years. The surface and width of a 50kph (31mph) road that it is now will not be suitable when that happens. A 30kph zone should have traffic calming measures like raised junctions and lanes for motorised traffic that are a lot narrower.  

A before-and-after ride from beginning to the end of the resurfaced street.

Cycle paths or lanes are not always red. There is no law regulating the colour of cycling infrastructure. It is for every municipality to decide. The city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch decided as follows:
  • main cycling routes are always red;
  • secondary routes can also be black (asphalt) but on ‘points of conflict’ they have to be red.
So that leads to the conclusion that the red is there for more than one reason. To make clear to cyclists where the main routes are and to other road users where they may encounter cyclists.

Note from David
Nothing prevents Dutch drivers from
swerving into on-road cycle-lanes and
causing danger to cyclists.
While Mark thought this facility worthy of praise, I'm less sure of its merit. I think it's unhelpful to show examples of infrastructure like this to a global audience as this gives the impression that on-road cycle lanes are a worthy type of cycling infrastructure. Such lanes do not keep cyclists safe in the same way as do cycle-paths away from the road and in many cases their existence excuses having not unravelled motor routes from cycle routes.
In the Netherlands, just as elsewhere,
people do not feel an adequate degree
of subjective safety due to on-road
lanes. They would often rather cycle
even on a pavement with a truck
parked on it than on the road.

In the Netherlands just as in other countries, lower quality infrastructure such as on-road lanes are associated with less pleasant and often more dangerous cycling.

Please see a future blog post which illustrates how all the problems which are caused by building on-road cycle-lanes elsewhere happen just as often in the Netherlands.

Please also read a blog post showing actual red carpets used to preserve space for pedestrians in a city full of bicycles.