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.


ibikelondon said...

Mark, that's some beautiful asphalt they are laying right there! I only wish our roads were nearly as smooth and well built.

Out of interest, here in the UK, most Councils don't have their own road surfacing teams but tender the work out to outside contractors who tend to cut corners and try to do a fast job for as little as possible. Is it also the case in the Netherlands? Also, who has control of this road, is it the local Council, the City or a national roads agency? I only ask because here in London we have an issue whereby roads are 'owned' and managed by about 4 different parties, which is why it is often difficult to get cycling infrastructure to run for any length of time as moving from one authorities' road to another seems to cause a massive amount of paperwork.

Great observations as ever, Mark!

My Best Friend Jen said...

Looks awesome! I can feel the wind in my hair already!

Clarence said...

expect those vids to get wide play.i could wish the streets in my town could be done so well as wish for any bike lanes at all.i've been reading your blog for some months now and am very glad that i found it.very well done and very well as many links to other points of view.given the opportunity, i would be in the netherlands tomorrow.

Paul Martin said...

Amazing, Mark!

Our cycleways are nothing more than paint which doesn't last very long. It is also an awful bright green colour, even in areas where there is no conflict.

One thing that struck me was just how neat & tidy the work is. Here in Brisbane the road resurfacing leaves bitumen & debris all over the footpaths & in the gutters - of course the road is clean.

When it comes to metal access covers here they wrap them in a plastic, woven bag and then just put the asphalt over the top, making no effort to tidy it up. Then, when it is cool, they just dig the cover out. The result is an indentation on the road with gaps & holes around these covers.

...this is because roadworks here are now done by private contractors. The lowest price wins... and we all lose.

Mark W. said...

@Mark: yes, we have that too. There are municipal, provincial and national roads. That are -I think- planned and maintained by each of those bodies respectively. But this is a simple municipal street so the local council is fully responsible here.

I would expect good cooperation between different authorities when provincial or national roads (the latter almost always motorways/freeways) have to be planned and maintained on the territory of different municipalities. We are a nation of consensus.

This work was carried out by a contractor. Hired by the council. It is a well known and large (8000 people in service) contractor that works in the entire country but coincidentally with the main seat in the municipality of 's-Hertogenbosch.

also @Paul Martin: We have very high standards in this country when it comes to aesthetics and tidyness. (Reason why the 'before' situation was not acceptable anymore.) No council would accept a contractor to cut corners or to do their job leaving a mess afterwards. That is just not in our nature.