Monday 18 July 2011

Convenience of cycle paths. Comparison of UK vs. Netherlands.

Assen - route from a 1970s suburb from the centre of the city. Nothing extraordinary. It could be anywhere in the Netherlands. This level of convenience is normal:

York - one of the top cycling cities in the UK. Again, nothing extraordinary. It could be anywhere in the UK. This level of inconvenience is not at all unusual:

British cyclists have good reasons to avoid cycle specific infrastructure. All too often, it's a mixed up, disjointed mess. However, this doesn't have to be so. It's really only a matter of design standards.

Dutch cycling infrastructure is made not as an after-thought or a box-ticking exercise. It is really meant for use. It joins up to provide a coherent grid of convenient routes which take you to all possible destinations.

This is true not only within the town, but also for longer rides, such as a 100 km ride that I made recently.

When cycling infrastructure gives cyclists efficient direct routes and promotes a high degree of subjective safety, that's when it can be used by the masses. For a high proportion of journeys to be made by bicycle, this attention to detail is not optional.

Don't fall for the idea that there isn't enough space in Britain. That's simply not true. Towns in the Netherlands used to look a lot like towns in the UK, as you can see from before and after photos of the very same city centre streets as appear in the first video.


christhebull said...

Since when has York had a superhypeway? Has the blue rash spread from London?

David Hembrow said...

It's not my video, Chris. However, I admit that I thought the title was quite amusing.

dr2chase said...

Slightly unrelated comment, about how population is distributed in Assen. I've been trying to figure out which US towns are "as dense as Assen", which Wikipedia helpfully tells me is 2000 per square mile. But, looking at satellite views, it looks like the town includes an undeveloped (or perhaps unpopulated) ring of some reasonable width, which means that the effective population density (as long as you don't need to travel to another town!) is higher.

Do I understand this right, or am I misreading the maps? I'm trying to make apples-to-apples comparisons of climate, density, and topography, to better make the case here in the US. (On the other hand, Cambridge+Somerville in Massachusetts is a nice match to Groningen, except for cycling ride share, and many of the towns around here have density much higher than 2000/sq mile.)

And isn't it amusing how the car in your video "takes up the whole road"?

David Hembrow said...

dr2chase: You'll probably never find two towns which are exactly comparable in density and layout. From what I can see, density has no correlation with cycling rate. Dutch towns and cities vary in layout just as much as those in other countries, but never do the densities approach the high figures of cities in other countries, including in some cases in the USA, which have much lower cycling rates.

And yes, cars. They're a nuisance, aren't they !

Simon said...

You make it sound as if the reason other countries don't have cycling facilities as good as those in the Netherlands is a lack of design standards or the "false" excuse of narrow roads. But the real reason is massive political opposition to creating good cycling infrastructure because to do so requires taking road space that is currently used by motorists. Nowhere on your blog do you pose a solution to this inherently political problem. The problem is not "what to build?", but "how do we create political support to build it?".

Mark W. said...

@simon "Nowhere"? try this post, it tells you exactly how in the Netherlands the political climate was influenced and changed.

David Hembrow said...

Simon: Finding political will is indeed a problem. I have a few posts about campaigning, including examples of campaigns which have worked, and others which have been less successful.

It is important to know where to find inspiration, and what to ask for. All too often campaigners seek only minor improvements as their goals, and this leads to slow progress or at worst no progress at all. said...

York could be in many German cities, even in so called bike friendly cities like Cologne.
Also "European Green Capital" Hamburg still has similar "cycle tracks". These were made to ban cyclists away from the road and to prefer car traffic. Some examples from Hamburg: Eppendorfer Baum, some new intersections, major cycle routes, some older cycle lanes, cycle tracks at bus stops, new invisible cycle tracks along a cycle route, inner city beer garden cycle tracks, election campaign cycle track, city cycle tracks, hotel cycle tracks, green cycle tracks.

Freewheeler said...

York has the second highest cycling modal share in the UK (around 15 per cent) but people who cycle there do so despite the infrastructure not because of it.

York is a ridiculously compact city yet the council promotes car dependency by making car use in the city centre attractive and convenient. The vast majority of car use in York is local.

If you talk to a York transport planner you soon find out that their top priority is motor vehicle accommodation, both in terms of traffic flow and parking. Walking and cycling are add-ons.

York ought to have an absolutely massive modal share for cycling but to do that would require vision.

The pedestrian zone is a farce, with blue badge users able to drive to the very centre of it (while cycling is banned). It is also widely flouted by drivers, who rat-run through it with impunity. There are spectacular levels of pavement parking in York, to which both the police and the council turn a blind eye.

The council claims its transport policies are based on a hierarchy of precedence which puts pedestrians first and cyclists second but this is demonstrably false, as anyone who has ever cycled or walked in York will know.

Is anyone campaigning in York for Dutch-style infrastructure? Not that I know of.

dr2chase said...

@Simon, one part of generating the political will, is to show that the anti-cycling excuses are unfounded. The hope is to get people who are on the fence to realize that the only thing standing between us and "nice things" (Netherlands-style bicycling infrastructure) is our choice not to have it -- that we're just as dense, just as flat, etc, etc, etc.

Design standards and practices are part of this because even when we do get well-intended infrastructure, if it is poorly designed or poorly executed it may well be useless. Cyclists will then not use it, and we get the all-we-do-for-you-ungrateful-wretches-and-what-thanks-do-we-get reaction. That's why I despise "sharrows" -- they're only installed when there is "no room" (except for that row of parked cars) and they don't make cyclists the least bit more comfortable -- it's Vehicular Cycling with road paint. People on a local mailing list thought they were graffiti when they first appeared.

Simon said...

Mark, the example you give may have been successful in the Netherlands, but in countries like Australia and the US it would play in the other direction - encouraging a crackdown on cycling in a ludicrous attempt to ensure the safety of children.

Frits B said...

dr2chase: Assen has a rather densely populated center and suburbs that are much greener. We have the town "elite" of two centuries ago to thank for that, as they preserved the old forest within the town limits and established private parks around their own houses. These back gardens, enormous plots, are slowly being absorbed by the town itself, but there still is a lot of green. I live between a private park on my left and the hospital's parkgrounds, formerly part of the gardens of the governor of this province, on my right. The town is careful not to use too much of this green land. See for example this development in the town center: In the lefthand bottom corner is the town hall where David's route ended. If you click on the tab "huidige situatie" you see the plot as it is now. There used to be a post office and a parking lot. The "toekomstige situatie" shows what is being built at this site. The parking lot will still be there but underground, and there will be shops and apartments on top. Local density will be a lot higher than elsewhere. And there will be no access for cars.

Henry said...

I love the fact that the "worst infrastructure in Assen" is still about a million times better than any cycle paths in the UK.