Saturday, 30 July 2011

The CTC and segregation

When I took this photo a few months back I thought it illustrated quite well the type of segregation from normal roads which the CTC in Britain has always supported - the motorway on the left behind the barrier giving motorists a way of travelling faster off normal roads - vs. the type of segregation which they generally are not so supportive of - the cyclepath on which my bike and trailer and the child heading in the opposite direction are using to ride in greater safer than by sharing the road with the van.

Anyway, this is really just an introduction to something I think it well worth reading elsewhere. David Arditti has written a very good piece called "1934 - The moment it all went wrong for cycling in the UK" on the history of campaigning around cyclepaths in the UK.

I took the photo a few months back on the return run of one of my frequent rides to get bicycle racks from a bicycle manufacturer in Hoogeveen.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Another cycling infrastructure update

This is another before and after view in 's-Hertogenbosch. And it is an interesting street because in the before situation there was no cycling infrastructure at all, which is rare for a more important street in the Netherlands. But also in the after situation the city of 's-Hertogenbosch choose to build cycle lanes and not cycle paths. There are far less cycle lanes than cycle paths in the Netherlands but here they were deliberately chosen.

This will have to do with the fact that the number of cars using this street is relatively low. Because although it is a main route for cyclists, it is not a main arterial route for cars. For motorised traffic this is just a 'neighbourhood connector road'. Meaning it serves as the access road for a particular part of the city but it does not provide a fast through route for cars that need to be in a different part of the city.

The remaining car lanes are narrower than the cycle lanes.
What is also interesting to see, is that the minimal width of the cycle paths was maintained even if that meant that the remaining space for the car lanes was too narrow to even fit a car. (As can be seen in the picture above.) This means that motorists will sometimes have to drive over the sides of the cycle lane. But because of the colour they know they are invading the space of cyclists while they are driving at that narrow spot. Most if not all drivers will sub-consiously reduce their speed and look out for cyclists. The red of the cycle lane is not paint, it is a coloured asphalt so it the colour will not wear off. Which is especially important now that cars drive over it in part.

The street (in black with arrow) is just a tiny fragment of the city's main cycling network.
The city of 's-Hertogenbosch is updating its entire cycle network under a 2009 cycling plan. This street is just a tiny fragment of the network.


Google streetView shows the 'before' situation.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Drents Fietsvierdaagse

We're now part way through the Drentse fietsvierdaagse. It's one of the largest cycling events in the Netherlands. Approximately 11000 people sign up to cycle four days in a row. It's not a race. Most people choose the shorter distances (40 km is the most popular distance) and it's about having a nice time, not about speed or covering huge distances.

The local TV station covers each day as it occurs. Here's their coverage of today's 40 km ride, which went North-West from Assen. You'll see the varied demographic of the riders, from very young to no longer quite so young but certainly still active, people with disabilities as well as the able bodied, sporty types (they tend to wear helmets and ride the 80 km, 100 km or the mountain bike route) as well as those who are just out to have a nice time. The footage includes people involved with the excellent organisation of the fietsvierdaagse. There are many, of course, and they work very hard. I know it's in Dutch and difficult to understand, but I think it's still worth watching:


The riders pass many villages, farms, churches, galleries and other places. Many of these places have something going on for the riders. Some of the places in the second video may look familiar to people who've been on our cycling holidays as we send people to some of the same destinations.

About one in 1450 Dutch people take part in the Drentse fietsvierdaagse. However, it is just one of over 60 such three or four day events around the country each summer. The rate at which people take part in mass cycling events in this country is one of the things that still amazes me.

Here's a film showing the opening yesterday. This includes the band which cycled around the centre of Assen to open the event:

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Holiday - and a car free island.

We took a few days holiday last week. This time we went just a few km North from here and stayed on a campsite in the countryside. I'm not going to show you all our family holiday photos, but a few photos of what we saw are perhaps interesting.

Swinging bridge in small fishing village. Note that there is just one lane for cars. Drivers have to negotiate passage over the bridge, while leaving the cycle part of the bridge for cyclists.

This formed part of the cycle path which led from our campsite to the village.
Home-made sign outside another village telling the drivers the names of all the children who play on the streets which they are about to drive through.


We took a ferry to Schiermonnikoog, a small island (half the size of Guernsey) just North of the mainland. It's really a holiday island, accessible only by boat. It's almost completely car free - tourists are not allowed to take cars to the island. The main means of transport is the bicycle. This is a queue for the cycle hire at the ferry terminal on the island. The ferry takes a maximum of a thousand people at a time, and almost all of them join this queue for hire bikes.

The only obvious "cycle path" on Schiermonnikoog leads from the ferry terminal to the island itself. To the left of this path is a road used by service vehicles (for deliveries etc.) which do drive around the island, as well as the bus service between the ferry and the hotels in the village.

This cycle path is needed because there are a small number of commercial vehicles which come off the ferry and a couple of buses which take passengers to the village and directly to hotels. In our day on the island we saw just one private car in use. Therefore, apart from here, riding even on the "main road" is usually a car free experience. In other places other techniques are used to empty rural roads of cars.

Many small children rode their own bikes around the island.

More tourists enjoying cycling on the island.

Cycle parking near one of the coastal cafes on the island

A video giving some of our impressions of Schiermonnikoog. We had a great time. It's really a wonderful place for a relaxing holiday, especially with young children. But perhaps not really the place for a "cycling holiday". With a size of just 17 km by 4 km, it doesn't take long until you're back where you started !

Back on the mainland... One day, the boyfriend of my eldest daughter came to visit. He brought his bike by train and we met him from the nearest railway station, in a village 12 km away. Like all Dutch train stations, this one has a lot of cycle parking even though it serves a village of just 2800 people. There are enough spaces for one in every eleven residents to park a bike at the station (I also made a video). We've covered railway station parking many times before.

The journey between the railway station and our campsite was made entirely on rural cyclepaths like this one, which connect the entire country together, and maintain a level of subjective safety which makes cycling accessible to all.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Just some people cycling in Den Bosch

While I am enjoying my holidays: here's something I prepared earlier.

The setting: a sunny Saturday afternoon in June, about 3 in the afternoon, an arterial route from the centre of the city of 's-Her-togenbosch to its suburbs. There are people passing in cars, on foot and on many bicycles.



What you can see in the video is an ordinary street in the Netherlands with ordinary cycling facilities and a normal amount and type of traffic. There is motorized traffic, cars and buses, some mopeds and a lot of cyclists and some pedestrians. Each type of traffic with its own part of the street. The central two lanes are for motorised traffic, there are wide one way cycle paths on both sides shielded from that motorised traffic by a meter (3ft) wide strip of grass and there are sidewalks on both far sides. This type of arterial streets is inviting to cyclists and this is the type of infrastructure that makes cycling very convenient and easy.

This six minute view in this street shows you not only that there are a lot of cyclists but also that they are very different. They are of all ages, cycle on a whole range of bicycle types and from what they have with them you can tell they cycle for a variety of reasons. We see a person carring a large musical instrument, people carrying groceries and there are people wearing sports outfits. You could also say they're all simply going from A to B. This is the face of mass cycling: relaxed and easy.

If you are interested to see the exact location in Google street view you can click the link below.

This street in Google StreetView




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.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

From cycle path to cycle route

As part of an elaborate cycle plan the city of 's-Hertogenbosch is currently updating its cycling infrastructure. The city wants to raise the modal share of cycling from 33% to 44% of all trips. David has already written about this 2009 plan before and he has shown some of my video's with parts of the plan. Some weeks ago I showed you how (also as part of this cycling plan) new red asphalt was rolled out in another street.

This blog post wil focus on one of the updates that was also finished. This was a street with a collection of cycle paths and service streets. In the new plan this street had to be updated with the latest minimal requirements to be a real main cycling route. With the update finished we see it can indeed be called a main cycling route now. We see this shift in thinking about cycling infrastructure all over the Netherlands. Governments in charge of road building (from the State, to the Provinces to the municipal authorities) think and plan much more in routes rather than in individual streets or paths. Which really is an improvement and gets the grid complete.

  
Before: cycle path ends in shared service street

After: cycle path continues as bicycle street where cyclists have priority and cars are guests
While the streets had to be redone completely, the city took the opportunity to also change all the sewer pipes, the telephone, data and electricity cables and the water and natural gas pipes. This is the usual thing to do in the Netherlands. There is good coordination between all the companies responsible for all these systems under supervision of the city or municipal authorities. This dates back from the time (not so long ago) that all these services were run by the councils themselves. Since all cables are underground in this country it is a very good thing that there is this coordination. You wouldn't want streets to be dug up separately by all the different companies.

All new cables and pipes for natural gas, electricity, water, telephone, television and data.

All the sewer pipes were also renewed.
The elaborate works took place late 2009, early 2010 and the below video gives a short overview. Not only were service streets completely redone, where necessary the existing cycle paths got a far better surface as well.


To see the full impact of this updated route, you can see the before and after situation in the video below. 
To be able to read all the annotations it is best to watch the video on YouTube in a larger size. (The annotations are not fully shown in the window below.)



Now that so many of the works were finished, two years after the cycle plan became active, the city of 's-Hertogenbosch apparently felt confident enough to be a candidate city in the election of 'cycling city of the Netherlands 2011'. It is one of the 18 cities in the long-list in this election by the Fietsersbond (Cyclist's Union). This summer five of the cities will be chosen to go to the final election.

Monday, 11 July 2011

"London is a first category cycling city"

Did you know that "London is a first category cycling city" ? It's one of the things I've learn from spending a few minutes reading about Walking and Cycling in England (they deleted their page, so I deleted the link), according to the visitengland.nl website - the Official website in Dutch for tourism in England. It makes for very interesting reading.

visitlondon.com takes a slightly different line. According to them, "When you cycle through the busy traffic in London, it is of the highest importance that you wear a helmet. Some cyclists also use face masks. Make sure that you're seen by other road users: wear reflective clothing." That doesn't sound quite like a "first category cycling city" to me. For more views of London, check out earlier posts or bloggers from the city listed on the right.

You perhaps expect tourism websites to make positive claims for the places they're selling, but at what point does exaggeration become dishonesty ?

Several years ago, on one of our many ferry trips between Harwich and Hoek van Holland before we moved here, we fell into conversation with a Dutch couple who were heading for England. They'd got two children with them, both under ten, and the plan was that with all four on their own bikes they would ride from the ferry port at Harwich to Stonehenge. This is the sort of thing that Dutch families do within the Netherlands because it's supported by infrastructure which makes this type of thing into a relaxing family holiday. The British tourism websites give every impression that it's perfectly normal and supported by infrastructure in the UK as well. We tried not to be too negative about what they were attempting. After all, they were already on the ferry, half way across the North Sea before we got to speak to them. It was a bit too late for them to decide not to go. However, clearly they'd been taken in by the publications of the tourist information organisations of the UK, and thought this was as realistic a thing to do as it is in the Netherlands. We last saw them, all four on their own bikes, contemplating what to do at this huge roundabout just one kilometre from the port:


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Where they went next, we don't know. The most direct route south west is the A120. You can legally cycle here, but not many people would want to with cars legally driving at 60 mph / 100 km/h:


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I used to mainly take the B-road alternative routes. They are a little more civilised than the A roads, but make your journeys longer. However, would you ride here with children ?


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We don't know which route they took. If they were looking for a relaxing holiday they'd have been best off getting on the next ferry back to the Netherlands - we'd taken our bikes in the opposite direction for a reason.

And at their destination ? Stonehenge is wedged in a triangle between the A303, the A344 and an unrideable byway. No effort has been expended to make it accessible by bike. The visitor information says you can "find this site on the National Cycle Network". However, click through and you find that the National Cycle Network stops a couple of miles short, and that even that access is actually "on road". The approach from the west to Stonehenge itself is along the A303. The speed limit here is 70 mph (112 km/h):


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This is what doesn't happen in the Netherlands. You can go everywhere without having to "share the road" with motor vehicles travelling at 100 km/h. It is quite practical to set off with children and cycle to interesting places at a considerable distance. The destination will be reachable by bike, and the journey will be pleasant.

Many British cyclists have discovered that the experience of "sharing the road" with drivers is not always a pleasant one. When we lived there I had my share of unpleasant incidents including regularly being passed too fast and too close, cars overtaking in the opposite direction driving straight at me, drivers coming out of side-roads and expecting me to stop, being overtaken as I clearly indicated a right turn, projectiles being thrown from windows, being driven into on purpose by drivers trying to "educate" me that I should ride my bike illegally on the sidewalk, and even people actually getting out of their cars and punching me. Reporting such incidents to the Cambridgeshire police typically brought a verbal response along the lines of "cyclists cause a lot of problems". No action was ever taken against any drivers that I complained about and after a while I stopped wasting my time by complaining. Nothing has changed. Here's a video of an assault on a cyclist from a few days ago:


Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Police have found it to be completely impossible to work out who this driver is.

Compare and contrast with another Dutch language tourism website which says that the English behave as gentlemen on the roads. Actually, I've heard several Dutch people express such an opinion. It's similar to how British people express an opinion about Dutch or French drivers. The reason is simple: people get an inaccurate impression from short holidays. On holiday you stay in one place only for a short period, reducing your exposure to problems, tend to avoid rush-hour, mostly ride in places other than the centres of cities, don't have any memory of where previous incidents occurred and of course you wear the most rose-coloured of glasses.

I don't believe that drivers behave very much differently in one country vs. another. However, our rose coloured spectacles about the Netherlands came off a very long time ago but it remains less stressful to cycle here. The reasons are simple: In the Netherlands, cyclists interact rarely with motorists. Where there are interactions it is obvious who has priority. That's what makes the experience here different. There's a reason why you regularly see school trips by bike here, but not in Britain.

The first website also says that "Northumbria has the most beautiful, well marked cycle paths" which "criss-cross through the area and take you to interesting places". I'd like to know where they are. It is a lovely area, but when we were on holiday there, all our cycling was on roads (a comment points to this cycle path in Northumberland). There's a lot of exaggeration about: Another British tourism website claims that Rutland Water is the largest artificial lake in western Europe, which is a bit weird given that it covers only one hundredth of the area of the IJsselmeer.

The video was also featured on crap walking and cycling in waltham forest and as easy as riding a bike.

There's more on London, Britain and exaggeration.


Sunday, 10 July 2011

School bike trip


This video has explanatory captions which will only be visible if you watch on a computer and not on a mobile device.

One of the "hazards" of cycling in the Netherlands is the frequency with which you'll come across large groups riding bikes slowly. Sometimes older people, sometimes children. You have to slow down until it's safe to pass, but I'm not complaining.

On the way home from Groningen a few days ago I came across this school group going somewhere or other. I rode behind them at their pace until it was safe to pass, then videoed them as I went by.

This is a very common sight here, but I usually miss it because I'm usually working when the schools are in session.

My 11 year old daughter setting off
on the end of primary school cycle
camping trip. This is not something
done by progressive schools in
"cycling cities" but normal for
almost all Dutch schools.
We knew before we moved here that Dutch children rode their bikes to school, and that the average age that they travelled independently to school was very young, but we had no idea that the schools also did the majority of their trips by bike.

That applies to primary schools as well as secondary schools. Sometimes they give the students instructions for where they should go, and leave them to find their own way and sometimes the teachers ride with the students.

The same daughter took this
photo last week on another
school trip. A good illustration
of the subjective safety which
makes this possible.
At the end of primary school, it is common for entire classes to go on cycle camping trips. Our youngest daughter took part in this, riding about 150 km over three days, and having a lot of related adventures including swimming in lakes and "dropping" - an activity where children find their own way back to the campsite at midnight after being left in the forest.

In the world's safest country for cycling, anything is possible. The emphasis has been on taking care of real dangers, not imaginary ones.

The road in the video is one of many small country roads which doesn't provide a through route by car, but only by bike.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Cycling as a revolutionary activity

A couple of weekends ago we cycled over to the anarchist festival in nearby Appelscha. It was a very peaceful event, alcohol and drug free, with friendly people who had gathered from all around Europe and further afield to share tasty vegan food, indulge in lots of interesting discussion and look through books and leaflets on an abundance of stalls.

A sign in the tea shop read "First a cup of tea, then the revolution". I thought this summed it up quite well. While there were very passionately held beliefs amongst the group, there was little, if any, enthusiasm for violent rebellion.

Don't get the wrong idea. I like this.
Anyway, there were other aspects which amused me. One group of people from Scheveningen are organising a DIY Bike Festival in August. It's very much an imported "bike culture" event. For instance, they're going to have a "critical mass". This is quite a strange thing to see in an established bike culture.

The term "critical mass" as applied to cycling originated from "Return of the Scorcher", a film made by Ted White in 1992 where one of the interviewees reflected on how a "critical mass" of cyclists seen in China were able to force their way through motorized traffic. It was an appreciation of this, and a desire to have a real cycling culture, which resulted in the term being used to describe the events which now take place in many cities around the world where cycling is under pressure. I wish the organisers all luck and success with their event, but can't help but feel that to bring this back to the Netherlands is to misunderstand what it is in the first place.

"Step 1. Remove the wheel from the
bicycle" - not if you ride the type
of bike
 that most people in an
established bike culture ride.
It was also possible to pick up a nicely made leaflet called "a rough guide to bicycle maintenance" which apparently dates back to "the 2003 portland zine symposium" (all lower case letters are theirs, not mine). The first step in the instructions for how to fix a flat is to "remove the wheel from the bicycle". This is again out of place. Where there is an established bike culture where bikes commonly have hub gears, hub brakes, chaincases and other practical things, it is more time consuming to remove a wheel and most people will first patch the tube without removing the wheel. It's the wrong lesson in this context.

Tradional Dutch style pumps by the door of
the cafe in Appelscha. Forgotten sign of a
real cycling culture.
Just inside the door of the cafe was a collection of traditional Dutch style bicycles pumps. If you had a flat tyre, you were actually in the right place here.

The presence of these pumps, and the collection of bikes behind the cafe, are sure signs of a real, thriving bicycle culture. However, it's a bike culture that the Dutch often don't even realise is special.

I like events for "cyclists". I like riding unusual bikes. I also like to see people doing what the people in Scheveningen are doing, in organising their event. I wish them the best of luck with it. However, what I really celebrate, and what makes cycling in the Netherlands extraordinarily special, is that normal people on bikes, in their millions, go about their everyday business by bikes.

We saw another example the same day on the bike path home from Appelscha. This chap was moving an implausibly large object by bike. It is not unusual to see this sort of thing going on. People simply use the tools they have to hand, and those tools are often bicycles:

On the way home we saw this man with an implausible large object on his bike.
There is a danger here for the Netherlands. Many of the things which make this country special are not appreciated by the locals so much as they are by those of us who moved here in order to be a part of it.

If the Netherlands takes its cue for what a cycling culture should be from countries with less cycling, then it is likely that what will actually happen is that cycling will become more marginalized, just as it is in those other countries. In fact, just as it is to a greater or lesser extent in every country but this one.

In this country, cyclists are not an out-group. Cycling is not a revolutionary activity in the Netherlands. Nor does it need to be made into one.

If you want to achieve a real cycling culture in a country other than the Netherlands, there is no other country which provides a better example. Sadly, China is no longer the inspiration that it was when it inspired the film-maker in 1992.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Mike Rubbo's exhibition, Pat's spinning tops

Mike Rubbo recently sent us one of his wonderful artworks. It shows a view of Peter and myself disappearing into the distance in our Mangos. It was drawn from a photo made by Paul Martin during the Cycling Dutch Style tour by an Australian group earlier in the year.

Mike's got an exhibition at the Tap Gallery in Sydney called "Nothing But Bikes". The exhibition opens on Monday, the 4th of July, and runs until the 17th. Sixty one items of "Bike Art" will be on display. Worth a trip. Especially good as somewhere to cycle to. However, Australia is unfortunately a bit too far away for us to go. We've got just the one picture here, it's wonderful, and we feel honoured to have it.

Please visit Mike's blog to see more examples of his work, and more details of the exhibition. Mike also has a website selling his artworks.

We were also lucky enough to receive a second gift this week, also unique and different. Pat Franz from Terracycle in Portland came to Assen with his daughter on a cycling holiday organised by Judy.

Before leaving Assen, they gave us four spinning tops (one for each of the family), each of which they'd made of a US quarter dollar with a very nicely machined piece of metal as the axis. These are themselves a great example of the quality of Terracycle products. They're beautifully made and work really well, spinning as freely as their famous idlers:


If the name Mike Rubbo rings a bell, it's perhaps because he's not only an accomplished artist but also a famous filmmaker. It's quite likely you'll have seen his work before, either on the small or large screen.