Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cycling back to school

It has been 34 years since I started riding to school on my bicycle. A big change in the life of any Dutch child is going from primary school to secondary school. Primary schools in the Netherlands are usually at walking distance. In my days we even walked there unsupervised. Nowadays kids are usually taken by their parents on foot, by bicycle or indeed by car. But once the kids start secondary school –usually at the age of 12– it means they will be going there without supervision and on their bicycles. Then as well as now.

I looked up my old school diary and I had only written ‘first day at school’ on Tuesday 16th August 1977. My parents didn’t send me unprepared. They had carefully plotted a route for me. In the mid and late seventies cycling was as its all time low in the Netherlands and although cycling infrastructure was there, it was fragmented and you needed to plan to be able to ride a route that was as safe as possible.

So my parents planned a route around the city centre and along busy streets. That last bit may seem odd but it isn’t. In the 1970s traffic calming was not common yet, but the busy main streets outside city centres did have separated cycle paths or lanes and my parents wanted me to be on those. So we had spent several Sundays trial riding the route together. I had to prove I knew the route well and they were also monitoring my behaviour around traffic carefully. Giving me hints and tips.

I have cycled unsupervised from then on. With but one exception. One afternoon my mother suddenly showed up with the family car, worried by the first Autumn storm with heavy rain and wind. Right in front of the school, she put my bicycle in the trunk of the car to drive me home. It was with the best intentions but all my class mates were laughing and I urged my mother never to embarrass me like that again. She didn’t.

I hadn’t seen my old home for years, but recently I rode the route again. Not much had changed! The biggest difference was that a level rail road crossing was now a tunnel. But apart from that little else has changed. Some of the infrastructure seemed old fashioned and one junction is clearly not up to present standards. Riding along the busier streets and on old fashioned cycle lanes is unpleasant. You couldn't call the route dangerous, but you can argue if this is still the best route to take.

Cycling the safe route my parents had planned for me 34 years ago.

That route also meant I had to take a detour. So after some time I rebelled and started following a shorter route right through the city centre. It meant negotiating with heavy traffic, smelly buses that took your breath away in narrow streets that also were full of cars and trucks. Motorised traffic was more often standing still than driving. I decided to ride that route again too. And surprise: almost everything in the city centre has changed!

Cycling the shortest route
that my parents did not allow me to take 34 years ago.
Motorised traffic was diverted around the centre. Streets became one way to make through traffic impossible. Whole areas of the city were transformed into 30km/h (18m/h) zones, making the streets unattractive for through traffic. Bus routes were diverted and cycle paths have been created. The most striking difference is the street in the picture below that I had to cross: in 1977 still a four lane main route, now (and since a long time already) not accessible for private cars anymore, only for buses and bicycles. The whole route was much more pleasant, since you see so little motorised traffic. The route that was more dangerous in the 1970s is the more pleasant and safer route now. And it is also the most direct route.

The same street in the 1970s and now. From four lane major route to a street that is completely closed to private motorised traffic.

So what can we deduct from this?
  • Traffic calming (diverting and slowing down motorised traffic) can do a lot for cycle safety too. Especially if those traffic calmed areas are connected with good and direct cycle paths where they are needed.
  • Once there are cycle provisions in streets they won’t be changed much, not even if the provisions are not up to standard anymore. If sub-standard cycling infrastructure is being built. You might be stuck with it for 30 years or more.
  • (Because) streets that do not have any provisions will be updated first and they may become even better than the earlier updated streets.

Routes to school. In green the longer and safer route in 1977, mostly following main arterial roads since they already had cycle provisions. The red and more direct route stays well away from arterial roads and is now more pleasant since it goes through an area of the city that has been mostly closed to motorised through traffic since 1977.
Link to a google map with these routes.

Monday, 26 September 2011

A triple bicycle bridge in Groningen

The explanatory captions on this video are only visible if you watch the video on a computer and not on a mobile device. Another video provides a different view of this bridge.

The Korrebrug, or Gerrit Krol-brug, is the busiest bridge for cyclists in Groningen. Over 14000 cyclists pass over this bridge every day. We took last week's study tour to see the bridge.

While the bridge is open, the cycle and pedestrian bridges
can be used to cross without waiting.
It's a good example of the Netherlands going to extraordinary lengths for cyclists. It's over a busy shipping route to the city, so sometimes, this bridge has to open to let ships through. This caused a huge tailback of bicycles each time it happened until the council came up with an excellent solution.

There's a choice. If you don't mind waiting, there is no need
to climb the other bridges.
Two smaller bridges (one for each direction of travel) we provided in 1995 to allow cyclists bypass the main bridge when it is open. They are higher, and require taking your bike along wheel guides over steps, but of course they are optional to use. If you're in a hurry, take the smaller bridges. If you don't mind waiting, are transporting a heavy cargo on your bike, or don't want to or are unable to climb steps, wait a few minutes for the main bridge to close again.

For some people, waiting is a
social occasion
The main bridge is shared between drivers and cyclists. However, cars are vastly outnumbered by bikes. Drivers of course don't have the option of taking the smaller bridges in the event of the main bridge being open.

This solution to a problem for cyclists is almost certainly unique in the whole world. During last week's study tour, I said this to a pair of youngsters who were unable to work out why people had come to take photos of their bridge, which they cross every day on the way to and from school, and which is utterly normal to them.

Now let's go over that again. There was an existing bridge, already mainly used by cyclists. This has been bypassed by not one, but two, extra bridges, both of which are only used by cyclists, and then only for the few minutes of each day when the main bridge is open.

And what does the world know about this ? Very little. There are lots of examples of exceptional engineering for cyclists all across the Netherlands. These things are planned and built without hype and fanfare. There are many cycle bridges in Groningen which would seem exceptional elsewhere, and that goes for all Dutch cities.
Gerrit Krol is a locally born author. In 1998, he wrote a story "de oudste jongen" in which he revisited places where he went as a child. The opening passage of this story describes how when returning from a long cycle ride and passing the sign for "Groningen", he felt that it could just as well have read "Gerrit Krol" because he was now home. The bridge displays this passage on a plaque.
Sadly, Gerrit Krol passed away on the 24th of November 2013
Why this bridge isn't so important as you might think Exceptional infrastructure like this is always interesting to see, but what causes people to cycle in large numbers is the very tight network of everyday, but high quality, cycle routes.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cycling Study Tour - Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Just a short blog post. We had a great time this week showing around the good people of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (plus Patrick Morgan from the Cycling Advocates Network in New Zealand).

Standing where there used to be a car park.

Marvelling at the width of a single direction cycle path through a village part way between Assen and Groningen (it's the same on the other side of the road).

Watching the action at a simultaneous green junction.

Railway station cycle parking in Groningen

Reading through books and the evening presentation.

Joe Dunckley caught primary school children at lunchtime in Assen. It's not the same school as we videoed before. They're all like this.

Secondary school travel in Groningen
Others have also already written about the tour: Sally Hinchcliffe (and again), David Arditti (and again), The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (Day 1, 2, 3), stabilizer's photos, and through twitter.

On the study tours, we show what everyday cycling really looks like with the quality cycling oriented infrastructure of the Netherlands. We don't cherry-pick good locations because there is no need to. It's very simple: people make a huge number of journeys by bike because the infrastructure makes it possible with a feeling of subjective safety which is not rivaled elsewhere.

The study tour busts myths about the Netherlands. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. A good solution can be found in every location, from the oldest streets through to the newest. It's possible to achieve a similar cycling environment everywhere, but this requires that you really want it and will work hard towards it.

This is the second larger study tour which we have held this year. A little earlier in the year we did a tour with a group of Australian visitors.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cycling and chosing a place to live

A healthy cycling climate is not only about safe and protected cycling infrastructure. That there is much more to it sometimes becomes unexpectedly clear. In a newspaper article about moving to a different home a Dutch couple explains what their motivations were.

'When I can take the children
to school by bike
one car will go.'
They tell us that among other things their wish to move from The Hague to Leiden has to do with the commuting distance. Both work in Leiden, go to sports clubs in Leiden and they have friends and relatives there.

So far it could be a reason for a move anywhere else in the world as well. But the couple goes on: “In the Hague it was too far to cycle back home in the children's school lunch break, that is why we needed two cars. When I can take the children to school by bicycle we will be able to get rid of one car.

The wish to be able to cycle to school as one of the reasons for moving to another home. That is a sign of a healthy cycling climate in a country. Even if the underlying reason here is also to save money, cycling is considered a sensible solution to achieve that goal. And cycling is an important factor in choosing where you live for many people in the Netherlands. They try to live at cycling distance of their every day destinations and a railway station to combine the bicycle with the train to cover longer distances.

Home builders know about this too. When they advertise new homes it is clear they show what potential buyers want to know: ‘where can I keep my bicycle?’ The artists’ impressions show exactly that.

Artist impression of a two bedroom home in the Netherlands. In the red circle bicycle parking with a separate entrance to the street. Parking your bike becomes very convenient like this.
When considering cycling as good alternative transport it is not only necessary to be able to reach your destination safe and conveniently by bicycle and to be able to park your bicycle at that destination, it is also necessary that you are able to keep your bicycle stored well where you live.

Detail of an in-home room for parking your -every day- bicycles. Also with a direct exit to the street right next to the front door.
When a society facilitates all this it changes the mindset of people and they can choose for the bicycle with confidence.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Every Roundabout in Assen

In my last post I said that every roundabout in Assen had cycle facilities. Cyclists don't use the road on any of them. I thought it might be interesting to show what these roundabouts look like, as they're quite representative of what you might find anywhere in the Netherlands. I've ridden in all these places and they all work well by bike. Cyclists are thought of at roundabouts. Not just at a few special ones, but everywhere. This is an essential part of roundabout design for cyclists.

Here are aerial shots of all the roundabouts in Assen, all of which include cycle facilities. The images are taken from Google Maps. If you're interested, you can look for them, with their context, yourself.
Roundabout on ring road. The underpass from South West to North East, nearly as wide as a road, provides direct cycle access to the city centre without having to stop (previously seen here). The cycle path is four metres wide, and next to it (barely visible in the picture) is a two metre pedestrian path. The North-South road is the ring road around Assen. Cyclists are not permitted to use any of the roads in the picture, so not having access to them is not a problem. Going through the underpass is in any case quicker than going around the roundabout. See what the experience is like for cyclists at this roundabout in this video.
North of the city, this roundabout connects the motorway junction with the direct road North. High quality cycle paths go in all directions except onto the motorway. The paths heading North are unbroken for 5.5 km to and through the next village. They have an especially smooth concrete surface which has priority over all side roads and are well separated from the road to and through the next village. At this point there is no pedestrian path as there is little pedestrian traffic. The few people who make this longer walk use the cycle-path.

In a new and as yet undeveloped industrial area, the cycle (red) and pedestrian (grey) paths don't provide access to the road to the North East - towards the motorway junction.

Near "big box stores", a combination of cycle paths, and service roads provide easy access by bike, while pedestrian paths provide routes for pedestrians. Cyclists are required to cross two lanes at once in the bottom left corner of this roundabout and this makes it one of the less easy roundabouts to use by bike.

Near an industrial area at a ring road crossing. Cycle paths provide for all directions except along the ring road which is closed to cars (there are other routes for bikes).

The ring road is intersected by direct cycle route to the centre of the city from outlying villages.

Busy road to the East within a residential area. Cycle paths go in all directions around this roundabout, merging with 30 km/h roads to the North and South.

Industrial area. Cycle path approaches from the North, access road continues safe access to the South. To the East is a motorway junction. No cycle access there.

A junction on the ring road by which cars bypass the older direct route to Assen. No need for bikes to use the road West to East here as this is merely a bypass of the older and more direct route a little further North which remains open to bikes but is no longer usable by car. This roundabout has an extra lane which allows drivers to go from west to east without giving them the option to turn left. This combined with the requirement that cyclists cross two lanes at once makes it more difficult for cyclists to use safely. Happily it is not quite so bad as a turbo roundabout, and it is in any case not a heavily used junction by bike.

Junction inside residential area. Note that large "30 km/h" signs on the residential streets s are visible, as are cycle paths in all directions. 30 km/h roads sometimes have separate cycle paths.

On the western edge of Assen, motorists are now directed to the south instead of continuing along the canal. The old direct route into the city alongside the canal remains a through road by bike but not by car.

In a new housing development, cyclists mostly travel South to North-West or North-East. An extra access is provided for people who live on the West.

An asymmetrical arrangement. The main route is North to East, so the cycle paths are not the same on the west wide.

In a new residential area, the road to the south west has a 30 km/h speed limit and is relatively lightly used.

Residential area, cyclists can more easily access homes than motorists can.

A direct route to the new suburb on the west of Assen is provided here. The road to the North East is access to a natural gas extraction facility and does not need cycle access.

This area to the West is as yet mostly undeveloped. However, the roundabout has been built in preparation for cycle traffic which may appear in the future

Where the ring road passes close to a residential area and a route out of the city to the North West, a cycle path provides for the only direction that cyclists need to go in this location.

Between residential areas on the West and the centre of the city, this roundabout provides easy access for cyclists (See this roundabout from the point of view of a cyclist in a previous blog post)
Finally, just because someone will probably spot it on a map, there's also this "roundabout" with no obvious cycle facilities. However, actually it's not really a roundabout in the same sense. This is a residential area without through routes for motor vehicles:
This is a small "roundabout" in a residential area. All streets have a 30 km/h speed limit, and are arranged so as not to be through roads for drivers. However, it's not equivalent to the others. These roads are not for through-traffic. This is an example of segregation of modes without cyclepaths. The same rules do not apply. Take a look on streetview.
On this side of the North Sea, cycling facilities are not an optional extra to be omitted at any time that it's a little difficult to work out what to do, but a fundamental part of the design of roundabouts - just as with everything else on the roads.

To design a Dutch inspired roundabout adopting only the geometry but without cycle paths, as I've seen proposed in the UK, is to very fundamentally miss the point. This is just one of many ways in which what has been achieved in the Netherlands has been misinterpreted elsewhere.

For cycling provision to be able to influence peoples journey choices and encourage a high modal share for cycling, it must be universal and consistent. This way you get adequate subjective safety so that people will cycle. It is never too late to start building such a network, and it won't take as long you think.

Safety ?
In Assen, cyclists do not have priority where cycle-paths cross roads approaching roundabouts. This has been shown to be slightly safer than the design used in some other parts of the Netherlands where cycle-paths have priority over the road crossing. Whether or not to give cyclists priority has long been a contentious subject because of this balance between safety and convenience. However, overall safety is good at both designs of Dutch roundabouts.

2014 update
Since this blog post was written, Assen has built one new roundabout in a residential area which is very similar to the tenth example above complete with similar cycling infrastructure and begun construction of two turbo-roundabouts. Turbo roundabouts are a special kind of roundabout designed to deal with high volume of motor vehicles. They are not intended to be used by cyclists. Assen's two new turbo roundabouts are being built to cater for a new motorway junction well away from any cycle routes. They are not easy even to approach by bike.

Connecting a roundabout with cycle paths to a road without them

I recently had an online conversation with a planner in Bedfordshire in the UK who was designing a "Dutch style" roundabout using Dutch geometry but with no special cycle facilities. To me, this sounds rather like making a cheese sandwich without the cheese. The reason why Dutch roundabouts are designed as they are was being missed on a very fundamental level.

The reason stated not to include cycling facilities was that a short way beyond the roundabout, cyclists would have to join the road again. This is inevitable, of course, in the current situation because you can't do everything at once. However, it's not a reason why the right thing shouldn't be done at the junction which is being redeveloped.

My correspondent asked for examples. Between this and the next post, it should be possible to gain a reasonable idea of how Dutch roundabouts work, though obviously not as good an impression as would be gained from coming here to take a look.

In practice, the difference in experience for a cyclist using a Dutch roundabout and a British roundabout is not just the geometry. Specific cycling infrastructure is a part of roundabout design and that is what makes cycling so much safer and more pleasant on Dutch roundabouts. It's really not the same at all to take the geometry of Dutch roundabouts without also including the cycle facilities which go with them.

Even where there are no cycle-paths on adjoining roads, there is still an advantage to having them around a roundabout. There is a big safety advantage as well as a potential improvement in convenience to well designed junctions, including around roundabouts.

I've not found a roundabout locally with no cycle facilities at all. However, this one in a village a few kilometres North of the city provides a good example of how to link a road without cycle-path to a roundabout with cycle-path, preserving safety on the arm of the roundabout which doesn't have a cycle-path.

Note that this video includes explanatory captions which are only visible on a computer and not on a mobile device.

Some may quibble at having to give way at the crossing of the other roads joining the roundabout itself. However, consider that if I didn't give way where I do in the video, I'd otherwise have done so to the same car on the roundabout itself. In practice, most usage of this junction by cyclists is on the main West-East cycle-path which we join very briefly on our way around the roundabout. Because the road to the South serves only a dead end road with one business and a farm on it, there is rarely anything to give way to. The only way to have to give way twice is to ride around the roundabout in order to make a video.

The industrial area just North of the roundabout does not have segregated cycle paths, but just cycle lanes on the road. In the Netherlands, this is quite unusual. There are 29000 km of cycle-path separated from the road, but just 5500 km of on-road cycle lane. However in a location like this, with a 30 km/h speed limit on a road which mainly serves adult cyclists, this is adequate provision.

The direction travelled in the video is shown by the red arrow. The pink lines are the other cycle-path which we intersect. These provide the main West-East route for cyclists. The road to the South serves one business and a farm. It doesn't offer a through route by bike or car.
The reason why the Netherlands has a comprehensive network of good quality cycling infrastructure and the UK does not comes down to two things: They made a good start, and they've continued with the effort to make things better.

What exists here now wasn't all built at once. Rather, isolated islands of infrastructure were built and eventually they came to be joined up to make the current network.

The best approach in Britain to be to insist on building examples of the best possible infrastructure rather than taking the approach that it's not worth doing something because it isn't already done elsewhere. It is inevitable that in the UK at the moment good examples will be isolated islands. The important thing is to make sure that those isolated islands are of good quality. Good things sell themselves. Once something has been shown to work well, as Dutch roundabout design including cycle paths certainly do, then it is easier to make a case for more of the same elsewhere.

Please also read the next post.

We offer Study Tours in the Netherlands in order to provide a service to campaigners, planners and other parties with an interest in how the Netherlands has achieved its extraordinary modal share and safety figures for cycling. Uniquely, we've experience of both the UK and the Netherlands and know how the two countries compare from a cyclists point of view. We offer a time-saving way of finding out what the important differences are, rather than having people making guesses from the other side of the North Sea. Thus far, no-one responsible for designing cycle provision in the UK has come on any of our tours.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Litter and McDonalds

A few days ago I took our car to the garage for its annual inspection. Going to the garage meant going past the local McDonalds, and... well, there's a story to be told:

In the past, people have asked me why it is that there is so little litter on the streets and cycle-paths in our photos and videos from Assen. They're not completely clear of litter but they are swept regularly which helps a great deal. But in general you see little litter because in comparison with other places that I'd lived, relatively little is dropped here. In part this comes by providing somewhere to put it. Cyclepaths have bins on them, into which most litter from children and teenagers gets thrown (some miss, of course, so you also see some next to these bins), and that helps a lot.

Some of the rubbish is in the bin, the
rest is on the ground.
However, the area around this particular fast food restaurant is a bit different. My commuting route passes quite nearby and I've often seen what people do after going through the drive-through: The car window opens, and out comes packaging and quite often food and drink as well. I can only assume that people find it isn't quite so tasty as the advertisements suggest is is. I don't understand why people do this, but reading around the internet leads me to believe that throwing stuff through car windows is a common reaction world-wide to buying food from McDonalds.

Now I'd not want to make any accusations against a company known to be as litigious as McDonalds, so I'd better make it clear that of course I'm sure they're completely innocent of any wrong-doing. But when I looked for it and took photos of it, there did still seem to be an awful lot of rubbish from this fast food joint spread out over the whole 4 km back home from the garage by bike:

In my opinion, it's a very good thing that McDonalds is located only in the outskirts of the city and not in the centre. While this results in litter reaching in a line from where the fast food is bought along the cycle-paths to where it is consumed, this at least indicates that many of the people who buy and eat this stuff are actually getting some exercise at the same time.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Before and after: more improved cycling infrastructure (2)

In an earlier blog post I have shown you examples of changes to the cycling infrastructure of 's-Hertogenbosch. The city has started a city wide update of the cycling infrastructure in 2009 under a six year plan. Almost three years into the plan it is becoming very clear all over the city that the update was not just mere talk and paper plans, no, there really is a great change for the better becoming visible.

Below I will show you two more examples.

Missing link: this narrow old path formed the missing link between existing wide cycle paths. The route -away from motorised traffic- has now been completed.

A main cycle route from the North-East connects a suburb to the centre of the city. Many commuters and school children cycle this route. There was one piece 'missing'. Of course it wasn't really missing but it was not up to the latest standards. It was too narrow and the surface was really bad and needed a good makeover. This was done and now the route is complete. The cycle route now has priority on every junction. This means that cars that merge into the part of the route that is shared space have to give priority to cyclists already on the cycle route going straight on. For that some junctions were changed in such a way that this priority is clear. The cyclists go straight on, motorised traffic has to merge and swerve, not the other way around.

Comfort and safety comes from details. A smoother asphalt and a 'forgiving curb'.
The last example shows that quality improvement is in the details. The 'only' difference is that this cycle path got a new surface. Both at the beginning and end of the video the connecting cycle paths already had smooth red asphalt. The cycle path in between still had an older type of surface: concrete tiles. The smooth red asphalt is now continuous. Another thing that was changed was the curb. It is now less likely that cyclists accidentally riding onto the curb fall, because of the new type of curb.

Closer look to a 'forgiving curb'. It has a 45 degree angle. Less dangerous than the older curbs with a more common 90 degree angle. A cyclist accidently hitting this new type of curb is less likely to fall.

With all the updates 's-Hertogenbosch was chosen as one of the five nominees running for cycling city 2011 in the Netherlands. I have reported about this before. The final decission will be made in November by an expert jury but there is also a popular vote in which the city is not doing well. 's-Hertogenbosch is now in a shared 3rd position and when you look at the before and after videos you will have to agree that that is clearly undeserved.

Monday, 12 September 2011

A new large roundabout for drivers

Our local paper recently carried this photo of a new roundabout near Winschoten. It's called the Blauwe Roos (Blue Rose) and is required to provide better access for drivers going to the new development of Blauwe Stad from the busy A7 motorway. The motorway runs left to right (roughly west to east) at the lower edge of the photo.

Cycle paths highlighted in red. The top horizontal part in red is actually a service road for those few houses but doubles as a cycle route.
Cyclists have not been ignored. Along with making sure that the existing cyclepaths still join up, a new cycle tunnel was constructued as a part of creating this roundabout. Cyclists have absolutely no need to go anywhere near the motorway exits and busy roads. Despite this being a large road junction, subjective safety for cyclists is preserved. School children can, and will, use this route.

The changes have resulted in there being two crossings for cyclists instead of one on the route from west to east. However, the busier route from west to south, between the new development and the existing town of Winschoten, now has no crossings instead of one. From East to South, there remain two crossings, the same as before. Overall convenience for cyclists has not been adversely affected.

Google Maps aerial photography still shows the old situation, with a crossing of the motorway junction for cyclists heading from the new large residential area at Blauwe Stad to the existing town of Winschoten.

Grotere kaart weergeven
Google Maps streetview has some images of the new situation. For instance, this view from the bridge at the South shows the cycle-path connected with the new tunnel to the west which keeps cyclists from having to cross a motorway exit.

Grotere kaart weergeven
Here is one of the level crossings of cyclepath and road. While cyclists have to give way here, the junction design includes a safe refuge in the middle so that it is only necessary to have a gap in motor traffic in one direction to start crossing. Crossing just one lane at a time greatly improves safety. Also, the road design makes it very obvious to drivers that cyclists will use this crossing, and the cycle crossings also form traffic calming features which should slow traffic and reduce the noise nuisance for people who live nearby.

Note that the road rises at this point to cross the cyclepath while the cyclepath continues on the same level across the road.

Here's another aspect of the works that is appreciated locally. Three 80 year old trees had to be moved to build this need development. However, they weren't just chopped down but have been relocated to the centre of the new roundabout so that they remain a part of the landscape.

Sometimes large works are required for the benefit of drivers. However, when this happens, there is no reason why conditions for cyclists should not also be improved at the same time, nor why conditions for local people should not be preserved as well as possible.

Another example
We've many examples of roundabouts on the blog. All are designed to make cycling pleasant by keeping cyclists away from motor vehicles. However, here's another good roundabout design suggested by Clément Pillette as "the best he's seen". This is 150 km south of the first example in Harderwijk:

I think it's fairly self-explanatory. Drivers use the road, while cyclists use the red cycle paths. As a result there is no cycling in heavy traffic as you cross this large roundabout. In fact, as is normal at Dutch junctions of busy roads, you barely notice that the huge roads and the traffic on them exist when you cycle. Clément's video demonstrates the roundabout from a cyclist's point of view:

There is a fundamental point about Dutch roundabouts which continues to be missed elsewhere. It's not just the geometry which is important, but cyclists need to be kept away from motor vehicles. This is often missed when attempts at building "continental style" roundabouts are made elsewhere.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Cycling to school

Hundreds of thousands of children cycle to school every morning in the Netherlands. The roads and streets are literally full of cycling children for about one hour. The "cycle highway" from Geldermalsen to Culemborg is one such road. Hundreds of children going to school take the same safe route here. They form spontaneous groups and the closer they get to school the larger the groups become. When the school bell rings and all the children are in class, the cycle highway looks as deserted as it was before the kids went to school.
Some things in the video may need a bit of explaining. The route you see is not an official 'cycle highway' it is just one of the many good cycle paths in the Netherlands. It was built between two smaller towns and it has featured in an earlier video. The road it was built next to, is a minor rural road so there is not much traffic and the speed limit is 60km per hour (37mph). Still the authorities did decide to build a separate protected cycle path next to such a minor road. So where Dutch authorities think cycle paths are needed does not only have to do with the speed and the amount of motorised traffic but also with the number of cyclists.
Not much motorised traffic and a speed limit of 60kph (37mph) but with a separate protected cycle path.

The children all take a bridge and an underpassing to cross the railway line that seem a bit in contrast with the cycle route. The bridge is old, narrow and there is a low clearance under the railway line. This is not part of the main cycle route. That main cycle route continues straight on to the town's center. But the kids need to be in schools at the edge of the town in a new part of that town and the old underpassing takes them there quickest. I can only imagine there was no money (yet) to build a new underpassing where it was needed most. The Netherlands' Railways do not allow any new level crossings in the Netherlands but building an underpassing is of course expensive especially in this case where water has to be crossed as well. Since it is obvious there is a demand it cannot be ruled out that one will be built in future. At least the kids can take the old bridge and underpassing and they don't have to make the detour that motorised traffic has to make. Even though the bridge is very narrow it is fit to be cycled on, there is no annoying 'cyclists dismount' sign.

Narrow old bridge under a railway line. Not up to the latest standards but at least usable.
This post by Mark Wagenbuur also appears on his own blog.

The number of children you see in this video is not exceptional. Such large groups of cycling children can be seen all over the Netherlands in the morning rush hour. Perhaps useful to know that the Netherlands does not have a school bus system. Some children go to school by public transport but school buses do not exist. There are several other posts about school travel on this blog.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Los Angeles has a plan, but is it enough ?

Los Angeles has experienced some significant growth in cycling in recent years. 13000 people in the city now commute by bike. The growth is something that Los Angeles is proud of, and quite rightly so.

However, this is a large city. 3.8 million people live in the city itself and almost 15 million people live in the urban area. That's very nearly the same population as the whole country of the Netherlands, but Angelenos live with much higher density1 so there is much less to be done.

Are the numbers actually impressive or not ?
Despite the density, very few people cycle in LA. 13000 commuters may sound like a large number, it's not. This is a huge city with a huge number of potential cyclists. If it were an average Dutch city, over 3 million journeys would be made each day by people who lived in Los Angeles itself, and 12 million journeys each day by residents of the urban area of Los Angeles. There would be a million journeys per hour by bike through the working week. When cycling is truly successful as a mode of transport, it is something done by everyone, all the time. Even though cycling has grown in Los Angeles, the result is a cycling modal share of around 0.3% of journeys. This is orders of magnitude lower than average in the Netherlands.

So what's happening about it ?
When looking up another story which mentioned Los Angeles a few days ago, I came across the city's bicycle plan (also here). This is quite an interesting document in many ways.

The plan describes a proposal for "an ambitious 1,684 mile bikeway system". This number is clearly important as it appears in particularly large print in the document. Apparently this will "build off the existing 334 miles that have been installed over the past thirty plus years". Does that indicate that the rate of cycle path building over the last thirty years has been 10 miles per year ? Well, actually, no it doesn't. I first thought that a "bikeway" was a cycle path separate from the road, but actually it's not. A "bikeway" can be almost anything. Most of the "bikeway system" actually refers to on-road treatments of one kind or another. Of the existing 334 miles, only 49 miles are "Green Paths" segregated from the road. Of the proposed new 1350 miles of "bikeway", only a further 90 miles of "Green Paths" are proposed.

The surprising photo chosen by the authors
of the bicycling plan to represent "Green
paths" in L.A. Narrow and enclosed, with a
bad surface and concrete surroundings
"enhanced" with barbed wire. I hope it
doesn't all look like this.2
And what do these off road "Green paths" look like ? I've not seen them myself, but to the left is the example chosen by the authors of the plan to illustrate them. Presumably this was chosen because it's a good example, however to my eyes it is very much an example of doing the wrong thing. If conditions even on the "Green paths" of L.A. resemble this photo, then I think we can see why it is that so few people cycle there2.

The photo shows an example of design with no regard at all for social safety. It's not a very inviting place to be in the daytime, and very many people would avoid this in the dark. It looks like a mugger's alley and will not attract the average person to cycle.

The plan's discussion about the "bikeways" includes a bit of history. While only 334 miles exist now, the 1977 plan actually promised 600 miles, and the 1996 plan promised 742 miles. Previous plans were not even half implemented: 408 out of 742 miles of the "bikeway network" that should exist by now simply does not exist. While it is true that the new plan "exceeds its predecessors substantially in its commitment to bikeways", can we have any confidence that this plan will be followed any more closely than the previous ones were ?

Sadly, the time-scales allocated make this almost inevitable. On page 107 the plan says that the extra 1350 miles of "bikeway", and 90 miles of separate "green paths", are to be built over the next 35 years. Yes, 35 years. Now that's a long term plan ! If it all goes to plan, and this network actually gets built, then Los Angeles will in 35 years time be able to claim to have built an average of 2.5 miles per year of extra "green path", or perhaps 39 miles per year of on-road paint and other tweaks. This really is not impressive at all. This policy document leaves all the decisions for future office holders, who may or may not go through with the plan. History tells us that they likely won't build more than half of what is planned. Luckily for those who made this lack-lustre plan, setting such a long term target means that most people involved now will be retired before anyone asks them to answer for what they've done, or perhaps more likely, what they've not done.

The Netherlands, which remember only has a population slightly larger than the urban area of Los Angeles, now has 35000 km of high quality completely separate cycle path. In addition there is an unknown length of lesser quality touristic separated paths, 5000 km of on road cycle lane and many thousands of kilometres of road which have been prioritized for bikes. Infrastructure here is being built at a rate many times higher than that in Los Angeles, and what is being built is to a much higher standard. Los Angeles can only continue to fall behind if it makes plans like this.

Bicycle parking
Under the title of "Equity: parking", the authors say that "Safe, visible and accessible bicycle parking is essential to encourage greater levels of bicycling activity." In this, I think they're right. There must be enough parking spaces. So what has the city done ? Currently there are "over 3600" cycle parking spaces, and "bicycle parking must be provided at a ratio of two percent of the number of auto parking spaces" at some kinds of developments. Is 2% an aspirational target ? And can 3600 spaces on street shared between four million people who live in the city be seen to be anything better than scraping the surface of what is required ? 3600 doesn't even come close to supporting a 2% modal share, let alone true mass cycling.

By way of contrast, and bear in mind that this is for a very similar population to Los Angeles, there are literally millions of cycle parking spaces in the Netherlands. Over 300000 cycle parking spaces for bikes have been provided at railway stations alone, and this figure grows by 25000 per year. To keep up current growth rates in cycling, Groningen, a city with one twentieth of the population of LA is currently adding 500 spaces each year to just one of its cycle-parks. Residential properties in the Netherlands must provide an area for secure bike parking which is 6.5% of the floor area of the home. i.e. Enough space for the family's bikes to be stored in safety.

And what else does the LA document say ? Well, they make a point of dividing cyclists into three categories - Advanced / Experienced, Basic / less confident, Children with or without their parents. There is a suggestion that parallel facilities will be built for these different types of cyclists.

This is a fundamental error. To build down for inexperienced cyclists is a waste of time. Good cycling infrastructure suits all types of cyclists. Infrastructure which isn't good enough for the experienced to use for efficient journeys without problems definitely is not good enough for the inexperienced to use either. This is doubly ridiculous when there clearly isn't enough of a budget to build one good network, let alone three.

A call for action
Angelenos ! You're being fed a line !

There are a lot of expensive consultants' words in that document, but this is not how real progress is made. The Dutch also had a bicycle master plan back in 1990 but they set high targets and since that time, they followed policies which resulted in real change. That is the reason why a population just slightly larger than that of the L.A. urban area now make an extraordinary proportion of their journeys by bike, whatever their age. The same could perhaps be achieved in L.A., but the current plan isn't even scratching the surface of what is required to make it a reality.

People elsewhere ! Don't expect too much just because a lot of words appear in a plan. You need to make sure that any plans written up actually make sense. Be wary when the same consultants are involved as helped with other lacklustre plans. Make sure to keep to the very highest standards.

1: 2570 people per square km in Los Angeles vs. 402 per square km in the Netherlands. Nowhere in the Netherlands compares with the high population densities of large US cities.

2: While reviewing this article I was sent this link to a discussion about one of green paths in Los Angeles. A couple of quotes: "The consensus is that this path might be one of the nicest in town, however, check the comments below, because some cyclists think it goes through some pretty bad neighborhoods, while others don’t. But, if you can feel safe (e.g. with a group), it’s a nice, pretty, breezy ride...", "It is generally a nice ride during the day, though I would recommend avoiding it after dark (no lights and bad neighborhoods are potential problems). I occasionally come across “less than upstanding looking citizens” on the way", "It certainly isn’t all that bad. Of couse, you wouldn’t want to ride it at night, but that’s because the path isn’t lit, and there’s no barrier between the path and the canal....", "some punks have been breaking glass bottles along the route lately, and it doesn’t appear that the city does much to maintain the path". Another path description says "Sadly, like so many of the bike trails described here, large sections of this path are incredibly run-down, virtually junkyards.", and another is "not very highly recommended, unless you’re into gangs and graffitti". Not everyone agrees, of course. Some people are always more sensitive than others. However, there is clearly a problem with social safety on these paths.

I know there are problems with money in L.A. but it's a false economy to ignore cycling because of this. Cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build.