Thursday, 6 December 2012

Snow. What tyres to make it safe ?

Judy a hundred metres from our home. The cycle-path is clear of ice and snow
We had four cm of snow last night, the first real snow of the winter. It looks wonderful, but snow can be dangerous for cyclists especially if it is not removed from the cycle-paths and if it becomes compacted.

Marathon Winter Studded Tyre
Assen is quite good at clearing snow, but there can still be small patches of ice hidden underneath, especially later in winter. That's why the first thing I did this morning, before breakfast, was change the front tyre of Judy's bike for a Marathon Winter studded tyre.

Fitting a studded tyre on the front wheel is the best insurance possible against a fall. Why only the front ? If the front wheel loses traction then a fall is almost inevitable and it is difficult to do anything to control such a fall. Falls due to the rear wheel slipping are much less common and much less scary.

Parent with children cycling this morning. This cycle-path is
clear, but you can't see that from my POV.
You can see from the photo at the top that many other people had already cycled this way. People tend not to make so many trips for pleasure, but cycling for utility purposes doesn't reduce much in the winter in the Netherlands.

I'll cycle with parcels containing customers' orders from our bike parts shop to the post office a bit later today and mine will not be the only bike there.

We still have studded tyres in stock. Order them now and they'll be with you in a few days.

Photos taken during the trip to the Post Office
The temperature didn't reach above zero all day today, so the snow mostly stayed where it was, unless it was swept. Some photos below show conditions for cycling in Assen
Safe conditions are also helpful for people with disabilities (written about several times before on the blog)

Plenty of bikes parked outside the popular Hema department store in a pedestrian zone, and all ages of people arriving and leaving by bike.

Plenty of bikes at an indoor shopping centre.

Not many people use bakfietsen in Assen because conditions are safe for children to ride their own bikes. However, some people do transport smaller children by bakfiets.

A small "traffic jam" on the cycle-path. Utility cycling holds up in the winter because due to the lack of ice on the cycle-paths it is nearly as easy and as subjectively safe to cycle today as it is in the summer.

Tread on a bicycle tyre normally serves no purpose other than for marketing. Asphalt or concrete surfaces are harder than rubber, and grip comes from the small imperfections in those surfaces forcing themselves into the rubber. However, when there is snow the tread forces itself into the snow and that is where grip comes from. That is why any treaded tyre is better for snow. However, when it is icy tread doesn't work because ice is too hard to be deformed by rubber. At this point, the studs on the Marathon Winter tyres come into their own. They provide very small points of contact and pierce the ice. By doing so, you have far more grip than is possible with a rubber tyre. You can see both the tread marks in the snow and the black spots where the studs in my tyre pierced the ice underneath the snow, in the photo on the right.

For two wheeled bicycles, the most critical tyre is the front tyre. However, with a velomobile or other three wheel recumbent with two wheels at the front the situation is reversed. With that type of bike it is absolutely critical that the rear wheel does not lose traction as that can result in the bike rotating to travel sideways and turning over. That's why I fit just one Marathon Winter tyre to the rear wheel of my Mango making it possible to continue going for recreational rides in the winter in safety.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Avoiding potholes

Slight puddle before.
could get worse over winter
I've mentioned before that Dutch roads and cycle-paths don't often suffer from potholes. There's currently a patch of slightly rough surface between our home and the local shops, but that's as bad as it gets. I can't think of any actual potholes on any roads or cycle-paths that we use.

The reason, of course, is that standards of maintenance are very good.

A one metre wide part dug out to the depth of 4 cm over the
crack, two metres square over the depression. After digging,
this was sealed before filling.
A good example of this happened this week on a residential street near where we live. It's not a through route by car, but it is by bike and I ride there quite frequently as it's on the route to the post office. This street had a crack all the way across its surface which recently became noticeable by bike. There was also a growing depression which started to form a puddle. None of this was unpleasant to cycle over, and it was certainly not something you'd swerve to miss. In any case, there are almost never cars on this street, so the situation was never dangerous. However, if this had been left as we go into winter then ice would have formed in it and made the problem worse. Therefore it was fixed as you can see in this video:

Afterwards
Potholes are hazardous for all road users, but they are particularly dangerous for cyclists because of their potential to cause a crash should you ride through them and the need to swerve to avoid them.

It is better if problems with potholes are avoided by fixing the potholes than by expecting people to cycle around them, especially on busy roads.

A footnote to the blog: Is there any end to people thinking that I want to do their work for them for nothing ? Now Transport for London expects me to work for free.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Consistent, Convenient, High Quality Cycle-Paths Encourage Cycling


To achieve a high degree of subjective safety and through this convince the whole population to cycle, cyclists need to be kept away from motor vehicles. A comprehensive network of cycle-paths, as seen here in Assen, is a particularly good way to do this.

The first underpass runs top right to left
on this image, completely avoiding this
Roundabout on the ring road - previously
shown when I wrote about all
roundabouts in Assen)
In the video we cross the ring-road around Assen (there are many other crossings including here, here and here), go throught a residential area and leave the city by crossing the path of a motorway until we reach the edge of the first village (which featured in an earlier blog post). The cycle-path is continuous. In fact, this is only a very small part of it, and it's continuous for a long distance both before and after that shown.

This infrastructure is not named a "superhighway". In fact, it's not named in any special way at all as no-one thought it significant enough to put their name to it. It's "just" a standard Dutch cycle-path, one of many which make up the comprehensive grid which criss-cross the city and make mass cycling possible for everyone.

 It is normal to cycle to school even at a
temperature of -8 C with snow on
the ground
.
En-route, you'll see many children on bikes. Also we pass a school entrance. You can't see the extent of the parking at this school from this video. Click on the link on the right to see more.

Speed limits on the roads nearby vary. At first we parallel a 50 km/h road. The ring-road which we cross has a speed limit of 70 km/h. All roads in the residential area have a speed limit of 30 km/h, and even though traffic is light because there are no through roads in this area there is still a cycle-path which provides continuity and directness for cyclists. The motorway has a speed limit of 120 km/h and then we ride parallel with a main road in the country which has a 60 km/h speed limit before the speed limit reduces to 30 km/h in the village. There is a separate cycle-path through the village too.

The route in the video is from A to B taking the blue line which is direct and provides consistent high quality inside and outside the city. Cars must take the red route, 3.5 km long and including a crossing which prioritizes cyclists.

Read more blog posts about how cyclists in the Netherlands make more direct journeys than drivers by avoiding traffic lights, or more about cycle-paths, or about how segregation is possible without cycle-paths, about school travel or many other things (see links to articles on particular themes on the right of every page, tags for posts at the bottom of every page).

This video resulted from running a camera as I rode around the route of the last study tour a few days before it started. However, I thought it showed enough interesting stuff to be worth showing here.

Monday, 8 October 2012

They came, they saw... September 2012 study tour

We've been running study tours since 2006. We started doing this it became obvious to us that there was a rather large gulf between what was thought in the UK, where we then lived, to be best practice in infrastructure for cyclists and what was everyday normality in the Netherlands and used by millions of people every day of the year. This blog started as a supplement to the tours. It was a way of keeping people who had been on the study tours up to date with new developments, and to try to stop people who had been on the tours from returning to their normality and forgetting how significant what they had seen was.

In September, six people from Britain came on the September study tour. Each time we've done a tour it has been different and this was no exception. Our knowledge grows so we have more to tell, but that's not the only reason. The Netherlands is not standing still and the infrastructure improves between each tour. Approximately half of everything seen in the first tour has been replaced, resurfaced or redesigned since the first tour that we ran here. There is no option to stand still when things change so rapidly.

Older residential streets - demonstrating how they do not operate as rat-runs because of a one-way system for cars which prevents through traffic. Also the low speed limit (30 km/h) and noisy road surface help to keep residential streets as places for people. Cyclists can of course use all these streets in any direction so they also provide an example of unravelling of cycling routes from motor routes.

Heading out of the centre on a wide & smooth cycle-path. Near 100% Separation of cyclists from cars is vital to achieve the high degree of subjective safety necessary to get the whole population cycling, and without the whole population it is impossible to achieve a high cycling modal share.

The most extreme woonerf in Assen. This is a residential development from the late 1970s / early 1980s. These homes are still popular, but modern developments look different. Woonerven are not designed to operate as through routes for cyclists or drivers.

Cycle-path between Assen and an outlying village. Resurfacing work due to tree root damage.

In a modern development a wide network of cycle-paths give cyclists an advantage of more direct routes than can be taken by car.

The school run is always interesting. Wide cycle-paths like this are the necessary infrastructure which makes it possible for young children to cycle unaccompanied. No amount of training can achieve this without the infrastructure.

Routes used by school children always have litter bins which collect most of the rubbish.

The width of cycle-paths in this area makes it possible for a group to stop and look at the bins without causing much of a problem.

The new cultural centre (library, theatre, cinema, concert halls) in Assen has indoor guarded cycle parking. You can walk from the cycle-park directly into the theatre without having to go back outside. It's free of charge and it's open from early in the morning until after the last performance finishes. If you have a problem with your bike then depending on the time of day, the staff can often arrange to fix it before you leave.

A cycle by-pass. Four kilometres long and four metres wide, this cycle-path allows high speed cyclists to avoid going through the centre of the city, and also connects some of the outlying suburbs.
There is no shortcut to a high modal share. It won't come about due just to "soft measures" such as training and it won't come about by campaigners and planners aiming low. The Netherlands achieved the highest cycling modal share in the world, and continues to build on this success, by building the best cycling infrastructure in the world. This gives people the highest possible degree of subjective safety as well as very convenient journeys by bike and that is what makes cycling an easy choice for the whole population.

Cycling modal shares correlate well with the degree of investment in cycling and the Dutch spend more on this than any other nation. €30 per person per year. However, it has been shown that even with what some people might consider to be "gold plating" of the infrastructure, cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build. Any nation could do this and any nation could reap the same rewards.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Off road car parking. NL vs. UK

The photo on the right, from the Crap Waltham Forest blog, shows how High Road in Leytonstone in London has been transformed to move car parking off the road. This has resulted in narrowing of the carriageway and a worsening of conditions for cyclists.

Click on the link for more details of the harm that is being done as well as comments about the continuing confusion of some cycle-campaigners in the UK about what works to increase cycling modal share.

On the face of it, this is an application of the same idea as I blogged about a few weeks ago having seen it adopted more frequently throughout Assen. However, there is a fundamental difference.

In the Netherlands, this is a technique used to civilize residential streets which are not busy through roads, which do not have a high number of motor vehicles passing through and which have a 30 km/h speed limit. In the UK the same thing is being done on busy through roads with higher speed limits and lots of traffic.

Context is important. This concept, and others like it, can only work properly if they are implemented in the right places, and from the point of view of a cyclist, the implementation in London is definitely not happening in the right places.

On the face of it, this is yet another case of the fundamental principles of a good idea in effect being "lost in translation" as it travels across the North Sea.

Update Freewheeler provided more context and explanation of the first photo.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Langholm - An example of how British villages are blighted by traffic


The video above was forwarded to me this week. It shows how the centre of the village of Langholm in Scotland is blighted by an incredibly busy road passing through it. The description underneath the video is well worth reading:

Transport Scotland justifies the 30mph speed limit through Langholm High Street claiming it is ''...unsuitable for a 20mph limit due to the strategic classification of the road (A7 trunk road) and that it should be as free from obstruction to encourage the efficient movement of goods and vehicles....''

That Langholm's High Street is part of the route of the A7 - a major route across Scotland - is an historical accident. However, the traffic on the road has clearly grown well past the volumes which are reasonable to send through the narrow streets of a village of 2300 people.


Where it is wide, just as where it is narrow, the main street through Langholm is dedicated to the needs of those who pass through in motor vehicles in preference to those who live in the village. The narrow pavements provide no subjective safety for pedestrians, and this is a very hostile place to ride a bicycle. View Larger Map

Sadly, this is a scene repeated across the UK. Many small and pretty villages are blighted by absurd numbers of motor vehicles which pass through their centres. I am not aware of any situation where a Dutch village puts up with conditions like this. There are plenty of villages which have narrow streets, but they do not suffer the same blight of having these streets used as major thoroughfares by drivers who are just passing through and will never stop to discover the delights of the village itself.

I'm reminded of the village of Grafhorst in the Netherlands which I have cycled through on a few occasions. This has a population just half that of Langholm, but residents benefit greatly from the bypass which prevents the N760 from blighting their lives. It is safe for children from tiny Grafhorst to cycle to other villages in order to attend school. There are some images below:


Approaching Grafhorst from the South, the N760 is diverted to the East. Cyclists take the original route through the streets in the centre of the village. Drivers who wish to visit Grafhorst turn left here (as the blue car is doing) View Larger Map


The main street in the village is therefore free of through traffic. Even the Google Maps car went no further than this. A cobbled road surface, raised platforms and strategically planted trees help to persuade people not to drive quickly. View Larger Map


On leaving the other side of Grafhorst there is a cycle-path to the next village, much used by children and adults alike. View Larger Map

Note that the N760 is not so busy as the A7 and that speed limits outside the villages are restricted to 80 km/h maximum, and often 60 km/h rather than the 60 mph / 100 km/h normal across the UK.


The signs look similar, but they are not. In Langholm the speed limit is 30 mph / 48 km/h while in Grafhorst the speed limit is 18 mph / 30 km/h. That is the normal speed limit in the Netherlands for roads in villages. However, it is the removal of through traffic that makes the village streets pleasant.

Residents of Langholm are campaigning for little more than a lowering of speed limits through their village to 20 mph (32 km/h). It's a start, but they're not asking for remotely enough. While such volumes of traffic are allowed, even at a lower speed, they will continue to dominate the village and continue to affect the lives of those who live there. This village needs a bypass, and by bypass I mean something which keeps through traffic completely away from the centre rather than the British concept of a bypass which sadly often serves only to provide a parallel alternative route.

A bypass would of course be expensive. However, at this time the money is available. Billions have been set aside in the UK for infrastructure spending in order to stimulate the economyy. It can be spent on pointlessly increasing the capacity of roads between the places where people live or on improving the conditions of those who currently are blighted by roads which are already too busy. It is for British voters, councillors and politicians to decide on the most sensible way to spend that money, in Langholm and every other afflicted city, town and village.
Streets just as narrow as those in Langholm abound in the Netherlands. Because they are never used as through routes for motor vehicles, they are pleasant places for people.
These changes need to be made not only for adult drivers passing through or for those rare adult cyclists who "brave" the conditions, but in particular for the most vulnerable members of our society, children, older people and those with disabilities.

If we're not interested in improving the lives of the next generation then who are we campaigning for ?

30 September update
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some correspondents from the UK made excuses of the usual form about how Langholm is "different" from the Netherlands and therefore a bypass would be difficult. It often seems to be assumed that everything is easy in the Netherlands simply because of the relative lack of hills, but nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, engineering here has been on a grand scale. The Dutch have built some of the world's longest dykes and the world's largest moving barrier. They also reclaimed land which forms the world's largest artificial island, and run trains though tunnels in soft ground below the water table. Just in the last few years in Assen we've seen a canal moved sideways by 2 metres to make space for a secondary cycle-path, and a bridge carrying a dual carriageway built to keep cars out of the way of cyclists. There are now plans to dig a tunnel to remove cars from the outside of the railway station. Major projects are common in the Netherlands even in small towns because they make life better. The only real difference is in the will of the people to demand decent infrastructure.

Rattenberg. Transformed into
a pleasant place to live.
Of course, people still point at the relative lack of hills as if this excuses inaction in the UK. However a correspondent sent me a helpful example of a village in Austria which is a similar position to Langholm. Rattenberg used to have a rat-run through its centre, which is now rather attractive as shown to the right.

Rattenberg was transformed by building the Rattenbergtunnel which bypasses the centre of the city by passing through a hill. Exactly the same approach could be taken in Langholm.


Grotere kaart weergeven

Finally, this blog is not just about Langholm and the problems in the centre of one small settlement. Rather, my interest is in the similar situations in hundreds of small towns and villages across the UK and in other nations, each of which are blighted in a similar way, regardless of the relative difficulty in removing their through traffic. The low aspirations of many campaigners make it easy for too little to be done to resolve problems.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

"Team building ?"

On Thursday Judy and I both finished all the work we had to do by mid-day. In the morning, Judy had been busy organising holidays while I'd packed 20 parcels and taken them to the post office in the usual way. For some time we'd been planning to visit a bicycle museum 25 km West of Assen. Over lunch we decided that's what we'd do in the afternoon.
Museum owner Anne Maris

I got to try out an understeer bike. It's surprisingly easy to ride.

The museum has many bicycles of different age, method of design and manufacturer. Almost all were real workhorses intended for daily use.

A "Bartje" brand child's bike - from Assen of course. Bartje is a symbol of Assen and Drenthe. There is a statue of this fictional character in the city. Because the books were not translated into English, I didn't get to read them when I was young, but I'm catching up now.

As well as complete bicycles, many of the sort of components that you need for a bicycle which provides reliable everyday transport were in the exhibit.

The museum also has a collection of sewing machines. This might seem odd until you realise that they were manufactured by the same companies, both being examples of the highest technology that you'd find in a home in the early 1900s. Gazelle and Union sewing machines are seen above, also there were examples of Burgers, Simplex and other Dutch bicycle manufacturers. There are Singer bikes and Singer sewing machines as well, but so far as I'm aware they were always different companies.

Riding home from the museum on the usual wide and smooth cycle-paths

We stopped on the way home to visit a butterfly garden...


... and also refreshed ourselves at a cafe which, as is normal in the Netherlands, made cyclists very welcome by providing cycle-parking


We took it easy for the rest of the way home and didn't make any attempt at all to keep up with racing cyclists that overtook us on the cycle-paths.

When we reached road works, we were not at all inconvenienced.
A very pleasant afternoon of cycling and visiting interesting places is the closest we ever want to come to a "team building" exercise for our business.

We were back to work again on Friday morning. The museum and butterfly garden are amongst many nice places to visit on our holiday routes. You'll find components for everyday reliable bicycles in our webshop.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Van blocking the cycle-path

Van "blocking" a four metre wide cycle-path. Note that
pedestrians have their own 2 m wide path. The widths of
both paths remain the same through the underpass
Just like anywhere else in the world, maintenance vehicles in The Netherlands sometimes stop on cycle-paths.

I took this photo on the way to the shops a few days ago (the same route as in this video).

Of course it is a bit of an irritation when vehicles like this stop on the cycle-path. However, usually they pull off the cycle-path, and when they have no choice but to block it, they only block half of it. As vehicles like this are usually there for a good reason and really not much of an obstruction is caused, few people would complain.

Just 200 m away, a van "blocking" a residential street.
Pedestrians have paths on both sides of this street. Service
vehicles cause the same degree of obstruction on the road
as on the cycle-path because both are of similar width
Of course, it's not just cycle-paths that occasionally have maintenance vans parked on them.  Maintenance is also needed on roads and streets. Just around the corner from the first example, I spotted the example to the right.

Again it's not really causing much of a problem because it's only blocking half of the street. The same situation, the same level of inconvenience.

Equal obstacle opportunities for roads and bike-paths !

Of course, the problems caused by maintenance vehicles on cycle-paths would be much greater if there were not so much room. This is an advantage of having sensible widths for cycle-paths.

The cycle-path in the photo at the top is not special. It's simply part of a normal, everyday route. Standards need to be high everywhere so that conditions are good wherever someone chooses to cycle. It's no good if high standards are reserved only for a few special pieces of infrastructure. Read more about the need for a tight grid of high quality cycling facilities.

Note that when there are ongoing road works which cause real disruption, Dutch cyclists are not forgotten.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The importance of the mundane, why the mundane must go everywhere and why "mundane" must be very good.

Chatting in safety on "just average"
Dutch cycle-path. 4 m wide and widely
separated from the road. Excellent
junction designs along here.
Occasionally we've covered exceptional examples of cycling infrastructure on this blog. It is not only this blog, or only the Netherlands that produces such infrastructure. Such projects, big and impressive, often large bridges, tunnels or cycle-parking facilities, are photogenic and prestigious. They can also be the subject of press releases from the city in which they are built, or the designers and they're very popular amongst bloggers, on facebook and twitter. However, an emphasis on such things paints a false image.

Riding to school. No hands required on
the sort of mundane infrastructure you
can expect to see everywhere. 3.5 m
wide and widely separated from the
road with good junction designs
It can be a pleasure to use exceptional pieces of infrastructure, but I'm uneasy about the amount of attention which such things achieve. The whole world doesn't look like the exceptions, not even to a cyclist in the Netherlands. After all, the very word exceptional means "deviating widely from a norm". By definition, almost all infrastructure is not exceptional but is actually just average and most journeys will be made for the most part on that average infrastructure.

Boringly average infrastructure. Four
metres wide, great junction design and
kept clear of ice in winter.
Prestige projects are very popular with politicians who want to make a name for themselves, and they can be great to have as an extra. However, it is the quality of design of the everyday, mundane infrastructure which forms the largest part of most peoples' journeys which is most important to encourage a high cycling modal share. This is what most people will use for most of their journeys.

Similarly, some places make quite a lot of noise about having a few good cycle paths, or a network which covers part of a city. Nice photos can be taken on those cycle paths and they seem good so long as we gloss over the problems which occur at junctions and that they don't take people to all their destinations. Giving too much credit to a place which has an inadequate network also misses the point. A proper finely spaced grid of high quality routes which cover everyone's journeys is a prerequisite for a high cycling modal share. Exceptional pieces of infrastructure spread spread thinly across the country are only useful to a minority for some of their journeys and if the "good" cycle-paths are exceptional enough to be noteworthy, they're in the same category.

Not a "superhighway", just a cycle-path
3.5 metres wide providing a direct route
between city centre and suburb. It is
very important that cyclists get to use
direct routes. Good quality is far more
important than a flashy name.
So let's hear it for mundane, common, ordinary, unexceptional and boring infrastructure. Forget the exceptional stuff, it is the mundane which needs to be good and it's the mundane and good stuff which needs to go everywhere.

How much extremely good infrastructure do you need ? That depends on how much cycling you want to see. It should be no surprise that expenditure on cycling is proportional to modal share.

The truly exceptional thing about Dutch cycling infrastructure is that in this country, "mundane" infrastructure is of extremely high quality, is excellently maintained and is absolutely ubiquitous. This mundane infrastructure in the Netherlands is what makes the high modal share possible because it keeps cyclists away from cars and trucks for all of every journey. This very high quality infrastructure is available to everyone so that they can make a large proportion of their journeys by bicycle without any nasty surprises, ever. This extremely high quality grid of cycling routes is kept open even during road works or when there has been snow. Anyone who wants to cycle is enabled to do so as much as they wish to. This maximises the modal share for cycling, whatever the demographic mix of any particular area. Old, young, rich, poor, locally born people and immigrants all cycle in the Netherlands.


High quality routes can also be roads
if cars are removed from them by
unravelling motor and bicycle routes
The importance of having a tight grid of high quality routes to encourage the use of bicycles was a lesson learnt way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and still just as valid today. Don't let your city get away with offering just a few prestige projects or just a few particularly good routes. Don't let them get away with offering indirect routes which don't go to all destinations efficiently. Such proposals may sound good, they're great for boasting about, they're great for photo shoots and publicity purposes and politicians love to have their names associated with big projects. However, a few pieces of exceptional infrastructure cannot cause an appreciable change because for most people making most journeys in other parts of the same city, the experience of cycling will remain the same as it was before they were built.

One of thousands of small bridges
for cyclists doing what it needs to do
Average Dutch infrastructure is what is featured most on this blog. It's also what we demonstrate most on our Study Tours to show how the infrastructure works and why it enables cycling so much. We take the routes that normal people take to destinations that normal people go to. We use the infrastructure that normal people use. There is no point in cherry picking a few particularly good pieces of infrastructure as this only creates a false image. It wouldn't show how people actually cycle on a daily basis and what is important to make this high rate of cycling normal.

So what is this "grid", then ?
It's simple in concept. Within a few pedal strokes of home, everyone needs to be able to reach infrastructure on which they not only will be safe but on which they will feel safe. It must take the cyclist to every destination in a convenient manner and it must be contiguous. No stops and starts, no need to "take the lane" to cross large junctions.

Main cycle-routes should be separated from each other by no more than 500 metres. Secondary routes fill in between to get the spacing down to about 250 m and neighbourhood routes fill in the gaps where needed.

Conceptual version of "the grid". Cover
your whole country like this.
Red = main cycle routes 500 m apart,
green = secondary, blue = local links.
In practice, the grid is of course not arranged on strict North-South / East-West lines, but curves with the landscape, runs alongside canals and rivers with bridges to cross periodically, goes across the countryside and through the towns and cities that people live in.

However, the everyday experience is as if it were such a strict grid. For instance, from our home we have less than 200 metres to cycle in a quiet culdesac (30 km/h limit) to reach either of two high quality four metre wide cycle-paths which take us to every possible destination by bike. See the actual map of primary and secondary cycle-routes in Assen in a previous post about "the grid".