Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Road works vs. the Dutch Cyclist - resurfacing of a rural cycle-path

Before resurfacing
When Judy and I were planning routes a evenings ago we came along this cycle-path. It's being upgraded from an older surface to modern smooth concrete, as has happened on many cycle-paths. However, while the new concrete is setting you can't ride on it, so half the road has been closed for bikes and drivers must wait at traffic lights not just once but twice within a few km.

After resurfacing
This might seem exceptional, but in the Netherlands it's not exceptional at all. This is actually quite normal (see all the examples on this blog together). If you want a high cycling modal share to be preserved while there are works, the subjective safety of cyclists must be preserved while the works take place. If this is not done then people may stop cycling themselves, and more importantly they may stop their children from cycling to school, and that is the route to less cycling in the future.


Behooving Moving said...

Hi David, are you: 1. just really happy that you moved to Holland; 2. advertising your study tours, or; 3. hoping car-loving voters elsewhere will read a bike blog and fall off their horse like St Paul? You will judge from my tone that I find your alumni inflexible in their thinking, and unwilling to look at any way forward for cycling that is not of strictly Dutch origins. Of course I envy your life there! If I could wrangle a job in a Dutch school of architecture, you and I would pass every morning in our velomobiles!

David Hembrow said...

Behooving: The answer to all three questions is yes.

Or, longer:

1. Yes indeed. It's really a superb place to live, and as a cyclist it's genuinely paradise.

2. Don't imagine that we make a fortune out of Study Tours. No-one could live on showing a few people around a few times per year.

Rather, we do this to try to encourage people in other places to notice that they could have far better lives if they were to take note of the way the Dutch design their country.

It doesn't help us, because we've moved here already.

3. I don't believe any such person reads my blog. However, a message can only get out by sending it.

My alumni ? That's funny. Seriously though, what option is there ? With regard to cycling, the Netherlands has achieved far more than any other country, so it is naturally the place to look to for well through through and proven effective examples of what works.

Would you rather copy second best ?

Often it seems that some people don't even want to do that. It is beyond absurd for people in the UK to think that answers regarding increasing of cycling should come from other English speaking countries with an equal lack of success in cycling, yet amazingly many people keep doing exactly that.

Alex said...

Great post as usual. Just a small comment on the video, which applies to most of your (recent at least) videos. The white border on the letters on your videos makes the text barely readable (I have to pause and then concentrate hard to read the text, letter by letter). That's particularly striking when the background is an actual image (look at 0:08 for example, the "a" in "with a smooth concrete" is more guessable than readable).

Sorry for using the comments to make this remark if that's inapropriate. Feel free not to publish it!

Dennis Hindman said...

David its great to see that your blog is back.

As you may recall, you suggested that the U.S. could use the money spent on wars towards building bicycling facilities. Well, some Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to eliminate all federal transportation funding for pedestrians or bicycling. A lack of agreement with the Democratic party members to make eliminations such as this is one of the reasons why a new transportation bill has not been passed in congress for years.

The lack of adequate amounts of funding for extensive networks of bike paths forces cities to think of less expensive ways to improve cycling along major travel corridors.

The first bike lanes in the U.S.A. were striped in 1967 in Davis California when Economics professor Frank Childs enthusiastically pushed for their creation after returning from a sabbatical in the city of The Hague.

Now the U.S. is moving to the next level with protected bike lanes that were first started in New York City, only about five years ago, after there were problems found with vehicles parking in the unprotected lanes.

There have only been about 50 protected bike lane projects built in the U.S. After completing their first protected bike lanes late last year, Chicago has plans to create several more miles this spring, with the new mayor stating his goal is to put in 100 miles of them within his four years in office.

Then there is the problem of engineering manuals that discourage implementing some of these protected bicycle infrastructure designs. Such as the Caltrans highway design manual which does not allow putting a bike lane in-between parked cars and a curb and they discourage putting a bike path in close proximaty and parallel to a busy street. The city of Los Angeles follows these rules for on street bicycle infrastructure design, but Long Beach and San Francisco have decided to take a chance and put some in anyway.

Help and guidance to improve the quality of bicycle infrastructure design is starting to appear from Dutch street engineers coming to the U.S. through the ThinkBike projects that have occured in such cities as Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, probably due to trying to be diplomatic, these Dutch engineers do not try to tell the U.S. engineers how to do it; they simply try to stimulate new ways of thinking about how to solve the problems, such as riding a bike to the locations to get a feel for the situation.

Recently, there were groups of officials from major U.S. cities that took a study tour in the Netherlands recently, where some of the same Dutch traffic engineers that participated in some of the ThinkBike study groups showed them bicycling facilities in several different Dutch cities. Rotterdam may be considered a rather poor example of good bicycle infrastructure implementation in the Netherlands, but this city exhibits many of the traits of U.S. cities with wide streets built for cars and tall buildings. A traffic engineer from a large U.S. city can more easily relate their problems of designing for bikeways with how Rotterdam was able to deal with similar street design elements.

Behooving Moving said...

Thanks David. I agree that copying the Netherlands can be useful. But in countries where most voters drive, we have to look at second-best options. I note Minneapolis has made headway with an old rail easement through a bad part of town, that is being renewed thanks to cycling. Your alumni would say no no no, we have to squeeze out cars in the best parts of town, because that's what they did in the Netherlands. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer. I'm not sure where you're based, but feel I owe you a beer and will be in Rotterdam next wednesday through friday.
All best

David Hembrow said...

Dennis, it saddens to see the slow progress in the US, just as it does to see the same in the UK. The political problems certainly seem larger in the US, and that really does not help.

So far as I know, Davis, with its second hand 1960s Dutch cycle paths, is still the leading US city by cycling modal share, though it seems unpopular as an example of how to do things better.

As it happens, I had a chat with one of the ThinkBike people a few days ago. He was a little disappointed with the outcome, and we spoke for a while on the cultural differences between Dutch and American people. You'll never find a Dutchman boasting. When showing people around, they're modest and talk down their achievements. When in meetings they'll put points expecting them to be discussed constructively but not in a forceful manner. The expectation is that good ideas will flourish because they are good ideas, not only because they've been pushed with force. This is very unlike the American way and inevitably there will be misunderstandings.

Davis has a motto which claims they are "Most bicycle friendly town in the world", but no Dutch town has such a thing, even though there's not a single town or city in this country with so low a modal share as Davis. That's a good illustration of the different attitudes at work.

This, btw, is why we run our own study tours. We're native English speakers and understand what's going on with the English, and with the Americans, rather better.

David Hembrow said...

Behooving: I think Dennis' response goes some way to prove my point. You're seeking inspiration from Minneapolis, while Dennis points out that things aren't entirely rosy in the US.

Not a week goes by when I don't read something somewhere from an American looking at apparent "success" in Britain and from someone in the UK looking at apparent "success" in America.

Both are looking in the wrong direction.

It's easy to come across this information because both these countries have a tendency to produce press-releases about every minor thing they do. However, neither country is growing its modal share to any significant extent due to their policies.

This week I've seen references from Americans to Britain having "many" 20 mph speed limits (let's ignore that the Dutch started long before, have done this for 1/3rd of the entire road network, and actually know what the results are), also a response to a British press-release thumped out internationally about what some campaigners in the UK are going to ask the government to do. i.e. not even something that is masquerading as a result, but a request.

In the opposite direction, I've read your comment about Minneapolis, but also something about Britain learning from Chicago elsewhere, and of course yet more hype about New York, where I surely don't need to remind you, the cycling modal share stubbornly remains very much lower even than London.

It's interminable. It's also pointless. Actually, neither Britain nor the US are achieving anything of significance. While both places like to produce press releases about their successes, actual cycling modal share measurements stay stubbornly close to 1% for most of both countries.

They don't provide useful examples for each other to copy, because even where there are bubbles of greater cycling usage, there are always very good reasons why these bubbles exist where they do.

This isn't copying second best, which might be Denmark or Germany, it's copying last place. That's not a route to progress from either side of the Atlantic.

When the distance from Britain to the good examples of the Netherlands is so much shorter than it is to the very much worse examples of the USA, making it so much easier and cheaper to view one than the other, then in my view there is really no good reason for looking across the Atlantic for inspiration.

BTW, thanks for the offer, but I'm rarely in Rotterdam, and live too far away to come for a beer. Please note while you're there that the city has far from the best infrastructure in NL.

Dennis Hindman said...

Here's the Streetsblog article about the attempts by some Republican House of Representative members to eliminate funding for pedestrian and bicycling projects from the transportation bill in Congress. This Transportation Enhancement section of the bill is where funding for many of the bike path projects in the U.S. comes from.

Davis does seem to have the highest bicycle modal share in the U.S. The town moto, as it were, seems to be "A bicycle friendly town" as shown in the beginning of this Streetsfilms video,on a street sign that is probably seen as you enter the town.

I have high hopes that New York City's upcoming bicycle sharing system will stimulate interest in devoting more space to bicycle infrastructure there and that any money the city may receive from bicycle sharing profits will go towards creating more bicycle infrastructure. Seventy percent of the residents of Manhattan do not own a car, which means the potential for increasing the bicycling rate there is enormous as cycling is competing mainly with transit, taxi cabs and walking as transportation options.

Having novice bike riders using bicycle sharing has stimulated Washington D.C. to put in more bicycle infrastruture. Then again, the highest and second highest percent of bicycle sharing users there have masters degrees and PhD's, so that may not be a typical end result in other cities.

Los Angeles is supposed to get a bicycle sharing system in the downtown area later this year. This seems to have spurred the LA Department of Transportation to focus more on putting bike lanes in downtown.

Putting in unprotected bike lanes on busy streets, that has fast moving traffic, is not nearly as appealing for people riding a bike as a bike path, but this can improve the cycling rate. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study shows that there is about a 2.5 times higher rate of bicycling on cycle tracks in Montreal compared to the street. The question should be is it worth spending at least ten times more per mile for bike path installations compared to putting in bike lanes, if you have a scare amount of financial resources and little political will to take space away from drivers? I say keep increasing the cycling rate however you can do it now and put in the higher quality infrastructure when politicians are willing to devote more resources, after seeing the increased cycling rate.

Its very tough trying to make what seems like a Grand Canyon sized leap towards the quality of cycling facilities that the Netherlands has, when you are in a country that has a utility bicycling rate that borders on extinction. There simply is not the political will to devote the amount of space or money needed to accomplish that when the cycling modal share is around one or two percent.

David Hembrow said...

Dennis: I wish New York all success, but it's unrealistic to expect that the bike share will achieve more than similar schemes have elsewhere. These schemes are an artifact of low-cycling cities and outside of dramatic press releases made by every place that they've been installed, the evidence that any of these has made any difference at all to modal share is very very slim indeed.

As for whether it's worth putting in high quality infrastructure, that depends on what your target is. 2.5 times not very much is still not very much.

If your target is to grow to a 5% modal share, perhaps a few on-road lanes might be enough to attract a higher proportion of the relatively easy demographic to cycle (this is the path that London has taken). However, if you want to achieve a 25% modal share then you have to attract people who are much more difficult to attract to cycling. They need much higher quality.

One of the problems with accepting low quality infrastructure is that it makes it more difficult to achieve higher quality in the same place at a later date because "cyclists already have what they asked for".

This is more of a problem in English speaking countries where roads are rarely changed and maintenance is piecemeal than in Dutch cities where all the roads are rebuilt from scratch every 7-10 years (this, BTW, is why we have no potholes at all in Assen). So often as possible, you need to get it right first time. Otherwise you're stuck with what you built for decades.

This is another reason why I am critical of recent campaigns in the UK which have set the bar much too low, making it easy to get politicians to offer support, but difficult for this to result in anything of real quality happening.

BTW, "my" version of the Davis motto came from Wikipedia. In either case, it's a long distance from the degree of modesty required to decide that Groningen is not a cycling city.

Dennis Hindman said...

David, it doesn't necessarily hold true that a city will put in bike lanes and then not attempt to keep the increased rate of cycling going forward by moving to higher quality infrastructure. That did happen to Davis. The city quickly put in 50 miles of bike lanes that cover over 95% of the primary streets and also created 50 miles of bike paths. Then they simply stopped improving anything, or even paying attention to it and the cycling modal share fell continuously from the year 1980 through 2000. Recently, the city took action to reverse that and the bicycling commuting modal share recently went back up to 22%.

Portland, Chicago and San Francisco are all focused on trying to get double digit cycling rates. Portland even went so far as approving a plan that would put in much more bicycle infrastructure that would cost several times more than they had been spending per year for bikeway improvements. They simply have very little idea of how they will be able to get enough money long term to pay for it. That plan was no doubt hatched due to Portland's current bicycle modal share of 6&. If the modal share was 1% or 2%, then there would probably be much less enthusiasm for attempting to take such a large leap.

The one city that does stand out for taking a bold leap towards higher quantity and quality of bicycle infrastructure is Chicago. Their new mayor participates in triathlete events, so his bicycling enthusiasm may be a major reason why he is being aggressive in trying to improve the bicycling infrastructure in Chicago. If he is able to accomplish the goals he has set in the next three years, then this could set the bar much higher for other large cities to follow.

If he gets reelected, then he might try the same thing for another four years, which would really make Chicago stand out from other cities in the U.S. by having, by far, the most protected bike lanes along major roadways of any city in the U.S. There is only about 50 protected bike lanes in the U.S. now and so Chicago putting in 100 miles of them in four years is what I would call very bold.

This is not as a good a quality as having a grade separated cycle track or path, but its a step up from a unprotected bike lane and the cycling rate should reflect that its a more comfortable area to bicycle than before.

The standard in the U.S. for a street is to have unprotected bike lane and so this could be a game changer if it gets substantial increases in cycling for the city. I'm also hoping that it will spur Caltrans to change their rule against having bike lanes between parked cars and the curb in the state of California.

David Hembrow said...

Dennis: I think Davis proves my point. They did some good things, but didn't continue regular maintenance. Luckily, what they were "stuck" with was relatively good, but this still didn't stop a decline. Cycling infrastructure needs regular work and constant improvement.

Davis is an interesting case for a city, actually, as it's seemingly little more than the university and supporting infrastructure (total population: 65000, number of university employees: >28000, next biggest employer: <1000).

This leads to extremely good circumstances to foster high cycle usage, with a low average age, many independent young people, better even than Cambridge. However, it not only lags behind Cambridge (25% of commutes, approximately 18-19% of all journeys by bike) for modal share, but is way behind typical Dutch cities such as Assen (~40% of all journeys by bike), let alone Groningen.

The lack of further investment in infrastructure almost certainly plays a role in why the cycling modal share is low in Davis vs. both international comparison cities, and its potential.

One more thing: If you can avoid it, please don't quote commuting only rates as "modal share". It's poor practice, a way of boosting quoted figures, and often used by places which are trying to make out that they have a higher modal share than they really have. The deception comes from "commuters" handily omitting many of the more sensitive and difficult to encourage segments of society, who are less likely to be "commuters" (i.e. kids and pensioners, for a start).

Good luck to Chicago. If they put in good infrastructure, and enough of it then they ought to achieve something. I have to note, though, that 100 miles of lanes is actually not much for a city with a population of 2.7 million people.

What is a "very bold" move by US standards will put about half the length of Assen's cycle-paths into Chicago. However, Assen is a city with 1/40th of the population of Chicago.

BTW, because this city replaces all the infrastructure every 7 years, the rate of building of new cycling infrastructure here will be just about the same in terms of miles per year as in Chicago.

David Hembrow said...

Dennis: You sent another reply, which I read and then unfortunately deleted by accident (I'm sorry).

To equal the rate of expenditure per head of population in the Netherlands, the USA would have to spend about $11 billion each year on cycling infrastructure.

Yes, I know it sounds like a lot, but at the same time, it's hardly anything at all.

It need not mean extra taxes, and the money could easily be found by cutting back on needless expenditure elsewhere.

The biggest and most obvious place to start is to spend less on the US military.

Is it really necessary for the USA to spend more on weaponry and war mongering than the whole of the rest of the world put together ?

Do you really need to threaten so many people so much of the time and make so many enemies by doing so ?

Do you have to continue to occupy European countries who are supposedly your allies ? I'd be very happy to see all US forces leave Europe. We don't have bases in the US, so why do you have them here ?

I calculated quite a long time ago that taking just 2% from the enormous US military budget would free enough money to spend more than the Dutch do on cycling, but that this would also still leave your country spending more on war than the rest of the world put together.

Should your country make more substantial and sensible cuts, then you'd be able to afford a proper health service and other things that people in many nations take for granted, and maybe actually start repaying the colossal US debt. Despite all the doom and gloom nonsense in the English language press in recent months, US debt is still very easily the largest in the whole world, and it's still higher than Greece even when viewed per capita.

Wouldn't any of these things be more positive ways to spend money than waging war ?

I simply don't understand why it is so that there's "no money" for good infrastructure in the US, but plenty of it, dragging you down in the deepest debt of all, for blowing up the infrastructure in other nations.

I'd like it very much if Americans who I met in Europe had all arrived here as friends, and not as occupiers, which is what many of them are now.

Britain has a similar problem, btw, in that until very recently this small ex-imperial power had the second largest arms budget in the world. The infrastructure is crumbling there too.

Anyway, we seem to have drifted a long way off the topic of how to deal with rural cycle-path maintenance.

Michael S said...

David, thank you for this example of how self-understanding cycling is a vital part of "traffic" in the NL. Here in Germany traffic is all to often only regarded as traffic of cars. Consequently bicycle path are far too often blocked completely by building work even in a "bicycle friendly" city like Berlin. Blocking one car lane in favour of bicycles is something we have to wait a few years, I'm afraid.

That said, I think there is at least a good chance for a change going to happen during my lifetime. Contrastingly, the US and the UK are probably lost countries.

Dennis Hindman said...

The Republican and Democratic party members overwhelming believe that there should be a strong military. Most support keeping battles going that shouldn't have been started in the first place, like taking over Iraq and Afghanistan. There was, afterall, only a small group of people that attacked the U.S., and it wasn't a large military force represented by a state.

I also would like to see U.S. forces leave Europe. The original reasoning for them being there was to protect against Soviet aggression. Well, that problem no longer exists.

The problem is that, increasingly, both state and federal Republican party members believe that government spending should be shrunk, except of course for the military and the private sector will come in to more efficiently do what the government had been taking care of.

They are now being heavily influenced by Tea Party members, one prominent leader of which has stated that he wants to shrink government until its small enough to fit in a bathtub and then he would like to drown it. They are trying to immulate a failed state, such as Somalia or Haiti, where only the military is strong, as economist Robert H. Frank states in his book The Darwin Economy.

Spending tax money on health services does make sense. The number one reason that people lose their homes is due to paying medical bills. Hospital emergency rooms are financially stressed due to people using that as the only time they ever seek medical care.

The colossal debt came along at a fast rate after President Reagan gave the reasoning that reducing taxes stimulates the private economy and the Republican Party has followed that ever since.

The total average tax rate paid by U.S. citizens are now as low as they have been since the 1950's and still state and federal Republican Party members think that is too high. California government has for years been behind on paying for the existing publicly funded obligations like schools, medical, welfare for the needy, etc. So, they are continually slicing away at them because the Republican Party members refuse to budge on their policy of no new taxes.

Part of the reason that there is not enough money for roadway infrastructure upkeep in the U.S. is that the federal motor fuel tax has been at a fixed rate of 18.2 cents per gallon since 1993. Retail gasoline prices have tripled since then and the average mpg has increased. President Reagan signed a bill in the early 1980's to raise federal taxes on motor fuel because the roads were deteriorating and then it was raised again in 1993.

That's the state of what you have to deal with in trying in get bicycle infrastructure built in the U.S. As the saying goes, when you get lemons, make lemonaid. The aspirations for bicycle infrastructure design here has to work within the reality of the situation, which means a lot less money for bike paths and state rules that essentially try to prohibit cycletracks in California.

Dennis Hindman said...

One of the reasons I have such high hopes for bicycle sharing in U.S. cities, such as New York, is that these services can be provided at little or no cost, and sometines with no liability, to city governments due to the sponsorship and advertising revenue potential.

If well implemented, they also can advance the volume of bicycling, although this alone will not give impressive bicycling rates like there is in Dutch or Danish cities. It's just another piece in the puzzle to advance the bicycling rate with little funds to work with.

New York City has created 250 more miles of bike lanes since 2007. Last year, the city backed off on implementing new bike lanes, with only about 13 miles created. That could possibly be due to the severe backlash that they got for taking away road space from cars and trucks, along with increased maintenance costs. Now, at least paritally due to New Yorkers being overwhelming excited about the prospects of using bicycle sharing, the city seems to be picking up the pace of installing bicycle infrastructure.

You should realize that one of the side benefits of installing bicycle sharing is that it is in some ways like a trojan horse, in that it entices many people, that have been resistant to putting in bicycle infrastructure, to try riding a bike and then they will be much more likely to understand the need for improved cycling conditions.

There is also the prospect for the bicycle sharing company to share any profits they may make with New York City. That would provide funds to put in more bike infrastructure. Which would in turn spur demand for more bicyele sharing stations which could, potentially, create more profits, etc. Sponsorship alone does not usually profit funds to expand bicycle sharing stations, since this is a fixed rate of revenue. Other forms of sevices to users or advertising potentially can. Such as being able to track calorie count, miles ridden, where to find a local store, etc.

Los Angeles has announced that there will be a bicycle sharing program that will be entirely funded by a private company. I'm sceptical about how well this will work as the company has never done a bicycle sharing program before and they have made numerous lies about the bikes that have been showing being proprietary to their company and made in the U.S.A. Turns out, they just bought some off-the-shelf bikes from a company that sells them to the public and has them made in Taiwan.

The LA DOT bikeway engineer manager came up with a idea to put up signs that give sponsorship to bikeways for companies or individuals that donate money towards their upkeep. I thought that was a brilliant idea that has potential to bring in some money. It doesn't have to be much money to make a significant difference in the $2.7 million per year that LA is currently spending for on-street bikeway construction and upkeep. As this manager pointed out, part of these annual funds is spent for upkeep and as you create more miles of bicycle infrastructure, the maintenance costs takes a bigger proportion of these funds.

Dennis Hindman said...

I would like to offer my Darwinian style of view of how bicycling infrastructure can evolve.

Much like starting out with a wolf and ending up with a cockerspaniel, you have to go through several generations of bicycle infrastructure improvements to arrive at the level of bicycle infrastructure and usuage that the Dutch have. The Dutch have more like a cockerspaniel type of bicycling than the much more wild wolf type of cycling that the U.S. has, where you are constantly made aware of being surrounded by predator like vehicles that can harm you at any time.

It does make more sense to have a cockerspaniel that poses much less subjective or actual danger, is more pleasant to be around and can serve a more usual purpose than a wolf. However, wanting to quickly make a wolf into a cockerspaniel is very unlikely to happen without a great amount of resources devoted to doing that, and even then, it would take a considerable amount of time before large numbers of people want to have anything to do with domesticated dogs, such as cockerspaniels.

The United States has evolved from having a completely wild type of cycling, without any on-street bicycling infrastructure in the 1960's, to having unprotected bike lane stripes and now this is evolving into protected bike lanes.

If that shows significant popularity, then the next step would be to move towards grade separated cycle tracks and then to a bike path running in close proximity and parallel to busy streets, with buffers to provide even more comfort and safety.

The Orange Line BRT mixed use path is the closest that Los Angeles has to a bike path that you might see in the Netherlands that parallels and is in close proximity to a busy street. Some of problems with the design is that the intersection stops were set up for pedestrians, with the ramps diagonal to the path and the pedestrian walk signal button beyond arms length. The wait times to cross can be as long as one minute, which is not conducive for using it as a means of transportation, rather its more appealing for recreation.

In a couple more months, there will be a four mile extension opening up, that has some improvments in design over the original version that was created in 2005.

JW said...

Beste David, ik lees je blog al een tijdje en met veel plezier moet ik zeggen. Mede dankzij jou ben ik me er van bewust geworden dat we in Nederland eigenlijk heel bevoorrecht zijn wat betreft fiets klimaat. Daarom verbaast het mij des te meer dat Rotterdam in je blog vaak aangehaald wordt als "slecht" voorbeeld. Ik vraag me af waar je dat op baseerd? Ik fiets hier onbekommerd rond, over uitstekende fietspaden, toegegeven: R'dam CS is een bouwput, maar voor de rest? Wanneer heb je hier voor het laatst gefietst? Het valt best mee hoor. Ik weet pas hoe slecht het hier eigenlijk is door jouw blog ;) Vriendelijke fietsgroeten uit zuid. JW.