Monday 16 July 2012

The first Fietsroute+ in Groningen

Not all major cycle-routes are given a particularly grand name in the Netherlands. While other countries use terms such as "superhighway" for mere cycle-lanes, in this country, more modest terms are used for very good and direct cycle-paths. One of these terms is "Fietsroute+", favoured by the Groningen-Assen region.

My mother helping me to demonstrate
the Assen-Rolde Fietsroute+
The first Fietsroute+ was constructed in 2007 to cover the 10 km distance between Assen and Vries. For a couple of years, this featured on my commute, and the wonderful smooth surface and continuity of the path helped with riding at high enough average speeds that a 60 km round trip was quite feasible. This particular routes has also featured in several blog posts including about the required standards for a Fietsroute+ (worth reading) and how it is used by many secondary school students. Another Fietsroute+ heads East out of Assen, covering the 6 km distance between Rolde and Assen.

However, both of these are in Drenthe, not in Groningen and this post is about the First Fietsroute+ in the province of Groningen.

Two years ago, Wilfred took some photos of the construction of a new Fietsroute+ to make the 13 km distance between his home in Zuidhorn and Groningen more attractive to cyclists. This cycle-path was finally completed and officially opened in May as the first Fietsroute+ in Groningen. The local government produced a publicity film for it in which the entertainer Arno Van Der Heyden introduces the new fietsroute+, demonstrates how to cycle along the route, and interviews the burgemeester of Zuidhorn, a passer by, and the cycling project leader about the new cycle-path:

Like the other Fietsroute+ routes, as well as other major routes without that designation, it's designed to be safe, wide to avoid conflict, and smooth and direct to cope with higher speeds than an average cycle-path. The combined population of Zuidhorn and surrounding smaller villages is only around 18000, yet 1500 people per day cycle along this route. Their numbers are boosted by people for whom this section is part of a longer route. It is hoped that the quality of the new cycle-path will attract yet more people out of cars.

However, this wasn't the only publicity. There was another event, an opening "race":

The winner of this "race" was professional cycle racer Bauke Mollema. Bauke Mollema grew up in Zuidhorn and rode to Groningen each day to go to school. He tells an amusing anecdote about how when he made his school journeys along the old path, they would ride with two students next to each other and it too cramped for three, while with the new improved path five abreast will be possible. I've seen how school children and students cycle, and I've no doubt that this will happen.

Bauke is a local hero. This year he took part in the Tour de France, though sadly he had to stop after the 11th stage due to problems from injuries suffered on the sixth stage. Better luck next time !

Progress continues to be made so that cycling becomes steadily safer, faster and more attractive. Seven routes are currently shown as either completed or in progress on the Groningen-Assen website, and another fietsroute+ is also planned to be built along the line of the railway to Winsum, some 15 km North of Groningen:

It is only by continual improvement that cycling can be expected to grow. Standards are so high as they are in the Nnetherlands because they need to be higher here than elsewhere merely to preserve the modal share which already exists, let alone to make it grow. While it is relatively easy to convince the first few percent of the population to cycle because they are the least demanding, if the modal share is to become higher, it becomes steadily more difficult because the target is no longer "low lying fruit". Rather, to maintain and build on a high modal share for cycling, the target audience is necessarily those people who are not easy to convince to ride a bike. They may have longer journeys, be more easily scared off from cycling, come from from demographic groups who are less likely to cycle, or perhaps they simply more likely to prefer an alternative such as driving a car.

This is why development of ever better cycling facilities is not a luxury but a necessity not only in the Netherlands but also elsewhere. Campaigners can make no progress by asking only for what is good enough for themselves. Such campaigners are themselves the low-lying fruit and they are already riding. For progress, the standards have to improve and this isn't achieved by aiming low. The benefit of good quality cycling facilities is for everyone, even professional cycle-racers.

In related news, Bauke became a father last week. Gefeliciteerd Bauke en Jane !


highwayman said...

I liked the first video --even if I cannot understand the language-- I remain amused.

The second video is proof once again that the Dutch cycle in all kinds of weather. No one behaved like they were melting in the rain.. In fact, no one felt put-off by it in anyway --it's part of the routine. And this was the video for the ceremonial openiing of the Fietsroute+.

Thank you Mr. Hembrow for some nice videos and your latest posting.

Severin said...

I've had the chance to speak with bike infrastructure planners/engineers here in LA and perhaps more than our design standards, the element preventing bolder infrastructure from being implemented is funding.

I always debate with myself– do we ask for 1 mile of quality bike path or many more miles of bike lanes?

It's not always a case of beachside bike path vs city bike lane, but on street bike paths are significantly more expensive than mere painted bike lanes. I think this blog post puts the dollars and miles in perspective well

Wilfred Ketelaar said...

Whith taking pictures of the new Fietsroute+ in construction a couple of years ago I also made a video.

Daniel Sparing said...

David, is there any difference in the specifications of the Fietsroute Plus and the Fietssnelwegen or are they just different brandings to mean the same?

David Hembrow said...

Severin: How on earth did they manage to reach a price of $15 million per mile for bike path in Los Angeles ? The mind boggles.

Wilfred: Thanks for the video link. It illustrates the path very well, at least so far as it was finished when you made the video.

Daniel: Very good question. Each region seems to be doing its own thing. Standards are high, but not necessarily exactly the same. The most comprehensive information about Fietsroute+, including widths etc., was in my first blog post about them.

Severin said...


In that particular case I think the cost was driven up by other factors like leveling the path or something. Though here in LA the typical costs for bike paths is estimated at 1 million dollars per mile whereas bike lanes are estimated at $50,000 per mile. It is with these cost projections that advocates and engineers push for bike lanes as they are much cheaper but if they don't attract riders I wonder what the point is.

Bob said...

I just think it's totally awesome that you're riding bikes with your Mum! How cool!

Dennis Hindman said...

David, as you frequently have before, you have provided me with another thought provoking article.

Bike paths or mixed use paths are almost always built in parks or along creeks, rivers and railroad right-of-ways in the United States. The recently opened Orange Line BRT extension mixed use path in Los Angeles is built on space that was originally used for part of the red-line trolley system that stopped running by 1955. Some of the advantages of putting a bike path along this right-of-way is that there are no driveways and fewer intersections due to the streets being designed around the former railway.

There was also safety features installed, such as no left or right turn traffic signals (its usually legal to turn right on a red traffic signal in California), along with red-light violation cameras installed to try and prevent vehicle collisions with the buses. For two weeks prior to the BRT opening, there were DOT traffic officers at major intersections throughout the day to instruct drivers on the proper procedures. The pedestrians and cyclists safety using the crosswalk for the mixed use path are no doubt increased due to these features.

The funding for the mixed use path came from the Metro county transit agency who built the BRT and some businesses who were leasing space from Metro had to move in order to put it in. Houses were bought for an extension of the 710 freeway that has yet to be built in LA county, so money and space could be found for bike paths in Los Angeles, at least when tied to much bigger projects such as these. But, as yet, building bike paths do not rate as high as transit or freeways in Los Angeles.

Finding funds or adequate amounts of space for protected on-street bikeways in Los Angeles is more difficult, but not impossible. Los Angeles will get its first cycle track by the end of 2014 if all goes well, albeit it will be the baseline design. The involvement of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen could have been the reason why cycle tracks were designed into even the basic plan.

An idea I had was to put in at least a partial cycle track along another Metro project that would intersect the Orange Line path. It seems that Los Angeles insists that a bikeway of some sort must be included with major street level Metro projects and so I'm thinking that this is a opportune time to insist on something like the cycle tracks for the My Figueroa project. However, his is not what the planners and traffic engineers have in mind from my conversations with them at this point in time, they are mainly concerned with how to squeeze in a light-rail train or BRT down the middle of these streets.

Another major project plan, that is not yet finalized, is a expansion of Universal Studies, which is about half a mile south from where I live. Part of the plan is to include $100 million in transit, street and freeway improvements. I'm thinking, if cycle tracks are the baseline for the My Figueroa Project, then why not this major project also? No one else seems to see it my way yet, but after my experiences of seeing the wide range of demographics on the mixed use paths in the San Fernando Valley, its certainly worth pursuing and as you have pointed out, if you don't insist on much higher quality of bikeways, then you'll probably end up with either nothing or just paint treatments.

Dennis Hindman said...

For some research about bicycling in the United States, here's an article, written by University of California at Davis professor Susan L Handy, about the city with perhaps the highest cycling rate in the U.S. entitled Why do I bicycle but my neighbor doesn't?

In comparison to the 53% of Davis residents who bicycle weekly, only about 5.3% of Los Angeles residents do. So Davis has approximately 10 times the cycling rate that LA does and LA is within the top third in bicycling modal share of the 100 largest cities in the U.S.

Ms Handy does mention in the article that she visited Odense Denmark several years ago and that the quality of its bicycling infrastructure puts Davis to shame.

Table 1 lists 66% of Davis residents responding that they are comfortable riding in a bike lane on a four-lane road.

A conclusion from Ms Handy's research is that good infrastructure is necessary to get many people cycling, but something more is needed to get most people cycling.

In comparison, the city of Chicago asked bike riders a few questions after the city installed their first rudimentary protected bike lane on Kinzie St last year. From a scale of 1, meaning not feeling safe at all, to 5--feeling very safe, the responses averaged a 2.9 for riding in a unprotected bike lane and and average of 4.4 for riding on the protected bike lane on Kinzie St.

The Low-Stress Bicycling and Network Connectivity report, research that was done by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, attempts to classify the level of traffic stress (LTS) for bicycing into four categories. The lowest stress, LTS 1, is suitable for children and the highest (LTS 4) is where only the most fearless cyclist will venture.

Since 67% of the centerline street miles in San Jose are low stress, or at the lowest stress level, then connecting these islands of low-stress areas, shown on page 34, into a connected network would have a much wider appeal than simply unprotected bike lanes on primary streets.

Their recommendations are shown on pages 47 and 48, and the end result, if this was implemented, is on page 49. Not at the level of bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands, but for a relatively low amount of money for construction this could be quite effective in getting more cycling.

Ian Perry (Cardiff, UK) said...

Hi David,

Do you have any information on the choice of materials - in some parts this appears to have a bitumen surface, and in others a concrete surface.

I'd also like have a rough idea of the construction costs...

The costs for similar paths very greatly (though few are as high as the LA example of Severin!). How do the Dutch municipalities keep costs down - or do they simply pay whatever they have to?