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.


RavyDavyGravy said...

Hello David

Thanks for your blog which allows us to visualise what decent cycle infrastructure should look like. It is a world away from what we have here in the UK.

I am involved in a local campaign which has the goal of developing a network of safe routes to school linking 6 local schools and 6 play spaces in North London. We have a web page at

The route will use mainly quiet residential streets that have a 20mph speed limit. I'm curious to know how the Dutch would tackle this project.

I doubt they would share the problem that local politicians will not consider removing car-parking spaces because of the likely political backlash. I think that increased modal filtering might also be difficult for them. Some streets are wide enough to accommodate narrow cycle paths but would the Dutch bother with this on quiet <20mph residential streets?

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of you or your readers if you don't mind me asking this on your blog.

Many Thanks
David Lincoln

David Hembrow said...

David, the blog can show only so much, and people often don't understand the comprehensiveness of the entire network if they rely on reading blogs, glancing at Google Maps and other such things. To really get an understanding it's vital to have a guided tour which shows you how things actually work.

This blog only came into existence to support people who had been on the study tours that we organise - the idea being that it would help people to remember what they had seen and document further changes.

I've taken a look at your facebook page and I congratulate you on wanting to improve conditions for children in your area. However, you're currently aiming rather low.

It is quite common in the Netherlands to have a cycle-path next to a street with a 30 km/h (18 mph) speed limit wherever the volumes of either bikes or cars will be high at certain times of the day.

In particular, the slide show on your page shows streets with a great deal of parking on both sides and which are clearly used for through traffic. These are less than ideal for cycling on and would have a cycle-path in the Netherlands.

You should also think about social safety. There are several other slides showing a potential route along narrow alleyways which many people won't feel safe to walk or cycle along. Please read about the three types of safety, as well as about the concept of sustainable safety.

Lastly, for examples of how Dutch children get to school please see the blog posts about school travel as well as those about how Dutch children go on school trips by bike.

This is almost certainly all on a very much larger scale than you think.

The Dutch own a similar number of cars per head to the British. In general ways are found to prevent parked cars from being a problem. Car parking has also been covered many times on this blog.

Dennis Hindman said...

David, even though it would seem self evident that bike paths both increase cycling and safety from decades of extensive use in the Netherlands, in North America, traffic engineering standards have not been changed to reflect this due to a lack of research and studies to support this. That's why its great to see that the University of British Columbia recently released their "Bicyclists' injuries and the cycling enviornment" study. This indicates that cyclists preferred routes from a previous study and the level of safety that each afford are mostly in agreement.

The information in the link does not indicate the types of safety features that were at any junctions for the different cycling conditions. I've found that there are much less near incidents at junctions when cycling along the Orange Line BRT mixed use path in Los Angeles compared to typical street junctions with or without bike lanes, which is in conflict with what the study indicates. That has a lot to do with having no-right-turn-signals that are activated by cyclists/pedestrians, or the bus, and also photo enforcement cameras at most junctions. This was done to reduce bus collisions with motorists. The side benefit was pedestrian and cycling safety improvments.

I'm encouraged that a study was done in a city that had most of the types of cycling infrastructure designs that are used in North America. This creates more persuasive evidence of the need for more protection to both increase the rate and safety of cycling. North America does not have a lot of good cycling infrastructure, but it has great research universities which have the ability to produce studies which can provide supporting evidence of the need for better bicycling conditions.

I find it odd that in the U.S. pedestrians are afforded the grade separated protection of sidewalks, painted crosswalks and crossing signals, yet the no less vulnerable cyclist is expected to ride unprotected from traffic between two stripes 4-5 feet apart on a busy street and often with the danger of parked car doors opening in front of them. On top of this, these paint treatments usually disappear at potential conflict points such as approaches to junctions, junctions, driveways, freeway on/off ramps and driveways. If traffic engineers designed infrastructure for pedestrians that resembled this, the public would be appalled.

Chris Juden said...

I think it is interesting to compare your town Assen, with Guildford UK, where the CTC office happens to be. They both have a population of about 65 thousand and lie on a major traffic route, but there the resemblance ends.

In your latest post it is good to see a cycle route crossing Assen's ring road. Guildford does not even have a ring road. This means that all the traffic passing through Guildford still has to use the old main roads through the middle of town. As these old routes take the line of least resistance through this hilly area, they are the routes we want to cycle too. If Guildford were in the Netherlands, like Assen, I guess that it would have a ring-road already, allowing these roads to be narrowed and blocked to through traffic, so as to make space for high-quality cyclepaths exactly where we want them. But to build a ring road around Guildford would be very controversial, not to mention expensive.

Another big difference is that Assen's major route is now a proper motorway the misses the town, whereas Guildford's is still a general purpose road, without even a cycle path, that cuts the town in two.

I would like to read a bit more in your blog about the flip side of disentangling cycling from driving: all the new roads that have obviously been built to divert traffic away from narrow old roads and town centres. How did the Netherlands manage to build such a comprehensive motorway network and give every large town a ring road, without encouraging people to drive more? I suppose that all the road-building was financed by North Sea revenues (that UK spent on other things), but was there as much environmental opposition as we had here to schemes like the Newbury bypass?

David Hembrow said...

Chris: I find you have a strange way of thinking about these things. Instead of erecting straw men as reasons not to progress, why not look for solutions and seek to copy what works ?

That Assen has a motorway passing close by is not really significant at all. All Dutch towns have a high cycling modal share in comparison with British towns, including those which don't have motorways passing through or next to them.

Conversely, many British towns do have motorways next to them or bypasses yet still have a low cycling modal share. One example that I know well is Taunton in Somerset, a town with the same population as Assen. This is "bypassed" in the form of the M5. However the motorway has not transformed the town for cycling. And why should we expect it to ? That's not the purpose of a motorway.

Boston is another town I know well, sited in an area of the UK which is as flat as most of the Netherlands. This is a smaller place with half the population of Assen but people don't cycle. Why ? That's simple to answer, and it's not just due to it having a busy road through the centre. Development throughout the town has prioritized motor traffic. In fact, I think Boston provides an interesting text-book example of how to get it very wrong indeed because they have prioritized motor vehicles even within Boston's "pedestrianized" area.

Also note that large roads run through Dutch cities too. For example, at this location in Groningen. However, the junction featured at that link has been designed not to have a particularly adverse effect on cycling and this clearly works because Groningen is famous for its particularly high cycling modal share.

Consider more than the two cases that you mention and it's clear that it's not the motorway that is important, but the way in which the roads and streets within the town have been transformed.

I don't know Guildford so I'm not going to comment too much on your town. However I doubt very much that it is an impossibility to build a bypass if that is what is needed. Please note that other countries do manage to build bypasses through hills, including Austria (no "North Sea revenues" there) as illustrated three posts back.

There is no "flip side" as you put it, because your whole argument is unfortunately based upon something which isn't actually quite true.

Yes there has been a lot of road building in the Netherlands, but there's also been a lot of road building in countries with a low cycling modal share such as the UK, France, the USA, Australia.

In all of these places there has been some degree of opposition to road building on environmental grounds.

However I have to give the Dutch some credit for how they have constructed their motorways and large roads. Due to the extremely low noise surfaces and the noise barriers alongside Dutch motorways you at least don't have to cycle far before you can experience absolute silence.

christhebull said...

@David Hembrow, @Chris Juden

I happen to be very familiar with the situation in Guildford myself, having lived in a small town nearby for all my life before I moved to go to university.

The A3 trunk road "bypasses" Guildford to some extent, but part of it was originally built in the 1930s and therefore the northern suburbs have expanded beyond it. This section has narrow lanes, substandard junctions, and a 50 mph limit. The A25 Ladymead was originally part of this bypass but was itself bypassed by a new section of the A3.

There are some other "through" roads closer to the centre of the town, none of which can be described as pleasant for cycling.

The older part of the town centre contains an impermeable maze of one way streets. In any Dutch city these would all have contraflows. However, this is the UK so even though they're now legal, out "Localism" agenda means absolutely no effort has been made whatsoever for cycling; to the extent that the High Street, part of a national cycle route, does not even permit cycling in both directions, and is closed to cyclists during part of the day. Surrey County Council couldn't deliver on cycling if I gave them a FedEx truck full of Bromptons.

Wherever a road has been closed off, no effort has been made to retain through access for cyclists. Some roads have been cut in half with pedestrians diverted into unpleasant underpasses.

There is almost no way as a cyclist to avoid the main gyratory, which also provides a pathetic environment for pedestrians going between the train station and the main shopping centre, or to the bars and clubs in that area, as it uses two of the few bridges over the River Wey. The A3 and railway lines also form significant physical barriers.

You may also like to know that I actually helped come up with a concept design for a major junction on the aforementioned A25, with separate cycle paths and turning lanes.

So, it would be possible to make significant improvements to cycling within and around Guildford by:

1) Making all one way streets within the town centre (and elsewhere) two way for cyclists.

2) Altering the gyratory by moving to two-way traffic, installing cycle lanes and closing off Bridge Street to motor traffic

3) Installing segregated cycle paths on the A25 Ladymead / Parkway as a "showcase" project, then expanding the network northwards (there is ample space along the A320 Woking Road), as well as towards the town centre (it would certainly be possible to have a two-cycle track along the west side of the A322 Woodbridge Road towards the town centre if parking was removed, although it may be slightly narrow in places)

5) Making quality opportunist improvements when roads are altered for new housing developments or for other reasons.

6) Replacing footbridges or subways unsuitable for cycling with upgraded crossings (at surface level where appropriate for the location and road type).

Note that I did not say "build a new ring road". I suggest that Chris Juden take a look at other British cities which DO have ring roads, such as Coventry or Chichester, to see how it doesn't make any difference if new roads get built if both they and the existing road network remain hostile to cycling with no advantage provided in the network design. It also ought to be pointed out that most of the (somewhat inadequate) measures for cycling in Bristol came after part of the ring road, that ran diagonally through Queen Square, was closed off and grassed over.

Bursledon Blogger said...

Hi David, your blog really hits the spot regarding cycle ways and the ability to use a bicycle as daily transport or not.

We were fortunate to stay in Weesp for a couple of weeks in August, what a delight, safe, cycle routes which take you where you want to go.

Having returned home we realised what a miserable experience cyclists in the UK face.

To cap it all we read in the local paper an announcement that Eastleigh council were dedicating a cycle path to one of our Olympic athletes - good stuff you might say, but sadly the reality is there is no new cycle way, rather they are renaming the bit of Hamble lane pavement which was annexed with a white line years ago - it wasn't good then it's pathetic that they used the Olympic success in such a cynical and self serving way