Thursday, 21 June 2012

More Study Tour feedback

On the Study Tours we pack into three days as much as possible of what took us many years to learn. Perhaps it's not surprising that people sometimes look a bit shell-shocked by the end of the tour as it can be quite hard to take it in. Feedback is always welcome, and happily it usually demonstrates very well that participants on the tour have understood what they saw. Today we were lucky enough to receive feedback from two different people.

Michel from Norway sent us this wonderful video made by Ingvild Stensrud and Herman Andreassen, two of the Norwegian students who came on a tour in March. I don't understand Norwegian, and there are no English subtitles, but it's a very watchable video which demonstrates much of what they saw on the tour:


The second item came from Claire Prospert of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. Claire has written a wonderful and detailed blog-post for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain which is both a review of the tour in May as well as being extremely thorough and informative in itself. Please read her post.

The following video is one of several shot on the tour which you can find on Claire's youtube channel. This video catches the first thing that everyone saw on the the first day, before the tour had even started - the full spectrum of Dutch cycling from a velomobile to a school trip heading out of the city went by right outside the door of the accommodation on a street which used to be the main route for cars into Assen from the South but now is a much more friendly space:


During the May Study Tour we came across three different groups of children from three different schools. While it would be quite exceptional elsewhere, this isn't an unusual sight at all in the Netherlands (read other blog posts about school trips by bike). This brings us back to what is one of the most important things with regard to campaigning for a high cycling modal share: you have to start with children, and indeed that is what the Dutch did.

Why come on a tour ?
Our blog, as well as others that we link to on the right, go to some effort to explain how things work in the Netherlands. There are also books on the subject, and many people refer to Google Maps. All of these things give an impression, however there is really no substitute for seeing it yourself.

When in the Netherlands, there is much to see, and it is very easy it is to miss things or to misunderstand the context or usage. I know from personal experience that on first visiting the country it is easy to ride past important infrastructure without noticing it at all - the ease of cycling in the Netherlands makes it very easy to take the reason for that ease for granted. What's more, very few Dutch people who have "always" been surrounded by the infrastructure realise that it is exceptional. People's memories are short and they don't necessarily recall how things used to be.

For these reasons, it is helpful to be on a tour which specifically takes in so many interesting features as possible, and on which there are explanations of why these things are interesting. Because you benefit from our years of experience on a three day tour, this saves a lot of time. We're native English speakers and understand the different contexts of cycling in both English speaking countries and the Netherlands. This is what is unique about our study tours and why people find them to be so informative.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Central reservations enable cyclists and pedestrians to cross safely

Where cyclists or pedestrians must cross a road which is used by an appreciable number of motor vehicles, central reservations make a huge difference to safety. They allow the cyclist to cross just one stream of traffic at once, which is moving in one direction, before making a second decision from the centre of the road before crossing again.

Of course, such a reservation needs to be adequate in size. The crossing shown above, in a residential area in Assen by the local shops, allows two cyclists travelling in each direction to pass each other, and is long enough for a bicycle with trailer to stop safely in the middle. it also has a completely separate crossing for pedestrians, and of course both the cycle and pedestrian paths on both sides of the street. The speed limit for cars is 50 km/h (30 mph).

Here is another view of the crossing:

Open in Google Maps - note that cyclists don't suffer from a "pinch" effect due to cars because there are separate cycle-paths either side of the crossing.

When we first moved to Assen, there
was no central reservation at this
crossing. Image from a leaflet
explaining the change
This is an example of a crossing which works extremely well for cyclists, but it is not in any way an unusual or unique design. It's actually strikingly normal - there are so many crossings like this in Assen that I couldn't possibly count them. You need look no more than a hundred metres to the South from this one to find three more which are similar (see them here on Google Maps).

However, that this is very common doesn't imply that such crossings have existed forever. Actually, this one was retrofitted quite recently.

Back of the same leaflet
explaining what was
being done to improve
safety. Particularly
aimed at school children
Note five features on and around this crossing which make motorists slow down. Firstly, the shape of the crossing requires that motorists must decelerate and change course to go around it. Secondly, the width of the lanes either side of the central reservation is narrow which makes maneuvering difficult at speed. Thirdly, the road is narrow and there is no central white line. This makes motorists less sure of their position on the road and further reduces speed. Fourthly, the speed limit is 50 km/h (30 mph) on this street, which provides access, and 30 km/h (18 mph) on surrounding streets. Fifthly, there is also a pedestrian zebra crossing here for which motorists must stop if a pedestrian is crossing. Cyclists don't have priority in this case, but often receive it anyway.

The requirement that motorists have to swerve could be dangerous to cyclists due to a pinching effect if cyclists were on the street but because there are parallel cycle-paths on both sides of the street there is no danger at all.

See also videos showing the same crossing in use by hundreds of school children.


This can be seen as something which is easily "lost in translation" when implemented elsewhere because while the same concept might appear elsewhere, the implementation is completely different. For example, here's the same concept as implemented in Cambridge, UK:

Crossing of Madingley Road in Cambridge, UK. This is one of several roads in Cambridge which are unpleasant to cycle along and which can be difficult to cross safely by bicycle. We used to do this with our children, but this made us very much the exception as most people would not see this as a safe thing to do with their children. It's important for campaigners to realise that they are part of a self-selected group. Conditions like this are a reason why keen cyclists stop when they have children.
This reservation is much too small. Only one cyclist can use it at a time because the path on it is too narrow, and it doesn't provide nearly enough space for towing a trailer. It also doesn't feel safe because there is not much separation from high speed traffic. While the example in Assen is on a relatively minor street with a slow speed limit, and that is where such a crossing if built to a high enough standard, can work well, this one is on a major arterial road, which is is one of the busiest in Cambridge. The lanes on either side of this central reservation are much too wide, and they are shared with cyclists heading along the road who are provided with the narrowest of on-road cycle-lane.

What's more, the speed limit here is much higher than that of the Assen example, at 40 mph (64 km/h) and this is a major arterial road into Cambridge so there are usually far more cars driving here than you find at the equivalent looking crossing in Assen.

When we crossed at this point with our children it was difficult to accompany them and cross the road safely. What's more, when I pulled a child trailer across this junction it didn't fit, so I had to make the crossing in one step.

It's an example of something extremely inadequate being installed in completely the wrong situation. The closest equivalents we have in Assen would be this or this.


Another view of the crossing of Madingley Road. It's similar to Huntingdon Road a little further North and many other roads in and around Cambridge. These are part of the reason why Cambridge's cycling is limited to a demographic groupView Larger Map

If your only reference to good infrastructure design comes from books, websites and looking at Google Maps, then it is very easy to misinterpret what is seen on the ground in the Netherlands. This is why it is important that planners from English speaking countries should see for themselves what good infrastructure actually looks like, and see it in the country which has the best standards. Referring only to what is in, for example, the UK can only result in copying from bad examples. It is to try to help to prevent this problem that we organise study tours.

See other examples of ideas "lost in translation", enabling of crossing the road, and perhaps most important, examples of what works in the Netherlands.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Reducing speeds in villages. Britain vs. The Netherlands


View Larger Map

When we were in Britain last October we drove from one of our parents to the other. It was an interesting experience being back on Britain's roads and making a long journey by car. One of the things we especially noticed after our absence from Britain's roads was how attempts had been made to limit speeds on roads through villages, but that they were inadequate. Speeds remained too high, and conditions for cyclists and pedestrians remained unpleasant.

The example above is of the A153 entering the village of Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and that's the example I'll use in this blog post. There are hundreds of villages along similar roads in the UK. but this is the one by which I stopped and took some photos:

The national speed limit of 60 mph ( 100 km/h ) applies along most of the length of the A153. On entering the village this falls to 40 mph ( 64 km/h ). A reduction in speed is encouraged by signs and a central reservation which doubles as a space for pedestrians to cross the road, though there there is nothing other than grass verge to walk on if you reach the other side of the road.

The A153 has no parallel cycle or pedestrian path. Anyone who wants to travel the 4.5 miles between the next village, Mareham-le-Fen and this one has to use the road. Many journeys are made between villages separated by this sort of distance in order to shop, use sport facilities, go to school or to commute. Coningsby is a desirable destination from Mareham because there are more shops and other facilities in this larger village. However, because cycling along here means being overtaken by vehicles travelling at 100 km/h, very few people would consider it. We stopped for several minutes to take these photos and no cyclists or pedestrians were seen. Everyone who was making this journey made it by car, van or truck.

Where there are two vehicles heading in opposite directions, there is very little room for a motorist to overtake a cyclist.

A few metres past the 40 mph speed limit signs there is a central reservation. It is narrow and does not require drivers to divert much from a straight line. Many vehicles are still travelling in excess of the speed limit when they reach this point. Calls can be made that drivers should slow to well below the speed limit when passing a cyclist inside the pinch point, but they won't be heeded. The result is that anyone on a bicycle will be passed extremely close by a motor vehicle which arrives in the same place at the same time. This does not make for a pleasant or safe experience when cycling. Alternatively, the cyclist can "take the lane" and attempt to force motorists approaching from behind to brake sharply, but this also is doesn't make for pleasant or safe cycling and causes resentment amongst drivers.

This design of road, and this design of traffic calming, is lethal. What's more, given the high speeds that remain through the village, it doesn't even result in particularly pleasant conditions for those who live there.

The reason why this particular feature of the road grabbed my attention was that a few days previously I'd pointed out something very similar in concept to the study tour group from Vilnius when they visited us in Assen.

If you had heard only a description of these two roads and not seen the physical reality then they would probably sound like almost the same thing. However, they are not the same in practice. Here is the "equivalent" traffic calming design in Assen:


Grotere kaart weergweven

The Witterhoofdweg has a speed limit of 60 km/h ( 37 mph ) before the signs and 30 km/h ( 18 mph ) through the village. This is the speed limit through most villages in this area. A third of the Dutch road network now has a speed limit of 30 km/h or lower.


The central reservation is much larger than the British example and requires drivers to change course quite dramatically as they drive around it. You couldn't drive through here at the speeds at which drivers in Britain routinely enter Coningsby.


The reservation is 4.5 metres wide, meaning there is ample space in which to wait to cross the road even with a loaded bicycle. On the other side of the road there is a cycle-path which you may well want to reach. Now how on the left side of the photo you can see the three metre wide cycle-path which continues the entire length of the village, even though the speed limit on the road is 30 km/h. At junctions with side-roads in the village, the cycle-path has priority. This results in a continuous, convenient and stress free experience for cyclists.

Looking in the opposite direction we get a good view of the cycle-path as it enters the village. The complete separation of cyclists and drivers ensure that making cars swerve to slow them down doesn't in any way endanger cyclists passing this point at the same time.

For most of the distance from Assen the cycle-path is separated by too large a distance from the road for it to easily appear in photos taken from the road. This cycle-path is four metres wide.

At the opposite end of the village there is a similar traffic calming construction. Cyclists retain a very good degree of subjective and actual safety right through this village and out the other side.

At the time when we took this photo it was a cold winter day in the Christmas holidays. However, there was a regular stream of cyclists, as there always is. When the schools are in session, this is part of a route taken by thousands of children each day who ride their bikes from villages to the South West of Assen into the city. Witten, where these photos were taken, is just 3.6 km from the centre of the city. However, this is merely the half way point to the next village, Bovensmilde, which is 6.6 km away - almost exactly the same distance as Mareham-le-Fen to Coningsby, and many people travel along here by bike from other villages considerably further away than that. Because the distance can be covered on cycle-paths, the experience will be pleasant and safe when doing so, and it's convenient to cycle, people cycle.

Written descriptions of these two traffic calming devices would sound the same. However, in reality they are different. Aerial views of both traffic calming features to the same scale:


Coningsby. The signs are above the top of this view, the central reservation is just behind the truck. No need to divert at all while driving through here. While there is space for a cycle-path, none has been built  - View Larger Map


Witten. The signs are very close to the central reservation (see shadows to the right), motorists have to divert from a straight line to cross this point. Cycle-paths lead in all directions, all separated from the road, some by a considerable distance - Grotere kaart weergeven

Now I expect some readers to point out that the A153 is a larger more strategic road than the Witterhoofdweg. They'd be right of course. But larger roads in the Netherlands have rather more care taken to preserve the rights of cyclists and pedestrians to go about their everyday business in peace, not less. A traffic calming feature like this simply has no place on a busy road like the A153.

In Britain, the same ideas have been used as in the Netherlands, but they are often applied in a much weaker way, and often in staggeringly inappropriate places. That is what the blog posts tagged "lost in translation" show.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Cycle-paths of Drenthe - 98% good, 2% being repaired


Another item from our local TV station: Two months ago, I wrote about how the cycle-paths of Drenthe were being tested for quality. The results are now in.

There are currently a lot of storks
nesting in Drenthe
All 2300 km of cycle-path in the province have been tested, and just 2% found to need maintenance within a year with and 5% needing another look at a lower priority. This work has already started - the cycle-path resurfacing works that we rode past last week are on a section which was amongst the 2% identified as needing work.

Some of the flowers are out already
The video shows the seriousness with which this is taken. At the start, the deputy for traffic and transport makes his appearance by bike. A yellow instrumented car is shown, which was driven along the paths to make measurements of surface quality and other issues.

It has to be taken seriously because recreational cycling is worth €670 million each year to the province. The attractions of the province are well known to the Dutch and Germans and almost all of this us due to Dutch and German visitors.

Judy riding through an area of heath
The English speaking market is very much smaller, and we're almost alone in offering cycling holidays for English speaking people in Drenthe, the Netherlands "Cycling Province".

While The video description gives a figure of 2300 km of cycle-path in Drenthe, a spokesman in the video talks of 1700 km. He's asking for rural cycle-paths which are looked after by 12 different rural councils and maintained to 12 different standards to be unified under one responsible agency so that they will be consistent in future. The difference between 2300 and 1700, or 600 km, is just about the same as the total length of cycle-path in the two cities of Assen and Emmen combined.

All photos were taken by Judy and I last week when we were planning routes for this years' holiday customers