Monday 1 April 2013

The Netherlands sets the best example, but don't copy anything just because it is "Dutch"

While Germany is a genuine leader in renewable energy, and Danish design is known across the world, it is the Netherlands that should be looked to as the leader in cycling.

There is no "good enough". Everything
could be better.  Works on cycle-paths
are common in the Netherlands
standards are improving. Dutch cycling
infrastructure is a moving target.
Observers from other countries with a far lower level of cycling often express an interest in Denmark or Germany because they are considered to offer a more "achievable" or "realistic" target to aim for. A cheaper solution is sometimes seen as an easier thing to emulate than the Dutch solution. It's true that those nations spend less, however they also achieve less. While the Netherlands continues to grow cycling from an already higher base (in 2011 the population cycled nearly 10% more than in 2010), Denmark is struggling against a long term decline in cycling and Germany has infrastructure which is unpopular with many of its cyclists. Are those good scenarios to aspire to ?

In the past, Assen had cycle-lanes in the
middle of the road. They're gone now.
Not a good idea. Don't copy this. The
traffic lights that they're waiting for
do not even exist any more. This street
is now much more pleasant.
Let's not even consider the absurdity of looking towards places which have achieved even less than Denmark and Germany, be they vocal cities in the UK or USA or elsewhere. What works for a minority cycling modal share and what works in a limited area with a demographic bubble are not necessarily what works for true majority cycling over an entire nation.

It makes no sense to campaign for something which isn't actually good enough. Campaigners should be inspired by the best of Dutch infrastructure and be wary of distraction by things which don't have a proven record of success.

Don't blindly trust the CROW manual
In reality you will struggle to find any
examples of a roundabout like this
the Netherlands. Much safer designs exist.
The CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic manual is as good a manual for cycling infrastructure design as exists. However it's not perfect. The manual tells you how to do a great many things, but it does say so much about which solutions are good solutions. For example, it rather glosses over the serious safety problems caused by "mixing lanes", and the section on them doesn't suggest much better solutions for similar junctions. The CROW manual can be used to justify many things which you would not expect a modern Dutch road layout to include.

Just because something is in CROW,
that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Unfortunately there sometimes seems to be a lack of "quality control" when people are inspired by what they see in other places, including what they see in the Netherlands. Not everything "Dutch" is equally good and equally worth emulating. Sometimes there are apparent "solutions" which seem easier to copy and these get too much attention. This isn't helped by the Dutch themselves occasionally forgetting about why they cycle and placing far too much emphasis on things which are less important or by their giving a lot of press to new ideas which are unproven or which in some cases simply don't work.

What's Dutch and should be ignored ?

I'm more impressed by traffic lights like
this one where cyclists never wait more
than 8 seconds for a green light
where you don't have to stop at all.
Traffic lights which give cyclists priority when it rains have been in the news recently. This sounds lovely of course until you give it a little more thought. The article states that "The rain sensor did not lead to significantly longer waiting times for the non-cycling travellers, nor did it produce jams or stagnation". Now if the change in cycle timing benefits cyclists but does not cause a problem for other road users, then why do we not have that new timing all the time instead of only when it rains ? It's illogical in the extreme to do this, and as it costs an extra €10000 per traffic light, why bother when the same benefit can be found by reprogramming the lights permanently ? This is a gimmick which sounds good in a press-release but is otherwise quite silly.

Does the current situation in winter
look especially problematic ?
Another recent idea was heated cycle-paths. Again this initially sounds like a fine idea, until you realise that it is simply not practical. This idea is estimated to cost between €20K and €40K per km. However, the Netherlands has 35000 km of cycle-paths so it would cost a thousand billion euros to implement everywhere. Clearly this cannot ever happen. At best a very small percentage may be heated, perhaps outside the town hall, and the traditional way of clearing paths (which is already very successful) will have to continue anyway. What's more, the increased cost of maintenance and the energy required to warm the paths has not been accounted for. This is another gimmick which sounds good in a press-release but doesn't really translate into much on the ground.

Simple, old-fashioned and "not invented
here", but what Dutch roads need are
"Cat's Eyes" like British roads have had
for 80 years. Read about the inventor.
Due to being in the centre of roads,
they're not dangerous to cyclists on the
road. Note that smaller versions can
be used on cycle-paths without
causing danger to cyclists. 
A third example in recent months is the idea of roads which glow in the dark. This "designer" nonsense even won "Best Future Concept at the Dutch Design Awards". The resulting press-release was taken up by organisations around the world and it received a considerable amount of coverage. Did no-one think about how impractical this is ? It's really a daft idea. Dutch roads genuinely do have a problem with how visible they are after dark, but spreading a thin layer of rapidly worn away paint across the entire surface is not the way to deal with this. British roads have provided an example of a better solution for nearly 80 years ! Cat's Eyes are retroreflective devices found in vast numbers along Britain's roads and motorways. The very clever design of Cat's Eyes means that they retract to avoid damage so are resistant to being driven over by trucks and even snow-ploughs, and that they use this retraction to clean themselves. What's more, they've a proven history of success. Having driven on both Dutch and British roads and motorways after dark, I can state that it is quite unequivocally easier to do so in the UK because you can see so much better where you're going if the centre-line and sides of the road are fitted with Cats Eyes.

After this is commonplace perhaps it's
 time to ask for big bridges and tunnels
Often there is an over-emphasis on the most recently built exceptional pieces of infrastructure. To claim in a press-release that you will build the "longest", "tallest", "widest" or whatever of anything is of course a real crowd-pleaser. It guarantees free publicity even before the new thing exists. Cities which have built exceptional pieces of infrastructure often use them to hype themselves.

I have received email from Dutch architects and "creative engineers" asking for me to advertise for them by writing posts about their latest projects on this blog and I've been invited to events and other such things. However I am not interested in astro-turfing for such companies and you should be wary of reading articles which are the result of marketing campaigns. Until something has been finished, proven to work and has a long record of being cost-effective, it's not ready to be copied elsewhere.

Campaigners need to be wary of all of this. Publicity is not our aim. Cycling is our aim. Exceptional pieces of infrastructure can only ever make up a small percentage of the total and if given too much emphasis they distract attention from the important point that it is the very high standard of the infrastructure which goes everywhere and which everyone uses every-day for all their journeys which creates a high level of subjective safety and attracts people to cycling. Fancy bridges, tunnels or claims for the "longest" cycle-paths or whatever are nice to see and occasionally convenient to use, but they're icing on the cake, not the cake itself. I've occasionally covered exceptional pieces of infrastructure on this blog, but with warnings.

Students surveying Haren's "Shared
Space" and counting how often car
drivers don't give way to bikes
There is also the perennial favourite of "Shared Space" road layouts. Despite having failed as a concept here in the Netherlands, there being no new large "Shared Space" projects, these ideas keep being pushed with enthusiasm elsewhere, quite often by those who stand to gain from contracts for its implementation. Even here in the Netherlands they sometimes achieve design wins, even though we know that shared space is not really safe. These days, with an increase in interest in Dutch cycling infrastructure elsewhere, "Shared Space" is sometimes pushed on the grounds that it's "Dutch" and therefore must be good. However, in practice this is now barely a Dutch idea at all. While a Dutch invention and while such layouts had brief popularity here in the early 2000s, the problems with this "emperor's new clothes" manner of redesigning streets are now quite clear and few people would ask for this. Far fewer than 1% of the street layouts in the Netherlands are "Shared Space" and as a result they form just a few weak links in an otherwise very good network of infrastructure for cycling. The real way of civilizing city centre streets is to remove most of the cars from them. Compare a video of a street which was once shared space but is more pleasant now that motor vehicles have been removed with another showing how shared space is both dangerous and inconvenient for the vulnerable.

Turbo Roundabout. Can we really
expect children or adults in disability
s to cross safely here ?
Turbo Roundabouts are a Dutch innovation to keep motor vehicles moving. They're horrible for cyclists, causing danger and inconvenience and cyclists are never expected to use the road on a turbo-roundaout. Protests about infrastructure are rare in the Netherlands, but there have been protests against Turbo Roundabouts because even crossings at such roundabouts are not necessarily safe.

While Turbo Roundabouts are bad news for cyclists, let's also look closely at the other roundabouts often promoted by advocates of Dutch cycling infrastructure.
Over the last two decades many studies have investigated the safety of different roundabout designs (the link takes you to several of my articles about these studies with the results translated into English). Some of these large scale studies used data from hundreds of "roundabout years" to build up a comprehensive picture of which designs work best, and which cause injuries to Dutch cyclists. As a result of their use of such comprehensive data the results are not easy to dismiss, but unfortunately there's a lot of reading to do to understand them and as a result they have mostly been ignored in the Netherlands. Due to this, most Dutch experts still promote a roundabout design which unnecessarily hospitalizes hundreds of Dutch cyclists each year as being the best, and even "safest" practice. The dangerous design is even being promoted for adoption in other countries where motorists take less care around cyclists than is the case in the Netherlands. We also have roundabout designs which are exceptionally safe for cyclists but these are rarely promoted as examples.
This is the safe roundabout design.
It is much more tolerant of driver
mistakes and results in a far lower
rate of cyclist injuries.
Please read more about this design.
Please choose the safe roundabout design and when copying from it take care to copy the entire thing. I've seen several examples of engineers from other countries trying to pick some aspects of Dutch roundabout design but missing out others of greater importance, resulting in less than safe or convenient results. It's common for people to focus on the geometry. i.e. they see the difference in exit radii and the size of the island in the centre but miss out the cycle-paths. So far as cyclists are concerned, the cycle-paths are the fundamental reason why Dutch roundabout design works well. Miss them out and you do not have a "Dutch" roundabout.

While on the subject of large junctions, traffic light junctions in the Netherlands are not all created equal either. The best design of traffic light junction for cyclists is the simultaneous green design. This is not only extremely convenient but also has proven to be extremely safe and it fits almost any size of junction. Anything else compromises at least one of safety or convenience. Unfortunately, much discussion elsewhere is concentrated on the "Standard Dutch Junction" or the "Protected Intersection", both of which are versions of older and less successful designs.

There are several articles on this blog about those and other good / safe traffic light designs.

What's Dutch and often misunderstood ?
Wide cycle-path next to a 30 km/h road
This is necessary to preserve subjective
safety and direct cycle-routes
Lower speed limits are a good thing. The Dutch think so - and that's why more than a third of the total road network in the Netherlands has a 30 km/h or lower speed limit. However, research published in the Netherlands four years ago showed that merely lowering the speed limit was not nearly enough of an intervention to make roads safe.

Residential areas and villages should have speeds no higher than 30 km/h / 20 mph on their streets. However, even where there is such a low speed limit it is often necessary still to have separate cycling infrastructure, and low speed limits certainly don't remove the need for separate cycling infrastructure in other places.

Achieving safety requires removing cars or building separate infrastructure for bikes and of course junction design is important too.

It is worthwhile to campaign for lower default speed limits but lower speed limits should be viewed as just one of a number of tools to civilize the streets and their contribution should not be over-emphasized. The same goes for Strict Liability, the importance of which is often much over-stated in other countries and which is often misrepresented as meaning that drivers are taken to be responsible for all crashes which occur between bikes and cars. In fact, strict liability was introduced after the Netherlands already had an extensive cycling network and it is this network which makes cycling popular, pleasant and safe. Separating cyclists from motor vehicles as much as possible, building a dense network of cycling routes and making cycling routes shorter and more convenient than driving routes are all more important than either lower speed limits or strict liability. Separating bikes from cars has a much greater effect on subjective and actual safety than does changing the laws which apply to drivers.

A simple bollard prevents this bridge
from being used by drivers. However,
bollards should not be over-used. They
can be dangerous.
Unravelling of routes so that cyclists do not have to travel parallel with motorists can make it possible to segregate modes without specific cycling infrastructure. However, the resultant routes for cyclists should be the direct routes, not indirect routes which go "around the houses" in order that cyclists are merely kept out of the way of motorists.

In the Netherlands it is quite normal that drivers find themselves having to take a detour in order that residential areas can be pleasant places to live. Cycling routes can pass through residential areas, but...

An old street converted into a Woonerf
in Assen. They were also built as new
developments in the 1970s and 1980s.
Woonerven (or "living streets" - similarly, the living-room in a Dutch house is called a woonkamer) are residential streets in which people take precedence over motor vehicles. The concept was especially popular in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s.

While woonerven provide for access by any means of transport, they should not be through routes by motor vehicle. What's more, they should also not be through routes by bicycle. Woonerven are not cycling facilities, they are intended to be pleasant places to live. This is not enhanced by having nose to tail commuters heading through these streets either in cars or on bikes.

If someone suggests that a woonerf should be a through route for bicycles, look out. Not only have they fundamentally misunderstood the concept of a woonerf, but they're probably proposing to send cyclists "around the houses" rather than provide the direct routes that cyclists need.

Older residential street recently
transformed to better accommodate
resident's cars
. Note also the one way
sign, excluding cyclists. This civilizes
residential streets in older areas
From many peoples' interpretations of what the Dutch have done, you could come to the conclusion that many things are "anti-car" in this country, but it's not true. The Netherlands is a rich western nation in which people can easily afford to own cars if they want to, and this country does not make it difficult to own, drive or park the cars that people own.

New-build residential areas provide ample car parking so that ownership of cars doesn't cause problems for other residents. Many shops offer free parking. The city that we live in, Assen, has the cheapest car parking in the Netherlands. What's more, the roads are well maintained and well sign-posted. They're a pleasure to drive on.

That driving can be very convenient for some purposes, and that people like to own cars does not stop those same people from cycling if cycling is an attractive option. But for this effect to become reality, cycling must be a very attractive option people for people from all walks of life. There is nothing unique about the Dutch people which makes them ride bikes - they find it useful to do so because it has been made into an easy choice to make and that comes because the environment encourages cycling. The Dutch have successfully harnessed the enormous pent up enthusiasm for cycling that exists everywhere. The desirability of cycling results in people using their bikes even though commutes by car are subsidized by the Dutch government.

The first pedestrianized street in the world was built in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and there are now many pedestrianized zones across the country. However, unlike pedestrianized zones elsewhere which ban cycling these are usually easy to access by bicycle. However, note that these are generally not main bicycle routes. A main route through a shopping street could cause conflict. Similarly, shared use pedestrian/bicycle paths are not built because they also cause conflict. For the same reason, bus lanes are not combined with bicycle lanes.

Other things to be wary of
On holidays from the UK we went
past wind turbines and formed the
impression that there was a lot of
renewable energy here. Not really. For
that you do need to go to Germany.
Be wary of "holiday opinions". Holidays in other countries are not remotely like living there for a period of years and they often lead to people having a view of their holiday destination which doesn't fit reality. To understand another country you have to live there for years and put some effort into understanding how things are in your new home.

Note that Dutch commentators speaking about the Netherlands are equally unlikely to understand differences between their country and others unless they have lived for many years in other countries and spent the time to study those differences while they were there. The significance of the everyday and mundane things which are taken for granted by cyclists in the Netherlands can easily be forgotten. Dutch commentators are as likely as those from elsewhere to place an over-emphasis on the new and spectacular, particularly if this shows their country in a positive light. Also note that most Dutch people have no real understanding of the problems facing cyclists in other countries because they have not experienced them. After he read comments about "dooring" in youtube comments, I had to explain carefully to one Dutch bicycle blogger what this meant because despite cycling since he was a child he had never experienced it himself. There can also be problems with language, and that's not just restricted to bloggers. Even the Fietsberaad sometimes publishes documents in English which don't mean the same as their Dutch equivalents.

Original London "Superhighway"
illustration with miniature
cyclist. The result of compromise
before negotiation.  Remember
past hype and promises made but
not always kept. Celebrate actual
results, not announcements in
press releases. Cycle lanes
similar to this can be found in
the Netherlands, but they're not
good here either.
Dutch people have told me that the Netherlands suffers from all sorts of problems, such as particularly high unemployment, a high violent crime rate, a terrible problem with litter, mass obesity, particularly terrible economic problems. They also often think that mopeds are a huge problem for cyclists, though they're actually a non-issue in most circumstances. If you're close to even a small problem it can seem like a big problem. I've also been told that cycling is far more pleasant in the UK because of a supposedly more extensive British network of traffic free paths, which of course doesn't actually exist. The hyped initial promises for London's "superhighways" resulted in some Dutch media sources suggesting that the Netherlands could soon fall behind, which of course didn't happen. Why do people believe these things ? Without the perspective of seeing how other people live by living as they live it's difficult to be objective.

Cycle-chic style pictures and videos of peak time cycling (I made them myself way back in the days before youtube had HD) look nice but do not really teach us anything. When emphasis is on the young and pretty then the impression is given that they are the cycling demographic we should aim for. When wider demographics are featured they tell you nothing about why it is that older or younger people cycle or about how often they are seen doing so. Videos of masses of people cycling are of no real use without an explanation of why. The result is often to simply reinforce the irrational beliefs about Dutch cycling that many people already hold, and this can be read in the comments.

Junctions commonly known as the
"Copenhagen left" design were tried in
NL 30 years ago but are no longer built
Not really Dutch at all
Not all things proposed as "Dutch" in other countries are actually Dutch at all. Two stage turns are an example of an inferior junction design of a type no longer built in the Netherlands, linked with fatalities in Copenhagen, yet copied as a "good" example of "Dutch" design in the UK.

These were built up to about 30 years ago in the Netherlands, but I've not seen one of these for more than ten years. A reader sent the location of the junction in the photo on the right. There's a reason why these went out of fashion - it's because they're unsafe and inconvenient.

While junctions like this might have been "Dutch" in the past, it seems a bit unfair to still blame the Dutch for them now when almost all have been replaced.

Solaroad update November 2014
Solar panels on our roof. They get lots
of sunshine and work extremely well
because they are almost never shaded
in this location.
Solar panels are a wonderful technology. They are a reliable source of clean energy which should be adopted more widely. I believe in solar energy enough that I put my money where why mouth is and installed solar panels on our own home. However note what this "belief" is based upon. I didn't do this just because of a fanciful idea that this was "green" but only after I had done all the maths and worked out that panels in this location would generate enough electricity that they would definitely pay back both economically and environmentally.

In the UK we lived in a house where the roof faced the wrong way. I did the maths then and worked out that we couldn't expect a reliably positive return from solar panels on our roof because it faced in the wrong way. As a result, when we went house hunting for our current home we looked only at houses with south facing roofs specifically so that we could install solar panels and have them pay their install cost back. Bad locations make no sense at all with solar panels. Due to the cost (both environmental and monetary) of the panels, it makes absolutely no sense at all to install them in locations where they cannot work. Doing so is not in any way good for the environment, but actually negative because the environmental cost of producing and installing the panels will never be earned back during the life-span of the panels.

A cycle-path with solar panels in it has recently been opened in Krommenie near Amsterdam. This has been receiving a lot of press due to a vast campaign of hype. This is a completely ludicrous idea. Solar panels are a marginal technology. They are only economically and environmentally viable when mounted facing the sun, in a place where there is no shade at all and where they won't be damaged so will have a long life allowing them to continue operating for their payback period. South facing (Northern Hemisphere) roofs are an excellent place for solar panels. A location underneath a road, with extra levels of glass above, not sloped to face the sun, with shade from trees, cyclists, leaves, grime etc. and at risk of damage from weather effects as well as snow-ploughs and other vehicles is anything other than an ideal location. Dust is a problem even for solar panels on a roof.

Minister Kamp opening a cycle-path
with solar panels under it. This is an
absolutely absurd idea. Do not copy it.
"Greenwash" will not rescue the earth,
it only adds to the problem of over-
consumption. Solar power is a very
good idea, but the panels have to
be placed correctly to achieve a
positive outcome from solar power.
It is impossible for solar panels placed under a road to ever pay back their cost of installation. The total environmental cost of building this "solaroad" will be higher than simply using asphalt on the cycle-path. It will certainly be higher than using asphalt on the cycle-path and placing the same solar panels in a more useful location.

Please try to ignore the hype. I'm sure the company who is pushing this idea will try very hard to sell it, but they are trading on people not being able to do the figures themselves and work out why this is a bad idea. The Dutch minister who opened the cycle-path is clearly confused. He has said that his "dream for the far future" is to be able to ride in cars driven by the power provided by the solar panels embedded in the roads along which they are driven. But he clearly does not understand the issues as his dream makes absolutely no sense at all. With any given solar panel technology you can always generate more electricity at a lower cost by putting the panels next to the road than by putting them under it and you're unlikely ever to get a positive return from panels in roads.

Note that no theoretical new technology can help this to make sense. There are limits to the efficiency of solar cells which current technology already approaches. Maximum output from any cell design is related to how much light hits the panels and starting by reducing the amount of light which hits the cells by burying them under a road is simply a ludicrous thing to do. These things could only be made to compete with solar panels placed in more sensible places by making the sun shine brighter, and even if that were possible it would still make more sense to put the panels next to the cycle-path rather than under it.

I started working out the numbers for SolaRoad, but someone else has beaten me to it and done a good job of explaining: click here for a brash, long but also very illuminating video which explains the figures.

Three years later, a video (now deleted) appeared on youtube demonstrating how that first solar cycle-path was already falling apart due to weather effects and wear. It also demonstrated that the output was incredibly low for the large number of panels used and the high cost. My predictions came true, as did those of other sensible people who saw from the outset that the best place to install solar panels is never, under any circumstances, under a road.

What's the harm in doing something else ? What's the harm with making a slow start ?
The problem with following the wrong path is that time is wasted while this happens. The suggestion that campaigners should work towards something other than what the Dutch have has been made since at least the 1970s. Surely forty years of trying things that don't actually work for furthering cycling is enough. It's time to stop falling behind and catch up as quickly as possible.

The Netherlands is ahead in cycling mainly because other countries have never really been in the race. It's much easier to make an excuse about the Dutch being 20 / 30 / 40 / 50 years ahead and therefore difficult to catch up with than it is to make genuine political and financial commitments which will last for decades, but that is what is required in order to make a proper start at catching up. No more broken promises.

Groningen still has some "advanced
stop lines
" (bike boxes). It doesn't look
very different from the London photo,
but this isn't the best infrastructure in
Groningen. ASLs are not a good idea
either here or anywhere else. Don't
copy this, there are better examples.
Conclusion: Use good examples to make progress
Not all of the best ideas in all fields come from the Netherlands. Not all Dutch ideas are good. Not all Dutch people know why they cycle. Not all Dutch people how lucky they are to be able to cycle as they do, and of course not all the infrastructure in the Netherlands is perfect, nor was it all built recently to current standards and nor was everything built recently built to good standards. In short, the Netherlands is far from perfect.

However, if you're interested in improving cycling in your own country this is still the most successful nation by a considerable margin and therefore is also the single best place to look for inspiration. The problem is finding the genuinely good examples from which to be inspired rather than picking examples at random. Never aim low because by doing so you guarantee not to achieve a high cycling modal share, but how can you be sure that you're aiming for the best ?

The one and only "Hybrid" cycle-path in
Groningen, not properly separated from
the road. The primitive design survived
for decades in this location and works
because there's a parallel service road
behind the hedge on the right. Cars
don't make right turns in this location
and there's no reason for them to park
here because that happens beyond
the hedge on the right of the picture.
It's not generally applicable, and not
something to ask for elsewhere.
Campaigners with low aspirations for their own countries often seem to cling to inferior infrastructure in the Netherlands because they view it as "more achievable". However you have to see this in context. Examples of low quality infrastructure in the Netherlands are merely weaker points in a comprehensive network which is of high overall quality. The remaining examples of lesser infrastructure have typically survived where they are because in these locations they cause relatively few problems. However, infrastructure is constantly being upgraded (and occasionally downgraded) all across the country. This inferior infrastructure is under threat even where it works. If you refer to such infrastructure to form your standards, you run the risk of setting the standard for your best infrastructure to be equivalent to what has already been removed in the Netherlands. What was shown not to work well enough here will then be installed in places where it won't work well in your own country and having set a low standard you will be doomed always to achieve a lower cycling modal share than the Netherlands until the standard can be changed once again. If it's already taken forty years to set a standard, you need to get it right.
"Armadillos" or similar obstacles to the side of a cycle-lane
are not sufficient segregation. Don't copy this. It's Assen's
oldest cycle-path and will be upgraded.

There is no need to learn from the past mistakes of the Netherlands by repeating them. You can leapfrog over them and copy what really works. Do make use of the best examples. Make sure you ignore the less good examples.

The worst thing for campaigners to do is to hamper their own efforts by not setting a high enough standard for themselves and for the community that they live in. If you were planning a mission to the moon, would you go to NASA for advice, or would you prefer to take notice of what the Ugandan space programme had achieved on the grounds that it looks more affordable than NASA ?

Study Tours
We run regular study tours, both on dates which are open to anyone who wants to book individually as well as special tours for interested groups.

We take just three days to demonstrate and explain how cycling works in the Netherlands. Take advantage of our decades of experience of living, working and cycling in both the UK and the Netherlands.


Bob said...

You know David, your posts are genuinely well thought out to start with, but I found this one to be particularly well done. (Starting to sound like a spam comment, sorry)
My view had always been that Dutch bike infrastructure could be held up to the highest scrutiny. It never would have occurred to me that it's not quite 'all that'.
Sad to say however that here in Canada, we're not even 'in the race' as you say. Well if we are, we're sliding along on our backsides while others are running, upright on two feet.
We have some dedicated 'bike paths', but they're not very conveniently located, and any attempts at encouraging bike usage consists mostly of painting some lines on the roadway. Sad.
Hope you had a fine Easter. Cheers from Canada.

Derek Kraan said...

Great post! It really frustrates me a lot when I read about impractical / "magic bullet" concepts to improve cycling conditions, especially when we ignore the obvious answers which are staring us right in the face.

I'm not sure I'd agree with your assessment of the moped problem. I've been living in Amsterdam since 2011 and I share most of the frustrations of locals. Mopeds are everywhere, go too fast, are too wide (to overtake safely, which they do anyways), and cause too much noise / pollution. Cycling here would be nicer and safer without them on bike paths.

Koen said...

The '40 years ahead' comments are ridiculous, of course. I came to live in Amsterdam in 1980 and, though not yet as good as now, I loved to cycle there, because there were many provisions for cycling all around. So that was done in seven years. So people, stop whining and go to it! (BTW I think Amsterdam is right in planning improvements, they were long overdue in places, in my opinion)

Doug Culnane said...

Another great post thank you David.

In Vienna (VeloCity 2013) there is talk of implementing Bike Boxes (ASL) and Sharrows. Makes me want to scream...

All the best,


Clark Nikolai said...

Some very good points. In my opinion, everyday mundane things are more important than the exceptional things. It's important that the mundane aspects of infrastructure be of high design quality. More important than the design quality of a single large project.

In Vancouver there have been a few high profile cycling projects that made headlines but what I find makes the most improvement in my life are tiny "tweaks" that I discover the City is constantly doing. And they do them without fanfare or press releases. They don't appear to be anything to be concerned about but they make a huge difference.

I agree that people should not be setting their sights too low. In many places trying to do anything about transportation that isn't car-centric is politically difficult so I understand the impulse to meekly ask for a few crumbs to not anger the beast, but that approach is short-sighted.In Vancouver, a few high profile cycling projects were met with a huge amount of controversy but now that they've been in for a few years, it's changed both the expectations of cycle campaigners and those who have decided to oppose anything to do with cycling. In a place like North America where politics are fluid and not bogged down with tradition so much, there's an opportunity to open people's eyes to things that they would not have otherwise thought of and to change minds. I've seen it myself with friends who were violently against separated bike lanes downtown just a few years ago who now think they're not so bad after all.

Dimo said...

In Stockholm there is an example of a block with a one way street + a counterflow bike path is being turned two way, with the bike path being removed.

No bike-friendly or pedestrian-friendly improvements are planned. Interestingly the street is already wide enough to be two way, even without removing the bike path...

The Traffic office motivates the removal of the bike path with the fact that it's only 30km/h on that street, so let's all "share".

The local politicians approved the measure despite opposition from the green party on that specific point - it was not through ignorance.

There is plenty of talk from Stockholm's politicians about making Stockholm into a "cycle city on par with Amsterdam", but actions show a different picture.

Edward said...

David, I would guess that practically all your readers would agree with this. There really is no point in campaigning for something half-hearted or worse, dangerous.

As I suspect you know though after many years in the UK, one of the biggest barriers to the car-centric status quo (certainly where I live in Australia) is in people's heads. Any suggestion of reducing space available for cars is met with a chorus of disapproval. Businesses claim it will destroy them. Home owners claim it will cause congestion. Indeed, some go do far as to suggest that it is all part of a gigantic anti-democratic conspiracy as you may have read about San Fransisco recently.

For many of us, getting any change no matter how small can feel like an uphill battle. That is often why we can be distracted by what seem like small improvements.

We find ourselves hoping for just one piece of dedicated infrastructure so that once it is built, people can see that the sky does not fall in but in fact it actually improves things for everyone. Once you have that, you have some ammunition. Having said that, it still often doesn't make any difference. The Sydney cycleways, while of low quality by Dutch standards, have been shown to have increased bicycle use and lowered congestion, but they still have very vocal opponents.

What I am trying to say is that the long road to Dutch style transport and urban planning is full of many obstacles, most of them mental.

Erik Sandblom said...

They heat the roads on certain segments in Sweden too, and as far as I can tell it is widely considered a success. We use district heating, ie hot air in insulated underground pipes. The heat is a byproduct from electricity generating stations and factories.

A good example is a tram intersection in central Gothenburg, Valand. It never gets icy which is good because of all the trams, pedestrians, cars and cyclists who mix there.

Valand could be seen as shared space in the sense that everyone mixes, but there are still cycle paths, sidewalks, and above all, very low speeds. Like walking speed.

Maybe I should start "Gothenburgize"! Gothenburg is no good at cycling, but quite good at liveable streets, trams, a congestion charge, etc.

3sigma said...

What bothers me a bit on this topic is the defeatist tone towards new technology deployed on cycling infrastructure.

Any new solution that is used as an experimental project for first trials will be far more expensive than its conceivable large-scale deployment.

One traffic light, one intersection, one set of rain sensors - it is obviously it will be very expensive. Moreover, there is a flaw in your assessment - albeit less than bicycles, car traffic in Netherlands (I live in Tilburg) changes its patterns consistently when it rains, so you can't extrapolate conclusions from a rainy situation to a dry (car) traffic situation.

As for heating cycle paths, maybe they will not ever heat 35.000km of paths. But they could heat, say, 1.200km of those, the most trafficked high (bike) traffic segregated paths on major cities, with a far lower cost. Even assuming a cost of € 10.000 for each km (a relatively small gain of scale), that would cost no more than €15 bln., no lump change at all but still something doable over the course of 20-25 years.

Magic Bullet said...

Always fun to read what others think about my little country. I think we're 40 years ahead simply because the country is flat and typical travel distances are ideal for bikes. Note that NL is the most densely populated country in the Western world. So, everything is nearby. No kid has to go to school by a school bus. They hardly exist. This has made bikes already popular in NL before WWII. It's part of the culture. In most other countries, schools are too far away, hills too steep to climb. If kids don't take a bike, forget about it. It will never become popular culture. Only other option: revolution, eg too expensive fuel prices force people onto electrically assisted bikes or velomobiles. If not popular, than why should government pay billions to infrastructure?
Indeed, don't copy everything that's Dutch. Also, don't copy everything that's British. Cateyes suck if you're on a bike. They can be neck breaking.

David Hembrow said...

Erik: Where it's possible to heat a few junctions because there is heat available as a byproduct that may well make sense. However, this can only ever apply to a very small part of the entire network.

3sigma: I do not have a "defeatist tone towards new technology". Quite the reverse in fact. Back in the mid 1980s I was very nearly ejected from my studies after writing an email tool and encouraging other students to use it (waste of computer resources) and over twenty years ago I worked on one of the very first tablet computers linked to the internet. Just over ten years ago I wrote software which ran on buses and signposts in order to give passengers accurate predicted arrival times.

Neither of the things you write about are "new technology". Moisture sensors have been a very common beginners' electronic project since at least the 1960s and plumbing for heating dates back to the Roman empire.

While there is no technology of significance in either of those ideas, there is a problem of scalability especially with regard to heating. Heating cycle-paths might make sense in isolated areas where (as in Gothenburg) there is "waste heat" available, but otherwise you're talking about consuming a vast amount of energy in order to do this. If we lived on a planet which had endless free energy available this might make sense. However, we don't.

David Hembrow said...

Magic Bullet: Thanks for your comments, but you've fallen into several traps which both the Dutch and foreign observers of this country fall into. Indeed, you've inadvertently proven my point that the Dutch don't know why they cycle.

Go back 70 years and you find that in the UK more kilometres per year travelled by bicycle than by private car. That requires a far higher proportion of journeys by bike than is the case in the Netherlands now.

Cycling was then very much "part of the culture" in the UK. It was an everyday form of transport for the masses.

The population density of The Netherlands is actually almost the same as that of England, the population density of Drenthe is lower than that of five US states and there is no correlation between city density and cycling modal share. Journey distances are not particularly short in the Netherlands. Dutch commutes are the longest in Europe and even in spread out countries like Canada and the USA, you find that the distances that people travel daily are actually quite short.

The hills elsewhere are not too steep, schools are certainly not too far away, the cost of running a car is very much the same as in the Netherlands. All these and many other of the invented myths and excuses that attempt to explain why it is that the Dutch cycle more than people elsewhere have already been covered on this blog.

The difference now between the UK or other countries and the Netherlands actually comes down to one thing. It's the infrastructure. In Britain cycling happens in close proximity to cars. In the Netherlands it does not. Mass cycling can take place only where cycling is subjectively safe.

BTW, in the many tens of thousands of km that I've cycled in the UK I have never had a problem caused by a Cat's Eyes. They are not placed where you ride, but on the centre-lines and the sides of roads, and largely on motorways where in any case you don't cycle.

bikemapper said...

David, there is so much to like in your writings. Probably more than anyone, you have done so much to raise people's expectations.

However, on the question of where to begin, I think you're mistaken. I have explained more about it in this blog. I would welcome the debate, so if you think I am wrong about anything, please don't hold back.

David Hembrow said...

bikemapper: Your criticism is strange to read because you seem to have built up a straw man who doesn't quite represent my views.

Nowhere can achieve perfection overnight and no-one should expect this to happen. There will be a transitional period, some things will be done incorrectly before they are corrected at a later date. This is inevitable and will happen no matter what campaigners might request or what planners might try to achieve.

However, that doesn't mean that negotiations should _start_ by asking for less than the very best. To ask for less is to continue the chant of "What do we want, Gradual Change, when do we want it, In Due Course" which has hampered cycle campaigning in the UK and allowed authorities to get away with... well, something not far off murder.

When you take into account the death rates of cyclists and of non-cyclists due to in large part to bad cycling infrastructure, and also the harm done to children who's freedom is restricted due to the infrastructure of the UK, I don't see anything to celebrate about continuing a path of doing too little.

There's nothing new here. Putting up with and even celebrating a very low rate of change is the path that has been taken for decades in the UK and which has led in part to the stagnation of cycling. So, no. I won't join you in asking for less. That path has been trodden very well indeed for many decades and it doesn't get us anywhere.

You have also mis-represented the lesson which the Dutch learnt from Stop de Kindermoord. They didn't have a period of slow progress but learnt very quickly and acted very quickly. That is how they turned around their infrastructure in such a short period of time. Much was achieved in just eight years, rather fewer than the currently popularly quoted "forty years". Policy changed very quickly and funds were made available very quickly. The best possible changes that they knew how to make were made as quickly as it was possible to make them. Different things were tried in different places and what was proven to be successful was copied elsewhere. These initial attempts were in some ways flawed but these flaws were themselves corrected over time. Britain, like other places, has the benefit of Dutch hindsight and therefore no need to repeat the intermediate step of building not quite good enough infrastructure because the research has been done and the results are in.

bikemapper said...

David, sorry, we seem to be misunderstanding each other. I am suggesting 'network first' and then a separation of functions. This approach has never been tried before in the UK, despite the fact that it is recommended by the Europeans.

Conversely, the isolated bits of infrastructure first and then try to join up the pieces has been tried before - in fact, it's pretty much all we have ever done. This approach does not work, as evidenced by the fact that not one town or city in this country has a comprehensive, city-wide network of cycle routes.

The debate is top-down or bottom-up? You have said nothing to controvert the top-down approach, whereas I have said a lot to controvert the bottom-up approach.

David Hembrow said...

bikemapper: Actually, I've been campaigning for many years about comprehensive networks and five years have passed since I first wrote on this blog about how a comprehensive network is absolutely vital to encourage cycling.

That this is vital was one of the most important results of Dutch research following their attempts at promoting cycling in the 1970s and I've never seen a reason to disagree.

I absolutely agree with you that isolated infrastructure has never worked and that's why I have never argued for that approach. Indeed if you read the blog post that you've just commented on you'll see that I warn in this post as well against over-emphasis of isolated exceptional pieces of infrastructure and point out that a dense and comprehensive network "which goes everywhere and which everyone uses every-day for all their journeys" is required to make mass cycling possible.

Of course, the quality of such a network must be very high because any network is only as good as its weakest link.

A network which is neither dense enough or is of such low quality that it results in conflict and inconvenience also will not work.

bikemapper said...

I was with all the way, David, until the very last sentence, in which you said that a network which is of low quality will not work.

Let's be clear: a network which is of low quality will not, in and of itself, bring about mass cycling. This much is true. However, a network which is of low quality is "a basic precondition" of mass cycling. Does that sound about right to you?

Magic Bullet said...

Hi David,
Quite a provocative answer to my remarks. Some Dutch would call it British arrogance. Not me, I like the debate. I'll pick up the glove on my own blog on why a bikers lobby will never be successful in any other country under the current circumstances. So, just don't copy the Dutch and find your own way towards a more sustainable way of transportation. I don't like to state this, because I love biking, but it is true.
Finally, I'll show some correct comparisons between NL and UK, because you're comparing apple with oranges. I didn't put any myth in my story on a densely populated country. Truth is, there's more to Dutch biking culture than just that.

David Hembrow said...

bikemapper: If you think that low quality is a basic precondition of anything then our opinions definitely differ.

Britain already has a low quality but comprehensive network of cycling infrastructure in the shape of the road network. It works reasonably well for those willing to take the risk of riding on the road because it offers a reasonable degree of convenience.

However, people should never have to choose between either convenience or safety. If you campaign for more low quality then you are campaigning to fail. You are asking for something which will rightly be opposed by anyone who wants to be able to cycle both safely and conveniently as well as those existing cyclists who want only the convenience.

Even to campaign for a network of the same quality as Germany is to campaign for something which existing cyclists don't like.

David Hembrow said...

Magic Bullet: What you think is arrogance is actually experience. I've seen all these remarks many times before and they're no more true now than they were then.

If before posting here you had taken the time to read some of my blog you would have discovered that in response to people making the same incorrect observations as your own, I debunked all those myths years ago.

You could also have followed the links that I provided in my last response to the individual blog posts about each of the myths.

When I first became interested in what it took to get people to cycle, I might have believed in some of these myths myself. However, twenty years have passed. I've read a lot, experienced a lot, and even emigrated from the UK to live here in the Netherlands and see how people behave. You can never truly understand another country until you've lived in it.

The debate moved on from "cycling is now in our veins" some time ago because actually this is no more true of the Dutch than it is of any other nationality.

BTW, the bike that you ride was my idea. I'm glad you like it.

bikemapper said...

David, that was my mistake. What I had meant to say is that a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network is a basic pre-condition of mass cycling.

I would like to be clear that I am not campaigning for more low quality. Rather, I am campaigning for network first.

I read from the Cyclists in the City blog that nobody in London seems to be thinking in terms of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. The impression I got was that TfL's approach is all very piecemeal. What's worse, there's no suggestion that what is going to be done will be any good. Somehow we have talked ourselves into accepting a very weak and disjointed plan. Didn't we do well?

David Hembrow said...

bikemapper: It is unfortunately true that TfL don't appear to have understood what it takes to create a good cycling environment and I'm glad you've noticed. When their new plans were launched I appeared to be more more or less alone in noticing that they were not up to the job and it seemingly led to me being rather unpopular for greeting their plans with a call for TfL to do much more than they were promising. You'll also note that when they first announced the "superhighways" four years ago I pointed out that their ideas were not enough and that what London really needed was a comprehensive grid.

There are lots of posts about TfL on this blog.

However it's not just TfL. Campaigners must take the blame for some of this. "Talking ourselves into accepting a weak and disjointed plan" starts with campaigners asking for too little and continues with being overly grateful for whatever turns up.

You'll find I've been saying his about several organisations. For a start, I pointed out from the beginning that the campaigns by the London Cycling Campaign (more than once) and The Times began by asking for the much too little. They both rather missed the point of what makes cycling work so well in the Netherlands and set the bar much too low.

Jon Bendtsen said...

cateys and similar makes cardrivers go faster because they can see where the edges of the road are. Do we want them to go faster?

Chafed said...

For this American, and many American cyclists that I know, Holland is the gold standard for bicycle infrastructure. Denmark and Germany aren't even in the same race. In fact I can barely stand to read your blog some days because of the acute envy I experience when I see your safe routes.

Dennis Hindman said...

There are also examples for increasing bicycling that would not work very well in the Netherlands. One of those is Ciclovia type events where the mass population has the opportunity to ride a bicycle on temporarily closed streets. This isn't something that's needed in the Netherlands since the mass population has always ridden bicycles regularly.

It becomes much more difficult politically to take away space from motorists to put in bikeways when only a very small portion of the population bicycles for transportation. The overwhelming majority who drive simply cannot relate to how it would be a benefit to remove a congested motor vehicle lane that moves thousands of people a day and replace it with something that a few hundred people would use to bicycle on every day.

Holding events where streets are temporarily closed on a slow Sunday to motor vehicles for the public to bicycle on can make it feel safe enough to entice the mass population to ride and politicians to participate in the event. This is a form of changing of the culture done quickly on a large scale. It also can be very convincing for businesses along the route who draw in hundreds of bicyclists to buy food and drinks in their establishment.

Bogata Columbia is the biggest and most famous Ciclovia type event where 80 miles of streets are closed every Sunday.

Los Angeles now holds the largest Ciclovia type event in the U.S. There were an estimated 180,000 participants at CicLAvia last Sunday. That is more than twice the estimate of the number of bicycles at the first event that was held in October of 2010. From my talking to people recently who bicycle in the San Fernando Valley part of the city, most of them have never heard of the event. The participants are coming from throughout the region and not just from the city of Los Angeles.

What does tens of thousands of people on bicycles along a 15-mile route look like in Los Angeles? Well, I rode the entire length of this past CicLAvia and it looked very much like the picture in this article for miles ahead and behind me at the most congested part of the route. Instead of a way to open up the streets for neighborhoods as the organizers had intended it to be used, it became a mass bike ride to the beach. A much smaller proportion of riders were headed the other way towards downtown LA.

It took me three hours to ride the 15-miles from downtown LA to Venice beach. Police and traffic officers directed bicycles and cross traffic motor vehicles through major intersections.

When the first CicLAvia took place, the organizers wanted to have it travel part of the way on one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles (Vermont Ave), but the city said no. Because of the growing participation and enthusiasm, the organizers were able to get half of a very busy street for the event last Sunday and have gotten the city to give up at least part of the busiest street in LA (Wilshire Blvd) for the upcoming CicLAvia in June.

David Hembrow said...

Dennis, mass cycling events which make it possible for people who would normally not cycle to do so under strictly controlled conditions - i.e. by removing the cars - are a wonderful idea. I'm all for them.

However while they demonstrate very well the degree of pent up demand for cycling, they also demonstrate very well how people won't take to their bikes unless something is done to curtail the effect of motor vehicles on cyclists on days when there is no mass cycling event.

That's why events like this have very little, if anything, to do with encouraging the population to ride en-masse on days when the cars are not restricted.

Neither Los Angeles nor Bogota have achieved mass cycling due to these events. They've not had that effect in other cities where it's been tried either, such as London.

As such, events like this make for a nice day out but not really anything else.

Now this isn't entirely negative of course. If you can harness the enthusiasm of people on special days to call for proper infrastructural change which will make them equally enthusiastic to ride on other days, something good and lasting could come from events like this.

Unfortunately, what generally happens instead is that they simply become part of the social scene of the city.

Closing streets every Sunday but leaving them unpleasant to ride on the rest of the week isn't really an example of a great success for cycling.

Dennis Hindman said...


The first CicLAvia was a major influence on getting political support for bicycling in Los Angeles. This can also reduce community resistance to installing bikeways.

The two biggest problems to advance the bicycling rate in traffic congested LA is the political will to remove space from motorists and the money for infrastructure. Striping a bike lane on a major street does not make it irresistible for bicycling, but it is a fast and cheap way to grab space.

There has been a noticeable increase in the rate of bicycling since LA installed much more bike lanes starting in mid 2011.

Its tough to implement a plan for a complete network of bikeways if you can't get the space to build it.

Its a lot easier to justify taking away a through lane for motorists when you have 20% modal share for bicycles compared to only having 1%.

Taking away a motor vehicle lane becomes more difficult as the level of traffic congestion increases and yet streets slowed by traffic are where bicycle speeds would be more competitive to cars.

What has happened in LA is that a network of bike lanes were installed in low population density areas that have fast moving traffic. Why would anyone use a bicycle for transportation there when you can reach your destination much faster in a car?

Getting people to change their mode of transportation can take a long time. Putting in great bicycle infrastructure does not instantaneously change the habits of how most people move around. People who drive are usually quite satisfied with continuing to do that and won't readily switch.

Of the 290 miles of bike lanes installed in LA, less than 10 miles involved taking away motor vehicle lanes.

Portland has by far the highest bicycling modal share of any major U.S. city and yet they have only been able to install 181 miles of bike lanes out of 1,300 miles of arterial streets.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has just about run out of places to put in bike lanes without creating major delays in traffic. This would require doing lots of community outreach meetings and seeking councilmember approval.

The LADOT is going to start focusing on installing traffic calming on residential streets and dedicated bicycle signals to cross the busy intersections.

Los Angeles has 6,500 miles of streets, which is more than any other city in the U.S. When there is resistance to change on one street, they can move their efforts to somewhere else. As New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said recently "Los Angeles has a big canvas to paint."

The LADOT is also trying to focus their limited resources on areas where they can probably get a network built. But, they wouldn't know where this could be done without first attempting to grab space and that's where the advantage of using low-cost striping of bike lanes comes in.

The space that the LADOT has been able to grab mostly looks like a bunch of dots and dashes except where there is much less population density.

Another technique to creating a network of bikeways is to focus on connecting the existing off-road bike paths with residential streets to create low-stress routes. Although not as complete as a planned network of bikeways, it would be much easier politically since it involves taking away less space from motorists. Most people will not ride a route if any link of it exceeds their tolerance for stress.

Its not true that a high rate of bicycling necessitates that a network of quality bikeways has to be installed first. Tokyo has a 16% bicycling rate and only 6 km of on-street bike lanes and 67 km of off-street bike paths. Their bicycle routes consist of residential streets and riding pedestrian sidewalks next to busy streets.

Granted, it is much more difficult to create a high rate of cycling in a city without bicycle specific infrastructure to separate them from fast moving traffic.

David Hembrow said...


You say that "The first CicLAvia was a major influence on getting political support for bicycling in Los Angeles." This sounds great until you look at what that political support really means. Los Angeles has a staggeringly small proportion of journeys by bike (< 1%) and all that this "political support" has achieved is a glossy looking plan which actually promises to waste 35 years while doing far less than is required.

This is not success. Your "network" is far from actually being a proper network.

You may see 6500 miles of streets in Los Angeles as "a big canvas", but this is just another example of making an excuse. The whole of the Netherlands has only about the same population as the urban area of Los Angeles. People are much more spread out here and as a result there were 130000 km of roads for which a solution had to be found for cyclists. i.e. 12 times as much had to be done. However, instead of making excuses about it being "a big canvas" and talking for years while doing very little, the Dutch simply got on and did it. The whole country. This has been achieved by building 37000 km of cycle-paths and by segregating cyclists by other means and progress was very much more rapid than most people seem to think it was.

Your link about "another technique" appears to be little more than a rehash of what I've been saying for five years. It may be new to those researchers but it's certainly not new to me ! However, it will only work if the quality is high enough. Cycle-routes need to be direct and uninterrupted and go to the places where people want to go. Americans will no more put up with stop-start cycling than the Dutch would and they also have no more time to waste on detours.

Why would you use Tokyo as an example ? Is it just because they have spent less money and have less cycling and you want a lower target to aim for ? If so, then you've chosen well. You have the inferior target that you were looking for.

But what relevance does this have to the USA ? Do you really think that your country should aim no higher than to have cyclists on sidewalks with pedestrians ? This is an absurd suggestion which existing cyclists will quite rightly rebel against. Sidewalks are a terrible place to put cyclists. They're both dangerous and inefficient.

Besides, the USA and Canada are the only two countries I know of where people actually feel the need to get sidewalks built, and from my experience of the USA, it's quite obvious that walking wasn't planned into vast areas of the country. I've never known anywhere else like it, where I had to walk on the front gardens of businesses simply to find my way a couple of miles to a restaurant of an evening and where when you're walking police cars slow down to take a close look at what you're doing ! This is truly a bizarre experience for someone who has always lived in countries where walking is as natural as breathing. It makes me wonder how you could possibly imagine that you can tell cyclists to ride on sidewalks, Japanese style, when they don't actually exist in many places ?

Please move on, Dennis. You've posted many comments on this blog over several years and every time you've made the same kind of frustrating excuses for inaction.

Dennis Hindman said...


Your claim is that the progress in the increased bicycling rate that has been made in Los Angeles in recent years evidently is "inaction" because its not using the proper designs. Or what will probably be a doubling of bicycling in the last 6 years in Los Angeles is a "waste of years doing far less than is required." and that its not success.

Exactly how are you going to get the "proper network" quickly when there is only 1% of the population riding a bicycle on any given day and the arterial streets are congested with automobiles at peak hours? Where are all those cars going to be displaced to? Do you seriously expect that the cars will quickly be replaced with bicycles even though a small fraction of the population rides a bicycle for transportation or even knows how to ride a bicycle for that matter?

You seem to believe that a large city in the U.S. can simply take out two lanes on a substantial portion of the arterial streets that are congested with vehicles at peak hours and replace them with a "proper network" of bikeway designs that the Netherlands uses. That's incredibly naïve to believe that the majority of the population who depend on their cars for transportation won't be able to stop that from happening or even notice when their time spent commuting starts to increase substantially or that the money spent on bicycling infrastructure is far out of proportion to its modal share.

What you fail to take into account in comparing the bicycling rate of the Netherlands to the U.S. is that the Netherlands has had the highest bicycling rate of any European country since 1911 and that using a bicycle for transportation in the U.S. went the way of the American bison--near extinction--by the 1940's.

In the 1930's bicycling in Dutch cities made up 70-90 percent of the traffic. Cycling may have been in decline in the 1950's and 1960's in the Netherlands, but it still was the transportation choice for millions of people.

The bicycling infrastructure in the Netherlands was extended or modernized starting in the 1970's mainly because so many people already rode bicycles. Amsterdam at its lowest point in the 1970's had a bicycling rate of 25% and that was after it had dramatically dropped from previous years. The majority of its citizens knew how to ride a bicycle in the 1970's and could easily adopt to using a bicycle for transportation again. This is not true for the U.S. and has never been the case.

Cycling advocates in Los Angeles have been fighting pitched battles with motorists to obtain even a minimum amount of space for bicycle infrastructure on several streets recently. One councilmember even insisted that only a small group could participate in meetings to keep it from getting out of hand with shouting matches.

You dismiss research from the Mineta Transportation Institute that has shown people are willing to bicycle up to 25% from the most direct route in order to reach a more comfortable place to ride. Your claim is that their ideas will only work if it is of high enough quality. They solidly back up their ideas with studies and research to support them.

My aim is to get more people to ride a bicycle. I'm not willing to bring that progress to a halt while I wait until the government starts putting in designs similar to what is in the Netherlands. That alone could take decades. You claim that is nothing but excuses for inaction, when in fact its increasing the rate of bicycling within the limits of space and money that is available.

Anonymous said...

Dennis is very smart and optimistic– he's a great bike advocate here in LA.

I don't think you or Dennis disagree about the gold (Dutch) standard or what should be aimed for. Dennis, and just about every bike advocate in LA, wants to see Dutch style cycle tracks on our streets.

That said, there are a few barriers. Funding is of course a problem though the current politicians in power seem relatively receptive to bicycling. They may be willing to increase funds for bicycle infrastructure but nowhere near to the level of funding necessary to implement citywide Dutch cycle tracks. For the record, to implement cycle tracks that are anywhere close to those in The Netherlands, city officials estimate that they would cost about 1 million dollars per mile.

Then there's the barrier of cycle tracks that remotely resembling those of The Netherlands not being recognized in the California Highway Manual. I blogged about this last year

However, even so LADOT engineers are increasingly willing to experiment with cycle tracks– one will be implemented on South Figueroa Street soon (in a watered down version in some portions of the street due to opposition from the public and private businesses).

That's the biggest barrier to cycle tracks, or any bicycle infrastructure that "removes car lanes" in LA– public opposition. I live in the neighborhood of Northeast LA and this is considered by city officials to be a part of the city that more willingly embraces bicycling than other parts of the city. In my part of Northeast LA – Eagle Rock – we have many local community leaders such as the neighborhood council, and community organizations that support bike lanes. Our city council member supports bike lanes too.

Yet despite their support there are still many that oppose bike lanes. We're fighting very hard to get buffered bike lanes, which LADOT engineers say can be converted to cycle tracks at later time when funding is made available and when cycle tracks become adopted in our design guides.

We may get very lucky and get buffered bike lanes on two major streets in Northeast LA but even if we get them they will likely be "trial" bike lanes. This means that after a year of evaluation if there is a lot of opposition or if the bike lanes don't improve safety/encourage cycling we could lose the buffered bike lanes and return to the status quo.

Read this article and its 80+ comments to get an idea of what the debate over bike lanes is like in my forward-thinking part of LA. (My comments are under S.Martinez)

Residents and business owners are resistant to changes to our streets even in the face of climate change, gas prices, dangerous street conditions, and a transportation system that is broken (never enough parking).

None of the arguments against bike lanes hold any water but there are a lot of people that oppose reducing the number of lanes available to motorists. Ultimately that's what often dictates whether bicycle infrastructure advances or not in this city. It's not reason but sheer numbers.

The political process for implementing safety improvements to streets (read: bicycle infrastructure) need to change otherwise getting any bike lanes, Dutch style or not, will be very difficult.

Berkeley, California has about 8% of trips by bike and has largely relied on the bike boulevard approach (most of that infrastructure was implemented in the 70's when public and political support was there). Berkeley still sees intense opposition when bike lanes are considered on streets where the number of lanes available to motorists are reduced. I think Berkeley illustrates that although bike boulevards alone aren't the solution, that they can go a long way towards improving safety and cycling rates in US cities.

Robert said...

My attention has just been drawn to this:!cycle-city-birmingham-2013/c1r6t

It sounds like a description of one of the ideas you say shouldn't be copied (quite correctly IMHO). Would you agree?

When did Assen have these central lanes? Your photo shows an original Mini and an original Beetle, which covers quite a long timespan (albeit one that ended a long time ago).

David Hembrow said...

Robert, you're right. In the name of "Putting cyclists first" in Birmingham this proposal seeks to do something utterly hopeless.

Cycle lanes do not belong in the middle of the road. It's a completely ridiculous idea, and not something you will find in this country. The photo from Assen dates from, I believe, the 1960s.

Richard Adamfi said...

I presume you have seen

Why are 'trials' required when the roundabout works successfully throughout the Netherlands?

Robert said...

Richard, whilst I don't know the details of what they are doing in the work at TRL, it's good engineering practice to make sure everyone involved with building such roundabouts in the UK understands in detail which features are important, and how something new to the UK can be integrated safely into the UK road network. The last thing we want is a plague of fender-benders all over the country because someone overlooked something subtle but important. I'm pleased to see this work taking place (though it is rather telling that it was commissioned by TfL and not the DfT), and I look forward to such infrastructure being rolled out.

Unknown said...

I would like to add something that i find lacking in talks about cycling outside of NL and that is the issue of walkability in urban areas (simply put this means getting rid of (most)cars). Once you make an area walkable then you can easily add bike facilities. Successful walkable areas can be used, in my opinion, as a springboard to plea for adequate bike lanes going from neighborhoods to the walkable areas.
In my opinion, if you ignore wakability then youll never really get a human-friendly bike infra in urban environments.

Andries in NL

trailsnet said...

From my experience, the only truly safe bicycle option is a bike path. Roads will never be safe for bicyclists, no matter what modifications are made. Unfortunate but true.