Tuesday, 16 July 2013

"Alpe d'Huez" in Groningen and what this means for London and the rest of the world

My mother and the rest of the family
riding through a nearby village
We've had a few very busy weeks. First my Mother came to stay and cycle with us, and then several different cycling visitors have come to see us and find out what's been achieved for cyclists in this area.

As a result, we've done several short tours and because we've been doing things for other people I've mostly not been able to take photos or make video for myself or this blog.

However, an opportunity did arise yesterday when I rode to Groningen with Clarence Eckerson Jr. On our study tours we make a point of showing people the worst as well as the best infrastructure and to explain why the less good parts are considered to be a problem. Cherry-picking of a few highlights might be possible in a few hours it takes a lot more time to give an accurate impression of what cycling in the Netherlands is about and we try to do this even with people who have less time than the three days of our usual tours.

Streetfilms in The Netherlands
 Clarence and I rode between
Assen and Groningen
Clarence and I talked about many things including how despite having the highest cycling modal share in the world, Groningen missed out on winning the Dutch "Cycling City of 2011" award. It's still a wonderful place to cycle, but the city had not invested enough in making it better. In particular, two pieces of infrastructure were picked out by campaigners as a stick with which to beat the city and I was keen to show Clarence what "bad" was in this context. Cor van de Klaauw from Groningen city visited both of them with us and discussed the problems. Some time ago I wrote and made a video about one of these points: the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands. Yesterday I had the opportunity to video the other: a new bridge which is steeper than cyclists would like it to be. It's considered to be "a challenge like Alpe d'Huez" for elderly people. By international standards it's not actually very steep and the cycling provision on both sides of the road over the bridge is actually very good. However cycling has a very wide demographic in The Netherlands and there are very many elderly people riding bikes here. This bridge genuinely does cause some difficulties for some of them as you can see in a previous post.

Here's the controversial bridge. In any other country new infrastructure of this quality this would likely have been the subject of boastful press-releases:


This bridge, which provides a new good quality link for cyclists and drivers alike, is considered to be not quite good enough to win a "cycling city" award. It's one of the things which was used to criticise Groningen in 2011.

And then we return to earth with a bump...
Sadly, the problems in London have continued with more deaths of cyclists on the roads. I have criticized London's absurdly named "superhighways" since they were first announced in 2009 because even then they were obviously not up to the job of creating an environment in which mass cycling could take place in safety. These "superhighways" have a far grander name than anything else, but they are not even remotely close to the quality of infrastructure which is the subject of criticism in the Netherlands. London's more recent plans are equally lacklustre.

For decades, British politicians have pacified cyclists by making vague promises about future change, producing impressive looking press-releases and plans, hyping up projects which divert attention to the wrong things, using lots of words to describe remarkably little, and making endless promises of jam tomorrow while not actually starting the process of change at all.

In the past, the votes of cyclists have been captured by making these vague promises and relying on the short collective memory of cyclists so that people will believe the same story yet again. Due to the frequency with which people give up cycling in the UK, there is a high churn rate amongst cyclists and this has assisted the very short collective memory of what has happened before. The internet offers the potential of allowing younger campaigners to benefit from the experience of those who have already seen these things happen. It has the potential to make the collective memory of campaigners longer.

More people are waking up now to the fact that plans made by London are simply inadequate. The death of 65 cyclists during Boris Johnson's term of office is a high price to pay for incompetence. If you don't click on any of the other links in this post, please do read that last link to a post by Markbikeslondon and this one from an obviously angry Voleofspeed.

There's yet another protest in London today. I urge any of you who are there or near by to try to get to it.

September 2013 update - nothing stands still in NL
The Berlagebrug is being changed. The last two study tour groups which I took to Groningen saw some of the works going on around this area, cycling conditions are improving.
A still from July taken from the video above compared with the situation in September when the cycle-paths were being reworked.
On-road cycle-lane being replaced by off-road cycle-path on
adjacent road.
At the end of the video above, after the bridge, I turned right onto one of few roads which still had just a cycle-lane. This is being upgraded into a proper segregated cycle-path and the cycle-paths leading right up onto the bridge are being improved. I don't know as yet whether this will decrease the slope. However campaigning in Groningen about the quality of the Berlagebrug will in any case have paid off. The bridge will work far better for cyclists after these works are complete than it did immediately after the bridge was built.

Nothing stands still in the Netherlands and this is why no-one can "catch up" by doing less.

Readers from places other than London: Please realise that there is nothing to be gained by any other place trying to copy London's policies which consist almost entirely of hype and hot air. If you want to achieve mass cycling in your country, emulate the best example. This means The Netherlands. Take a study tour.

3 comments:

examinedspoke said...

I might point out that if this bridge climb is considered difficult by some Dutch riders, then I wouldn't know how to gauge the long-term success of bicycle-specific infrastructure in most parts of the world, where relatively flat cities have many such "climbs" as the roads follow natural terrain. Where I live in Los Angeles, Dutch pensioners would probably be walking their bicycles half the time even on a short trip to the grocery.

Harry Lieben said...

That steep bridge in Groningen is a bit of a laugh, because before there simply was no bridge at all. You had to cycle some 700meters to come to a bridge to cross the Eems channel. Of course one can still do that and cross at a somewhat less steep bridge.... i don't really understand why this bridge was built in the first place. It's steep because there was not enough space and the access to the bridge from the south side is pretty awkward. It's hard to cross the street with so many cars coming around the nearby fast corner.

Harry Lieben said...

@ examinedspoke Everybody has seen the streets of Los Angeles in one movie or another. With the succes of todays electrically assisted bikes even those will pose no problem for pensioners. It's just that the Dutch electric bikes are usually not laid out for hills. Why would they be, we hardly have any.