Monday 29 July 2013

Mass cycling events, suppressed demand and the need for cycling infrastructure

This time of year is very busy in and around Assen with touring and racing events. The Fietsvierdaagse is a four day cycling event which attracts 15000 participants, people from all age groups and all walks of life.

Most people ride 40 km per day, a distance which is within the ability of just about everyone. Some village centres become virtual no-go areas for cars, but the routes run along the same network of cycle-paths and minor country roads as are used for riding the rest of the year.

The pace is very relaxed with people riding from one cafe to another as you can see in our video of one day last week:

There was also a prologue, a ride of 175 km covered by our local TV station, daily rides of 60 and 100 km for those who like to ride further and faster as well as a mountain biking alternative, an alternative where everything can be accessed by wheelchair, and a 30 km per day special kids ride:

UNICEF say that Dutch children have the best well-being in the world. Don't children from other countries deserve the same ?

But that's not all
This week there's a very different event in Assen. The European Junior Cycling Tour, or Jeugdtour, is the biggest junior cycle race in Europe, and perhaps the world. Competitors come to Assen from many countries in order to take part. The prologue was a short time-trial along one of the main roads in Assen this morning:

For this event a road was closed - one of the main routes by car into the centre of Assen. The parallel cycle-routes remained open for through cycling. But you see, even racers find they prefer to ride apart from motor vehicles...

The upper, wider, red line is a primary cycle-route from the west of the city to the centre. This is the bicycle road to the centre of Assen shown in full in a blog post from a few days ago. The narrower red line is the cycle-path which forms the secondary route on the other side of the canal. The blue line is the road, which was used for cycle-racing today. Both cycle-routes alongside the canal were maintained as through routes for cycling.
A comparison
It all seems so easy here. There is plenty of space to cycle and plenty of people make use of it. There's not really any suppressed demand in the Netherlands. People already cycle and mass events just give an opportunity for another type of cycling. When a road needs to be closed for a cycling event, it's easy to arrange for that to happen. Even the secondary cycle-route shown in the cycle-racing video above has a story to it. To make space for it, the canal was moved sideways by two metres. But it's not like this everywhere...

Ten years ago I had a part time job in the UK in which I took turns to drive a bus full of bikes across the country with other like minded individuals and we'd try to encourage the public to ride our bikes at events.

While the hours were long and the pay was short, I always enjoyed this work. There was actually nothing easier than encouraging people to ride bikes so long as they could do so on a closed track with no cars. People would queue up to take our bikes and ride around with a smile on their faces. However, talk to them afterwards about the possibility of cycling to work or for other practical purposes, "sharing" the road, and of course the smile would drop. This was when I first started to talk about the importance of subjective safety, a regular theme on this blog.

Junior cycle racers from Oxford ride
yesterday on a cycle-path outside of
Assen. Good cycle paths support fast
I wrote about London's Sky Ride four years ago in a blog post in which I also described the inadequacy of London's plans for "superhighways". A year before that, when the event was still called "Freewheel", I wrote much the same. These highly successful events, together with the experience I had on the promotional tours, overcrowding of rare examples of paths separate from motor traffic and even the recent rather ill-judged comments from Sustrans in which they blame their users for the inability of their infrastructure to cope with the sometimes high usage level all add together to demonstrate a huge suppressed demand demand for cycling in then UK.

When is London, not to mention the rest of the UK, going to actually start making progress ? The "superhighways" were built, and they turned out every bit as bad as I said they would, and sadly this has resulted in deaths on the streets of the city. A grand announcement made in March seems to have turned into not very much at all and just this morning I read about how Quietways "could" receive funding in three years time. That's not a promise, just a possibility, but somehow the same man from London who told us 147 days ago that London was already forty years behind the Netherlands has managed to make a headline even out of promising another three years of procrastination.

Some people have less patience than this and we're amongst them. We want to help the process to really start. To that end, last week we invited Boris Johnson and six other politicians from London to come on one of our study tours for free (they have to pay their own expenses). Not one of the people invited has yet responded beyond a single very generic reply

As it happens, there were SkyRide events over on the weekend in the UK. D.J Cook made a nice video in Southampton and Mark Treasure wrote a very good piece about Skyrides and suppressed demand. The video shows well how poeple turn out in their thousands to ride if they will have conditions in which is comfortable to do so. Mark's photos do a good job of how people get home from mass cycling events in the UK, often riding on the sidewalk to avoid the roads. In the Netherlands they do this on the same dense network of cycling infrastructure as they used for the event itself.


David Arditti said...

The item you linked to on the London Quietways does not seem so be saying that they will not be funded until 2016. It is saying that £150 million will be spent by that year. My understanding is that work will begin this year.

David Hembrow said...

David: you may be right. On re-reading, the article seems rather ambiguous. Mind you, that's a problem in itself...

It would be much easier to praise what's going on in London if they press-released it after they'd actually done something and after people could see that they liked it. As it is, the press comes before the design, let alone the results.

As a result, you really can't believe what you read. As Magnatom pointed out yesterday, there's a difference between words and action.

Anonymous said...

Hi David. I presume Dutch sports cyclists practice 'bunch riding'. Where and how do they manage to do this?

David Hembrow said...

Hi Pearcy, yes they practice everything that similar riders would do elsewhere. Cycle racing is very popular here. A larger proportion of the population take part than is the case in most other countries.

Please watch a video of a local club riding on a cycle-path in Assen, another of a practice race on country roads nearby. I've also put a lot of photos online showing racers using the cycle-path, some in groups, some actually taking part in races.

It's also very common for Dutch towns to have cycle racing tracks. Though Assen is small (67000 people) we have on, there's a view of it here (as well as other scenes of racing nearby).

Simon S said...

The continued attempts to increase and promote cycling without actually allocating it any space are laughable.

Boris continues to promote 'safety in numbers' as a solution whilst, where numbers increase the inadequate state of current infrastructure is highlighted:

The Sustrans blog above

Routemasters - "You’re like totally surrounded by them. They’re everywhere"

Current segregated routes being made 'shared use' - and only suitable for 'leisure' riding. Also happened on Shepherds Bush Green.

5mph markings have just appeared on the cycle path on Clapham Common.