Monday 23 December 2013

A cycle-path for singing

Here you can officially sing as you cycle. No need for
un-natural pauses in you song as someone cycles past
What do you get for Christmas for the Dutch cyclist who already has "everything" ? How about a cycle-path for singing on ?

It's a stunt by the Fietsersbond, the Dutch cycling union. It's not (yet) official policy that cycle paths are designed for singing. But it's also a sign of what cycling is in the Netherlands. Apart from those places where things have gone wrong, cycling is joyful here, just as it should be everywhere else.

Joyful cycling is something worth working towards in time for next Christmas. Aim high. For everyone to feel like singing when they cycle you need a very high degree of subjective safety. Remember who we're doing this for, and don't take too long about it.


  1. David, I hope you are not offended by this, but I completely disagree about who this is being done for, certainly in the short- to medium-term. Perhaps if I can explain what I mean with a story ...

    At the coroner's court, a cycle advocate goes up to a grieving mother. "I am really sorry to hear about your loss," he said, "but rest assured, everything possible is being done to get more people cycling." I am sure the mother would look at the advocate like he had two heads.

    David, we need to prioritise. Aim high, as you say. Yes, absolutely. But keep it real, as well

  2. @bikemapper: Perhaps you can explain your position with proper arguments instead of the story, because I don't understand why the cycle advocate would say that. What if he would say "but rest assured, everything possible is being done to prevent other mothers from having to go through what you're going through right now". Would your position be different?

  3. @Eric: You ask if my position would be different if the advocate were to say: "But rest assured, everything possible is being done ..."

    Eric, that is my position. I would want for the authorities to do as much as possible as quickly as possible, but I feel that every other advocate whose blog I read is not supportive of this view in any way whatsoever.

    For example, the LCC "has warned that [for the central London bike grid] to be effective the routes must provide safe and convenient passage through junctions, along with cycling conditions throughout that are suitable for all ages and abilities."

    This is very desirable, but it is also very difficult to deliver throughout the capital in anything other than the long-term. Indeed, it is so difficult to deliver that old LCN roads such as Waterloo Road or Fleet Street are simply not included in the proposed "network".

    For a more detailed view, please refer to this blog:

  4. @bikemapper: Perhaps I'm a bit dense, but after reading both your comments and your blog post I'm still not entirely sure what your position is exactly. Your position has something to do with routes, or networks, and for some reason you don't like thinking long term. You seem to believe that a bigger network with infrastructure to a less high standard is preferably to a smaller network with high standard infrastructure. (I say "seem to believe" because I'm guessing that's your position; it would help if you could write 3 or 4 sentences making your position explicit instead of me having to reconstruct it from a story, a quote, and a looong blog post).
    If I have understood your position correctly, I don't see why you wouldn't campaign for a bigger network with high standard infrastructure. I think if you manage to get the network extended and some roads/routes will be redesigned, you'd better campaign for the best infrastructure because you'll be stuck with that infrastructure until the road gets redesigned again in perhaps 30 or 40 years. (As you noted in your blog post, that's the case in the Netherlands too: the bad stuff that's still there has been built decades ago but hasn't been replaced yet).

  5. @ Eric: In a sentence ... "The key word is an holistic approach and then a separation functions." (Steffen Rasmussen, Head of Traffic Design, City of Copenhagen).

    Now, perhaps I am also being a bit dense, but could you (or anyone else for that matter) explain your position in a sentence?

  6. @bikemapper

    The same is true for fatalities in car accidents, isn't it?

    The point is that casualties in traffic are always a tragedy and should be avoided at all cost. If infrastructure design can contribute to that we should exploit that. Simple as that.

  7. bikemapper: The piece you've commented on was really only meant to be a bit of light relief over Christmas. However, the points made at the bottom are serious.

    If we're not aiming future cycling facilities at people who do not cycle now then it's impossible to make progress. The wider the segment of the population that is enabled to cycle, the higher the modal share can be.

    It has been known for more than 30 years that this requires both density AND quality.

    Unfortunately, you seem to object about either having enough density or enough quality. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick. Britain has had far more than enough time to achieve this. Frankly, if the country were in a hurry then it could have gone a long way towards "catching up" in the six years since we left the country. But that has not happened.

    As an example of the density that is required, from home I need cycle for only 30 seconds on our residential 30 km/h non-through road to reach either of the two nearest extremely high quality cycle-paths which ultimately lead to every destination in the country and do so by reasonably direct routes. Often these cycling routes are more direct than motoring routes. That's density and directness and it all happens with a very high degree of subjective safety.

    You've long objected about my suggestion that only designing to the highest possible quality standards will work, but I think you fail to recognise why I say this. I'm not asking for gold plating, this is merely the minimum requirement for mass cycling. Do less and you get less cycling.

    As for the Copenhagen quote... You do realise, I hope, that that city consistently misses its targets for growth within a country which has suffered a 20 year decline in cycling. This comes down in large part to Denmark not building infrastructure of a sufficient quality to keep cyclists safe.

    Is that really the best place to quote from ? The best place to try to emulate ?

  8. @ David: I can't even be certain why we are having this debate. There is only one publication out of Europe to answer the question 'How to begin?', and my opinions are largely informed by this work. If you disagree with the views expressed therein, then why not falsify them?

    I found this sentiment compelling (as expressed by Michael Andersen of People for Bikes):

    "When street space is scarce, it's tempting to assume that the solution is to treat road users like warring interest groups: Tom wants better driving, Dick wants better walking, Henrietta wants better biking.

    "On the narrow streets of Portland and San Francisco, that zero-sum thinking is a prescription for paralysis."

    This paralysis is the thing I want to avoid, and the question is, David, how else to do this other than to prioritise?

    David, you write that if we're not aiming future cycling facilities at people who do not cycle now then it's impossible to make progress. Actually the evidence from Portland is entirely to the contrary, but that aside, I do not see why I should be required to accept this way of thinking without some proof (the burden of proof" is with you, incidentally).

    You also write that only designing to the highest possible quality standards will work ... "Do less," you add, "and you get less cycling."

    David, so what? Really! Besides, I am only talking about "doing less" as a means to an end. "The level of minimum functioning is a prudent course to follow," says Cycling: the way ahead. Are you suggesting this is incorrect? Do you wish to falsify this?

    @David @ Eric: I seem to think this ... I seem to believe that ... Why don't you quote me?

    @ Ruud: Totally agree with you, really I do. And all we need to do, of course, is say the magic words ... et voila!

    Finally, a quote from a Dutchman: "In planning for cycling, the critical thing is to design your network correctly. Everything else is trivial." (Johan Diepens of the Dutch Cycling Embassy)

    That was two sentences. I ask again: could you please set out your position as briefly?

  9. Getting back to a lighter side, on any cycle-path (be it in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and even in the US of A), my favourite song comes from a "Cycling in Alkmaar" video on both David's and Mark Wagonbuur's respective websites: "Ik hou van Holland". Its strains always play in my head as I ride the path on two wheels.

  10. bikemapper: A couple of years ago, a friend of mine cycled from coast to coast in the USA. When he reached Portland he got most of the way into the city without seeing any bikes at all. As he got to the centre, a few appeared, though many were twitter followers. Admittedly his standards are high, being from Groningen, but it's quite clear that Portland , San Francisco and other American towns are not places to look to for true cycling success stories.

    Now it's true that Portland has a higher cycling modal share than the average for the USA, but let's look at the context. Portland is a city with a large student population.

    Portland not only has all those students, but also a population density which is right in the middle of Assen and Groningen, a mild climate and a high proportion of liberal, alternative people.

    Despite all this, the city can claim no more than a very low 8% share of commutes.

    If Portland proves anything, it is that doing little achieves little even with strong help from demographics and geography. Portland's enthusiastic self promotion and the enthusiasm of many individual cyclists in Portland about their city hasn't been enough. Marketing is worthless next to infrastructural change.

    Despite being a place where cycling should be the easiest thing in the world to promote, decades have passed and only fractionally more people were attracted to cycle than were already cycling. This slow progress has been achieved by building too little infrastructure of much too low a quality.

    Everyone calls for the easy things to be done first, but your position about prioritization goes beyond this to the point where you consume my time as well as your own by coming here to actually argue against high standards and against conditions which would enable the entire population to cycle. Frankly, I find your contribution entirely negative.

    Faced with a question about low results you ask "So what?" I'll tell you what: decades are passing with no or little progress. People are being born, living their entire lives and dying without being able to benefit from the type of infrastructure which the Netherlands builds everywhere, all the time and updates on a regular basis.

    By arguing for a continuation of this situation you are not working on a means to an end but actually excusing failure.

    "Cycling: the way ahead" is the result of a committee. It doesn't come from the leading cycling nation in Europe, but from "Europe" as a whole. It's as if all countries within this economic area have an equal experience of cycling when we know they do not. Statements in it are very obviously the result of compromise and of each member of the committee wanting to be presented in a good light. I'm not surprised that you can find eleven words to quote which appear to support your position, but this is meaningless.

    When Dutch people talk about planning a network correctly, they are talking about planning a dense and high quality network.

    When you have such a network, bike maps are not needed because cyclists can go everywhere. As a result, it's very rare that Dutch cities produce such maps. I've only ever found one example. Perhaps this lack of a need for "bike mapping" is part of your issue with decent infrastructure ?

  11. bikemapper, I haven't quoted you in my previous replies because there was nothing to quote. You were beating around the bush with a story, a few quotes (you seem to like quotes) and a link. Now you have made your position clear (thank you).

    I have already set out my position briefly, but I'll quote myself here for your convenience: "I don't see why you wouldn't campaign for a bigger network with high standard infrastructure."
    Note I am not a cycle advocate; I am a dutchman living in the Netherlands. I hop on my bike nearly every day, ride 30 meters to the nearest piece of segregated cycling infrastructure and from there choose from several wholly or partially segregated routes - all with proper infrastructure - to where ever I'm going.

    What you get when you settle for the "minimum functioning" is a designer thinking that some paint will make a "Cycle Superhighway". I was amazed when I saw pictures of CS2 and Bow roundabout on television a few months ago. That flagship infrastructure is comparable (but actually executed a bit worse) to what a town of 12k inhabitants near where I live has built 15 years ago. Of course the roundabout there gets a lot less traffic than Bow roundabout...

  12. In the spirit of David's post, here's a list of songs for swingin' cyclists*:


  13. @ bikemapper It's quite simple: if you want to make progress, you have to aim high. All we've ever had in the UK is low-engineered solutions. We need a bolder approach.

  14. David Hembrow and others, here is the problem:

    Our 'leaders' have no vision or balls.

    Our leaders don't want to encourage cycling. They don't believe there is a need because the majority of the community is not asking for it.

    They just want to suppress the nagging of the vocal minority of the community.

    This is why Colville-Andersen and others try to harness the power of marketing - because without it, there would be less community support and thus harder to justify the reallocations of priority to build high quality infrastructure.

    The more people that our leaders see on bikes, the more likely they are going to consider such changes, though they may still be trapped in their existing predjudices until rates go well over 10-15%.

    This is why some people involved then resort to bike mapping (to find the least bad routes), education and other forms of marketing.

    In the mean time, the rest of us are trapped in a catch-22. A no mans land where our planners and leaders are not interested in anything more than talk, but the current facilities make it hard to get more people out on bicycles. Even when they do start to invest, the quality is poor because the planning is based on poor quality 'local reinventions' guidelines(for example Austroads vs CROW) leading to wasted funds and claims by planners that they are doing all they can and we should stop bitching.


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