Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build, part two. Features "old, inferior" infrastructure

I read a story today about how the route between Eindhoven and Valkenswaard in the Netherlands was to be improved. Interestingly, the author of the story put the case that while the new cycle-path would cost €2-3 M, the benefits greatly outweighed the costs. He put the benefits at a value of €8 M due to saving of time for existing commuters and the likelihood that the new route would attract more people to cycle. More cycling means reduced emissions, cleaner air, health benefits to individuals, society as a whole and also to employers.

The old, inferior route between Eindhoven and Valkenswaard for cyclists. The photo, with that caption, generated quite a lot of discussion on Twitter. I rode here with my family on holiday in 2003.
As well as retweeting the link, I also posted the photo above to twitter as an example of what the new improved cycle-path will allow people to avoid riding along. The benefit of the new path comes in part due to a more direct route for some users, but with my eyes now adjusted to living "40 years in the future" compared with other nations, I can now see how this cycle-path is inferior to best Dutch practice. Things have moved on in the last ten years. There is better infrastructure than this almost everywhere near where we now live.

Andre Engels provided this map.
The new path in orange takes a
different route, better for commuters
to the High Tech Campus. This is
the route of a disused railway line
In 2003 this cycle-path impressed me enough to take photos specifically so that I could show them to campaigners in the UK as the sort of thing we should have been campaigning for, rather than the compromises which we were campaigning for. Overall, I'd still be as happy to ride there now as I was in 2003. It's not "bad" as such. However, this path is also not ideal in 2014 in the Netherlands. Expectations have increased and in order that people will want to cycle for a larger proportion of their journeys than they currently do, the quality of the experience has to be better than is offered by this cycle-path.

The old cycle-path is not quite wide enough and it's alongside a busy road so can be noisy. Junction designs along here are not ideal and at some points the cycle-path is a bit too close to the road for comfort. There are also some stops along the way which increase journey time. While the photo shows a point at which the cycle-path is bidirectional, further along there are single direction paths on both sides of the road. This requires that people cross the road. Once again, not ideal.

The new route will avoid the problems of the old and because it will exist in parallel with the old route it offers people more choices and makes more journeys attractive for cycling. Not only will the different alignment of the route offer shorter distances for some cyclists, it is also expected to result in higher average speeds due to the relative lack of interruptions and higher surface quality.

Standards are improving all the time
The Netherlands is not standing still. The rate of change and improvement to cycling infrastructure here is still beyond that of other countries which sometimes talk of "catching up". You can never catch up by starting from behind and doing less. Catching up will only happen as a result of out-spending and out-planning the Netherlands. Low aspirations and politicians delaying tactics and broken promises will never result in adequate progress. Make sure that "Going Dutch" isn't just a slogan.

It's important to campaign for the highest standards. If you ask for less, you'll certainly achieve less. Falling further behind is the inevitable result.

Just because something can be found in the Netherlands, that doesn't automatically mean it's best practice. On our study tours we not only demonstrate the best infrastructure which should be emulated but also point out why some infrastructure which may look impressive actually falls below the best standards. Our aim to to avoid inspiration being taken from the merely adequate and mistakes being made.

Only low quality infrastructure has a cost
Cycling infrastructure which is of such a quality that it can be used by the masses has a huge positive effect on the economy. This infrastructure doesn't have a cost to society but provides a benefit. It is only infrastructure which is of such low quality that it does not encourage mass cycling which places a burden on the economy.

In the Netherlands, cycling infrastructure is a fiscal measure. It saves the country money. There are many reasons why it makes no sense at all for any nation to view cycling infrastructure as "too expensive" to build.

The subject of cycling infrastructure being cheaper to build than not to build has been discussed before. Read part one.


André said...

A small correction on the interpretation of my map: It's not the orange, but the red part that is the new route. Blue is the old route, and orange existing cycleways that are not part of the old route, but will become part of the new one.

Alexa said...

Just a silly comment: For me, there's an advertisement for a car dealership just below this post!