Saturday, 22 March 2014

Discover what works to encourage mass cycling - building on genuine success is the path to progress

We've run cycling infrastructure study tours in the Netherlands since 2006. The tours do not remain the same each year because the Netherlands does not remain the same each year. Progress is rapid here. There are always new things to see, always reasons to update the tour. What you'll see below is just a small part of what you can experience on the study tour.

We organise open study tours a few times a year but if those dates don't suit you then then private tours can be organised on almost any date for individuals or groups.

Lessons learnt
Why is it that the Netherlands is so successful at encouraging people to cycle ? It's very easy to provide a quick answer: In the Netherlands, cycling is a safe, efficient, convenient and relaxing way to get around and it is this for the whole population, not just a hobby for a very enthusiastic minority.

The Dutch success is no accident, it's the result of more than 40 years of continuous improvement to cycling infrastructure, itself the result of continuous investment.

Thousands ride along this efficient and safe route every day. Young and old. This cycle-path is not an exception but of normal quality for Assen. Minor damage marked on the ground with paint last year has been repaired. There are no potholes
But what is meant by safe, efficient and convenient ? All these are subjective.

A high degree of subjective safety is vital. If people don't feel safe cycling then they won't cycle.

Efficiency is also subjective more than it is objective. If it feels like cycling is slow then people think their journeys will take too long by bike. In the Netherlands we see many measures to make distances shorter by bike and to let cyclists avoid busy junctions at which they would have to stop if travelling by car.

Study Tour participant inside Assen's central library
Convenience is another subjective issue. If cycle parking is remote from the destination then that works against cycling. In the Netherlands you can usually park your bike right next to shops, even in pedestrian areas and inside shopping centres. When new community facilities are built, cycle parking is included.

In many other countries, soft measures such as marketing of cycling or cycle training are put before building infrastructure. These measures simply do not work to increase cycling modal share.

You can't sell cycling when conditions are less than truly excellent because even if you can convince people to try cycling, if they don't find it to be safe they will give up after they've experienced the unpleasant reality.

Cycle training does not lead to more cyclingMass cycling does not exist without a very fine grid of very good infrastructure which goes everywhere and strong anti-car measures are not required if cycling has been made such that people choose to do it.

There are no counter examples. No place on earth has seen dramatic growth in cycling without improving the infrastructure to reduce conflict. The Netherlands is the most successful country by a large margin.

Good examples
The photos in this blog post come from one of last year's study tours. They show the everyday reality of cycling in the Netherlands and demonstrate the essence of what makes cycling so attractive here that the entire population makes a positive choice to cycle.

The school run in Assen. Enabled by door to door quality infrastructure. Dutch children cycle from a very young age, well before any in-school cycle-training begins. This is the case because their parents are confident of their childrens' safety.
A stretch of cycle-path which joins two sections of bicycle-road. The bridge was built to take motor vehicles over the bicycle path as a socially safe alternative to sending bikes through a tunnel. Before this was built, the cycle-route was interrupted by the main road.
Once busy streets in the centre of Dutch cities have undergone a second revolution removing through traffic. It's still possible to park a car here. Deliveries can still take place. However, these are now pleasant spaces to be in and the roads can be dominated even by a small number of bikes
When you never have to wait more than eight seconds to cross the road, and when the residential streets on the other side of the crossing cannot be used as a through route by motor vehicles, this gives cycling a competitive advantage over other modes while also improving the quality of life for those who live in those streets.

It's not only main routes which need to be wide, smooth, efficient, have priority over a side-roads and be lit at night. This is a secondary route in Assen.
On Study Tours we not only look at things, we also take measurements. Yes, the secondary cycle-path is over 3 metres in width. This is important in order to enable relaxed cycling for friends riding together, as in the photo above. It is vital that there is a high density of good quality infrastructure. It's also vital that routes are preserved even during works so that the habit of cycling is not lost. The next parallel route to this is a primary route outside the buildings on the right of the picture, but when this secondary route was dug up due to drainage works, cyclists were given half the road to ride on.
The view from a hill provides a dramatic example of how cycle routes are unravelled from driving routes and how this results in cyclists making safer, more pleasant and more efficient journeys as a result of shorter distances by bike and having to stop at fewer traffic lights (the top right of the photo shows a large traffic light junction which few cyclists use)

The Study Tours also visit residential areas. Woonerven, as seen in this 1980s development, are no longer in fashion in the Netherlands, but lessons learnt from them are still to be seen in more modern residential developments and have even been retrofitted to older residential areas.
In the Netherlands, people smile as they cross busy dual carriageway main roads by bike. In this case, the road is in a tunnel so that we can cross in daylight and nearly on the level.
Integration with public transport is important. In the Netherlands, there can be hundreds of bicycle parking spaces at bus-stops and many thousands at increasingly beautifully designed railway station cycle-parks. But it's also important to make sure that buses don't cause danger to cyclists and that's why there are many well designed bicycle bypasses of bus-stops.
Recreational routes from the city into the countryside are provided for by spectacular bridges and take people by pleasant cycle-paths and nearly car free roads to all destinations. Providing accessible recreational cycling is part of what has enabled cycling to become normalized across the entire population.
Road junctions need to be designed properly. This is an example of a large Simultaneous Green junction - the best solution for cyclists where there must be traffic lights. See also good examples of Roundabout design (note that turbo roundabouts are for cars, not for bikes)
None of what is shown in the photos above is exceptional. Far too much attention is paid to isolated exceptional pieces of infrastructure when what is actually they are nearly not important at all. We show a few special most important is to have a very high density grid of very good infrastructure as shown here.

Don't gloss over problems
Everyone likes to see good examples but in our view it is important to note where things have gone wrong. While the Netherlands is the best place to find good examples of how to cater for cycling, this country is by no means perfect. It's important to copy only from the best examples.

We explain about common misconceptions and demonstrate infrastructure which has been tried and which does not work. Learn not only what is successful but also what not to do. Here are two examples:

Groningen has roads on which there are simply too many buses and too much conflict with cycles. If cyclists choose to ride on the pavement (sidewalk) this is a very clear message to planners that they have made a mistake.

Also in Groningen, this notorious roundabout has been the scene of many collisions. There are better roundabout designs than this.  There were 38 reported crashes here between 2007 and 2012.
On the Study Tour, we illustrate why these sites do not work well. As well as those examples, we also visit the most dangerous junction in the whole of the Netherlands, a gyratory system in Groningen. There are lessons to be learnt here. Promising to add inadequate cycling infrastructure to busy gyratories is absolutely not the path to more, safer and more pleasant cycling. Please take note, London !

Local elections
Political support is important, but cycling should not be a partisan issue. All sections of society can benefit from cycling.

We had local elections this week. It would be political suicide in the Netherlands for any political party to stand against cycling so, as usual, all of the parties had pro-cycling policies. The details do vary, of course. Different parties have different demographics and they see different ways to include cycling in their manifestos in order to suit their voters. Here are two of the local cycling issues highlighted by parties which I did not vote, both of which are important:


The first third of the route to Groningen, for which improvements are promised after the local elections. This will be familiar to previous study tour participants, though the study tour proceeds more slowly in order to explain and observe.

Route shown in the video
One of the parties which gained most in in the local elections made a campaigning issue out of a demand for a "proper cycling superhighway" between Assen and Groningen.

This prompted me to make the video above which shows the first third of the existing route to Groningen as a sort of video time-lapse. The start point is just 200 metres from our home and we reach this point in just 30 seconds of cycling along a non-through residential street with a 30 km/h speed limit. This route shown may not be called a "superhighway", but it's already a very efficient route by bike and already well in advance of the sort of infrastructure which would be given a dramatic name in other parts of the world. I'd be delighted to see further improvements here, of course but the name of the path doesn't matter so much to me.

A recent mistake made in Assen. Study tour participants last year observing a Shared Space junction criticised in the elections this year. Watch a video of this junction to see the conflicts for yourself
Another local political party criticised a Shared Space junction in Assen and promised improvements. This newly renovated junction really is not satisfactory. There are too many conflicts here. Last year we took groups of study tour participants to see the newly opened junction so that they could observe the conflicts for themselves and in order to help them to understand why Shared Space doesn't work.

Book study tours through our website
At another location in Assen, Shared Space has been removed. It's been converted to a cycle and pedestrian space and this is a popular change. That will be part of the Study Tour this year. Get in touch to book a place.

Follow-up tour
This year we're also running a follow-up tour for people who have been on previous study tours. This will provide an opportunity to catch up with what's changed in the Netherlands. It's also good for people to be able to re-set their expectations. It can be difficult to keep up expectations for years after returning home. For these reasons we're welcoming back everyone who has been on a study tour in previous years. Get in touch to find out more.

Standard Dutch utility bicycle.
Read all about why it's special
Update 24 March
Berno asked me to update this blog post to mention the type of bicycle ridden by most Dutch people. Dutch utility bicycles are an enabling technology for mass cycling because they allow un-fussy cycling. Almost everyone in the Netherlands owns a bike like this and uses it for everyday reliable transport, even if they ride something entirely different for sport or touring at weekends.

Please read an older article about these bicycles.

3 comments:

Don said...

My nearby city of Gloucester, UK, recently installed some 'shared space' between the shopping district and the docks area, which is popular with locals and tourists. It is still a fairly busy route for motor traffic.

I prefer to call it the 'shared joke'. Seems a more apt title to me!

Andrew K said...

Quick question, what was that double bell you used mid way through the video?

David Hembrow said...

Andrew: you can find the bell at this link (with sound sample). It's our webshop, that's what supports being able to spend time writing the blog.