Imagine if there were a form of transport which was smaller than a car, used considerably less fuel than a car so produced less CO2 when in use, which took less space to park so could be parked more densely than cars thus saving space in crowded cities and as a result could usually be parked free of charge. Imagine if this means of transport also cost less than a car and required less training to use thereby potentially making it more accessible to a larger part of the population. Imagine also if the users of this means of transport were small in number and as a result they were discriminated against. Imagine if people held everyone who used this form of transport was collectively responsible for the bad behaviour of some users.
Readers from other countries will likely identify with the last paragraph because it describes cycling in their country. Cyclists are often subject to anecdotes about behaviour of cyclists as a group, and whether or not these stories are true they are held collectively responsible for what has supposedly occurred.
Letters pages in newspapers and online forums often include claims about "cyclists" breaking the law and exposing others to danger. They supposedly ignore red lights, ride on pavements (sidewalks) and many people claim they have been "nearly killed" by cyclists. Cyclists are alternately thought either to be an elite or to be unemployed. Either way, they are considered to be a group which is apart from normal society.
Commentators in newspapers join in, the police join in, politicians join in. It becomes the availability heuristic. This is a very difficult thing to stop because facts become hidden in noise, though some people do try.
It's not about the bike
|Mopeds are used for many|
of the same purposes as
bikes. This man appears
to be moving house.
In the Netherlands there are two classes of mopeds. One class has yellow number plates, is limited to 45 km/h and riders must wear a helmet. These are banned from urban cycle-paths but may use rural cycle-paths. The other class of mopeds have blue number plates. These are limited mechanically to 30 km/h and must not be ridden above 25 km/h. That's the same speed as electrically assisted bicycles. Just as with other modes of transport which travel at a similar speed they don't require a helmet and may be ridden on cycle-paths.
The current campaign against mopedsCurrently there's a campaign against the "moped menace" promoted by the Fietsersbond. They want to "give the cycle-path back to the cyclists". The organisation has set itself up as judge and jury and is using the same kind of scaremongering language against moped riders as is used against cyclists in other nations where cyclists are a minority. Mopeds are claimed to be "too fast", "wide", "polluting", "dangerous" and "ridden irresponsibly". It is currently claimed that 96% of mopeds exceed the speed limit, and that their "average" speed is 34 km/h.
34 km/h is a somewhat implausible average speed to maintain on an across town journey so I suspect this alarming figure actually refers to something along the lines of a peak speed measured for the average rider along a long straight. Note that when the Dutch police prosecute a motorist for speeding they actually take an average over a relatively long distance and then subtract a few km/h before calculating the fine. The same standards are not being extended riders of mopeds.
An online video uses dramatic music and many edits to give an impression of danger, but the riders caught on the video mostly ride quite carefully and are moving at obviously lower speeds than claimed as the average.
The whole issue is being presented as having two sides. The majority (cyclists) vs. a minority (moped riders). But there are not just two classes of vehicle on Dutch urban cycle-paths. In fact, they are used by a wide range of different two, three and four wheelers which including the following. It is only the last two of these which are the target of this action:
- Ordinary town bicycles
- 25 km/h E-bikes
- 45 km/h Speed pedelecs
- Mountain bikes
- Racing bicycles
- Recumbent bicycles
- Recumbent tricycles
- Two wheeled cargo bikes
- Three wheeled cargo bikes
- 25 km/h Electrically assisted / driven wheelchairs
- 25 km/h Electrically assisted recumbent trikes for people with disabilities
- 45 km/h four wheeled Mini cars for people with disabilities (1.1 m)
- 25 km/h Spartamet with pedals, 2 stroke engine - predecessor of the e-bike
- 25 km/h Electric scooters (two small wheels like childrens' scooter)
- 25 km/h Segways
- 25 km/h mopeds with 2 stroke or 4 stroke engines
- 25 km/h mopeds with electric motors
Who rides a moped ?When the question "what sort of person rides a Vespa" was asked online, the answers given by members of the public were quite revealing of how these vehicles are viewed. Here are some examples:
- Oud-Zuid girls with Uggs (a district of Amsterdam which includes some of the richest areas)
- Henk and Ingrid
- Joop and Jannie
- Yugoslav assassins
- Tanned, botoxed, bleached blond women shopping in the PC Hooftstraat (an expensive shopping street in Amsterdam)
- Zuidas yuppies (Zuidas is a business district in Amsterdam)
- "Bontkraagjes" - a term which literally means a fur hood on a coat, but which is used to refer to supposedly criminal immigrant youth. Much the same connotations as "chav" in English.
- Girls from Ondiep and Zuilen (two districts of Utrecht with less good reputations), friends, possibly something more, daughters of a sun-bed orange mother with bleached hair, chain-smoking and supporters of FC Utrecht"
|The police use snorfietsen as well. Are|
they part of the out-group ?
None of this looks remotely like the basis for rational debate on the pros and cons of a means of transport. That's a problem when mopeds are discussed because it seems that for some people they are not just a means of transport. Responses to questions about mopeds are not necessarily rational.
The moped "menace" or "scooteroverlast" story has been bubbling along both online and in print for some time and many bloggers have joined in to cheer this future change. I'm not amongst them because this looks all too much like the type of prejudice which I faced as a cyclist when I lived in the UK.
Amsterdam wants to ban mopeds from cycle-pathsMany of you may already have read about Amsterdam's plans to ban the slower class of mopeds from cycle-paths and make their riders wear helmets. Organisations which represent moped riders believe this populist move will increase danger for the minority affected and refer to it as an example of "life threatening gesture politics".
Unfortunately, while it's clear that many people dislike mopeds (and their riders), the reasons why moped riders should be banished from the cycle-path are still not entirely clear.
Below you'll read about several of the objections commonly heard to the slow class of mopeds. Not one of these is a clear cut example of a problem caused by mopeds but not by a different type of bicycle for which there are currently no objections.
Perhaps the most popular reason given for banning low power mopeds is their speed. The 25 km/h speed which they are limited to isn't really very fast but even that speed can be too high to be safe in some locations such as crowded inner-city cycle-paths or streets.
It's true that many mopeds go faster than 25 km/h in some circumstances, it's also true that many of them do not. Just as it is not fair to paint all cyclists with the same brush and to apply "collective responsibility", so it is not fair or justified accuse all moped riders of bad behaviour based on being a member of a group.
Some mopeds are ridden aggressively but this also is not a problem due to mopeds. Some cars and some bicycles are also used aggressively. Sending responsible people onto the carriageway with a slow vehicle, with nothing more than a token helmet for protection, is not an answer.
It is a genuine problem that people modify mopeds to remove the speed limiting devices. This is easy to do because the same mopeds are sold as faster models in other markets and the speed limiting devices are a non-essential add-on part which is easy to remove. It should be no surprise to anyone that teenage boys who own mopeds quite often perform this modification. By doing this they break existing laws and their mopeds can be confiscated.
|This cyclist caught and passed the|
moped. I've done the same. No motor
required for these speeds.
If speed is the problem then other classes of cycle-path users should be treated equally on the basis of speed. But that's not what is being proposed.
There has also been recent growth in sales of "speed pedelecs" in the Netherlands. Speed pedelecs are licensed in the same way as the slow type of moped. While by law they are limited to 25 km/h just as are mopeds and normal e-bikes, no-one would buy one to ride at that speed because it costs money for the number plate and registration. Every one of these bikes can exceed 25 km/h by design as they are intended for riding at 45 km/h in Germany.
If mopeds are bad on the grounds of their speed then speed pedelecs which can travel at nearly twice the speed are surely worse.
Many e-bikes provide assistance at (slightly) more than 25 km/h even as they are delivered. Should they also be banned ? Even when this is not true, modifying them to remove their 25 km/h limit is in many cases just as easy as modifying a moped to do the same. Many e-bikes can then continue to provide assistance well above 30 km/h, sometimes above 40 km/h. Should e-bikes be banned on the grounds that they can be easily modified to break the law ?
The mere fact of being able to travel at speed (with or without power or modification) isn't enough. If we were to treat all riders of all machines capable of 25 km/h and more in the same way as we are treating the riders of mopeds then the list of machines permitted on urban cycle-paths would become very much shorter. Even riders of standard bicycles (I usually ride my town bike at more than 25 km/h) would have to ride on the road and wear a helmet, let alone racers, recumbents etc. Who would then be left on the cycle-path ?
Pollution and noise
While The Netherlands is much like any other country with regard to annual inspections for cars and trucks, this country has no required annual inspection for any powered two wheeler. Even powerful motorbikes which can be ridden legally on the motorway at 130 km/h may not have had their brakes, tyres and steering inspected for years, let alone their emissions and noise levels. Coming from the UK where motorbikes have to pass annual inspections which if anything are more stringent than those for cars in order to ensure their roadworthiness, this came as a surprise to me.
|A blue cloud of smoke following a|
classic car rally through the centre
of Assen last year reminded us what
car exhausts used to smell like.
The rise in the significance of emissions from small engines came about not because two-stroke engines have become worse but because car exhausts have become remarkably less toxic. Overall, we have much cleaner air in towns now than we would if cars had remained the same as they were in the 1970s.
Though progress has been made, there's no reason to stand still on this. Cleaner air and less noise pollution too in our cities and towns are certainly worth pursuing. Purely on the grounds of their emissions, there is a good case for banning all new two-stroke engines whatever purpose they have (i.e. not only mopeds but also lawnmowers, outboard engines on boats, leaf blowers etc.). A 2006 paper from Nigeria suggests that that country was already taking this seriously eight years ago so perhaps the Netherlands could do this too. Actually, it has been discussed here in the past, but sadly there has been no action. I hope that upcoming European regulations will force lower emissions of both two-stroke and four-stroke engines.
But why does this country still have no annual inspection for powered two wheelers ? The introduction of annual inspections could go a long way towards ensuring not only that brakes and tyres were of good quality and that mopeds and motorbikes were safe for their riders but also that speed limiting devices were installed and working, that the silencer in the exhaust pipe functioned correctly and that the engine was tuned to minimize emissions.
Moving mopeds from the cycle-path to the road and forcing their riders to wear a helmet does not in any way address the pollution issue.
Not all mopeds cause this problem anyway
This shows even more clearly that raising noise and fumes as an issue is spurious.
Huge rise in numbers ?
Populist newspapers have occasionally carried headlines about how sales of low speed mopeds were growing and people seem to have become rather caught up by these headlines. It's all too easy to get people excited about numbers which sound large when they're presented without anything to compare them with, so lets compare the figures for mopeds with other means of transport.
According to BOVAG (an umbrella group representing car, motorbike and bicycle companies), sales have actually dropped year on year for several years. Total moped sales (fast and slow) reached nearly 100000 per year at their peak between 2008 and 2010, but have now dropped to under 60000. In 2013, just over 45000 low power mopeds were sold in the Netherlands, 12.5% fewer in comparison with 2012 and nearly 30% fewer than in 2010.
Figures for the first four months of this year (not as reliable as whole year figures) show that sales may have grown back to the 2012 level but that still leaves them a long way short of 2008-2010.
In the last few years, the sales of electric low power mopeds have grown steadily relative to internal combustion engine models. This year so far they represent about 8% of sales. There are now more than 20000 electric mopeds in use in the Netherlands.
Sales and use comparison to cars and bikes
Many moped sales in recent years have been to people aged 30+ who bought them as a cheaper to use and easier to park alternative to a car. Not only have moped sales dropped, but in the last few years, car sales have also dropped by 10% per year, bringing last years total sales figure down to 417000. This is a considerable drop since 2011 when over 555000 were sold. In addition, 100000 used cars were imported last year.
Bicycles are currently selling at a rate above one million per year. Almost one fifth of those sales are of e-bikes. These e-bikes have the same 25 km/h speed limit as do low power mopeds and they outnumber mopeds by a ratio of four to one.
For all the alarm about a rise in moped numbers, 22 bicycles and nine cars are sold for each moped.
Eighteen million bicycles in the Netherlands are used for 27% of all journeys. Usage figures for mopeds are not easy to find but if we assume that the 600000 mopeds currently registered are used in a similar way to bicycles then mopeds make up about 1% of total traffic in the Netherlands - a figure which is compatible with moped riders being considered as an out-group as their share of traffic is comparable with bicycle usage in many other countries.
There are surprisingly common objections to mopeds on the basis that they are "wide". This is bizarre because it doesn't hold up at all relative to other cycle-path users. Like any type of two-wheeler, the widest part of a moped is the handlebars. Just like bicycles, the handlebars of mopeds have a width which is determined by the width of the shoulders of an average person.
|Much wider than a moped and with|
electric assist to 25 km/h. Essential
transport for this couple.
If certain categories of existing cycle-path users are to be banned from cycle-paths on the basis of their width then we should treat all equally.
If both width and potential speed together are the issue then electrically assisted bakfietsen, recumbent tricycles, velomobiles and mini-cars should also be considered.
Where are the accident statistics ? This is a serious question because while many people make claims about how dangerous they think mopeds are, no-one seems to be able to find any actual figures to prove it.
Mopeds are simply not anything like as dangerous as people expect them to be.
I noted before that back in 2007, when sales of mopeds were higher than they are now, one commentator pointed out that in comparison to other causes of deaths on the cycle-paths and roads of Amsterdam, "scooter deaths (amazingly!) were a rounding error".
I've been asking people to provide figures to back up their assertion that mopeds are a significant danger to people other than their riders for many years, but no-one has ever been able to do so. One assertion leads to another but assertions are not evidence. If you know of any actual evidence please post it in the comments below this post.
A recent "Educated Guess" document from SWOV is the closest that we have to up-to-date accident statistics. On page 20 you can find the numbers of people killed, injured and who required nothing more than first aid as a result of a moped crash in Amsterdam. The number of deaths alternates between zero and one. The number of injuries requiring hospitalization has grown from 16 per year to 71.
SWOV claim that moving mopeds to the roads will reduce the number of injuries requiring hospitalization by five per year. They also estimate that helmet compulsion will reduce this by another 12 per year. However, their main claim for improved safety relies on convincing people not to ride mopeds. "Modal shift" is supposed to reduce the number of moped injuries by another 32 per year. This seems spurious. Their headline figure of 261 fewer injuries is more dramatic because they include an estimate of how many fewer first aid cases are likely, but note that more than half of this estimate is again supposed to result from riders giving up rather than moped riding actually becoming safer.
At no point does SWOV attempt to present figures which demonstrate danger to other modes of transport due to mopeds.
Note that in any other context, cycling campaigners would be against compulsory helmets. SWOV have been criticised by cycling campaigners for their stance on bicycle helmets in the past. Now that they've been co-opted into a campaign against mopeds, it seems that this is okay.
Subjective safety is very important for cycling. If cycling feels unsafe then people won't cycle. Subjective safety is improved by building an environment where it feels safe to cycle. Quite apart from separating high speed traffic from low speed traffic, a high degree of subjective safety also requires changing the infrastructure so as to reduce the frequency of conflicts on the cycle-path.
However, concern over subjective safety should not be used to mask a desire to ban a minority group based on prejudice.
If people are scared to walk down the street at night because of youths wearing hoodies, the solution is not to ban youths or hoodies. The Netherlands used to understand this well and social policy here successfully reduced the rate of crime (such that prisons have had to be closed due to a lack of prisoners to put in them) as well as peoples' fear of crime.
There is a claim that mopeds are driving older people away from cycling. Like other anti-moped claims, this doesn't really stand up to much scrutiny. In fact, older people cycle three times as much now as they did thirty years ago.
The advantage of accommodating mopeds on rural cycle-pathsOne of the reasons why long distance cycling on rural Dutch cycle-paths is so efficient is that until now they have had to be designed to accommodate the faster 45 km/h mopeds.
expressed concerns about safety and the local Fietsersbond have been campaigning against use of this bridge by mopeds.
A local cyclist describes the fietssnelweg on the Zwolle side of the bridge as having just three faults: The beginning. The end. And the whole thing in-between.
One of his main complaints is that there is a central ridge along much of the cycle-path (not over the bridge) which makes it difficult to overtake safely. This is not the sort of design feature which makes for efficient and safe cycling. The dangerous ridge is a deliberate design feature. A "blue line" of lights.
Unfortunately, instead of there being a debate around whether the Hanzeboog and its associated cycle-paths are built to an adequate standard for a genuine fast cycling route, there's been a debate about who is allowed to use the substandard facility.
I've not yet had a chance to read through the newly published "Inspiration book for fast cycle routes" but a review of this which I have read reports that it requires a design speed for future "fietssnelwegen" of only 30 km/h and uncomfortably small radius corners which suit this lower speed. That's not very "super" for a "cycle superhighway". Older cycle-paths without the fancy name were designed to higher standards.
Not only is there no clear cut advantage to banning slow mopeds from cycle-paths in the cities but it seems that there is a distinct disadvantage to banning faster mopeds from cycle-paths in rural areas.
I don't even like mopedsNow you might think I've a vested interest, but I don't. Actually, I don't like mopeds. In fact, I have never liked them. I've also never worked for a company which sells them, have never owned one and never even wanted to own one. To me, mopeds get in the way, they make a lot of noise and they smell.
However, this blog post isn't about whether I like mopeds. That I don't like them does not imply that I think they should be banned. A just society doesn't pass laws based on nothing more than likes or dislikes of individual or even of majorities. Laws should also not be passed based upon exaggerated claims. In order to ban something there needs to be a higher reason than a dislike.
There are many other things that you, I or other people might not like. Some of them may be relatively close to home:
Who is next ? There are already complaints about other bikes
|Like all people who took part in a|
recent 150 km ride, I was handed this
card at the start. It was from the NTFU,
an organisation which organises
many events in the Netherlands and
it's a response to recent suggestions of
collective responsibility for racing
cyclists in this country. Unfortunately,
it's played into the hands of those who
oppose racers. When you're an out-
group, everything you do is "wrong".
Read comments below a blog post
from people who "hate" racers.
There's also plenty of divisive language to be found elsewhere, even on the Fietsersbond website (e.g. a rather tiring and predictable thread about bells and slower cyclists being frightened by racers).
In reality, just as there is no good statistical support for the idea that low power mopeds cause an inordinate danger to other cyclists in the Netherlands there is also no good support for the idea that racing cyclists do the same. In fact, it is estimated that even minor injuries caused by crashes between cyclists in the Netherlands occur on average at a rate of only once per 73 lifetimes per rider. Racing cyclists are involved in a small proportion of those crashes and by nature of how they ride their crashes are far more likely to be with each other than they are to be with strangers.
|There's been much discussion in the|
Dutch press recently about the
"danger" of fast cyclists. I was
even interviewed on the TV about
this and I explained that it really is
not a major problem. When a friend's
arm was broken by another cyclist
recently, it was an older person who
couldn't turn their neck and who
turned across him without looking
at all who caused the crash. It was
not the stereotype of a reckless fast
In some places there have also already been complaints about the speed of electric bikes.
I also know from personal experience that people who ride recumbents can find themselves the subject of complaints. Here's an example: It happened was half way through a 100 km ride to visit a friend (i.e. bike loaded up, definitely not a race and I was not in any particular hurry). I was stationary behind the complainant as we had both stopped for a red traffic light. I had followed her for the last hundred metres or so at her speed and at a reasonable distance because we were both riding along the same narrow temporary cycle-path around roadworks to reach the same traffic light. She was unaware of me until we had both stopped and it was only on turning her head and spotting me that she complained that "recumbents are too fast" basing this only on the type of bicycle I was riding and not on my behaviour. It rather spoilt a pleasant day's cycling.
This was rather reminiscent of the time when a pedestrian in the UK told me off at a pedestrian crossing because some other cyclist that he'd seen in the past had not stopped for him. That's "collective responsibility" in action. It makes no sense whatsoever, but out-groups are subject to it in this country as much as they are in any other country.
Do I want to remain as a member of Fietsersbond ?I spent years in the UK as the subject of accusations of uncivil behaviour merely because I was a member of the minority out-group who use bicycles to get around and I spent some considerable effort trying to explain the reality (i.e. that cyclists are actually not a major health hazard). Moving to the Netherlands was a chance to leave behind this particular problem. I can ride my bike along the street here without anyone thinking it makes me odd.
After arriving here I almost immediately became a member of the Fietsersbond (Cyclists' Union) who speak up on behalf of cyclists. I had hoped that they represented all cyclists equally but after what I've read over the last week or so I'm less sure now that they do.
|Letter from a concerned|
Fietsersbond member who
expects danger due to being
banned from the cycle-path
I'm ashamed by this and I don't want to be part of an on-line lynch mob.
Real statistics and what cyclists really need.Regardless of all the scaremongering, cyclists are still safer in the Netherlands than they are in any other country.
The real danger to cyclists in the Netherlands does not come from mopeds, racing cyclists or any other easy to identify sub-group of people who use cycle-paths.
The most lethal sources of danger to cyclists in this country, just as elsewhere, are cars, trucks and buses. These much larger vehicles have potential speed, more kinetic energy and more weight so they kill both by impact and by crushing.
The best way of avoiding this danger is to keep light and slow vehicles away from large fast vehicles, and that is what the cycle-paths of the Netherlands already do extremely well. But the majority of injuries to cyclists are not the result of crashes with motor vehicles of any kinds. The two biggest dangers are:
- Inadequate infrastructure
- Personal behaviour
Riding when drunk is also significant. It reduces peoples' ability to make correct quick decisions. It's considered to be about as safe as walking when drunk and of course both are a better idea than driving.
The main rise in injuries in recent years has been amongst retired people, who now cycle three times as much as they did in the 1980s. They ride at a higher speed and further than did before, in part due to their adoption of electrically assisted bicycles. Over 65s now make up 2/3rds of all cyclist fatalities in the Netherlands. Questions remain over the safety effects of ebikes on elderly people because these bikes increase their speed and that results in more serious injuries in the event of a crash. Older people are far more vulnerable when they crash. It is argued that perhaps their additional speed helps them to better match other bicycles so reduces conflict but I have to say that I'm skeptical of that idea. This is something I've covered before.
Above all else, cyclists of all types need better infrastructure to improve their safety. This means not only better maintenance but also following the principles of sustainable safety to build cycle-paths wide enough to cope with the traffic which they carry without causing conflict and designed in such a way that they are self-explanatory in use. This attacks the cause of injury head-on.
Update 10th June
|When one of our study tour groups|
threw their helmets in bins, that was
after riding on cycle-paths shared
with low powered mopeds. Cycle
campaigners often point out that
"helmet saved my life" anecdotes
are not an adequate reason to make
cycle-helmets compulsory. The
"moped nearly killed me" anecdote
is also not adequate to support a
change in the law. Sadly, some cycle
campaigners support this, even
supporting a legal change to require
that helmets be compulsory on
mopeds which travel at the same
speed as a bicycle.
I wrote this blog post in response to years of people making assertions to me that the number of injuries to cyclists due to mopeds was large, but none of the people making assertions and talking about anecdotes ever were able to back up their opinion with facts. I hoped that writing all this down would make people think, and perhaps also result in someone digging out an actual study which showed real danger from low power mopeds. Unfortunately, the response has simply been more assertions and more anecdotes both in the comments under this blog post and elsewhere where it has been discussed.
There are no number of anecdotes that add up to make a fact. Cycling campaigners opposed to compulsory cycle helmets often use that line, and quite rightly so. But where mopeds are concerned, some of those same people turn around and claim that their anecdotes overrule the lack of evidence, even to the extent of wanting to use them to force moped riders to wear the helmets that they themselves avoid. This is not rational.
If there was a real problem then there would be real evidence to support it.
A biased Daily Mail article entitled "More than 11,000 cyclists caught running through red lights and riding on pavements in just one year" and the comments below the same echo exactly the same biased anti-out-group sentiment as seen in Dutch discussions of mopeds.
|If you're starting to blame people in scootmobiles for "chaos"|
on cycle-paths which were not built wide enough then you are
definitely projecting your anger in the wrong direction
Disabled people gain enormous freedom from cycle-paths.
The twist this time is that not only are people railing against mopeds but they're also picking on bakfietsen used by parents to transport their children and scootmobiels. i.e. essential transport for disabled people.
|Bakfietsen are terrific for transporting goods and very small|
children. But if they are used to transport children old enough
to ride their own bikes and adults do this because they don't
find it safe enough to let their children ride their own bikes
then this indicates that the infrastructure is not good enough.
All three types of safety are important to enable these things to happen. In some other Dutch cities and elsewhere in the world parents find the situation less safe and are more likely to use various different methods to ride with children on their own bikes.
If you have "chaos" on cycle-paths, don't fight over the scraps and blame other cycle-path users who are simply trying to find their own safest way to get about, but get on with creating an environment which everyone can use in safety and without conflict.
Update 26th August
The Fietsersbond now appear to have declared war on any "fast" cyclists. They're participating in an experiment where a maximum 30 km/h speed limit is to be imposed on cycle-paths. Specifically they now talk about "cycle racers, recumbents, velomobile riders and fast e-bikes" being banned from a cycle-path as a trial starting from tomorrow. Instead of campaigning for better cycle-paths which can cope with varying speeds, Fietsersbond members in Franeker apparently want to ban people who they don't think are like themselves.
This leaves Fietsersbond in a very strange position as they're actually arguing for lower speeds on cycle-paths than the design standards call for. It is recognized by CROW that speeds of "35-40 km/h" "are not at all uncommon", but Fietsersbond wants to restrict speeds to 30 km/h. They are in effect calling for a lowering of standards.
|The cycle-path in question. This falls a very long way below|
the standards that proper cycle-paths meet. Such awful
infrastructure creates conflict. It needs to be brought up to
a proper standard, not to have cyclists banned from using it.
Everyone would benefit from this being improved. "Slow"
cyclists don't benefit at all from having to use poor
infrastructure like this.
But in any case, what danger ? It seems that Fietsersbond have no figures to support the notion that there is danger here caused by cyclists and in any case there are no recorded incidents of any cyclists at all being involved in collisions or being injured between 2007 and 2012 in that location. Given that no-one has been hurt, how much safer can the situation be made to be by putting some of the cyclists into more danger ?
In April I took part in a Dutch TV programme on which I pointed out that the danger to cyclists doesn't come from other cyclists. Clearly this point was lost somewhere. Finger pointing and accusation of danger has continued.
Cycling declined sharply in the Netherlands before and it can decline sharply again if campaigners take their eyes off the ball. Rather than in-fighting between cyclists, the Netherlands needs all of them to pull together and ensure that the infrastructure continues to improve.
If you want less cycling, then making cycling less useful is a good way of achieving that aim. Make cycling slower and less efficient, even suggest that lower design standards are good enough. If you can do all of this in the name of "safety" then that's even better. For someone who wanted to make cycling less popular, this stance might make some sense. But this is an absolutely ludicrous position for Fietsersbond to take.
Note that the Fietsersbond webpage linked above was edited on the 27th of August. In particular, the text which stated clearly that this was an extension of the ban on snorfietsen was removed ("Voor deze proef wordt de BOR-wetgeving (Brommers op de Rijbaan) tijdelijk uitgebreid met hardfietsers!").
Update January 2015The trouble stirred up last year has now spread. No lesser organisation than the Fietsberaad are now calling for a speed limit on cycle-paths to apply to all cyclists. This is just about the most disastrous thing that could happen to cycling in this country.
Any country which can build roads which are suitable for motor vehicles to travel on at 50, 80, even 130 km/h (the Netherlands recently increased the speed limit on motorways to 130 km/h) surely can also build cycle-paths which can cope with bicycles at speeds above 25 km/h. Not to do so is to doom cycling to become a less attractive mode of transport.
Note about kinetic energy
People sometimes misunderstand why it is much more dangerous for a racing cyclist at 35 km/h to be passed by a car at 50 km/h (15 km/h speed difference) than it is a slower cyclist at 20 km/h to be passed by that same racing cyclist (also 15 km/h speed difference). The reason is that the amount of energy which would have to be dispersed in a collision is enormously different. Kinetic energy is calculated by the formula 1/2mv^2.
The slow cyclist, assuming a total mass of 100 kg for bike+rider would have a kinetic energy of 20 KJ.
The racing cyclist, assuming the same mass, has a kinetic energy of 61KJ
A typical car (I'm using the gross weight figure for a Ford Focus) has a mass of 1880 kg. At 50 km/h, this has a total energy of 2.4 MJ.
Two slow cyclists colliding with each other need to dissipate 40 KJ of energy. A racing cyclist has about 3x the energy of a slow cyclist. The total energy to be dissipated if a slow cyclist collides with a racer is 81 KJ, so about double what it would be if two slow cyclists collided.
On the other hand, the car has vastly greater energy. This renders the contribution from the cyclist almost irrelevant. The total energy to be dissipated from a collision with a car is 2411 KJ in collision with the racing cyclist vs. 2370 KJ with the slow cyclist. It doesn't matter if a car collides with a fast cyclist or a slow cyclist. In either case, the car brings about 30 times as much energy to be dissipated in a collision as is the case in a collision between cyclists. Dissipation of this energy is what causes injuries and that explains why cars are so much more dangerous for cyclists than other cyclists.
Higher car speeds rapidly increase the danger which they present (it's a square law) and buses or truck can easily present ten times as much danger as a car when travelling at the same speed simply because they weigh ten times as much.
The real risk to cyclists comes not from other relatively slow moving and light weight cyclists but from motor vehicles.
This blog post started with mopeds so it should perhaps also end with them as well. Mopeds weigh about twice as much as a bicycle and rider and therefore present about double the danger of a cyclist at the same speed. They're a very long way from being so lethal as a car.
Update March 2015The NTFU continues to try to fight prejudice against racing cyclists by calling for all its members to behave perfectly. Unfortunately, these calls will not help. No out-group in history has ever managed to stop being treated as an out-group by conforming. Prejudice doesn't require a real problem with the behaviour of the group which is being singled out. Racing cyclists now actually cause no problem at all in the Netherlands and by talking about themselves in this way, the NTFU runs the risk of confirming peoples' prejudices.
The term availability heuristic refers to a "mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind". This is what happens in the press and in society in general when discussing the danger of mopeds in the Netherlands just as it does when discussing cyclists in other countries. Wikipedia gives this example: "After seeing news stories about child abductions, people may judge that the likelihood of this event is greater. Media coverage can help fuel a person's example bias with widespread and extensive coverage of unusual events, such as homicide or airline accidents, and less coverage of more routine, less sensational events, such as common diseases or car accidents." All you need do is substitute "cyclists or moped riders" for "homicide or airline" and it results in a perfect explanation of why people imagine that danger on the streets comes from the less dangerous rather than the more dangerous participants.
The diet ? We've been vegan (Dutch) for decades. We're healthy, so are our children. There are benefits not only for ourselves but also for the planet that we all live on and the animals which we share it with. However that's not what this blog post is about.