Friday 6 June 2014

Being a member of an out-group, a little perspective, and the supposed dangers of mopeds on cycle-paths in the Netherlands

I've been a member of an out-group for one reason or another for almost all my life. I've lived as an immigrant in more than one country, I've follow a diet which some people felt they had a right to criticize and most of all I've cycled as everyday transport as this is something people can see and form an opinion on without even having to talk to the person involved. Yes, even white men can be subject to prejudice. I don't like it and I speak up when I see it.

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 many people held everyone who used the form of transport just described to be collectively responsible for the bad behaviour (perceived or real) of some users of that mode of transport.

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.
But this blog post is not about cyclists and it's not about bicycles. All of the above generalisations are applied to mopeds and the people who ride them in the Netherlands. Moped riders are a minority in this country who make up about the same proportion of the population and about the same proportion of trips on the roads and cycle-paths as do cyclists in other countries. Moped riders are frequently the object of a very similar form of out-group discrimination to that which we see elsewhere directed at cyclists. Very similar language is used by Dutch commentators when discussing mopeds, including that of "collective responsibility".

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 mopeds

Currently 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 using any form of transport so I suspect this alarming figure actually refers to something along the lines of a peak speed measured for the 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 to riders of mopeds by those who criticise them.

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 to be 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:
  1. Ordinary town bicycles
  2. Tandems
  3. 25 km/h E-bikes
  4. 45 km/h Speed pedelecs
  5. Mountain bikes
  6. Racing bicycles
  7. Recumbent bicycles
  8. Recumbent tricycles
  9. Velomobiles
  10. Two wheeled cargo bikes
  11. Three wheeled cargo bikes
  12. Wheelchairs
  13. 25 km/h Electrically assisted / driven wheelchairs
  14. 25 km/h Electrically assisted recumbent trikes for people with disabilities
  15. 45 km/h four wheeled Mini cars for people with disabilities (1.1 m)
  16. 25 km/h Spartamet with pedals, 2 stroke engine - predecessor of the e-bike
  17. 25 km/h Electric scooters (two small wheels like childrens' scooter)
  18. 25 km/h Segways
  19. 25 km/h mopeds with 2 stroke or 4 stroke engines
  20. 25 km/h mopeds with electric motors
There is no speed limit for the machines which rely only on human power and 25 km/h is easy for any reasonably fit person to exceed on any type of bicycle. One group representing moped riders has instead called for a strict 25 km/h limit for all vehicles which use cycle-paths.

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:
  1. Dealers
  2. Oud-Zuid girls with Uggs (a district of Amsterdam which includes some of the richest areas and the shoes that they supposedly all wear)
  3. Henk and Ingrid (stereotypes)
  4. Joop and Jannie
  5. Yugoslav assassins
  6. Tanned, botoxed, bleached blond women shopping in the PC Hooftstraat (an expensive shopping street in Amsterdam)
  7. Zuidas yuppies (Zuidas is a business district in Amsterdam)
  8. "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.
  9. 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 online video attracted one comment almost immediately from someone who refers to riders of mopeds as "bastards" ("rotzakken" in Dutch).

The police use snorfietsen as well. Are
they part of the out-group ?
People don't generally consider mopeds to be a form of transport for other people like themselves. In reality, of course, the people who ride mopeds are simply a cross section of society. This is the case for other forms of transport too. Where its a common form of transport, the question becomes meaningless. For example, a question about "what type of person drives a car" would be meaningless. In the Netherlands it would also be meaningless to ask "what type of person rides a bike", but in other countries cyclists are considered in the same way as moped riders are here. i.e. "lycra louts" and worse.

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-paths

Many 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 did the same. No motor
is required for these speeds.
It's not only mopeds which exceed 25 km/h
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.
Many mopeds, especially older models, have two-stroke engines and it has been known for a long time that these engines often produce more carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates than 4-stroke engines. Small not very well maintained 2-strokes can be prolific producers of these emissions. In the past this was considered to be a small problem but these days a large percentage of total emissions comes from 2-stroke engines.

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
Electric mopeds are the fastest growing group. They don't produce any local emissions or much sound at all, but while fumes and noise are being used as a reason to ban moped from cycle-paths, those calling for them to be banned are also calling for electric mopeds also to be banished to the roads.

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.

"The honest moped rider". These
stickers are quite common now and
they reflect a concern which many
people share about pollution, but
this is next to a canal on which boats
produce far worse emissions which
few seem to be concerned about.
Mopeds with electric motors are
steadily increasing in popularity.
Against these sales figures, it is claimed that the number of low power mopeds in use in Amsterdam has tripled in the last six years and that this is one of the reasons why action must be taken.

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.
In comparison with many cargo bikes, especially three wheeled bakfietsen and also many velomobiles, mopeds are not wide. They're certainly narrower than many of the vehicles used by people with disabilities such as the four wheeled mini-cars and bikes which accommodate two riders sitting next to each other.

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".

At this point, cyclists continue on a
safe cycle-path while 45 km/h mopeds
must leave the cycle-path and join the
road. Infrastructure like this which
has bad sight-lines and directs riders
into a pinch-point is dangerous and it
would not be considered acceptable
 for cyclists. It shouldn't be thought
adequate for moped riders either.
While cyclists are well catered
for in the Netherlands, the country has
not shown so much interest in making
a safe environment for moped riders.
Moped riders themselves are over-represented in accident statistics, but these largely show how vulnerable the riders are. Moped riders are far less numerous than cyclists yet they represent nearly so large a share of the deaths on the street. They share their vulnerability with cyclists, as like us they come off worse in crashes which involve larger and heavier vehicles. There is a real problem of mopeds being dangerous for their riders, but real figures showing that mopeds are significantly dangerous for people other than their riders simply don't seem to exist.

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
This is a subjectively safe cycle-path
because it is well away from cars and
trucks. It is also wide. 25 km/h mopeds
use this cycle-path legally. 45 km/h
mopeds use it illegally. It is also used
by racing cyclists at a similar speed.
None of these users causes a problem
because of the width. Conflict is
 created where the infrastructure is
inadequate for its users. That is the
real problem in Amsterdam.
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-paths

One 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.

The Hanzeboog, a rural cycle-path on a
railway bridge. When we rode across in
2012 we saw a crash: two older people
with electric bikes collided with each
other. Nothing to do with mopeds. This
path is a little substandard in width,
which is not such a huge problem. But
the path design is quite dangerous
at the base of the bridge. Guess who
gets blamed for crashes ?
That appears to be changing. There already exist new rural cycle-paths, even "fietssnelwegen" (cycling superhighways) on which mopeds are banned or where there are attempts to ban them. One example is the Hanzeboog, an attractive shorter link over a railway bridge which links Zwolle with villages to the south. Local politicians 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 mopeds

Now 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.
Another obvious out-group in the Netherlands is that of racing cyclists. In the last few years there have been headlines in the press about danger due to this group of cyclists (e.g. "Arrogant racing cyclists terrorising the cyclepaths", "Get the amateur racers off the cycle-paths"). I even found myself on a TV programme a few weeks back which was trying to make this case.

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
racing cyclist.
A couple of years ago there were stories in the Dutch press about the problems caused by "bakfiets mothers" who were accused of blocking cycle-paths, riding on pavements (sidewalks) and going through red lights, amongst other things. There were also calls for reason.

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
This organisation represents me because I am a member, but they're using exactly the same kind of language and exaggeration against a minority cycle-path user as I am all too familiar with being on the receiving end of when it was targeted against me as a cyclist in the UK.

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:
  1. Inadequate infrastructure
  2. Personal behaviour
A recent investigation shows that 60% of cyclist injuries, 5000 per year, are single sided collisions involving no other party. Bad maintenance still causes problems. i.e. fall at potholes or when there is ice. People also don't notice bollards and ride into kerbs. Those things can all be addressed (follow the links in the previous sentences) but they're still a significant danger.

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.
Mopeds shared cycle-paths in the Netherlands for decades now. There's nothing new about them. In the past they sold in greater numbers than they do now. The controversy over them is not new either. That's been going on for decades as well.

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.

Update 8th August

The cause of conflict on cycle-paths has always been known: inadequate infrastructure, too narrow and designed for a lower capacity than is required. However, this doesn't stop people blaming other cycle-path users for the inconvenience that they feel and that has continued.

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.
Two months after the blog post was originally published its come up again with complaints about "war" on the cycle-paths of Den Haag. Once again, people are blaming other cycle-path users for inconvenience even though it's been obvious for many years that Den Haag's infrastructure was nowhere near good enough.

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.
High levels of bakfiets usage are an indication of a problem. But it's not a problem due to the riders but a problem due to the infrastructure. Except for transporting goods and perhaps very small children, no-one should need a bakfiets. In Assen it's quite common to see pre-school age children cycling to the centre of the city because the infrastructure makes this possible. By the time that children are in primary school they should be able to ride their own bikes on school trips.

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.
The stretch of cycle-path which Fietsersbond wants to eject "fast" cyclists from is actually really terrible. The correct response from a campaigning organisation should be to get this cycle-path improved, not to blame users for the danger that is created by the bad path.

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 2015

The 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 2015

The 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.

On the left, the transport mode of victims of crashes. On the right, the type of vehicle by which they were injured. During the period of this investigation 11 cyclists and 2 pedestrians were injured by cyclists, none were injured by moped or motorbike riders, and 64 and 36 were injured by car drivers. The car is the problem. That's where the danger comes from for all vulnerable road users, not other cyclists and not mopeds.

Available Heuristic
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.


Matthew.W said...

When my brother & his family lived in the Hague 20 odd years ago, there were similar concerns about mopeds. But back then mopeds looked more like dutch bikes with an engine, in fact very similar to the e-bikes of today, than full size vespas/scooters.

Nowadays the physical difference between a cycle path legal machine and an illegal one is much harder to spot and that is why they want to ban all mopeds.

At a recent cycling conference the issue was raised with one of the Dutch delegates (from Amsterdam) and they said that the larger faster machines were being used, illegally, on cycle paths as a way to beat traffic and avoid having to wear a helmet and that they reduced the subjective safety for older cyclists and were cited as a reason for them giving up cycling.

In many of your posts you state how the Dutch are continually improving their network to maintain accessibility for all and where they don’t, cycling levels fall away as there isn’t something special about the Dutch that make them want to cycle, they do it as it fast, safe & convenient.

I would have thought that removing something that is contributing to a loss of subjective safety would meet with your approval. Your argument is almost like the old CTC one against cycle paths.

David Hembrow said...

Matthew, you have missed the point of the blog post. The anti-moped opinion of the majority in the Netherlands is exactly the same as the anti-cyclist opinion of the majority in the UK and other English speaking countries. I don't support either of these opinions because both of them are based on a blind dislike of an out-group rather than on facts.

There are lots of reasons why people say they want to ban mopeds. The problem is that none of them add up. That includes the idea that older people are giving up cycling in huge numbers because of a rise in mopeds.

In reality - i.e. when we look at the figures and don't react emotionally to a popular dislike of mopeds - we find that older people now cycle three times as much as they did 30 years ago. If a supposed growth in use of mopeds was a significant reason why older people gave up cycling these days then we would not expect this result.

On this blog I have always tried to keep my opinion clearly distinct from facts because it is by analyzing and trying to understand facts that we make progress while chasing opinions will simply lead down one blind alley after another.

This is why in recent posts I have shown such things as what are the genuine safe designs for roundabouts and traffic lights and also shown what genuinely unsafe junctions look like. These are not just my opinions but an analysis of actual crash data. The reason to post that information is that people continue to favour and even to promote less good designs based on opinion.

In this case I have again written about what the facts are. While many people don't like mopeds (and I'm amongst them as I pointed out above), I don't think that negative opinion, no matter how widely held, is enough of a reason to force law-abiding people to ride in a more dangerous place than they do now because of an application of "joint responsibility".

This is not about the CTC. It's about the same emotive response to mopeds in the Netherlands as you get in other countries where it is claimed that "all cyclists go through red lights".

lagatta à montréal said...

I see that you and your old blogging partner Bicycle Dutch are at loggerheads on this issue.

I'm not an expert on it - we face far more serious problems here in Montréal, even though we have about the best cycle infrastructure in North America (which isn't saying much).

But I will tell you that I felt very unsafe on cycle paths in Amsterdam the last time I was there due to the significant increase in motorbike-shaped scooters on them.

And I have seen aggressive young men deliberately intimidating others (pedestrians and cyclists) with them.

Isn't one of the complaints that many of these scooters are "boosted" to exceed their supposed speed limit?

By the way, perhaps Old South girls could use a better explanation, meaning spoilt rich girls from this district (the music video Oude Zuid depicts this type... If I recall, the posh lads and lasses were riding motorbikes though.

user1 said...

Why petrol mopeds should be banned from cycle paths? Because they make much noise and pollution. Certainly this isn't a kind of vehicle which should be promoted by allowing it to use such an infrastructure. Actually, it would be quite shocking in most countries and I think that such strange situation exists in the Netherlands (and Denmark) mainly for historical reasons. And why electric scooters should be banned from cycling infrastructure too? Because there are e-bikes (pedelecs). Why promote electric mopeds when there is an alternative which is just as practical and costs the same money, but is better for public health?

Anyway, I wonder why people in the Netherlands use mopeds in such small numbers (1% of all journeys) when there is such an excellent infrastructure they can ride them on (subjective safety is not an issue) and it's quicker way to get from A to B than by bicycle. Is it indeed noise and pollution, or maybe costs of registration, insurance etc.?

Anonymous said...

Nice blog post that sets me thinking. Your "outgroup" reasoning resonates with me.

But... I normally cycle at about 25km/h. 97% of the 25/h mopeds drive faster. Average of 35 or so? So... Just treat all of them as 50/h mopeds including helmet. On the cycle path is fine then.

I like your idea that that'll force the cycle path design to be more speedy bicycle friendly.

Fun question: how does everyone feel about the electric mopeds? Nicely limited at 28km/h or so. Silent. Are they a threat because of their speed and bicycle-like silence? Or are they great? I think the latter.

Mopeds could get the same goodwill if they traveled at 27km/h instead of at 38km/h...

Marion said...

Hurrah! You've just said what I wanted to say for a long time. I've been following cycle blogs for nearly five years, now, and three years ago, you didn't hear a peep about mopeds, but the past two years or so, the hateful comments have been rearing their ugly head everywhere. I simply do not get the moped hatred, I really don't. I live in The Hague, which is the third largest city in the Netherlands, and I honestly can't remember the last time I consciously saw a moped on the cyclepath, they are that unobtrusive. Yeah, sure, there used to be a small group of sixteen year old boys with 'revved up' mopeds that could be really annoying, but anything above 25 km/hr has to duke it out among the cars and whadayano, the irritating revved up stunt riding has gone down drastically, as far as I'm aware.
Seriously, what is it about mopeds that sets some people off so much? I don't have a car - heck, I don't know how to drive one in the first place and certainly don't have a license - and I was wondering if I could use an e-bike or electric scooter for longer trips I now use the bus for, but if I have to wear a helmet every time I want to go somewhere, I'd rather take the bus. So what's next? Will there be stickers for 'the honest bus rider' as well, because if we are talking about exhaust fumes, few vehicles can compete with the good ol' bus. What about the elderly and infirm in their mobility scooters? What about velomobiles? Those things can go scary-fast! Faster than many a scooter!
I think Amsterdam is an isolated problem, where the proportion of scooters among the cyclist is larger than in the rest of the country, but this ruling sets a creepy precedent. Slippery slope, and all that jazz. I don't like it. I don't like it AT ALL. And I'm amazed that the Fietsenbond is behind it. They should know better.

Titus said...

I do not think you can deny that a significant group of Dutch cyclist feel less subjectively save due to mopeds. I think it is wrong to solely use facts in this debate and this is the first time I disagree with a post in this blog.

Reading your blog has learned me that willingness to cycle has a lot to do with having the feeling that you can have a safe trip, which in turn is mostly created by creating subjectively safe infrastructure. I feel that the current infrastructure is not suited for the combination of bicycles and mopeds and because of this the subjective safety that cyclist experience is damaged.

Take for instance the size of mopeds. I'm sure you are correct that both bicycles and mopeds have the same handlebar dimensions but that is not what you experience when mopeds overtake you on a narrow bicycle path. Subjectively (modern) mopeds feel much larger than bicycles and therefore you get the feeling you need a greater separation to feel safe. Is this not exactly the same with cars? It is really safer for cars to pass with a separation of a metre in stead of 15cm? Probably not but that is not how you would experience it.

People do not form opinions on facts but on experiences. When I drove a car in England I 'hated' cyclist because they always turned up on places I did not expect and it was difficult to predict our interactions. I love Dutch cycling culture but if I were English I might have disliked the cycling-movement.

I do not think the anti-moped movement is a media hype but something that has been brewing in the society for a longer time. I takes time for little annoyances to be turned into a national debate and in the Netherlands this may even take longer than most countries.

Right now I feel there are two options: Change our infrastructure to allow mopeds and cyclist to share it in harmony or change the categories that share a specific set of infrastructure. I think it has become clear which path will be taken.

Unknown said...

Why do you think that speed pedelecs won't be treated equally? They're legally snorfietsen (and in the future, will be bromfietsen) and so they'll be treated the same as all other mopeds. If there's anything which has been learnt from the snorfiets situation, it's that trying to provide legal exemptions for certain types of vehicles has unintended consequences and is probably not a good idea.

As Marion said, I also think this is a problem which is fairly unique to Amsterdam; as a cyclist, I've only ever felt intimidated by mopeds when cycling in Amsterdam, not in any other Dutch city.

By far the majority of mopeds in Amsterdam are used at speeds considerably above 30km/h. It's clear that the proportion of mopeds which haven't been illegally modified to remove the speed limiter is tiny. Amsterdam have made it clear that their attempts at enforcing the law have been largely unsuccessful. "By doing this they break existing laws and their mopeds can be confiscated" is completely unrealistic.

Obviously forcing them onto the road is ridiculous, though - a more sensible approach, if the removal of snorfietsen from cycle paths is your goal, would surely simply be to (gradually) remove the weird 'snorfiets' category and make them all bromfietsen. And that's presumably the effect this law will have in any case.

zeepsopje said...

I do not agree with you reasoning. Maybe it's the accidents, mopeds hit bicylists & the latter have to be transported to the hospital by ambulance. Saw this several times.
A good friend crossed the street on foot (cycle street) & spent almost a week in coma. His skull had to be opened to relieve the pressure.
Yeah yeah, anacdotes are not data, but these incidents can not be the only ones.

Moped simply ride too fast & yes, almost ALL of them do.

Robert said...

I have only once encountered a motor-scooter on a cycle path (which was a metre or two from a fast, moderately busy road), but despite the rider behaving impeccably (and entirely legally) I still felt threatened. I thought long and hard about this. I tried to tell myself I shouldn't feel threatened, but I did. Some modern petrol-driven scooters that make little noise don't bother me greatly, and electrically assisted bikes don't bother me at all. Therein lies the clue. It's the combination of noise, smell, and power-to-weight ratio that I don't like, and which as a cyclist I go to great lengths to avoid.

From what I've read it sounds like Amsterdam has a particular problem with snorfietsen that have been easily and illegally modified. It is shocking that the Dutch do not have an annual road-worthiness test for powered vehicles, especially those with an internal combustion engine, but even if there was such a test, would it not be just as easy to refit the speed limiter especially for the test? Returning to my trio of dislikes, noise, smell (emissions), and power-to-weight ratio are harder to adjust, and reasonably easy to measure. Perhaps they should be used to define what is allowed on the cycle path? To this you might add size, but that is limited by features such as the width of the path and the presence of bollards.

David Hembrow said...

User1: The people who want to ban the mopeds want to ban electric mopeds as well which make virtually no noise and no pollution at the point of use.

Reinout: Expect electric mopeds to be just as fast as IC engine mopeds. The calls for a ban apply to both.

Marion: Thanks for the support. I wrote this because I don't get it either. We don't need this kind of language and thinking being used to try to form policy.

Titus: You say "it is wrong to solely use facts". What would you prefer ? That policy be decided on the basis of people making claims which cannot be supported by facts ?

Alyssa: It is beyond any reasonable expectation that they truly managed to measure the average speeds of all mopeds across the city in order to come up with their "average", so this figure does not mean what they claim it means.

Simply claiming that the majority of mopeds exceed some arbitrary speed, as Fietsersbond has done, is not enough. Where did they measure ? How did they measure ? Who did they measure ? What exactly did they measure ? We're not told these things.

Zeepsopje: You claim that there are accidents. I don't doubt that there are some, because there is not a form of transport invented yet which is without any accidents. People injure themselves remarkably frequently simply by walking.

But if you want to claim that one mode of transport is more dangerous to third parties and must be restricted on that basis, then the facts won't be far away. Hospital records, police records etc.

Unfortunately, no-one including yourself seems to have any facts to back up your assertions and anecdotes.

There are no number of anecdotes which add up into a fact.

Typing "ALL" in capital letters doesn't make it any more true. Actually finding some evidence would.

Robert: The noise of mopeds is certainly irritating. So's the smell. I don't like these things at all. But these are but side-issues.

The proposal is to ban all mopeds from cycle-paths including the electrically driven ones, including those ridden by people who scrupulously obey the law. This is to happen based on a supposed problem of danger to third parties.

This isn't really about the mopeds, its about who rides them.

Unknown said...

If you're actually interested in facts, at least some of them are easy to find. You chose to complain about the data on average speeds in response to my comment, and you rail against the Fietsersbond data with "I suspect this alarming figure" in the introduction to your post, so I'll look for data about speed; the SWOV analysis you link mentions one from 2012, from the Gemeente Amsterdam in collaboration with the local police, which seems like a perfectly reliable source.

They used a lasergun to measure snorfiets speeds in three situations (control group, with warning sign, afterwards) at 10 locations in Amsterdam. They found that snorfietsers travelled at an average speed of ~32km/h, and a V85 (speed which is exceeded by 15% of snorfietsers) of ~38km/h. At some locations they - unsurprisingly - measured a *minimum* speed which was above 20km/h.

(Amsterdam have also been pushing for other changes to the law which would reduce these speeds, such as allowing license plates to be confiscated on the basis of a lasergun measurement, but they haven't had any luck so far...)

Edas said...

David, you do have a vested interest in defending moped riders – you ride velomobile, which gonna be next target for banning.
And this seems the reason why you „forgot“ to mention 3 other reasons why people hate moped riders: they are heavy, they have protection for their riders (so they are not afraid to hit cyclist) and their users don't want to obey rules and acts antisocial. “In 2013 4,000 of the 16,000 available traffic management police hours were dedicated to trying to enforce the speed limit for light moped riders. In 2012 50% of all moped riders was stopped one or more times. In 2013 this percentage had increased to 56%. In 2012 3,600 tickets were issued for speeding and red light violations to moped riders. In 2013 238 licenses were revoked.”
Next thing to defend will be drink driving? I can find thousands of arguments to defend 0,8 promile threshhold to define as antisocial instead of now applied 0,4. Is

David Hembrow said...

Allyssa: The use of "average speed" is problematic. Normally, people would consider average speed to be the average speed at which a journey is completed. In this context it is being used to discuss the peak speeds of mopeds, producing a figure which is rather more emotive.

Given that it's simply impossible to ride around many corners or across many junctions at 38 km/h, locations were obviously chosen because such speeds could be reached there.

The data is honest in itself, representing peak speeds where such speeds are possible. However, it tells us nothing about how dangerous the situation is in that location and nothing about other locations. The figures have no context to explain this.

Fietsersbond provide a kind of "context" with a video which rather shabbily uses fast editing and noisy music to emphasize speed, though the mopeds in the video are clearly not travelling at those high speeds. That is not an honest way to present the data.

Many people make similar abuse of figures to emphasize problems and they produce similarly alarming headlines. e.g. "More than 11,000 cyclists caught running through red lights and riding on pavements in just one year". That's the result of emphasizing only one side of a story. Deliberate bias, demonizing an out-group. Comments under that article echo opinions in Dutch about mopeds.

Punishing on the basis of speed measurement sounds reasonable. It's already happening, of course, as Edas points out. The same standards should be applied as for drivers of cars caught by the same means. Whether confiscation of license plates is a just punishment (this goes further than the punishment handed out to car drivers who break the law) I'm not so sure.

But all of this is still a long way from data which supports the contention that mopeds actually are a significant danger to other users of the cycle-paths.

Edas: Ah, so you think velomobiles are the next target. Thanks for letting me know in advance so that I can get rid of mine and conform to the norm in future. Of the other groups of cycle-path users listed in the blog post, who else do you want to ban ?

On what basis do you want to ban velomobiles or any other type of cyclist ?

This is precisely the point that I'm making. Allow people to discriminate against one minority out-group means of transport and it's likely that they'll follow-up by discriminating against another similar group.

There's a famous poem about how this principle works.

If you were to tell the police to increasingly stop every short blond haired woman in order to search them for drugs then you'd find that there was a sudden increase in reported incidents of short blond haired women caught with drugs.

That would not imply that the situation had got worse (i.e. that short blond haired women are using more and more drugs) but only that more attention had been placed on this issue.

The same with mopeds: Enforcement increased and this inevitably was followed by an increase in the number of mopeds stopped.

Is this equitable ? What other crimes go unsolved while the police spend their time concentrating on moped riders ?

When London police specifically targeted cyclists going through red lights, they found lots of those too. The public response was exactly like your response about mopeds.

As for your suggestion that I should for some reason want to increase the drink driving limit... Absurd. No connection at all with anything that I've ever written.

There's also another big difference between drink-driving and the point that we've been discussing: Drink driving definitely kills.

Unknown said...

Car drivers who break the law in this manner (illegal modifications to their vehicles which make them unlicensed) would also get their plates confiscated.

Where do you think the line should be drawn, on the subject of which vehicles are or aren't allowed on cycle paths? If we follow your reasoning here, then certainly the (1999) Bromfietsen op de Rijbaan scheme should be reversed (which was much along the same lines, and had much the same arguments made for/against it) -- and this would certainly help speed pedelec users whose vehicles are soon to be reclassified as bromfietsen. But which other vehicles should be allowed to use the cycle paths?

David Hembrow said...

Alyssa: Exactly what punishment should be meted down to cyclists, moped riders or drivers who break one law or another is way beyond what I'm willing to discuss in comments under a blog post.

This blog post is not about individual punishments for crimes, it's about out-groups. It's about how a majority think there is nothing at all wrong with scapegoating a minority, painting all that minority with the same brush, accusing all of the same sins and calling for all of "them" to be punished for the actions of a few.

Exactly the same situation exists regarding mopeds in this country as exists regarding cyclists in your country of origin and mine. In both cases, the object of ire (cyclists or mopeds) are, en-masse, regarded as law breakers and the dangers that both groups pose to the rest of society are greatly exaggerated.

There is a difference with regard to foreign cyclists living in the Netherlands in that while we were the out-group in our home countries, we are part of the majority here. The knee being jerked in this country is ours (where "we" are "the normal cyclists").

I'm asking you and other readers to think about this.

That an out-group is the source of problems have always been an easy assumption to make. In reality, this is rarely actually the case. The sins of the majority are almost always greater in number and greater in effect, but they're accepted for no reason other than that they're sins of the majority.

Rather than believing any supporting evidence for misbehaviour of moped riders, no matter how flimsy, try to look at the true size of the problem and look at it from all angles. i.e. I'm asking you as a Dutch cyclist to do exactly the same thing as I ask motorists who accuse cyclists to do in the UK and USA.

How do you respond to motorists who accuse "all" cyclists of riding through red lights ? How do you react when "all" cyclists are tarred with the brush of riding on sidewalks or if someone highlights a single example of a pedestrian death to a collision with a cyclist and uses that to tar everyone else ? How do you like it when cyclists are told they must wear helmets ?

How about when "all" mopeds are accused of speeding ? When single examples of crashes are used to paint all as dangerous ? How about when moped riders are told they must all wear helmets ?

This is a very obvious example of double standards and in this case its between two different groups who are so similar that if we were to look at them dispassionately from a long distance away with a telescope then you'd have a hard time telling them apart.

This isn't new to cyclists vs. mopeds vs. drivers but something which is within us and which we must guard against. Fear of unknown minority groups is strong and leads to unreasonable and violent acts across the world every day.

The same thing has been going on for thousands of years. Similar ideas are even referred to in a two thousand year old book, in this case regarding an adulterer - someone who is so alien that the crowd want to put her to death. Because I'm an atheist I don't read that book much, but of course that makes me a member of another out-group which could get me into yet more trouble if I should go to the wrong country.

Unknown said...

Ah, well, I can certainly agree that the "collective" arguments are ridiculous. Continuing with the anecdotes, I see *plenty* of snorfietsers here in Leiden who clearly have their vehicles correctly speed-limited, and who are no more/less annoying than the wielrenners (and gosh, they are annoying at times), and of course, also disabled people who would be forced off their speed pedelecs if they were no longer able to use them in the safe environment of the cycle paths.

However, your post and commentary don't stop at discussing this ridiculous collective-blame approach of the media and organisations like the Fietsersbond.

You also go on to imply that people are not only irrational but also *wrong* to feel unsafe and intimidated by many snorfietsers, and I don't think it's too surprising that people (including myself) have reacted defensively.

The fact that the blame for the lack of subjective safety can be firmly placed on inadequate infrastructure doesn't change the fact that the decision was made to remove bromfietsers from the cycle paths back in 1999, rather than to fix the infrastructure, and that the snorfiets category has (predictably) largely become a loophole for simply selling bromfietsen which aren't forced into unsafe situations on the road.

If you'd emphasised the "inadequate infrastructure making people feel unsafe, leading to inevitable conflicts and thus to hostility against the minority, because it's easier than fixing the infrastructure" point rather than spending most of your post trying to dismiss people's concerns (legitimate or not), I think you'd have had far more positive responses.

David Hembrow said...

Alyssa: Yes, racers are annoying at times, older people are annoying at times (riding along side by side slowly, impossible to warn that you want to pass because they can't hear your bell so you slow right down behind them), school-children are annoying because they ride in huge groups and don't pay attention etc. etc.

We can all find annoyance if we look for it.

I'm not sure where you got the impression that I said that subjective feelings were "wrong" wrt mopeds. Rather, I've pointed out from the beginning that I share many of the feelings that other people have about mopeds. Read the section "I don't even like mopeds" where I discuss why I don't like them and also say that "A just society doesn't pass laws based on nothing more than likes or dislikes of individual or even of majorities."

Sorry that the post is long, there was much to say because this post has the burden of disagreeing with many hundreds of anecdotes and assertions and so I addressed these first because they are in the most part irrational in the way that they are applied to mopeds.

Of course, if people comment without reading the entire thing then will miss the point.

If there's one thing that I've always emphasized in my blog it is the importance of good infrastructure, and that was addressed in this blog post just as it has been in many others. I've also commented many times about Amsterdam having far from the best infrastructure in the Netherlands and about this causing problems. It's surely one of the reasons for Amsterdam having a low rate of cycling to school relative to other parts of the country.

Banning bromfietsen in 1999 was merely an attempt to apply a sticking plaster to the bad infrastructure. Banning snorfietsen now will have the same effect. Amsterdam needs decent cycle-paths. BTW, see the caption to the photo under "subjective safety" above. This is a cycle-path a short distance from my home which has a perfect safety record and few complaints despite quite regular illegal use by brommers. The reason why is that it's built to an adequate standard to take the very mixed traffic.

The section "Real statistics and what cyclists really need" was in the blog post from the very beginning and provides the conclusion which reads as follows: "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."

You can read more of the same in a post from December. This was another example of where in the presence of inferior infrastructure you could find commentators blaming victims, even child victims, rather than calling for safe redesign to remove conflicts.

The easy and cheap way out is always to blame a minority. It's also easy to get publicity for this. However this it's not the solution for society's ills.

Jon said...

The reason cyclists, myself included, don't like mopeds is because they defy the unwritten rules of cycling. They give an unfair advantage to the rider, who passes the cyclists in their cycle-path without participating the physical labour required to be part of that space. It's irrational, but it's probably the same reason drivers hate cyclists when they pass them while they're stuck in traffic. It's also a middle finger to the environmental superiority cyclists enjoy, and the cycle path is an expression of that superiority. It's evidence of our righteousness.

Edas said...

David, it seems you don't understand how law enforcement works. In normal society if 3% of some group gets administrative fines, they changes to lawful citizens and tries to avoid getting one fine more. If HALF of moped drivers was checked in one year and speeding still is a problem in Amsterdam, this means either we have case with criminals or law is too strict. I think it is the first case. In that case society can't afford wasting police resources on some reckless minority.
BTW, you forgot once more to write something about weight of mopeds and protection of their users.

And my hint about alcohol levels is not without background: in UK this limit is 0,08%, in the Netherlands, France and most of Europe – 0,05%, but still UK is a country with least traffic accidents. Is this evidence, that legal alcohol limit in NL is too low without scientific backround and you should raise this limit?
Compare for yourself:

David Hembrow said...

Jon: I think that's a good part of it. As I point out above, I don't much like them either.

But not liking isn't a good enough reason to ban.

Edas: I don't like mopeds. The only reason why I've written about them is that I have an even more strong dislike of prejudice against an out-group. This blog post is about that prejudice and how it is similar to prejudice against cyclists in other nations.

The percentage of people from a particular group who are stopped by the police is a function of who the police target. Who the police target is a function of their own biases as well as who they have been told to target.

The translation which you quoted from before is slightly incorrect. Have you read the original document?

What it says about mopeds that in 2013, Amsterdam had 16000 man-hours available for traffic enforcement. A quarter of those hours were allocated to enforcing all laws for both the slow and fast mopeds. 3600 tickets were handed out to slow moped riders.

That's 3600 tickets amongst a claimed 30000 mopeds. Rather than half of the total as you claim, that's less than an eighth.

A quarter of available police time was used to check on law-breaking by users of a means of transport which makes 0.7% of all journeys in the city. The other 3/4 of the police time had to cover all other modes of transport. i.e. 99.3% of the total.

If a quarter of all traffic police time had been allocated specifically to checking cyclists without working lights or going the wrong way on one-way streets, or to finding out how many drivers of cars break speed limits then they would likely have handed out many thousands of tickets to those groups instead. If you look closely enough then you will find errant behaviour.

We're also given no context. How many tickets did cyclists and drivers receive in the same period remains unknown. In any case, these groups were not specifically targeted.

Nothing about this informs us about the relative rate of law breaking of moped riders vs. others. We only know that if you look particularly hard at moped riders then you will find law breaking.

It is a documented fact that some police forces in the UK stop black people 28 times more frequently than white people. As a result, it's hardly surprising that proportionately more black people end up in jail.

That may sound extreme, but it's the logical equivalent of what is happening here with moped riders. If you look particularly closely at one group then you will find a larger percentage of the law breaking by that one group. Personally, I abhor the prejudice used against both groups.

I didn't "forget" anything. The article was already finished. Anyway, your points are no more valid than the others which I have listed above:

Many vehicles for disabled people weigh as much or more than a moped and can legally be ridden or driven in on cycle-paths.

Your idea that mopeds provide a particularly high level of protection is somewhat undermined by the high numbers of moped riders who are themselves injured. The letter which you quoted indirectly from suggests that 16% of serious injuries and more than a quarter of all traffic deaths in Amsterdam are of snorfiets riders, even though they make up only 0.7% of the traffic.

Blood alcohol levels have nothing at all to do with this blog post. If you want to campaign for more drink driving, do it elsewhere.

Unknown said...

Very interesting article - makes good sense. I do, however, think speeding is a nightmare especially on cycle tracks.
An example here in Cambridge is the aggressive attitude of commuting cyclists along the towpath past Jesus Green swimming pool and onwards to Riverside and Stourbridge Common. Yes, it's due to inadequate infrastructure but human nature being what it is, you see the same attitude on the road & on footpaths.
Regardless of what vehicle is used, the rules will be frequently ignored at best and deliberately flouted at worst. The problem has deteriorated significantly since the Police abdicated their responsibility to police the roads. In large part due to sweeping cuts.
The only temporary solution I can see is to confiscate and crush all offenders vehicles. It may just force people to be considerate, but I won't be holding my breath.

David Hembrow said...

Thanks for you comments Joe. The tow path in Cambridge is one of the nicest routes in Cambridge for everyone, and that's why there are so many clashes. Crushing offenders' bikes would, as you say, only be a temporary "solution"...

Titus said...

In response to your post on June the 10th: Yes I do think that policy has to be based on more than just 'engineering' facts. This world-image only works if you assume people are rational beings and I think you'll agree they are not. We tried implementing such a technical rational world in the 50's and it did not work out.

Telling people who perceive mopeds as being to large for a cycle path: "well according to my ruler they are the same width as your bike" does not work.

Humans are 'limited' beings and in my eyes you have to design our public space with that in mind. For many elements of cycling infrastructure that you applaud I think you will not find scientific proof that they are statistically safer but they do make for a better experience.

David Hembrow said...

Titus: Thanks. That makes your position clearer.

I agree with very much of what you say. Subjective experience is very often not the same as objective fact and we must always take the subjective experience into account.

However, the situation with mopeds in the Netherlands has become very extreme. It's gone beyond the feelings of many people that they don't like mopeds and we now have unsubstantiated claims of them causing chaos and calls for them to be banned on the basis of that chaos.

It's fine to have an opinion, but not so good to force that opinion on other people as if it is a fact.

When people start talking of numbers of crashes (as they have) then that type of claim should be backed up by facts.

If it is not then we're really not behaving in a rational manner at all. This becomes pure prejudice.

As for the 1950s, many errors were made in that decade just as they are in every other decade.

During the 1950s, the cold war (based largely on myths about the weapons which the other side supposedly had) grew more and more serious, investment in cycling was low and the extent to which people rode bikes was dropping year on year. Racism was rampant and there was a very low awareness of environmental issues.

I don't think you can blame many of the mistakes made in the 1950s on a "technical rational" way of thinking.

As for the safety of particular types of cycling infrastructure, well that's an interesting story as well. Sadly, the Netherlands has in recent years rather turned its back on facts and is very much headed towards a less rational way of viewing things. This is especially the case with Shared Space, which has proven not to be safe at all, and with roundabout designs, where a less safe type has become widespread.

Many of the problems facing the Netherlands now can be seen as being symptomatic of having abandoned some of the rationality which led to great social and economic progress in this country.

The moped hysteria is but one small part of this.

Unknown said...

I cannot help myself (my mind) to return to the 'feeling of unsafety' each time several mopeds pass me by (close, too close) on the Hoogeveen cyclepaths. No 'sharing' with other users of the cyclepath can be observed by 'them'. The percieved safety index drops temporally. This feeling is so strong, that I now feel that the unsafe moments on the cyclepath are exclusively moped events. I've started looking for windy, narrow routes (my cycling behaviour has changed). I'm 50, used the bicycle to work (3km) for 20 years, and rather enjoy the busy cross-sections where I always seem to flick and time at just the right time to 'not have to break', so I would (still) think I'm a robust, confident, thick skinned, cycler. These mopeds now, they have changed my behaviour. And the most annoying is their inability to share, to always want to ignore that the cycle path is too busy, and to push, push, push for their maximum speed limit. Guess what the elder and young children would feel?. Therefore, I rather like the proposal of the fearmongers, I don't share their selected tactic (there I can agree with this article), but to relocate them mopeds to the motorised traffic lanes is perfect for them (now they can show, I mean really show, how good a driver they are, and how silly those cars are) and for me, I can, again, look forward to taking the bike home from work.

Architectonic said...

I think the key point is that mopeds make cyclists feel uncomfortable. Likewise, residents who have to deal with noisy smelly mopeds vs cyclists.

It may be partly due to the behaviour of a minority of moped riders who ride aggressively and faster than 25 km/h, and the smelly pollution of petrol powered bikes.

In Australia, all the mopeds that are not legally registered (50km/ road ridden), were effectively banned in a high court decision.

I like the idea of banning the relics of yesteryear - two stroke tools and vehicles, they are simply unnecessary for most tasks when alternatives exist.

David Hembrow said...

Hugo: A lot of the problem of cycle-paths being "too busy" is actually due to them being of inadequate design for current levels of traffic.

As you know, Hoogeveen's cycle-paths are not entirely optimal. There are many which are too narrow, especially near the centre of the town. I've often found myself at this junction, for instance, where it is difficult to continue in a straight line going North because of the bad design of the corner and the cycle-path continuing from here is narrow, bumpy and uncomfortable.

In places like this, the problems caused by mopeds are exacerbated. It is unfortunate that people see a campaign against some users of the cycle-paths being an answer to this problem when the correct response is to improve facilities to a better standard so that they're better for everyone.

Andrew: Personally I think it's well past the time when two-stroke engines ought to start to be phased out. But how should this happen ? It's not really fair to ban people from using the lawnmower that they bought last week, so any ban is likely to take the form of making them no longer available from new.

As it happens, "noisy smelly mopeds" are slowly being replaced of their own accord as people increasingly buy electric mopeds instead. They're still a small percentage of the market, but they're the fastest growing part without any legal intervention. This could easily be helped along by banning sales of new two-stroke engines.

But that's not what is happening. Rather, we see a proposal to ban people overnight from the cycle-paths, with an assumption of collective guilt applied even to people who ride responsibly on quiet and non-smelly electrically driven mopeds limited to 25 km/h.

25 km/h is not fast. This speed is very often exceeded by very normal looking cyclists on normal bikes. On any given morning you'll find many school children riding faster than this if they're late for school. What's more, an increasingly large number of pensioners have bikes which electric motors which can exceed this speed.

That's what I don't like about this proposal. It's not a rational response to harm (either physical injury, noise or pollution).

What's more, it's simply not reasonable to blame all users of one mode of transport for the problems caused by a few. That in principle is no different to the way in which cyclists are targeted in other countries.

r s thompson said...

........but in other countries cyclists are considered in the same way as moped riders are here. i.e. "lycra louts" and worse............

is that subjective?

r s thompson said...

.........If there was a real problem then there would be real evidence to support it.......

true enough i guess...would you agree that because there may some evidence that you havent seen or located that a real problem could be happening??

David Hembrow said...

R: This post didn't come from nowhere. At least a year has passed since I first asked someone who claimed to have figures if they could show them to me.

Like any rational person, I'd change my position based on evidence. In this case there is a distinct lack of evidence but much emotion.

r s thompson said...

i dotn know if the article is or blabbed imaginings from a lying fraud.

why not make a limit on combined rider wieght combo on bike paths and let be speed be higher based on peak use times. signs could accoplish this easily. just keep the gas motors on the street. most netherlands city streets are stop and go enough that mopeds can move easily with the traffic flow. ban 50cc and below from highways.

Pedal Pusher said...

good piece.
we all need to "live a let live" a bit more sometimes.

AZ said...

Very interesting debate, in Spain we have a similar issue between the cyclist and the pedestrians in pedestrian zones. At the end it is a matter of respect.
- the weak doesnt like the strong, it makes him feel unsafe
- does a majority have the right to impose something to a minority when a part of the minority behaves wrong?
If the cyclist shows respects for the pedestrian in a pedestrian zone, and the mopped shows respect for the cyclist in the fietspad, the understanding is easier,
but " if you are bigger than me, you are in my habitat and dont respect me...get the hell out of here"

( even if I like an strong defense of ones ideas, the debate gets richer when you agree with part of the opposing ideas, the debate can get further on the subject)

David Hembrow said...

Alvaro: What I find interesting is that in the Netherlands, cycling is specifically allowed in many pedestrianized zones and ignored in most of those where it is not allowed.

Of course some people behave stupidly on bikes in the Netherlands, just as they do elsewhere, but because cyclists are not an out-group here, individuals might be criticised, members of identifiable sub-groups of cyclists might be criticised, but cyclists in general are always tolerated.

Unknown said...

Long, but very worthwhile post. That's interesting, about the design of rural paths, and I particularly enjoyed the detail about class-prejudice filtering into the impressions dutch people have of moped users- which part of town they come from and so on. As a variant of the 'culture' obfuscation we sometimes hear that the Dutch cycle 'because they have a classless society' or some such rot.

I'm with you in a) not liking mopeds on the cyclepath and b) wanting better reasons for banning stuff than not liking them.

Would a general principle of calculating danger posed via speed and mass offer anything of that sort? Speed, I think you've dealt with. Mass I'm less clear about.

I particularly agree with you about the helmet business, which I heard put to me in one Amsterdam Fietswinkel as a subterfuge for getting rid of mopeds, but is as you say hugely illogical.

I'd also agree about 2strokes- though I'd fear that if I banned them on pollution grounds I might have had the secret aim of getting rid of mopeds. It might to begin with restrict their use to those rich enough to go electric -or might otherwise kickstart the electric moped market to such an extent that they became cheap and ubiquitous rather quickly.

Unknown said...

Perhaps I should add, on the speed/mass question. One thing to avoid is treating the two matters separately. It's of the essence that the faster things are more dangerous if more massive, so one can't just say 'there are things as fast as mopeds' and 'there are things as massive as mopeds' -if the fast (wielrenners) and massive (mobility scooters) are different things, then the argument is not necessarily taken forward by citing them *in turn* as a precedent for mopeds.

But: tandems, cargobikes... fast & massive. Hm.

Your diagnosis that the agitation basically stems from these paths reaching capacity (curse of success), and that it is fatal to seek a scapegoat /group to exclude rather than to increase allocation of space to the paths from cars, starts to look pretty plausible.

The subjective safety concern is telling up to a point, but not, I suppose, capable of justifying anything at all. I mean, if people suddenly became convinced that greened-eyed persons were a menace to other citizens (and this kind of thing has happened) that wouldn't of itself justify excluding green eyed people from busses and cyclepaths, outwith some evidence that the feeling of danger has a real basis. With the subjective safety issue as it relates to Cars, we have that in spades, and you are right to go looking for it, about Mopeds. Perhaps a start, and a concilliatory response to the fears, would be to press to collect better Data? Though I'm not sure exactly what you should be measuring. If there were two dutch cities with hugely contrasting rates of moped use and comparable infra, that might offer a way in for science?

David Robjant

Unknown said...

There's also a problem here, I suffer from, that I tend to react against bad arguments so strongly that I can end up rejecting their conclusions, even when the conclusions are fair ones, if otherwise arrived at.

Supposing people stopped deploying anecdote and displaying attitudes towards an outgroup, and instead argued, simply, that they wish to use these paths for the promotion of active travel, so far as practicable without curtailing the mobility of the disabled.

Mightn't it be reasonable to exclude scooters lacking in pedal drive, on that basis? This would be a departure from a safety argument, and could even imperil scooter users. But: possibly safety doesn't exclude all the thing we can care about, with road use?

You are right to respond critically to the arguments as offered. But it might be that those arguments are bad arguments in part because they are not the real arguments. If so, honest statement of the real rationale might be a useful contribution to the debate, to be got from challenging the offered rationale.


Anonymous said...

A remark about the note on kinetic energy. Although I think your basic point that mass and speed squared are both relevant, I think that your example calculations are not accurate and give overestimated numbers.

The very basic physics of collisions involves energy (E = 1/2 m v^2) and momentum (P = m v). Total momentum can be assumed preserved if you do not collide with a fixed object. The point of e.g. a head-on collision is that--even if a racing cyclist and car would have same speed--the car has larger momentum, therefore the velocity of both after the collision will be almost equal to the initial velocity of the car. Thus the velocity change of the cyclist is approximately the sum of the itself and the car, and therefore the effective energy to be dissipated E = 1/2 m (v1+v2)^2 where m is the cyclist's mass. This is a lot larger than what would happen in a head-on collision with another cyclist, but not quite your calculation.

One can take the following thought experiment: a cyclist hitting a car head-on, both at 30 km/h cannot be worse than a cyclist hitting a wall at 60 km/h, but the latter does not require the cyclist to dissipate the amount of energy you quote.

Of course all of this ignores any details of the collision itself...

David Hembrow said...


Your calculation is correct. There are many ways in which one can imagine a crash taking place in a different way resulting in a different amount of energy being dissipated by the cyclist under different circumstances. It would be impossible to fully describe every scenario here. For instance, in your example of the cyclist who finds himself travelling at 30 km/h backwards after this collision there will be a secondary impact at that speed which would not result from cycling into a wall.

The same considerations also apply to cycle-cycle collisions which I have similarly exaggerated. However this helps to maintain the obviously greater risk which results from
The extra energy available whenever a motor vehicle is involved, due to mass and velocity.

However, by discussing these calculations in a footnote of the blog post, the main point is being lost. The most important issue here lies in human psychology not in physics:

When some people are picked out from a larger group and labelled as different this creates an out-group who are open to accusations of causng problems which don't really exist. That is precisely what has happened since this blog post was originally written, with cyce racers now being the brunt of criticisms. The example from Franeker is a case in point:

Where the cycle-path narrows and becomes bumpy, it is cycle racers and velomobile riders who are being singled out for criticism and to whom accuations of causing danger are being pointed. These calls have even been acted on by a cyclists' organisation itself. And all this has happened rather than calls being made to bring this cycle-path up to standard and despite the complete lack of any evidence that it truly is a dangerous situation. There were no reported crashes or injuries of cyclists at this location in a five year period. So how can it be made safer ?

Just a few hundred metres west there have been two actual cyclist deaths during that same five year period, due to cyclists being hit by trucks. There are also other locations where thre have been injuries. Why is this not the focus of campaigning by Fietsersbond rather than punishing a subgroup of cyclists for an illusory danger ?

Koen said...

The cycle paths along the North and South Holland coastline through the dunes is notorious for these conflicts. Now that would be a good place to build a speed cycle path, and keep the old one as a recreative cycle path. I really believe it's time or such an experiment.

David Hembrow said...

kegge13: Speedpedelecs potentially travel at a speed more akin to bromfietsen than snorfietsen and they should perhaps be treated in a similar way. I'd like to see a ban on 2-stroke motors (for all purposes as I point out above) but simply in order to be fair to people who bought a snorfiets yesterday this should be brought in over a period of time.

Re-thinking the design of cycle-paths is of course the real solution to the problem, as you also point out.

Koen: Yes, those are busy paths. Your suggestion would be a positive development. It's precisely the sort of thing that an effective cycling organisation should call for, rather than passing blame for conflicts onto a sub-group of cyclists and suggesting that they should join the road.

Multiparty Democracy Today said...

I made a video about defending mopeds, and other users, disability scooters, segways, ebikes, I should have mentioned velomobiles and racers, and also recumbents. I slightly increased the speed to 30 km/h for urban cycle paths and 50 km/h for rural cycle paths for those with motor power, I should have made it clear that I won't add a speed limit for human powered vehicles. Anyway, it might be worth a look.

Chogori said...

Your maths is all wrong, I'm sorry to say. First, the equation for KE uses SI units which means that v (velocity) has to be in meters per second, not km per hour. That is a factor of 3.6. Secondly, the physics you mention is at best misleading. So if 2 bikes collide at 20 kmh, you say that they have to dissipate twice the energy each of them has. So do they collide head on? Like straight into each other? I have NEVER seen that happen. NEVER. My guess would be that most collisions happen at an angle - someone overtaking you, crossing your path ... in those instances not all KE is dissipated in the crash. I don't think that just adding up the KE is the correct way of thinking about it. For example, what matters in a car collision is what happens at impact, not how the energy is dissipated. Energy doesn't injure you. Forces too great do. So we have to talk about forces and not energy and that is very complicated. This is to say that the speed differential is what matters and 20-35 and 35-50 is the same provided all are the same vehicle. The reason that a car is dangerous is not the speed (then a 50 kmh cyclist would be equally as dangerous as a car), but the fact that on impact, the car doesn't absorb any energy, it's all the cyclist. Just my 2 cents ...

David Hembrow said...

Chogori: First of all, it's impossible to analyze all possible collisions and yes its true that many crashes occur at angles. However in any collision all the energy of all the participants has to go somewhere.

When involved in a collision with a heavier, faster and harder vehicle like a car, cyclists are always the vulnerable party who will absorb most of the energy. What's more, participants in crashes don't behave like identical rubber balls but are likely involved in a third collision.

The mass of a colliding object always matters. If you're hit by a tennis ball which is travelling at 50 km/h that will never cause the same damage as being hit by a car at 50 km/h, regardless of what you yourself are doing. This doesn't only apply to cyclists or only to humans, even if you're sitting within a relatively solid object like a car you'll notice a crash with another car far more than you'll notice if your car is hit by a tennis ball travelling at the same speed.

You can apply any of this (e.g. tennis ball vs cyclist vs car) to any collision at any angle. All the energy has to be accounted for.

An example: If you're cycling at 35 km/h and hit from behind by a car travelling at 50 km/h, what happens ?

1. The car has a far higher mass so its speed isn't affected very much by to collision. Meanwhile, the cyclist will be injured by being hit by a hard object at a higher speed which will also cause a sudden acceleration due to difference in masses and far higher kinetic energy of the car. The cyclist may well end up travelling at something close to the speed of the car depending on the collision.

2. What happens next ? It's unlikely that the cyclist will retain control and continue to ride at 50 km/h so you can reasonably expect a secondary collision in which a barely protected human body will collide with something else, perhaps another vehicle, perhaps the road surface, perhaps a kerb or bollard at a speed of about 50 km/h.

3. While this is going on, the car is also still travelling at much the same speed as it was before. Perhaps the driver has used the brakes to slow a little, but there is a chance of a tertiary incident in which the car now hits the cyclist again, perhaps resulting in crushed between a car and a heavy solid object on the street.

By comparison, while a tennis ball might have hit the cyclist at the same speed from the same angle, the likely outcome from that collision is that the cyclist shouts "ouch". If two cyclists had collided at cycling speeds, the likely outcome is that they fall, but no-one will be crushed.

When a heavy and fast object such as a car is involved in a collision it will always bring more energy which must go somewhere. This is why the resulting collisions are far more lethal than those which arise due to two cyclists with differing speeds colliding with one another or due to a cyclist colliding with a pedestrian, or indeed due to any hypothetical collision between tennis balls and human beings.