Monday 8 September 2014

Does free car parking make people drive cars ? Certainly not when there is a better alternative

A supermarket in the centre of Assen in the 1970s. Note that the car-park is more than full. Conditions for cycling were not particularly pleasant at this time and it should be no surprise that cycling was in decline across the Netherlands when this photo was taken.
It's not unusual to hear calls from cyclists, especially cycling campaigners, for an increase in the price of car parking. The belief is that increasing the cost of driving is essential to prevent other people from choosing to drive cars, and it's usually assumed that this will somehow make those other people then choose to cycle. I've always found this to be a strange belief, especially when it is expressed by people who can well afford to park a car but who prefer to cycle because they enjoy it.

My personal choice to cycle has never really been about saving money. I cycle because of convenience and because I find cycling to be pleasant. I've always believed that if other people could find cycling to be as convenient, safe and pleasant as I find it then this would enable those other people to make the same choice as I do. No-one needs to be forced to do something that they want to do anyway.

Sadly, few places in the world offer people a genuinely free choice to cycle.

Outside the new supermarket on the same site as above with a study tour group last week. This shopping centre has cycle-paths at one end and other well designed infrastructure at the other end providing safe routes to both doors. Bicycles can be taken inside and parked right next to the shops. Car parking is free of charge for shoppers but cycling is the most popular way of visiting the supermarket.
Cycling in most towns does not feel safe. That makes cycling not particularly pleasant for most people. What's more, routes shared with cars result in cycle journeys rarely being much quicker than driving. When people choose to drive under conditions hostile to cycling we need to recognize that a rational choice is being made given the options available.

While conditions for cycling are unpleasant, people will continue to pay to park their cars almost regardless of how much it costs. They'll certainly complain more if it gets more expensive, but it will take extremely high prices to force people to stop driving and instead do something that they find to be dangerous and unpleasant, and this of course impacts harder on those whose wallets are less full.

On the other hand, if we make conditions for cycling pleasant, people will choose to cycle even if parking is cheap or free of charge. We see this at many locations in Assen, as there are many locations here where free parking does not fill up. The supposed lure of free parking turns out not to be very strong at all when people actually have a more pleasant and convenient alternative.

The same shopping centre, Triade, from the air, showing the high rise car parks above the shops. The top floor above the supermarket is, as usual, completely empty. Though this car park is free of charge if you visit the supermarket during your stay, that's not a sufficient attraction to make people drive when cycle-access is more convenient. View Larger Map

Other examples
By creating attractive conditions for mass cycling, people from all walks of life now have a free choice. The population reacted by opting to cycle instead of driving this is more convenient. While car ownership is quite high, those cars are not used for every journey. More journeys are made by bike than by car in Assen.

There's free car parking at many locations in Assen but though car parking is so often free of charge, those car parks remain relatively empty. Rather than trying to push people out of cars by charging high rates for parking, Assen demonstrates a more successful and less controversial way of encouraging people not to drive cars: a better alternative exists in the form of the bicycle.

You can't find this free covered underground car park on Google Maps. It's under a different shopping centre, which we also visit on study tours. I've never seen it even close to full. Most visitors prefer to park their bikes above, right next to the shops.
It's easy for anyone to look at Google Maps and view aerial photography of car-parks in Assen. You'll find them not to be particularly large for the population of the city, but still to be largely empty:

Free car parking at "big box shops" - garden centre, carpets, furniture etc. Shopping by car is relatively popular here because of the size and weight of items being bought. However, cycle-access is good: note proximity of cycle-paths. View Larger Map

Free employee parking at a health insurance company, a relatively large employer near the centre of the city. Remember that employees at Dutch companies are actually paid extra to cover the cost of long car commutes. Note easy access by cycle-paths on all sides. View Larger Map

Free employee parking at the oil company which is one of the biggest employers in Assen. Cycle-paths provide good access here too. View Larger Map

Assen's hospital
Given that people visit hospitals only under difficult conditions, it is especially unpleasant that charges at hospitals should be used to try to force people to change their behaviour. Thankfully, Assen does not do this. The hospital in Assen offers free parking for both cars and bicycles. I made a video of the public cycle and car parking at the hospital a few days ago:

Like many places in Assen, the hospital offers free car parking.

Another not so busy day at Assen
hospital's never full free car-park
While both cycling and driving are easy, the cycle-routes to the hospital in Assen make cycling into a pleasant way of making this journey. This encourages people to cycle, whether patients, visitors or staff.

People are more likely to drive to a hospital than many other locations because transporting someone who has discomfort due to illness or injury by bike may not be a good idea, but even in this location the car parking rarely, if ever, fills up.

In this image from Google Maps, just as in real life, the car parks are not nearly full. Free parking is not really an attractor. It doesn't make people feel they have to drive when driving is otherwise less convenient than cycling. Cycle-paths are shown in red - leading right up to the hospital main entrance.
Car-park pricing should not be a campaigning issue for cyclists
Free parking advertised in the local
news-paper. Convenient for some,
causes no problem for everyone else.
41% of journeys are by bike. Fewer
that are by car.
Assen proves that a high car parking cost is not actually necessary at all in order to achieve a high cycling modal share. What's more, this is a relatively prosperous part of the world so its also not necessary to

To grow cycling, it's necessary to convert non-cyclists into cyclists. When the majority of the population either already drive cars or see themselves as future drivers, there is nothing to be gained by antagonizing or alienating that majority.

Sign of a successful cycling policy. It
costs just €28 per month to hire a space
in a secure parking garage in the centre
of Assen (300 m from the main square).
The low price reflects extremely low
parking demand. Capitalism in action.
There may well be good reason for higher car parking charges in some cities, but that's not a discussion which cycling campaigners should be involved with. It is better that parking charges are decided on grounds other than that some members of a group representing a small minority perhaps do not like cars. Cycling issues overlap with but are not strictly environmental issues. Cycling campaigners campaigning against cars can foster an "us vs. them" mentality and make it more difficult for people who do not currently cycle to become cyclists.

Do you want to reduce dependency on
motor vehicles? Follow the Dutch
example: A higher proportion of trips
by non-motorized modes than people
of any other European nation. This
is not because of environmental
concerns but because it's most
convenient. And most importantly it's
despite the attraction of free parking.
(see also the list of myths and excuses)
What cyclists need most is better infrastructure. When there's a comprehensive grid of high quality cycle routes which goes everywhere, when distances on those cycle routes are shorter than distances by car, and when all three types of safety have been taken care of then this maximises the attractiveness of cycling. Dedicated cyclists will make the maximum number of journeys under such conditions.

However, not only does this provide the best environment for existing cyclists to make efficient journeys but it also provides the best environment possible to encourage people who do not currently cycle that they would also benefit from doing so - a step which they are far more likely to make if they do not see cyclists as "other".

It is better for cycle campaigners to spend their time on making conditions for cycling more attractive than on being concerned about the conditions for driving. The Netherlands demonstrates that this is more successful.

Cycling should be for everyone
A few weeks ago,the BBC reported on a woman in London who has no choice but to walk seven miles to her minimum wage job because she can't afford a car and public transport takes too large a chunk out of her small salary.

Still not close to good enough, London.
Simultaneous Green, Bridge, Tunnel,
Proper Roundabout, anything but that.
An increase in the price of car parking does nothing to stop people who already can't afford to drive from driving. It does nothing to help those who are also already priced out of public transport. Walking for so long each day cannot be convenient, but cycling is still not seen as an option. People in similar situations could be very well served by cycling but this will happen only if the conditions for riding a bike in become considerably more attractive than they are now. Sadly, London cycling conditions remain unattractive and there are still no plans to provide the city with what it really needs.

Rich people have far more options than the less well off. Those on a limited income suffer a disproportionate discrimination through costs which are not proportional to income. If the current least bad option for someone is to drive a car (which is the case for some people) then making this more expensive can make life very difficult for that person. Simply increasing costs does not provide people with another better choice.

Unlike increasing the cost of parking and also unlike the cost of public transport, making cycling more accessible is not regressive. Cycling infrastructure opens up a new option for everyone regardless of their wealth. Cycling is a great social leveller here in the Netherlands and it has the same potential in other countries. But this doesn't come without investment in proper cycling infrastructure.

When good enough conditions exist for cycling, it moves from being a minority pursuit to something that everyone can and wants to do. Some people might still be forced to cycle for financial reasons, some might do so purely because it's good for their health and there are certainly quite a lot of people across the world including here in the Netherlands who cycle simply because they like cycling. However, for cycling to become attractive and useful for the majority of people, the reasons to cycle must be those of convenience, pleasantness and relative safety.

Why can't all children everywhere live like Dutch children ?
It is at that point that the whole population starts to benefit. It also makes your children happy.

Why isn't every country doing this already ?

Update: The end of free parking in Assen!
I went away for a few days and returned to see the following headline in a local newspaper:
The end of free parking ? So soon after I'd written about it ? Read on. Note also that this refers to just one free parking area near the city centre. Others will remain free of charge.
It's an interesting story. A modification of the current policy.

I'm not the only person to have noticed that car parks in Assen, whether paid or free, are mostly empty. The council has realised this too. Car parking is supposed to be revenue neutral but because car parks "are largely empty and economically unsustainable", the city has had to subsidize car parking in Assen. Instead of subsidizing the car parks, the city wants to make them pay.

In an attempt to attract drivers into the largely empty high-rise car parks, the city actually intends to decrease the cost of using these car parks. The all-day rate in Assen's high-rise car parks is to be halved from the current €12 to just €6 a day. At the same time, the city will increase the cost of on-street parking and remove free parking close to the city centre in order to give drivers fewer options and force higher use of the high-rise car parks.

It's not a punitive move - it's merely a way of trying to make provision of parking in Assen become revenue neutral.

1974: At one time, Assen couldn't provide enough car parking. This is how the main city square was used. See the video below for an update
Next to most cities, this is very much a luxury problem. It is a sign of a successful cycling policy that the car parks are not all already full.

Rather than not being able to provide enough spaces to keep up with car parking need, Assen's population's use of bicycles has led to there being an over-supply of car-parking spaces and not enough cars to fill them.

2014: The same city square today. It's used for events, not for parking. This is just one of many places in Assen which is no longer a car park.
January 2015 update
As described above, the council has now changed their policy and there is no longer free parking in Assen. This was covered in the local newspaper:

The result of charging just €5 per day for the previously free car-park at Veemarkt just outside the centre of Assen is that almost no-one uses it any more. Hence the picture of an empty parking lot in the newspaper. People prefer to pay €6 per day to park nearer the centre.

Also as a result of this, the same local newspaper carried a full page advertisement on the back cover from the supermarket at that location offering free parking to anyone who spends €25.

An unfortunate side-effect of encouraging drivers to use car parks which are closer to the centre of the city is that roads nearer the centre now have more cars on them. This has resulted in more problems for cyclists using the inadequate infrastructure at the cultural centre and the Kerkplein.

Read an update about problems which resulted from the extra traffic.

In answer to the question posed at the top, does free car parking making people drive cars ? No. It clearly does not. But making cycling unpleasant certainly stops them from cycling, and that is when people can feel they have no choice but to drive. Where cycling is made truly attractive, people no longer have to drive and car parks can become difficult to run on an economic basis.


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog post, David, and especially pertinent to something I've been thinking about recently: My sister has got a new job in the centre of Leeds. She lives on the outskirts less than five miles from the city centre.

But she feels that the only real travel option is to drive in to the centre, despite the awful traffic jams caused by thousands of other people also sat alone in large space- and fuel-hungry vehicles all heading to the same area to pay high fees to store those vehicles for the day.

In her mind, like many people in Leeds, driving is the cheapest, easiest, most effective mode of transport. And I don't blame them – I felt the same when I lived there.

It's a real shame that a 25 minute bike ride simply isn't an option. People in Leeds have so little choice when it comes to transport. It's a city that's been designed to make you drive everywhere.

As you say, the high cost of parking in Leeds hasn't made her - or the thousands of others making the same journey - consider other options (maybe the overpriced bus was considered, but cycling certainly wasn't!).

Cycling would be simply too awful along those roads in Leeds, despite ample space for proper cycleways. I don't blame anybody in Leeds for choosing to pay for car parking over cycling, and I wouldn't recommend cycling there to anybody I know.

user1 said...

Just one question: can e-bikes be ridden inside this shopping centre just like any other bicycles?

David Hembrow said...

DfT: It's a dilemma, isn't it. I'd like to be able to recommend to all my friends and family in the UK that they cycle - but I can't. Not until they can do so in safety.

As we've noted before, people drive in the UK for precisely the same journeys as people cycle in the Netherlands. It's hardly surprising given conditions on the roads.

User1: Actually, you're not supposed to ride either type of bike within the shopping centre. If a security guard sees you do this, he'll wiggle his finger at you and ask you to dismount. E-bikes are not treated any differently to any other bicycle. Many pensioners use their e-bikes to go shopping and bring them inside here. It causes no problem at all. Many of those same pensioners will hop on their e-bikes before they've reached the door. That also causes no problem.

Occasionally, a teenager will demonstrate their ability to do a wheelie the entire length of the shopping centre. They risk a telling off from the security guard, but most people just smile.

Cyclists are not an out-group in the Netherlands. Their behaviour is not scrutinized.

user1 said...

Thanks for the quick reply. Yet it seems that I'd like to find answers to some more questions :) Some time ago you made a video about actually cycling inside the shopping mall:
Is/was it illegal (but maybe acceptable) or it was a different shopping mall? If it's the latter, then were e-bikes treated differently? Do you know of any place in the Netherlands where cycling is allowed, but not riding e-bikes? That information would be useful in this discussion:

David Hembrow said...

User1: Yes that's the same place (but truly awful video!). It's not illegal to cycle there, but frowned upon by the owners of the building. A large proportion of people get on their bikes before they reach the door.

No-one gives two hoots about e-bikes. They are allowed absolutely everywhere that any other bike is allowed and this causes absolutely no problem whatsoever.

E-bikes provide mobility assistance for older people or for people with disabilities. In doing this, they're rather wonderful. The Netherlands has more over 65s cycling now than in the past in no small part because e-bikes help them to continue to cycle.

I think it's rather sad to see someone young and fit riding an e-bike, but that is quite rare.

Note that I'm talking about e-bikes limited to 25 km/h, which are quite common, and not high speed e-bikes. Those are generally considered to be equivalent to mopeds (soon this will be legally the case) and they are not tolerated in the same way.

I have reservations about e-bikes, but not because they cause a problem for other cyclists. Rather, I find the extremely short life of these bikes to be a problem, relative to a proper Dutch utility bicycle. There are too many unreliable parts, and such things as the control electronics and batteries are often proprietary and too expensive to replace on machines which are a few years old.

There are more blog posts about e-bikes.

42apples said...

"They'll certainly complain more if it gets more expensive, but it will take extremely high prices to force people to stop driving and instead do something that they find to be dangerous and unpleasant, and this of course impacts harder on those whose wallets are less full."
You can't talk about a whole population with respect to pricing. On the margin, charging a small amount for parking will entice some people who were considering alternatives (whether carpooling, transit, walking, biking, or fewer trips) to change their behavior.

"On the other hand, if we make conditions for cycling pleasant, people will choose to cycle even if parking is cheap or free of charge. "
That's a cultural thing too. Even at its worst, I'm sure there were more people cycling in your town than there are where I live in the US today.

"We see this at many locations in Assen, as there are many locations here where free parking does not fill up."
That's true in the US too. Largely due to parking minimum requirements. Also some places will only fill up on holidays.

"It does nothing to help those who are also already priced out of public transport."
Actually, this isn't true. There's no such thing as a free lunch-money and space spent on excessive parking could be used for transit, housing, etc. Read "The High Cost of Free Parking".

If land is plentiful and cheap, then the market price for parking is likely negligible. But that's not the case for most downtowns or for dense cities.

As far as bicycling is concerned, cities outside the Netherlands are built out without much undeveloped land left and without safe bike lanes. The only way to add infrastructure is to remove parking and/or traffic lanes. Already this imposes a time cost for driving and/or parking unless congestion is mitigated with a proper price.

David Hembrow said...

Naor: Please take a look at other blog posts showing how much car parking and through traffic was removed from the centres of cities here in the Netherlands.

Dutch cities in the 1970s were far more similar to what you have now than you might realise. In many cases they were actually modelled on American designs, which were considered to be futuristic before people realised what huge problems this car dominance caused.

42apples said...

"In many cases they were actually modelled on American designs."

I definitely realize this having spent a day in Rotterdam recently (where car traffic is still just as awful if not worse than most US cities). The difference is, you still put in segregated bike paths throughout most of the city.

I'll agree with you that pricing parking is not so much a pro-cycling policy as a policy to efficiently price road space that will in equilibrium result in slightly more cycling.

By the way, although cycling is great in the Netherlands, car traffic is still quite bad:

user1 said...

Thanks, by now that's all I wanted to know.

Just to finish the off topic about e-bikes: it's no surprise that in such flat country like the Netherlands so few young people buy them, but in hilly cities they can be really helpful and indeed - the only option for many people.

As for unreliable parts - you're right, I learned the hard way. Now I'm sending back to the dealer the controller which stopped working after rainy weather. My suggestion is that when you buy an e-bike (or a conversion kit), then choose one with the controller which can be easily sealed against water, i. e. not inside the wheel.
E-bikes are in a relatively early stage of development and I hope that in the future they will be as reliable as typical Dutch bicycles.

Kevin Love said...

Point well taken about hospital parking. Here in Toronto, many downtown hospitals provide zero car parking as a public health measure. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has found that motorists poison and kill 440 people in Toronto every year. So the medical establishment is trying to discourage car driving.

The strategy in the suburbs where hospitals tend to have existing car parking lots, has been to discourage car parking by charging very high rates. One of our main suburban hospitals, Sunnybrook Hospital, charges car parking at a rate of $9.50 per hour (cleverly advertised as $4.75 per half hour) to a daily maximum of $24. Rather expensive.

But Sunnybrook is in a suburb with a built form that discourages cycling. The road to Sunnybrook, Bayview Avenue, is profoundly hostile, and unpleasant, with high-speed car traffic. Needless to say, very few people can be seen cycling on it.

There is frequent public transit service, with busses to the two nearby subway stations at frequencies of less than 10 minutes. But for many people, driving a car is still the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting there.

So guess what! Many, many people still drive cars. It doesn’t matter that the medical establishment pleads with people to stop driving cars because they poison and kill 440 people in Toronto every year. Car drivers just don’t care.

Source for hospital car parking rates:

But note how their downtown location has zero car parking:

Unknown said...

In Toronto, the main issues surrounding car parking aren't related so much to price as to space. Motorists are addicted to free or low-cost on-street parking. They put up huge amounts of resistance whenever cycling advocates propose that a bike lane be built in space currently occupied by on-street motor vehicle parking. The Toronto Parking Authority, which operates on-street parking (as well as city-owned parking lots and garages) earns tens of millions of dollars in profits --even though its rates aren't especially high. Most of this money isn't re-invested in better parking facilities. It goes straight to the city's general revenues coffers.

To improve cycling conditions in Toronto we need more bike lanes, and to achieve this goal we need to eliminate a certain amount of on-street car parking. The money is there to build alternatives such as new garages or parking lots. But motorists insist on being able to park on the street as close to their destination as possible. It's this expectation – much more than cheap parking rates – that must change.

David Hembrow said...

Unknown: I understand your concern and the problem is not unique.

Of course motorists (a majority) react badly when cyclists (a minority and out-group) try to impose more difficult conditions for parking their cars. What would you expect ?

This is exactly the sort of fight that cycle campaigners should make sure they never get involved in as it creates conflict and may well turn off some potential cyclists.

What's more, there's not even any good reason to create this conflict. You can offer drivers something positive instead:

While people often imagine it to be otherwise, driving is actually very easy in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the worst city for driving but even commuting by car in the rush hour there isn't all that painful. Amsterdam is rated as better for car driving commuters than Toronto.

These are the statistics to show to your opponents. If Toronto was made like a Dutch city, then driving would become easier.

Everyone stands to gain from redeveloping city centres as they Dutch redeveloped them.

Note that the rate of car ownership in the Netherlands isn't far behind the rate in Canada. Dutch drivers are no different to Canadian drivers. They're all human beings with the same needs.

However, the Dutch have been given a real choice about how they make their journeys. That is why they don't feel they need to drive for every journey or to drive right to the outside of every shop, though in most cases nothing actually stops people from doing this if they want to.

Where there is a need to drive to shops to collect large items (refrigerators, TVs, furniture etc.), the parking is almost always free of charge. See the pictures above of parking by large stores. What's more, it's almost always mostly empty - meaning that people don't waste time looking for a parking space near to their destination.

42apples said...

Parking is never "free of charge." It's just incorporated into the price of whatever you buy. Companies can provide parking if that feel that it's essential for business. The fact is, free public parking does encourage more driving and providing excess parking takes space and money that could have been used for other purposes (bike lanes, retail, housing, parkspace, etc).

By the way, parking in Amsterdam is more expensive than in Toronto. The most expensive parking I could find is 3.85 euros/hour compared to 5 euros/hour in Amsterdam. And park-and-ride stations are even cheaper. I believe the price of gas is more expensive in Amsterdam than in Toronto too (and much more expensive than anywhere in the US).

David Hembrow said...

Naor: Land doesn't inherently cost anything. Until the enclosures acts (and similar laws passed around the world) it literally had no tradable value at all.

The provision of free parking in this area so successfully "encourages more driving" that we have relatively few car parking spaces for a city this size, yet the spaces remain empty.

It may not fit into your dogma to believe that, but it's a fact.

There is more space for cycling now because people are not driving so much as they did, butthat has everything to do with cycling being pleasant and nothing to do with driving being difficult or expensive.

Please take a look at before and after photos of streets once clogged with motor vehicles but now entirely turned over to bikes (not just lanes). This goes far beyond what you're thinking of.

As for the overall cost of driving, that's not very high in the Netherlands compared to many other countries, including some where there is no more cycling than in Canada.

It's the cycling experience which makes the difference, not the driving experience. Cycling simply isn't seen as an option by most people unless there is excellent infrastructure.

42apples said...

There is an opportunity cost to land, so even putting parking on government-operated land costs something unless there is literally no other possible use for it. That might not be so important in a small town, but in a popular city (like Amsterdam or Toronto), the provision of extra parking is costly. I don't know about where you live, but when I visited Amsterdam, I could see that driving would be horribly inconvenient. Making driving slow and difficult is a pricing mechanism, and subsidizing bicycle infrastructure puts driving at even less of an advantage (and a disadvantage in cities).

True, there are a lot of countries with just as high gas prices that have lower cycling rates. But nearly all of those countries have about the same driving (vehicle-kilometers per person per year) rate, with some even lower. Lower bike mode shares are a testament of priorities of transit and other investments over cycle lanes, climate, terrain, and culture.

David Hembrow said...


You have it almost completely backwards.

As it turns out, the most effective way to stop people riving cars (as demonstrated here, in the country with easily the highest rate of non-motizied travel in Europe) is not so much to make driving difficult as to make cycling easy.

People do actually want to be able to cycle. The popularity of every closed road cycling event around the world demonstrates that.

Amsterdam is considered to be easier to drive in than Toronto.

Also note that culture has nothing to do with it. British people used to cycle a larger proportion of their journeys than Dutch people do now.

When Dutch people leave the country, they stop cycling. When immigrans arrived, they start. It's not the culture, it's not the geography, the climate or any of those <a href="</a>other easy excuses</a>, it's the infrastructure. Enable cycling and people will cycle. Don't enable it (e.g. by building horrible cycling infrastructure) and they won't.

42apples said...

It *is* the culture though. Not so much that Dutch people are in love with cycling, but that they are willing to pay much, much more for infrastructure than any country (other than maybe Denmark). And cycling is accepted as a normal part of society. Other countries in Europe have focused more on walking and transit while neglecting investments and promotion of bicycle transportation.

I go to school in Davis, which maintains a relatively high cycling rate with students who might never bike after they leave. It's true both that biking is convenient and that driving through campus is darn near impossible.

I completely agree with you that safe bicycle infrastructure is important and the paths in the Netherlands are amazing. But the only way that cycling is a better alternative than driving is if driving is expensive, whether that be due to traffic, disconnected streets, high taxes, or expensive or difficult-to-find parking.

Unknown said...

David H, you said above - "I think it's rather sad to see someone young and fit riding an e-bike" - why is that? Do you see an ebike as "cheating"?

I am 39 and very fit and healthy living in Auckland. I ride an ebike all the time. As you know Auckland is a hilly city and the ebike just takes the hills out of it and makes cycling very pleasant. I arrive, sometimes in my suit at business meetings, fresh and sweat free.

Why do you see ebikes as something only for the elderly and infirm? Isn't it positive to have anyone on a bike rather than in a car>

David Hembrow said...

Naor: Actually, many countries pay a lot for their infrastructure and even here in the Netherlands cycling infrastructure is not expensive compared with other types of infrastructure (motorways, airports, railway lines, ports etc.)

It is the extensive network of quite ordinary (by Dutch standards) infrastructure which is most important, not the exceptional parts.

Your comments about Davis are interesting. It's a unique place in the USA.

However, I absolutely don't agree at all that "the only way that cycling is a better alternative than driving is if driving is expensive". It's a mistake to see cycling as nothing but an inferior form of driving because cycling really does attract people. In countries other than the Netherlands, where it's not safe to ride a bike from home, millions of people tie bikes to the back of their cars in order to take them to some place where they can ride safely. This is a demonstration of suppressed demand for cycling. Make it possible for people to ride in such agreeable conditions from their own doorstep and they will do so. That is what the Netherlands demonstrates.

Note that I don't expect everyone to make all their journeys by bike. That would be impossible without outlawing other means of transport. However, a significant proportion (i.e. just over a quarter in the Netherlands) can be made willingly by bike, by people who mostly own cars and also have that possibility.

Goosoid: If you enjoy your electric bike, more power to you. I certainly didn't mean to offend.

I do understand your wanting to arrive at work without sweating and I'm sure it's more pleasant to arrive at work on your e-bike than by car.

But... is it really quicker ? The e-bikes that are available here can go at only 25 km/h. They really are assisted bicycles for people who have less than perfect health. Personally, I think that's about right for something which is classed as a bicycle.

I would expect that someone "very fit and healthy" should be able to maintain that speed quite easily, even up most hills, on any decently maintained bicycle. As such, this type of e-bike should naturally be less attractive for the fit and young because it's simply a heavy and slow bike.

Note that as e-bikes become more powerful they actually become less like bicycles.

Most humans can't maintain more than 100 W output over a period of time. The type of e-bikes which have 500 W motors and on which pedalling is optional are really 80-90% moped or motorbike. They're not pedal cycles any more.

As it happens, I don't have anything against mopeds or motorcycles either, but I think we need to be honest about what some of these vehicles are.

Unknown said...

David - not offended at all - just curious as always by any negative comments on ebikes. I love them and really believe they will be a big factor in bringing people back to cycling in topographically challenging places like Auckland or Wellington.

I always wonder if people made the same comments when derailleurs came out - that people don't need so many gears and it is not "real" cycling. Or even penny farthings over safety bicycles back in the 1890s. I wouldn't be surprised.

My bike is 250w (max in NZ is 300w) (the emetro When I am pedalling my max speed is about 30km/h - without pedalling I cant go over 20km/h. I am often overtaken on the flat by lycra cyclists but I then overtake them on the hills. As you know Auckland hills are crackers and you usually have at least two decent hills on any ride over 3kms.

I never use my ebike without pedalling and I don't know anyone else who does.

Overall I really agree with this article and if you don't mind I will be quoting it on the Cycle Action Auckland blog. Some great points and definitely in Auckland, advocates like myself can get into the "cars are the enemy and must be stopped" mindset - which isn't constructive at all.

On the bright side, Auckland just got its first fully separated cycle path:
It is bidirectional but baby steps for one of the most auto dependent cities in the world. It would never have happened 10 years ago.

David Hembrow said...

Goosoid: I do understand your reasoning. Yes, people did make the same comments about gears. This happened even way back before derailleurs were invented and when the only gearing system was the Sturmey Archer 3 speed.

Please do go ahead and quote me. It's what the blog is for (I appreciate a link).

As for the first cycle-path in Auckland, a couple of people have sent me information about this and I've been meaning to get around to writing something about this development and others around the world.

That it's bidirectional is not an inherent problem. All other things being equal, bidirectional cycle-paths are twice as useful as unidirectional ones. Whether this is the right solution very much depends on the context. There are rightly many bidirectional cycle-paths in the Netherlands. Unidirectional elsewhere. The right solution in the right location.

There's clearly a lot of confusion about this (I know where much of the confusion has come from - that kind of dogma doesn't help :-).

As for Auckland's "first"... It's not. Not if you look at the suburbs. I keep trying to persuade New Zealanders to go and try out my old route to school. It's not far from Auckland !. It even has a half decent way of going around a bus stop and goes under a roundabout.

I don't know how well it actually works - I've not ridden on it since 1981 !

42apples said...

"It is the extensive network of quite ordinary (by Dutch standards) infrastructure which is most important, not the exceptional parts."

Unfortunately, what you take for granted is nonexistent in the US. I have not seen a single bicycle path with a separate sidewalk for pedestrians. Nothing that holds a candle to what I experienced in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. And the way most cities are laid out, there is little chance for many practical-for-commuting paths to be constructed.

"In countries other than the Netherlands, where it's not safe to ride a bike from home, millions of people tie bikes to the back of their cars in order to take them to some place where they can ride safely."

Eh, sometimes people go by car for a recreational ride, but quite often they go to a place that is more dangerous than riding in the city (mountain biking or road cycling up a highway). And yet, even the fearless climbers often don't bike short distances back home. One of my friends is like that and I'm 100% sure he would bike more if parking wasn't free.

I'm not trying to discount infrastructure, but it's not the only thing stopping cycling from taking off faster. Despite few separated bike paths, bike-to-school rates in my home town are 40-60% for high school and middle school, but once people get their license, they
don't bike around town any more. It's still relatively safe and time-competitive with driving for trips under 5 km when there is any traffic, but people who are even exceptionally fit would often rather drive.

Kevin Love said...

The situation here is Toronto is that there simply is not road space for people to drive cars for transportation. And those who try to do so anyway cause massive car traffic congestion. See, for example, from 2009:

The only thing that has changed in the last five years is the continuation of the massive residential condominium building boom. Many of which are now car-free buildings.

The downtown cycle mode share is roughly 1/3 now. In my opinion, Dutch style protected infrastructure would quickly lead to downtown Toronto having a cycle mode share similar to central Amsterdam.

Why? Because people will tend to use the fastest, easiest and most convenient method of transportation that is safe. Car driving is so slow and inconvenient, that making cycling safe will yield a high cycle mode share.

Depressed Architect said...

Here in Boston we have a big problem with finding space for bikes on our narrow streets. In order to create "a more pleasant" biking experience, we'd have to give up on-street car parking in many places - which is a big problem and highly charged politically. How did the dutch deal with this particular issue?


Unknown said...

@ Dorian Kleiber. A short answer is: they just did it. There was strong political opposition and from the business community. How it ever happened is a long story. You can find references to that story on this blog and here is a succinct summary on YouTube:
What is most interesting however is that over the initial years, there has never been any serious consideration to not expand and maintain the program, let alone turning back to the days of car dominance. No political party, left or right, would even suggest to cut down on bike infrastructure. And as for business men, my father had a jewelry shop in the center of Delft, a town that started early experimenting with ways to decrease the overload of cars. He was adamantly opposed, predicted the end of the center of Delft as a business place. People wouldn't come, he was sure. After 8 years, he admitted he had been wrong as shoppers from especially Rotterdam (the most car centered city in the Netherlands) would come to Delft to be able to shop without the danger and din of too many cars. What I want to emphasize is that it will be a difficult political battle, but worth it. Once a more bike friendly infrastructure is in place there is no turning back. Good luck in Boston.

Unknown said...

Correction: "over the initial year" should be "after the initial years"

Unknown said...

Hi David,

One thing I'm still a little confused about is that in many UK,USA,Aus, NA towns all of the road space has been given over to cars and motor traffic. If we really want to create a safe and welcoming environment for cycling, surely we have to undo some of that? I understand that if you have built the infrastructure well enough then free parking won't get people driving. My question is that sure focussing on the parking aspect after the infrastructure is slightly misleading. Cities have to have your "second revolution" and realise that planning for cycling and people is better than planning for cars. That's still very threatening in the UK and my local council for example point blank refuses to consider closing any road to motor traffic as they feel motor traffic is the most important thing for a street. Curious about to transition between the two.

David Hembrow said...

Scott: You have to find something that the people really want. I doubt that will be anything directly to do with "cycling" or "cyclists" as those words are as a red rag to a bull. They don't have resonance with the population at large.

In the Netherlands the revolution was driven initially by people wanting their children to be safer. This is something which causes a very powerful emotive response and that's why I have suggested campaigning for children in other countries as well.

In the UK, USA, Canada, Australia etc. it may turn out to be some other thing which gets the entire population's attention.

Verbose Verbiage said...

Very informative post. I agree with your thesis that 'pulling' people into cycling is more effective than 'pushing' them into it. On the other hand, I'm still not convinced that we should dismiss efforts to 'push' people out of cars in concert with this strategy of making great bike connections. I live in Florida, where there is no semblance of town centers or real urbanism whatsoever in many municipalities and the land use pattern cannot be compared to that of the Netherlands. In essence, the entire city looks like your photos of the big box part of town; it's not just an isolated area but the entire city. In this situation, the land use pattern favors car use and punishes the bicyclist. Every trip begins and ends with free parking, and free parking spreads the development out further, making the ability to cycle between locations even more prohibitive. You could have the most gold-plated bike infrastructure in the world between these locations and it wouldn't get a significant number of people cycling.

It's not just an issue of bike paths but of having useful destinations within biking distance. Free parking spreads out destinations. Free parking also makes driving the easiest choice (to go back to your point about comfort and convenience). It may not get everyone biking as much as a 'pull' strategy, but does $15 parking matter to someone considering coming downtown? Yes it absolutely does. Focus on the 'pull' part, but don't neglect the push, either. This isn't a binary situation.