Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Once in every 73 lifetimes - How often the Dutch are injured by another cyclist while cycling


Dr Jon Rogers and Walker Angell
were interviewed as well as myself
Fatalities on Dutch roads and cycle-paths dropped last year but a small rise in injuries to cyclists made the news. A film crew joined us for a few minutes during the study tour last week, interviewing two of the participants on the tour as well as myself. You can watch the resulting news report, with subtitles in English, above.

Of course, a rise in injuries is most unwelcome, but we must keep this in context. Given the Dutch population of 16.8 million, the average life expectancy of a little over 80 years and assuming that the entire population cycles (which is not far from the truth), 2849 injuries per year corresponds with cyclists needing medical attention due to a crash with another cyclist on average once every 73 lifetimes. Only a fraction of these involve more than first aid.

Perhaps cycling through a red
light while on the 'phone
doesn't seem a great idea, but
she's one of the safest cyclists
in the world (although the
infrastructure she's riding on
in the video is less than ideal)
Two thirds of injuries to cyclists in the Netherlands are the result of falls from the bike not involving any other party (these are particularly dangerous for older people) while only a fifth involve a motor vehicle. If all causes of injury are added together, 8100 cyclists experience injuries requiring attendance of hospital each year in the Netherlands. That's a risk of about once every 25 lifetimes.

The risk of death, based on last year's figures, is about once per 990 lifetimes. People from other countries often notice that the Dutch don't wear helmets when cycling. This is quite rational: I once calculated that if Dutch cyclists wore helmets, this would save their lives on average once every 3100 lifetimes.

The safety of all road users is excellent in the Netherlands and despite alarm over a rise in cyclist injuries, cyclist safety remains ahead of the rest of the world. That's despite the sometimes unruly behaviour of cyclists, which is commented on in the video.

Of course, while subjective safety is not so easily measured, that's what makes it possible for the masses to cycle. It's just as well that removing motor vehicles from where cyclists go improves both actual safety and subjective safety.

Older people
The TV programme also touched on the problem of older people being victims of cycling accidents more often than they used to be. This rise is largely the result of exposure to risk combined with their relative fragility. As I explained in an analysis of the same problem two years ago, retired people now cycle three times as much now as they did in the 1980s.

Children going to school by car
Another of the themes which came up again in this video is the concern than these days, Dutch children increasingly go to school by car. This is an increasing trend, but it's still very small compared with other nations. Please read my analysis of this from last year.

Study tour summary
The tour changed again this year to take into account new infrastructure and to demonstrate some things that we've not been able to demonstrate before, packed into three very busy days. Participants took a lot of photographs and there was much discussion.

The study tour group amongst other everyday cyclists riding into Groningen. It can be quite a challenge to lead the tour and keep track of everyone when we're surrounded by such a lot of other cyclists.
Always popular, we watched how children get to and from school. At this primary school, the younger children are met by parents but many ride independently.
We also saw several classes of primary school aged children going on trips by bike.
In a residential street, observing how these are planned to minimise through traffic and encourage cycling and walking.

As well as seeing what works, we also demonstrate what does not because it is not necessary to repeat mistakes made in the Netherlands as well as successes. This is the same shared space junction as featured in a video and blog post two weeks ago and as always we saw the same problems here. A significant proportion of people were scared to cycle and in an attempt to improve their chances they were crossing the road as pedestrians or riding on the pavement. Both these things are indications that the cycling environment is not good enough.
The next open study tour is on the 2nd to 4th of September. Book now.

Amendment 30th April: Note that when this blog post was first published it referred to 2849 as the total number of cycling injuries per year for all reasons. I posted it, then woke up the next morning feeling that this sounded rather better than it ought to so I've done further research and amended the post above with reference to an article with more complete information. There are in fact 78000 injuries per year including the least serious than can be measured, 66000 of which require first aid and 8100 of which result in treatment in hospital. I'm happy to have corrected the figures above, but it remains extremely safe to cycle in the Netherlands. By comparison, a correspondent pointed out in email that 1 in 120 Americans die in a car crash while 1 in 280 British people meet that same end. It's far safer to be a cyclist in the Netherlands than to be around cars in those countries.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

School trips by bike. An everyday occurrence where cycling is pleasant and safe


Dutch schools, especially primary schools (age 5-12) make a lot of trips. They do so to access sport facilities, to visit museums, city centres or the countryside. Actually, they go more or less anywhere by bike unless distances are very long in which case a coach will be hired. As a result, school bike trips are a very common sight in the Netherlands.

This video was made on the last day of the April study tour. Two different school groups passed us within a matter of minutes. We saw the first at a simultaneous green crossing - demonstrating precisely the sort of infrastructure which successfully keeps all cyclists safe in the Netherlands. The others were seen as they rode along a cycle-path a few short distance from that same crossing.

It is high quality infrastructure like this which enables true mass cycling to take place. What is good for the kids is also good for adults, and this is why cycling encompasses all demographic groups in the Netherlands.
It's quite common for teachers to wear bright clothing to make them identifiable. In this case there were two teachers or parents at the front of the group and one at the rear.

This group had clearly not come from very far away as some had decided to walk. A few of them "hitchhiked" on the back of other childrens' bikes.

A young group of children, with teachers in orange, at the museum in the centre of the city.

This photo from a few days back shows an increasing tendency for children to be given reflective vests. If the vest are intended simply to make children identifiable when in a busy area, that's one thing. However, if there's scaremongering involved then this is something we need to be very wary of. Children are in no significant danger when cycling on excellent infrastructure like this cycle-path.
We often see school trips during the study tours. I caught another on video last year.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

On-road cycle-lanes. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (mostly bad and ugly)

This was part of our walking route to
school in Cambridge. The van fills
both the narrow cycle-lane and the
narrow pavement.
On-road cycle-lanes have long been controversial. They're a type of infrastructure which raises many questions. For instance, do on-road lanes make cycling safer or do they keep cyclists in the gutter where they are least safe ? Are they more or less convenient for cyclists than fully segregated cycle-paths ? Is paint enough to make cyclists safe in the presence of much faster and heavier motorized vehicles ? Do cycle-lanes create adequate subjective safety that they lead to mass cycling ? Where cycle-lanes exist, can they be integrated into good traffic light and roundabout designs ? How should a cycle-lane lead into a segregated cycle-path, and visa-versa ?

The same problem in the Netherlands.
Cycle-lanes are abused by drivers
everywhere. This cycle-lane is 1.9 m
wide and the pavement is very wide,
wide, but that doesn't prevent exactly
the same abuse of both the cycle-lane
and pavement as seen in the British
example above.
Ten years ago, guidance in the Netherlands called for cycle-lane widths of 1.8 m to 2 m wide with an absolute minimum of 1.5 m permitted where space allowed no more. These suggestions were considered to be adequate only where there were relatively small flows of cyclists. With higher usage, the lanes were to be built wider. Segregated cycle-paths were considered to be preferable over cycle-lanes where speed limits were 50 km/h (30 mph) or higher and on main roads with 80 km/h (50 mph) roads, cycle-lanes were considered not to be adequate at all. If there was no other possibility on an 80 km/h road then any lanes built should be widened by one metre. That's an extra half a metre to allow for bicycles to safely overtake other bicycles and another half a metre to give more space between motor vehicles and cyclists. The same guidance suggested a minimum 0.75 m wide gap between parking bays and cycle-lanes in order to reduce the chance of "dooring".

The Netherlands now has around 37000 km of cycle-path and just 5500 km of cycle-lanes. It is clear that on-road cycle-lanes are deprecated in this country. They are not the preferred solution. There are far more new segregated cycle-paths than there are new on-road lanes. Current advice in the Netherlands requires that on-road cycle-lanes should made of distinct red asphalt and be 2 to 2.5 m wide, with an absolutely minimum of 1.7 m. Such cycle-lanes must be red. All these are "concrete" absolutes. It is also now suggested that there should be a 0.5 m gap between cycle-lanes and car-lanes, the exact form of which is currently still under discussion. On roads narrower than 5.8 m, a fietsstraat (bicycle road) is the preferred solution. Note that such an arrangement requires a low speed limit (30 km/h - 18 mph) and for through motor traffic to be removed in order to be successful.

Downhill cycle-lanes
Note that the Dutch guidelines refer to what is considered to be reasonable practice in this country, where maximum speeds of cyclists are determined mostly by how hard they push the pedals and not by how quickly they can descend a hill. Where there are hills, cycle-lanes heading up-hill should be as suggested above but those heading downhill should be wider. More space is required to keep control of a bicycle at higher speeds. Extra space is also required to make safe the overtaking of one cyclist by another at higher speeds. This is analogous to how Dutch guidelines suggest wider cycle-lanes are required in the presence of faster motor vehicles.

The Good

These are examples of where problems which could have occured with on-road cycle-lanes have been avoided by careful implementation. It's a short list and several of the examples below work well precisely because they exist in the absence of motor traffic.

This 2.1 m wide cycle-lane in Assen is along a 50 km/h street which has carries moderate amount of traffic. It's not an ideal situation but the width does allow people to ride side-by-side and it is rare that it feels unsafe here. This is one of the better examples of cycle-lanes. Note that there is a pinch point for cars by the signs to the left of the car, but due to careful design the cycle-lane does not lose width at the pinch-point and this is relatively safe. There is a buffer between the parked cars and the cycle-lane to avoid "dooring". The distinctive red asphalt (not paint) also makes it obvious which part of the road is for cyclists.

These "cycle-lanes" are 1.7 m wide on either side of a 2.7 m wide carriageway. But these are not really cycle-lanes and this is not an ordinary road. This is a bicycle road which cannot be used for through journeys by motor vehicle and on which cyclists have priority. The only reason why any motor vehicle is driven here is to access about half a dozen houses along this section of the bicycle road.

These cycle-lanes are only 1.5 m wide but this is again not a normal road. This is a nearly car free street in the city centre. The junction ahead was once the busiest in Assen, but now has very light motorized traffic because this not longer serves as a through route by motor vehicle. The street allows two-way use only by bicycle and that is what is made clear by the painted lanes.

In Groningen, this busy cycle-route goes over an older bridge which does not have adequate width for a segregated cycle-path. The cycle-lane splits from the road after the bridge and before a busy simultaneous green traffic light junction.
Cycle-lane becoming a cycle-path immediately before a roundabout so that the junction can be negotiated safely by bicycle. 
The opposite side of the same road looks identical. A safe merge is provided from the cycle-path which leads from the roundabout onto the road. This is protected by a concrete kerb and because the cycle-lane is "extra" width. i.e. the painted lines separating the cycle-lane from the road line up optically with the side of the slightly narrower road used by drivers leaving the roundabout.
This cycle-lane through a 1950s residential area in Assen does not really function as a cycle-lane. This street works well by bicycle because the road is no longer used in the same way as it was originally designed. While some streets in this area are busier than others, this street is considerably more pleasant than it once was due to unravelling of motor vehicle routes from bicycle routes. This is no longer a useful through route by motor vehicle and bicycles dominate. The width of the cycle-lane is almost completely irrelevant. Children can ride home from school five-abreast in comparative safety.
This example from Groningen is not all good because the cycle-lane is actually too narrow for this 50 km/h street. However I've included it in this section because it provides an obvious illustration of how to design car parking adjacent to a cycle-lane so as to avoid the danger of "dooring". There is a buffer between the edge of the cycle-lane and the side of the cars. In this instance, the buffer is not so wide as an open car door, but even this slightly narrower buffer reduces the risk because an opened door cannot intrude over a very large proportion of the cycle-lane.
The bad
Sadly, most cycle-lanes come into the "bad" category. They're too narrow, they're not safe or they give an inadequate feeling of subjective safety to result in people wanting to cycle more. While the majority of these examples are in the Netherlands, bear in mind that these form less than ideal links within an overall infrastructure of very high quality. There are also very often alternative routes which are of better quality.

Several of these examples are in Groningen. Like all cities which have many students, this demographic group, who are relatively easy to attract to cycling for a variety of reasons and will cycle more given any particular conditions than other demographic groups, helps to mask the problems with infrastructure. There are also examples from Cambridge, where the same applies. If you're trying to grow cycling in a place which does not already have a high cycling modal share, the infrastructure that you build needs to be better than this. To attract people from all segments of society to cycle, you need very high quality over a very fine grid.

Narrow cycle-lane combined with pinch point in Groningen. That buses use this route makes it more unpleasant and more dangerous. The speed limit here is 50 km/h. This infrastructure reduces subjective safety of cycling. Where it is common, the more vulnerable members of society will not use by bicycle. This is very far from best practice in the Netherlands. Pinch points are usually designed out.
1.1 m wide cycle-lane in a 30 km/h zone in Assen. The cycle-lane is hopelessly inadequate in width. This couple riding side-by-side here do not both fit within the lane. This is a moderately busy road, though not on Sunday when this photo was taken. Like most of the bad examples from the Netherlands, this one is very easy to avoid when cycling. Much better infrastructure runs in parallel with this (a video shows how I usually go another way into the city). Note that there is one good feature. The parking bay does actually have a divider between the car and the cyclists. This should prevent "dooring" incidents.
A street in Groningen which has recently been reworked, but which has kept very narrow cycle-lanes despite 50 km/h speed limit and use by heavy vehicles. It's really not good enough for the 21st century. This is not safe and it leads to a low degree of subjective safety, which can cause people to stop cycling.

1.5 m wide cycle-lane on a busy 50 km/h through road in Assen. This infrastructure dates from the 1980s when the old railway station was built. The junction that we are approaching is safe to use, but inconvenient and the narrow cycle-lane continues after the junction. The station is being rebuilt and in the near future this entire length of cycle-lane is to be replaced by a proper segregated cycle-path. The junction is to be completely redesigned. The busy through route by car will become a tunnel, removing the source of most danger.

Cambridge in the UK. A cycle lane measuring barely over a metre wide on a busy road with a 30 mph (50 km/h) speed limit. There was clearly never a good reason for the cycle-lane to have been so narrow because in a few metres, right as it goes over a bridge where there might have been the excuse of there not being enough space, this lane widens to accommodate buses. From this point onwards, cyclists are supposed to ride in a combined bus/bike lane. Bikes and buses should never be combined in one lane as they are fundamentally incompatible forms of transport. Bikes need to travel at a constant speed while buses must necessarily stop and start, with a higher peak speed but a similar average speed. The result of this combination is that bikes impede buses just as much as buses impede bikes. This leads to dangerous overtaking manoeuvres and conflict. There really should be a completely separate bus lane or bus road here, and proper bus stop bypasses.
Trumpington Road in Cambridge shows how not to construct a cycle-lane which passes parked cars. Parking is allowed on both sides of this busy road. The cycle-lane is narrow, badly surfaced and keeps cycles far too close to the "door zone". The volume of motorized traffic here is far too high for such a dangerous layout to remain.
The Ugly
As was explained at the beginning, while well engineered cycle-paths are beneficial to cyclists, on-road cycle-lanes are really only a last resort measure. They should not be common in new developments because there is almost always a better alternative. They should not be used where there are high volumes of motor vehicles or high speeds. Where they are used they must be wide and junction design must remove potential conflict points. One of the "good" above shows how a lane cane become segregated at a traffic light junction. Where cyclists join and leave on-road lanes there are always potential conflict points.

In the Netherlands there are now relatively few on-road lanes because better alternative designs are used. Existing cycle-lanes are being upgraded into cycle-paths. This is how it should be in other countries as well. Why implement the equivalent of 1980s Dutch or other inferior designs of infrastructure when you can instead copy more recent and successful designs ?

This section includes examples of where the Dutch have recently made bad choices, where other nations are making copying from less than good examples and making bad choices and of some common problems due to cycle-lanes.
Inexplicable bad design in Assen as part of a new development. There is plenty of room here for a proper bus stop bypass rather than encouraging bikes and buses to clash. Assen actually did better than this in the 1980s. Have the good ideas been forgotten by a new generation of planners ? The only redeeming part of this design is that it's appeared on a route which is not well used by bicycle. That's by design. This is where motor vehicles are sent to keep them out of the centre of the city. As I often point out, just because something can be found in the Netherlands, that doesn't mean it's best practice. Don't copy this.
London has been struggling with making its ambition for "cycling superhighways" truly "super" ever since the idea was first mooted. This illustration from 2010 shows how limited that city's ambition for cycling is. These cycle-lanes are extremely narrow. They're narrower than any real life example above. This is simply not good enough. London's progress has not been helped by campaigners actually asking for infrastructure like this. On-road lanes still feature in many of London's designs. They are still planning to build them too narrow and they're still appearing on roads with far higher traffic flows than any of the Dutch examples above. What's more, they're still being combined with poor quality junction designs such as Advanced Stop Lines, which appear even in brand new infrastructure.
Another example of an incredibly bad idea from London at a junction designed in 2013. The orange line shows what TfL think cyclists ought to do, while the red line shows what people in a hurry will actually do. This does not support either less confident or more confident cyclists well. Both are required to do something unreasonable and both are required to make a choice between safety or convenience. If someone is late for work, convenience is likely to win. A well designed traffic light junction would have been both safe and convenient for all modes.


In the past, Assen had other examples of bad design such as this: a cycle-lane in-between two car lanes. This type of design requires cyclists and drivers to swap or merge lanes at junctions and it was never safe. This junction was removed from Assen decades ago. Proven bad ideas like this should not be part of new designs for cycling infrastructure. Junctions with similar features continue to kill in those places where they are still implemented. Well informed planners should be aware of this danger and avoid it. However...
The dangerous situation that we got rid of in Assen decades ago is part of a new plan for Cambridge in the UK (in fact, they've actually already built junctions like this in this decade). This is just one of several criticisms that I have of these new plans.
Here it is again in the Christchurch New Zealand cycling design guidelines. Don't do this. Don't repeat mistakes. This is a dangerous design.
A similar idea as proposed for Ontario in Canada. Just one of the many problems with Ontario's new Bicycle Facilities Traffic Manual.
Another collection of bad design ideas, this time from Southampton, providing a false choice between efficiency and safety because even the "safe" option to make a right turn is not really safe. Cyclists are encouraged to remain on the left to reach a turning box while drivers are encouraged to turn across them to make left turns. This design has proven to be lethal. The design also includes a bus stop which maximises conflict between bikes and buses. The implementation was actually worse than the design, but the design shows remarkable ignorance of best practice

Update: When I was working on writing this blog post to illustrate what not to do with regard to on-road cycle lanes, Sustrans in the UK were simultaneously working on the Sustrans handbook for cycle-friendly design which promotes many of the same bad designs as I warn against. I've included here three examples of how they actually recommend bad practice, but more bad ideas can be seen in my review of their handbook. This first example shows a cycle-lane in the centre of the street. As explained above, this particularly causes conflict between cyclists and left turning cars.

The second example shows Sustrans recommending the old-fashioned, inconvenient and proven to be lethal two stage turn design. They describe this as an "Innovative Cycle Facility". 
Cycle-lane widths recommended by Sustrans for new construction are very much narrower than are recommended in the Netherlands. As you'll read above, ten years ago the Dutch recommendation was already a width of 1.8-2 m with an absolutely minimum of 1.5 m. The new recommendations (detailed at the top of this blog post) require lanes to be somewhat wider in the Netherlands.

The route which children in Oostrum have to take to get to school. There have been crashes here between children on bikes and overtaking cars. This manoeovre is difficult to perform without error every time. Sustainably safe conditions require that people can make minor errors without resulting in injury. This is simply not adequate. It's an example of how fears that a cycle-lane can keep cyclists in the wrong position on the road to make a safe turn are realised, though the best solution is proper segregated infrastructure which makes it clear who should be where and when, not simply to delete the cycle-lane.
When there is snow, a cycle-lane is more difficult to clear effectively than a cycle-path (see examples of effectively swept cycle-paths). What's more, the consequences of a cycle-lane not being properly swept are more serious than they are for a cycle-path. The dirty ice and snow from the road builds up at the edge of the cycle-lane near the parked cars. This can be slippery, it can hide obstacles (kerb, litter, stones, manhole covers) and it effectively narrows the cycle-lane from the outside towards the traffic side. Note how the bicycle symbol is no longer in the middle of this lane, which is 1.9 m wide in summer time but somewhat narrower in winter due to the conditions. In the event of a fall, the cyclist could end up under a vehicle being driven on the road. Similarly, road sweeping tends to accumulate debris at the side of the road. The cycle-lane is a good place to get a puncture.
The same bicycle road as featured in the second main photo from the top. The two postal workers wearing yellow and heading towards the camera show up very well in the snow. However, there are also two cyclists heading in the opposite direction who have nearly disappeared. We should not rely upon people wearing special clothes in order to show up in varying weather conditions. In any case, the same clothes do not work best in all conditions. This is a safe situation only because these "cycle lanes" are not really cycle-lanes at all. It's a bicycle road on which there are almost no motorized vehicles except those which belong to residents used for access. Segregation removes the danger associated with not being seen whatever the weather conditions.
Another example of a truck using a cycle-lane in Assen as a parking space. This is a universal problem with on-road lanes. Cyclists have to pull out to pass, which puts them in a dangerous position potentially having to merge with faster traffic. It also prevents the cyclist from making such an efficient journey as they would if they could travel uninterrupted by such obstructions.
Another example from Ontario's lacklustre design guidelines. This treatment of a road narrowing is very dangerous. The designer left out any means of keeping cyclists from being hit by motor vehicles as they attempt to move left into the main traffic lane. This creates the same dangerous situation as does the truck in the photo above, but it does so permanently and by deliberate design. This is an example of extraordinarily bad design. I added the red line to show the route of a bicycle and the blue triangle to represent a means of forcing motor vehicles to the left where cyclists are expected to join the lane. In the Netherlands we would expect there always to be such an alignment in order that this most obvious of conflicts would be avoided. Design guidelines which include such bad advice as this are simply not worth the paper they're printed on.
Cost is a very bad reason to build substandard infrastructure
It's only substandard infrastructure which really has a cost. If it's substandard then it won't be used and that means that there is a cost but no benefit. Really good cycling infrastructure has benefits beyond its cost.

Conclusion. Paint is never enough
On-road cycle-lanes are not the best way to keep cyclists safe. They are also rarely, if ever, the best way to improve convenience for cyclists. If on-road lanes are a preferred option in your part of the world then your planners are aiming for something rather lower than the best standard possible. Aiming for a lower standard of infrastructure means aiming for a cycling modal share which is lower than the highest possible given your demography and geography. You set a ceiling on what is possible by building inadequate infrastructure.

If your infrastructure is being designed to a lower standard than that of the Netherlands, why is this so ? Are your cyclists less valuable and less important than Dutch cyclists ? Do you want fewer people to cycle than would cycle in the Netherlands ?

In the worst examples, cycle-lanes can be very unsafe. Bad junction designs greatly exacerbate this problem. It can also be worsened by bad weather, bad lighting or inadequate maintenance.

There are very few on-road cycle-lanes which can truly be categorized as "good".

Friday, 11 April 2014

Shared Space revisited. The hype continues but in reality it still doesn't work.

If you're unsure about what the term "Shared Space" means, please read the wikipedia article. Note that I disagree with much of that article.

Shared Space has been over-sold around the world. Claims have been made of a reduction of danger which I showed earlier this week doesn't stand up to analysis when compared with better infrastructure designs. It is also often claimed that Shared Space creates a "place" where people feel safe, though many people see the reverse in practice.

I first wrote about Shared Space in 2008, especially pointing out problems with the example in Haren. At that time I'd visited relatively few shared spaces but the reality was already quite obviously different from what is presented in pro-shared-space articles.

Since that time, I've visited many shared spaces in the Netherlands and seem common problems in them. When I visited London last year I took time to observe the Shared Space in Exhibition Road and this turned out to have much the same problems as do shared spaces in the Netherlands.

Yesterday I wrote about how a previous Shared Space in Assen which has had motor vehicles removed  from it is now a much more pleasant place to be. You can see for yourself how after removal of motor vehicles from Ceresplein, that part of Assen has become more pleasant. People really do stand around and chat in that area. Today I'm writing about another area of Assen, Kerkplein, which has been made into a Shared Space. Here you see the exact opposite. Due to Shared Space and the resultant domination of motor vehicles in Kerkplein, no-one stands still in this area. No "place" has been created by making this "Shared Space". Everyone who you see here is in a hurry to get to somewhere else instead. I makes for a stark contrast with the Ceresplein. Note that the Ceresplein and Kerkplein videos were made on the same afternoon just minutes apart, one immediately after the other.

In 2008 I pointed out the problems which more vulnerable road users experience in Shared Space areas. I return again today to the theme of Subjective Safety. Unless people feel safe, they won't ride so often. The Netherlands is putting its predominant position as the leading cycling nation in jeopardy by implementing Shared Space.

In 2008 I referred to "a recent road layout change in Assen right next to a 'shared space' style junction". This is that junction. Last year it was made formally into a real shared space and it now looks like this:


The six minute long video shows how people behave on the Kerkplein. Note that while this is edited it didn't take long to collect the material - 20 minutes of raw footage was edited down to six. Similar incidents to those in this video can be seen to occur all day every day at this junction, and at other Shared Space junctions. Note that no-one is standing here enjoying this "place". A very stark contrast with video shot just a few minutes later on the same afternoon showing people doing exactly that on the car-free Ceresplein.

How the Kerkplein has changed
When we moved here in 2008 the Ceresplein was the only Shared Space area in Assen. Kerkplein was as in the photo below - a junction at which there are no rules other than "give way to the right". It's quite common for small and not very busy streets in residential areas to be combined by junctions with priority to the right, but less common for busy junctions. This was almost like a prototype of Shared Space thinking - no traffic signals, no painted lines on the road to show priority. Each participant in traffic had to decide who will take priority, how and why. These junctions are unpleasant to cycle across because you can't rely on motor vehicles coming from your left giving way to you as they are supposed to. Between 2007 and 2012, the Kerkplain was the site of 19 incidents:

The flags show collisions since 2007. There have been 19 reported collisions in total, four involving cyclists and one of which injured a pedestrian. Note that these figures refer to the time while it had this proto-shared-space layout and not to the layout which we have now. Note also that this single intersection was more dangerous than all nineteen roundabouts in Assen and all the simultaneous green traffic light junctions combined.
Before. Proper kerbs, pedestrian
crossings and central reservations
Due to the re-building this area no longer looks as it did in the aerial photo above.

The asphalt has gone, replaced by a tiled surface. The pedestrian crossings and central islands have been removed. A single large and expensive street lamp has been installed to replace normal street-lamps. The road has been narrowed and the pedestrian area on the Northern side outside the Jozefkerk has been widened.

The two junctions have been combined into a "Shared Space".

After. The Kerkplein Shared Space
in Assen during a 2013 study tour.
Unfortunately, not only did the changes made not address the biggest problem with the existing junction - that drivers of cars do not necessarily give way to lighter traffic from their right, but they made other things worse.

This junction has not been made more pleasant or more convenient to use. In my view, this area is now more confusing than before. One of the obvious symptoms of this added confusion is that the junction is more commonly abused by its users than it was before.

There wasn't a problem with people driving cars over the pavement (sidewalk) when that pavement was separated from the road by a kerb.

It wasn't so difficult for pedestrians to cross the road when there were pedestrian crossings.

The changes that have been made were the wrong changes. They have not addressed the existing problems. In fact, the junction is worse to use now than it was before. In particular, the experience of vulnerable road users has been made worse by the changes here. What's more, while the appearance has been improved, this has not become "a place" where people congregate. Because of the traffic this is an unpleasant location. No-one stays here for any longer than they have to. Contrast the video above with one shot in the car-free Ceresplein a few minutes later.

Why write about it now ?
By comparison, this junction in
Assen copes with more traffic and
has a higher speed limit. This
location has proper segregated
provision for cycling so the four
minor incidents here were merely
'fender benders', No cyclists or
pedestrians got hurt. Despite high
traffic levels, no-one feels scared
to cycle here. There are many
well designed roundabouts and
traffic light junctions in Assen.
If you're looking for inspiration
from the Netherlands, look to those
and not to Shared Space.
The work was completed some time ago and people have had enough of a chance to get used to the junction. There is not too much point in making observations immediately after change because of course people take more care when everything is completely unfamiliar and of course there will be many people unsure of what to do. However, enough time has now passed for the people of Assen to be used to this new Shared Space, and the problems remain.

Shared Space does not serve the vulnerable. Rather, it prioritises the powerful.

I've visited many shared space junctions in the Netherlands, in small villages, towns and cities. I've also observed shared space in London. At every single shared space junction that I have seen, motor vehicles come first.

"Pit Canaries" revisited
The result of building infrastructure which puts motor vehicles first is that an unpleasant environment is created for vulnerable road users. One of my very first blog posts was about how cyclists could be seen as the "pit canaries" of the roads. i.e. you can tell whether cycling is healthy in your area depending on who cycles and how. A mainly young adult male demographic and wearing helmets and reflective clothing is an indication of very low subjective safety. In the Netherlands, cyclists do not look like that, but is because of the conditions which cyclists face. Bad spots are rare. Shared Space remains rare.

Older cyclists and people with disabilities can be seen as particularly sensitive "canaries". They will be the first to show obvious signs of discomfort and the first to stop cycling. The discomfort is precisely what you can see in the video.

This type of junction, which at the very least causes inconvenience but also scares people, is precisely the sort of thing to build more of if you wish to see cycling become the domain of the brave rather than something which is for everyone.

While many claims are made for Shared Space, no junctions designed as shared spaces are truly "shared". This junction design has failed to achieve any aim other than perhaps to "smooth the flow of traffic". You'll notice that motor vehicles flow very nicely, often not stopping even if they should have given way and often pushing their way past even if this means going very close to people crossing the road by foot or driving over the pavement. It is only by removing both the traffic and the threat of violence that comes with it that conditions result which make walking and cycling pleasant. Remove the "sharing" part of Shared Space and the problems go away.

Why haven't shared spaces led to a drop of cycling in the Netherlands
Another day, another Shared Space
in another town. Cyclist riding on
the pavement because that feels
safer
than riding on the road. This
is a very clear signal that the
infrastructure is not good enough to
support mass cycling.
Given how unpleasant and stressful Shared Space is as a cyclist, I'm quite sure that it has not led to an increase in cycling. No-one seeks out Shared Spaces by bicycle. No-one ever says they prefer cycling in Shared Spaces vs. on segregated cycle-paths. Even some Dutch traffic planners who I have spoken to have pulled a face and declined to answer when I have directly questioned them as to whether they enjoy cycling through Shared Space.

The truth is that we don't know whether Shared Space has had a negative effect on cycling and it would be very difficult to tell if it has. In any case, as yet, we should expect any such effect to be small.

By one means or another, segregation of cyclists from motorized traffic is very nearly 100% in the Netherlands. Shared Space is still very rare so it makes up only a small part of anyone's journeys, and there are usually ample opportunities to take other routes. Also note that Dutch people almost all already cycle. While it is possible that some people might have given up due to dangerous junctions, I think it far more likely that people who are affected and scared adapt their behaviour to unpleasant junctions as seen in the video. i.e. they get off and walk or they cycle on the pavement.

Other nations have almost exactly the opposite situation. Where only the brave cycle, those same brave people are likely to cycle through shared space without finding it appreciably different to any other street. But in these cases while it may be difficult to observe a negative effect we should weigh up the possibility of something else having had a positive effect.

Shared Space is very unlikely to attract cautious people to take up cycling. On the other hand, proper cycle-paths, especially if installed at the required density, have a proven track record of attracting people to cycle.

Local politics
A local political party has complained several times about the dangerous situation at the Kerkplein shared space. They've compared the situation with the "Wild West", describing a situation where drivers go over the pavements and cyclists and pedestrians have to run for their lives.

This has been covered further in the local news and it was an issue in the recent local elections. Hopefully the situation at this junction will soon be improved.

Half way through writing this article, my friend Terry visited and made the suggestion of opening a Shared Space zoo. "Let the animals and public mix it up a bit". Should be an exciting experience. It might even be safe to walk backwards through such a zoo with your eyes closed, at least if you're selling the concept.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

"Shared" no more. An Assen city centre street reclaimed for pedestrians and cyclists

When we moved to Assen, the Ceresplein had quite recently been converted into a de-facto Shared Space. This area accommodated pedestrians, cyclists and drivers mostly on the same surface and it looked like this:
June 2009 image from Google Maps.
The turn that the car is making in the image above was into a street which has been a cycle-path for some years now. However, there's more. Last year this area was changed again. The street is no longer a space where motor vehicles are allowed. In 2013, immediately after the works were finished, it looked like the photo below. It still does:

Now from the opposite end. 2009:
Note how the cyclist has been pushed to the side in this view

2013:
The parked cars in the 2009 image have been replaced by buildings and cyclists use the centre part of the streeet without being concerned about cars.
Before 2013, the Ceresplein formed part of a through route which allowed skipping past a traffic light.
The Ceresplein is highlighted in Green. Drivers now have to use the yellow roads to avoid the centre rather than driving through the Ceresplein
This is a now a pedestrian area
which allows bikes. Motor vehicles
are allowed only at specific times
for loading / unloading.
Ceresplein was never extremely busy with through traffic and as a result it was never really very dangerous. I suspect this is because there was only ever a small advantage to drivers of using this route rather than sticking to the main route. The only crash requiring hospitalization that I'm aware of came about due to a youngster unwisely jumping in front of a friend's car "as a joke". However, the number of cars passing through here was high enough to be annoying and to change the behaviour of cyclists and pedestrians. It wasn't somewhere that you wanted to hang about for too long. The current situation is undoubtedly more pleasant. It's better not to have to think about through motor traffic when walking or cycling in this area.

The change in use here has also improved other streets in the city centre. Removing through traffic in the Ceresplein has greatly reduced the use of the streets which once led through traffic to it. This has worked precisely because they now have to leave by the same route as they arrived so there is no longer a reason to come to those streets by car unless you need to. These other streets are now nearly car free and this makes them a lot more more pleasant by bicycle than they used to be.

The Ceresplein is now a pedestrianized zone which allows bicycles. This is quite common in the Netherlands (another example) and it works very well with careful design. Such a zone should not be planned as a main through route by bike any more than it should be a main through route by car, but in a space as wide as the Ceresplein this is less of an issue.

The video below shows the Ceresplein now. It's now a relaxing space. It's ideal for shoppers, and therefore also for shopkeepers. When cyclists can take their bikes right up to the shops and when they will stay longer because the environment is more pleasant, shopping is made easier:


Compare this film with another film shot the same afternoon of a Shared Space with through traffic a few metres away.

Note that to the best of my knowledge, the Ceresplein was never formally referred to as "Shared Space". However, it had all the characteristics of Shared Space. Unlike other city centre streets in Assen which are nearly car free, this street embraced them. Motor vehicles used this as a through route and was it functionally a shared space. If it quacks like Shared Space and walks like Shared Space then to all intents and purposes, that's what it is...

Because the Ceresplein was never that popular as a through route, it actually worked better than many declared Shared Spaces. However it's still far better now without the through traffic. Certainly far better than an actual shared space a few metres away.