Thursday, 12 February 2015

Street design hostile to cycling. Jan Fabriciusstraat in Assen is an example of a greater Dutch malaise



The enormous and extremely expensive Florijn As project is changing Assen. While there are many benefits for drivers due to the Florijn As project, there are few changes which are good for cycling. There is plenty of glossy publicity material available on the website of the project but actual detailed plans have not been easy to access. In this case, I had a chance to view the plan on the right only on two half morning open days late last year.

I was surprised to find that the works being presented as part of the Blauwe As segment of the project extended beyond Het Kanaal and also involved changes to nearby Jan Fabriciusstraat. It was also a surprise to find out how hostile to cycling the plans for "improvements" to this street are.

Jan Fabriciusstraat 2010 vs. 2014. Rather than
continue the cycle-path to provide a safe route
for cycling, as was obviously once intended, the
entire area ahead was turned into pavement.
It is now planned to remove the res of this
cycle-path and for cyclists to ride in a far
more dangerous position left of the bus-stop.
Jan Fabriciustraat is extremely wide. There is no problem at all with providing well for cyclists in this location, as is demonstrated by the current arrangement in the northern part of the street. Next to the road there is currently a 4.5 m verge, a 3.6 m cycle-path and a 4.5 m pavement. The area is wide enough that a bus-stop built as part of the verge has ample space for bus passengers to stand as well as for the cycle-path and a generously wide pavement. This cycle-path has existed in a half finished state for several years, having been built to serve relatively new buildings on the Northern part of the street. It was clearly the intention of planners at that time that the cycle-path would be extended to the south when the next "block" was re-built.

Unfortunately, when the new Citadel development was built, the architects choose to ignore the good design of the existing infrastructure and instead send cyclists onto this busy through road. Rather than bikes crossing a side-road 5 metres from the road at 90 degrees and with maximum visibility of cyclists by drivers and visa-versa, a dangerous junction was created where drivers are required to turn their heads 180 degrees and look through their cars to see cyclists and where cyclists find it hard to judge what drivers will do next.
The photos above show a view pointing towards the south of the cycle-path shown on the left here. If there is space for trees with the redevelopment, surely there is also space for cyclists. Moving cyclists from a safe wide (3.6 m) cycle-path onto a narrow (1.3 m wide) on-road lane on a road which policy has recently made even more busy will not improve cycling safety.
On-road cycle-lanes do not work well. The problems that they cause are well known and can be observed across the world and all across the Netherlands. But we don't need to go far to see the problems because they can already be seen on the short section of Jan Fabriciusstraat already transformed, as demonstrated in my video above, and in a very similarly designed street a short distance away within Assen.

That this is an inadequate design has already been demonstrated quite comprehensively so why is the same mistake being repeated ?

What are standards for ?
The designer of these lanes in this location hasn't even tried to make the best possible job of them.
  1. Current Dutch recommendations call for a 2 to 2.5 metre width for on-road cycle-lanes, and an absolute minimum when space is tight of 1.7 metres. But these lanes on a very wide road with much traffic are just 1.3 metres in width.
  2. Good practice calls for bus-stops to be bypassed so that conflict between buses and cyclists is reduced but that has also not been done in this instance. Indeed, it is proposed to remove a bus-stop bypass and push cyclists in the cycle-lane into conflict with buses.
  3. The problems which result from drivers turning across cyclists in on-road lanes at side-road junctions are well known but have been ignored even though there are good examples right here in Assen of how these junctions should be designed.
As a result of the hostile conditions for cycling, most people who cycle here already use the pavement and not the on-road lanes. Where the cycle-path should have been continued there is now a ten metre wide pavement. Cyclists have been provided with a narrow 1.3 m wide on-road cycle-lane. The architects may have thought that this empty pavement outside their new building (Citadel) would look nice, but it's of no practical purpose whatsoever. On-road cycle-lanes in the Netherlands are supposed to be an absolute minimum of 1.7 m wide if space is tight. On this road, just 1.3 metres has been allocated for cyclists. Poor design which didn't take account of how real people behave has created a de-facto shared use path with the inevitable accompanying conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. A great example of Wide Pavement Syndrome - the tendency for modern architects to create enormously wide pavements (sidewalks) in places where few people walk.
Textured paving for blind people
It's also of note that there is very little textured paving to help blind people in this new development. Combined with the huge areas without any kerbs, especially between where pedestrians walk and where trucks park, as well as where various items of street furniture are placed, it would appear that the walking environment for people with blindness are not good. That's a contrast with the older very successful treatment of city centre streets where there is extensive textured pavement.

Citadel / Cite. Misleading impressions.
The developers "impression" of what the Southern end of Jan
Fabriciusstraat would look like. No cars, no bikes, no trucks
making deliveries, but lots of confident pedestrians walking
care-free across what is in reality a busy road. See photos and
videos above for what this really looks like.
I wrote about the problems with the Citadel centre shortly after it opened because somehow the developers had not only rebuilt this road with the narrow on-road lanes shown above but also forgotten to include proper cycle parking for this new shopping centre in a city where most shopping is by bicycle. It was an absurd thing to have happened and at the time I assumed that the problems would somehow be resolved. That has not happened. Cyclists still have to use a temporary indoor cycle-park in the car garage.



We're now facing the situation where rather than the problems caused by this new development being tackled, they are to be spread further along the same street.

Another impression, of the situation shown at the start of this
blog post. Note that no cars are shown, no bicycles either. Lots
of pedestrians standing around doing nothing at all. This is
not at all how it looks in reality.
It's important to learn from history in order not to repeat it.

Rather than progress, what is being proposed here is a return to the policy of 50 years ago when cycle-paths were being removed from Dutch cities to make space for more cars. Like most cities, Assen fought these mistakes in the 1970s and 1980s and recovered from this mistake.

But in this case we need look no further than the misleading architect's impressions from the existing development. These images never did represent reality. Why are we continuing to develop the city based on images like this which are designed to mislead ?

What the street really looks like. It's no accident that deliveries happen here as that's what the architect designed. It's also no accident that people cycle on the pavement here because the cycle-lanes on the road are inadequate and unsafe. The difference between the architects imagination and real life is due to the designer not having taken into account actual usage.
On the other side of the road, a dangerous bus-stop has already been built. Children use this route to get to and from school. Have the designers of the Florijnas project forgotten about stop de kindermoord ?
This design doesn't work anywhere
There are complaints about similar road designs across the world. e.g. Perth in Australia

Why is Assen following a trend which has proven to be a mistake elsewhere ?

"Assen Cycles". As recently as 2005,
Assen had a real ambition to increase
cycling Where's that ambition now?
Other recent mistakes in Assen, and across the country
Other examples of where Assen has made recent planning mistakes include the unpopular and dangerous Shared Space at Kerkplein, the construction of inadequate new bicycle bridges across Het Kanaal and the area outside the new cultural centre. In each of these cases, just like Jan Fabriciusstraat, architects produced imaginary impressions of what the areas would look like in the future which were not grounded in reality and which absolutely do not represent the reality of what happened after their designs were built.

A fifteen year old photo of good cycling
infrastructure. We became interested in
the Netherlands because of good
designs like this, which are now taken
for granted. No-one can make a career
of proposing slight improvements of
what already exists so we are seeing
change for the sake of change rather
than real improvements.
The Netherlands led the world in cycling between the mid 1970s and just a few years ago because the people involved quietly got on with engineering excellent solutions to the problems which cyclists faced. The result was more, safer, cycling. It was engineering, not architecture or marketing, which grew cycling in the Netherlands. The same problems remain now and the same solutions are required but we're not seeing the same solutions. Unfortunately, the people who did the very good groundwork decades ago have now mostly retired and their contribution is being forgotten by the new generation of planners, who are far more interested in promotion of their ideas than in taking on the problems that they are causing. "Innovations" should not be praised until the results have been evaluated.


In Groningen, the latest innovation is a
logo for traffic lights. The city stopped
investing
properly in cycling ten years
ago. This is most certainly not a return
to real progress.
It's important to note that this problem is not localised to Assen. This is a national problem. The Netherlands is unfortunately repeating the same mistakes as caused a decline in cycling 50 years ago and the likely outcome is that cycling will again start to decline again.

We first became interested in moving to the Netherlands around 20 years ago. What impressed me then was that this nation was very quietly getting on with building ever better cycling infrastructure and the results were plain to see everywhere: Cycling was growing, cycling was becoming safer. The Dutch saying "Meten is weten" (Measuring is knowing) was very much in vogue. The country wasn't making much noise about what was happening, they were getting on with engineering a better world for Dutch people and this most certainly involved improvements for cyclists.

Groningen 2015: An old cycle-path is
wider than the new cycle-lane which
leads to it. Cyclists squeezed while
Motoring lanes and unused pavement
in the middle of the road are wide.
This has changed. It seems now that marketing is being substituted for engineering. Rather than genuinely but quietly making things better, the country has started to boast about achievements with a view to exporting the services of Dutch companies. Unfortunately, what they've been offering is not nearly so high in quality as what was being built here, and now we're seeing the same low quality design taking over in the Netherlands as well.

The view from overseas
We have hosted hundreds of visitors from outside the Netherlands on cycling infrastructure study tours here in Assen. Given the content of my last few blog posts, readers may wonder whether there is anything worth seeing. First of all, as I emphasized at the end of the last section, it's important to note that the problems which I write about are not confined to this one city. Other cities in the Netherlands are making the same mistakes as Assen, but it seems that almost no-one is writing about these mistakes.

The Netherlands still leads the world in cycling and Assen still has better infrastructure on average than most other Dutch cities. That's why we live here. There are plenty of good examples of infrastructure here as well as the less good and we show both of these on the study tours.

There is nothing at all for us to gain from presenting a fairy-tale view of a perfect cycling environment. We are not employed to represent the city, and we certainly do not engage in city marketing. We present the reality, "warts and all".

I don't write blog posts about the newest unproven infrastructure or regurgitate press releases which claim improvements in safety which are not confirmed by actual data. I caution against assuming that everything Dutch is worth emulating because it is only by copying from and improving on the best examples in the Netherlands that real progress can be made elsewhere. The best examples are not necessarily the newest, and they are usually not the most well publicized either.

Come and see
Click right here for more details.
This year is our tenth of running study tours. We again offer an honest and independent appraisal of what works and what does not work in the Netherlands, with no commercial reason to push one solution over another.

Update May 2015
The works in Jan Fabriciusstraat continue. The cycle-path in the northern part of the street has now been completely removed so that when the works are complete cyclists will have to ride the entire length of the street in a dangerously narrow cycle-lane on the road:
The new development in this street is one of the most disappointing things I have seen happen since I moved to the Netherlands. There is nothing better for cyclists about the new arrangement.
Update March 2016
The FlorijnAs juggernaut keeps on going. Jan Fabriciusstraat has been altered further, bringing these problems:
Cyclists are squeezed into a 1.3 m wide on road lane for the full length of the street. The road, extra wide pavements with space for cars to park and a grass verge in the centre all have more space than cyclists. In this photo you'll see how many people cycle against the flow because there is no convenient place to cross the road to continue in this direction. The cycle-path which used to exist in Jan Fabriciusstraat should have been kept and extended up to this junction.

Cyclists have just 1.3 m of space, but the problem of trucks using even this narrow cycle-lane for unloading has not been resolved. That this continues to happen is an indication that the provided parking bay is not convenient for the truck drivers. For whom precisely does this design work ?
Update December 2016
Having created a dangerous situation in the Cite / Citadel development and along Jan Fabriciusstraat, the architects unintentionally but inevitably actively encouraged cyclists to ride on the pavement in the enormously wide and inviting space reserved for pedestrians. So what's happened now ? The council has now started to fine cyclists who use the pavement, making an already awful situation even worse.

It's not the cyclists who should be fined. They are merely reacting to the difficult and dangerous conditions created for them. It's the architect who created this problem. I'd like to see a €55 fine claimed from the architect each time that someone cycles on the pedestrian zone in this development.
Cyclists in the pedestrian zone. Note how wide it is, and how little conflict with pedestrians this creates. This should be an area where you can cycle. Faces fuzzed out to protect the innocent. Fine the developer and architect who created this ridiculous design rather than those who are struggling to make use of it.

Cycling continues along here because that is the only way to reach the cycle-parking. Do these shops want customers or not ? If they do then it's time to get behind their customers, most of whom arrive by bike, rather than fining them.
More concrete desert above the shops. Cyclists have to climb stairs and then push their bikes over all of this space to reach the cycle-parking by their homes.

More concrete desert alongside Jan Fabriciusstraat. It's forbidden to cycle here. You are allowed to cycle only in the illegally narrow 1.3 m wide on-road cycle-lanes which are regularly blocked for deliveries or to empty those bins.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The end of free car parking in Assen city centre and how this has caused problems for cyclists

Veemarktterrein a few years ago. Not full, but quite a lot of cars were parked here.
For many years, the Veemarktterrein a few hundred metres east of Assen city centre offered free car parking. Anyone could park their car here for as long as they wanted free of charge. The attraction of free parking wasn't enough to make people drive when they had a better alternative so though it was free of charge, this car park almost always had spaces in it. This area on the edge of the city had a valuable benefit for cyclists because it helped to keep cars out of the city centre streets.
The same car-park this week on market day. The cars haven't disappeared - they are now driven further into the city causing consequences for cyclists.
The policy on car parking changed at the beginning of this year. A charge of €1.30 per hour was imposed for parking in this previously free car park, with a limit of €5 per day. At the same, car parks in the city centre which were already the cheapest in the Netherlands had their maximum charge halved to just €6 per day. The result of this policy is that the out of town centre car park is no longer attractive to drivers so they continue right into the city and use multi-storey car parks which were previously often largely empty.

The result is many more cars are driven into the centre of Assen and this causes more conflict between motorists and cyclists.


The crossing of Het Kanaal at the Venebrug is not signalled and is shared with pedestrians. This is one of the locations where there are now more problems due to more cars

The inner ring road is shown as a red line. The previously
free of charge car park is the green area on the right. Blue
squares show the locations of car parks which have
been made more popular by the change in policy.
Note how these are close to red spots: points identified
as dangerous to cyclists in the Fietsverkeernota 2005.
The Inner Ring Road has been made more dangerous
Because the city centre car parks are reached by driving along the inner ring-road, extra motor traffic is being generated along the streets which make up the ring.

Locations along this route have long been known to be problematic for cyclists. Several of them were pointed out as being dangerous to cyclists and in need of improvement by the Fietsverkeernota of 2005.

Locations where there are now more cars and more danger for cyclists include the following. Where there are links below, further information can be found about problems in those locations:
  1. The Kerkplein Shared Space
  2. Weierstraat outside De Nieuwe Kolk
  3. The difficult left turn from Weierstraat into Minervalaan
  4. The crossing of Nobellaan by Het Kanaal
  5. Crossings of Het Kanaal
  6. Jan Fabriciusstraat
  7. The junction of Stationstraat and Oostersingel
  8. Zuidersingel
"Parking in demand - Gemeente Assen policy bearing fruit"
But also see the next headline on the same topic
Update 2016
The result of encouraging drivers to bring their cars further into Assen is now known. There's been an attempt to spin this as success, but actually it's no such thing. The change in policy is not good for cyclists, drivers, shop owners or the local economy.

Two articles appeared in the same February issue of one of our local newspapers. I've reproduced them both here.

"Income reduced - cars park for less time"
It is true that drivers now use the paid for parking spaces more often than before, but this has actually resulted in a fall in income for these garages because drivers now stay for shorter periods in order to avoid paying.

What is happening is that people drive to the supermarket, pick up a card allowing them to park for free for three quarters of an hour and then they do their best to avoid overstaying such that they have to pay more. Fewer people now drive to Assen, use the free parking, and remain for the entire day.

The result of this is that local shops other than the supermarkets have almost certainly lost customers due to the change in policy.

Overall results:
  1. Local government has lower income than before
  2. Drivers are annoyed because parking is no longer free
  3. Cyclists are annoyed and endangered because more cars come to the central streets.
  4. Local businesses have fewer customer
No-one has actually benefitted.