Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Drenthe, the world's cycling province. Now recognized as the first ever UCI Bike Region

Why we came here
People occasionally ask us why we chose to live in Assen, capital of the rural province of Drenthe in the North of the Netherlands, when we could have made our home in one of the better known Dutch cities in the South.

An extensive grid of quality cycling infrastructure. Not only
within the city of Assen, also through the countryside.
As we had our own business we were free to go anywhere. We were not forced to choose any particular location due to our employer. This location was not arrived at by chance: we spent many years researching the Netherlands and visiting different parts of the country, always looking for the right place for us to move to.

One of our most important criteria was that our new home had to be in a place which was exceptional for cycling because quite apart from that being pleasant for ourselves, we were already planning to run study tours and organise cycling holidays a long time before we moved here. It would have made no sense to do either of those things from an inferior location.

The Netherlands leads the world in cycling, but cycling infrastructure across the country is not the same everywhere. Both Assen and the countryside around the city are exceptional for cycling even when compared with much of the rest of the Netherlands. That's why we came here.

UCI Bike Region
A couple of weeks ago our local TV news included this clip, "Drenthe is the first area in the world named as a UCI Bike Region":

Not only does the grid cover obvious commuting routes
but also very pleasant routes through heath and forest.
The UCI is primarily concerned with regulating cycle sport. Drenthe hosts many cycle sport competitions such as the Ronde van Drenthe and the world's largest youth cycle racing event. The judges were also impressed by the wonderful annual four day Fiets4Daagse event. However in this case the award was given in large part due to the high rate of utility cycling. "The Netherlands is renowned as having the most highly developed cycling infrastructure in the world and is a model for others to follow [...] Drenthe has one of the highest levels of children cycling to school and citizens riding bikes for transport of anywhere in the country." i.e. they were impressed by precisely the same things as impressed us.

How is Drenthe now ?
In this particularly sparely populated mostly rural province, people cycle further than in most of the rest of the country and despite those longer distances the cycling modal share is higher. The province claims quite a lot. e.g.:

  1. 29% of all journeys in Drenthe are by bike vs. figure of 27% nationally.
  2. 15-25 year olds in Drenthe cycle on average 6.12 km per day while nationally the figure is just 4.01 km per day.
  3. 44% of trips up to 2.5 km in length are by bicycle in Drenthe vs. 38% nationally.

Why is cycling so popular in Drenthe ? It's surely no coincidence that a place with excellent infrastructure should find itself also to have high rate of cycling. With over 2100 km in total, this province has more fully separated cycle-paths than any other.

Together towards zero
traffic victims.
Advances in Drenthe
Drenthe has also been awarded the status of a "five star cycling province" (five stars is the maximum) and there is currently a "quality impulse" available in the form of a financial boost. €20M is to be spent by the province in conjunction with other matched funding, working out as an additional €34 per person. It's enough to make real improvements.

Even before this funding became available, some evidence of a recent emphasis had already made itself know. For instance, a new type of retro-reflective paint used on the centre lines of rural cycle-paths makes them significantly easier to see at night.

The network of excellent cycling infrastructure continues to grow, with "the grid" covering not only towns and cities but also making the entire countryside easily accessible by bike. It is a stated aim to increase the already very high proportion of children who cycle to school and to promote more long distance commuting by bike.

The better funding will contribute towards useful interventions such as the upcoming Assen-Groningen Fietssnelweg. Existing routes between the two cities are already excellent, but for many of those in a hurry this will provide an even better alternative:
One of the submitted designs for a new Assen-Groningen fietssnelweg, to have a design speed of 35 km/h and absolutely no stops at all. I see myself fitting in very well on that cycle-path, designed to make cycling a genuinely efficient and attractive alternative to driving over a distance of 30 km.
Here comes winter
13 parcels full of quality bicycle components from our webshop
beginning their journey to destinations across the world
It's beginning to get cold here. Indeed, last night was the coldest November night since 1998, with a temperature of -8 C. We've not got enough ice yet for skating, but there's enough that birds can stand on top of the canal rather than swimming in it.

Of course, in winter we expect the cycling to continue.

Maintenance continues to be excellent and Assen has no potholes in roads and cycle-paths which the ice can make worse.

Remaining in Drenthe
We've now lived in Assen for nearly ten years. This is still the right place from which to promote cycling, to write about our experiences and from which to supply cycling products. We're doing all we can to stay right here and continue to do the same.


highwayman said...

For a 30 kilometre-long true cycle highway, it's nice to know there will not be stops. But will there still be junctions --albeit of the controlled access kind (adapted to bikes & walking, of course)?

300 kilometres is quite long without some other access points along the route. Would these access points be spaced at about 5 kilometres or 6 kilometres apart? Or am I asking for too much detail, too soon?

David Hembrow said...

highwayman: There will be plenty of junctions to serve villages along the route and also to join with other cycle-paths, but in principle the fietsnelweg will have priority at each junction. We already have that on the existing route. e.g. here. When I used to commute to Groningen I usually didn't stop more than once in 30 km on the existing cycle-paths.

Clark in Vancouver said...

This is really nice. Many towns and cities are so close to each other that they're a simple short bike ride away yet that often isn't an option. I'm once again impressed by the Dutch and their sense of practicality and desire to have a good life.
Am I right to assume that the illustration is an advisory bike lane and that driving will be allowed on it? It seems that way to me by the way it's striped.

It's interesting and sad that recently the the term "bicycle highway" is being used by cycling opponents in Vancouver to scare people with false claims of danger to others from cycling.