Friday 8 December 2017

Cycling's Recommended Minimum Daily Allowance. Do you ride your bike enough to maintain good health ?

Do you ride your bike enough to maintain good health ? I suspect that many people actually do not. A surprising amount of cycling is required if that's the main thing you do for exercise

Many sources suggest that half an hour a day of exercise is around the minimum to maintain good health.

My racing bike. A left-over from the 1980s, steel frame and
non-indexed gearing. Not the most comfy choice for me for
long rides, ideal for a quick spin around town & countryside
Because I work from home, I don't have a commute forced upon me, as was the case in the past. That means I don't automatically get a daily dose of cycling by going to work and back. Our deliveries are all made at least partially by bike, but while that means I'm riding a relatively heavily loaded cargo bike, the short round-trip distance of about 3 km doesn't take long enough. For that reason, I go out for a "commute" on at least some mornings even though I don't have to.

This morning I rode a little over 16 km, going through the town, stopping for traffic lights, heading out into the countryside against a stiff headwind and returning home again with a tailwind which of course can never add as much as the headwind already took away. It took me 31 minutes to cover the distance. I'm not about to set any records at that speed. That's not the point. This is moderate exercise, taking it fairly easy, expending enough effort to get slightly out of breath sometimes, enough to raise a bit of a sweat but certainly not enough to make my heart pound as if is going to pop out of my chest.

Recommended Minimum Daily Allowance - 15 km
At a moderate rate of exertion, 30 minutes of cycling at a rate conducive to maintaining health equates to covering about 15 km at an average speed of about 30 km/h. 15 km per day equates to about 100 km per week or about 5500 km a year. i.e. it takes about 5500 km of cycling each year to do enough exercise to maintain health.

Another day, with company, I rode another trusted old friend
on which I've ridden many thousands of kilometres over the
last 20 years.
If you ride a round-trip commute of around 21 km (13 miles) each day five days a week then that's just about perfect and will add up to about the annual target figure. If your commute is shorter, take a detour sometimes. People like me who don't have a regular commute to account for 5500 km (3300 miles) each year probably ought to get out on their bikes more often, which is what I do these days.

An inexpensive bike computer helps keep track of the total. It's December and we're heading into winter, but that's no reason to stop: Cycling in winter is particularly rewarding.

How this relates to other means of transport
If cycling is to benefit us as exercise as well as a form of transport it should be our first choice for at the first 5000 km that we travel each year. Until we've covered that distance we can consider the cost of the "fuel" used to cycle to be zero as the alternative would be to burn away the same amount of energy by wasting it at a gym or in some other sporting activity.

Motor vehicle enthusiasts occasionally make an absurd claim that the environmental cost of providing food to humans riding bicycles makes us so much less efficient than modern motor vehicles that we'd be better off driving a car than riding a bike. It's nonsense of course. Bicycles are the most efficient vehicles on the planet by some margin. This goes double for the first 5000 km because expending that energy through our bodies isn't optional. We don't need to eat extra to be able to ride those kilometres, we merely need to eat what is required to maintain a healthy weight while also taking a healthy amount of exercise.

Faster than light travel
Further to the above, cycling is the only means of travel which allows you to cover distances at infinite speed, taking no time at all to make your journey. No time at all needs to be allocated for most cycling journeys. How so ?

Let's begin by assuming that we will actually do that 30 minutes a day of exercise which is required to remain healthy. By exercising while you cycle you can fit in two 15 minute journeys each day (e.g. to work and back) without allocating any specific "cycling" time. It's just your minimum exercise. By comparison, driving a car might appear to get you to work in about half the time, taking 8 minutes each way, but afterward you'll also need to drive to a gym and back (5 minutes each way) and you'll also still still have to spend 30 minutes exercising, but in this case pointlessly staring into space on a machine in the gym instead of watching the world go by as you cycle. So overall, driving takes as much time out of your day as the actual travel time in the car, in this case 26 minutes (8+8+5+5), while cycling anything up to thirty minutes a day actually takes no time at all.

I sometimes write about health and cycling, but I am not a doctor. In particular, I am not your doctor and I certainly cannot offer health advice to you personally. If you need health advice or you're thinking about changing your exercise habits please see a professional.

Update: What about the Dutch average ? What about e-bikes ?
It's often quoted that the average Dutch person cycles less than 1000 km a year. If so, they're obviously not doing nearly enough exercise on their bikes to keep themselves healthy. I'm not sure I know anyone who really cycles just 1000 km a year, though. It's almost impossible to ride less than a thousand kilometres a year if you use a bike for everyday journeys. I find I often cover twice that distance on my town bike each year even though most of the distance that I cover is on other bicycles, and I don't even have a regular commute these days.

Research has shown that average e-bike riders don't get much exercise at all. If you are trying to maintain your health by riding an assisted bicycle then you will possibly not get much benefit unless you turn the assistance down and also ride much more than 5000 km a year. If you ride less than that distance then you could consider turning off the motor altogether. Otherwise you can expect less of a health benefit than would result from riding a 100% human powered bike.

Saturday 9 September 2017

Business as usual by driving a "Green car" vs. actually using a genuinely clean and green mode of transport

In the late 80s I worked as a contract software engineer and lived as a sort of a self-propelled technological vagrant. I had never had an interest in cars and wouldn't learn to drive for several more years so all my travel was by public transport, by bicycle or by foot. Many people thought this an unusual choice, but I managed to make my way with an ancient laptop computer and portable stereo to wherever I had work to do.

This is very close to where I lived in South London. It's no surprise at all to me that this scene is much the same today as it was then - a place dominated by cars. There are twice as many cars on Britain's roads now compared with then, all adding to the many problems that cars cause. Electric cars won't solve this problem. Self-driving cars may well make it worse (they'll drive even with no-one in them to collect people or to avoid paying for parking)
For a few months I worked off and on at a location in South London where I found accommodation in a local family's spare room. It was just as well that I didn't drive as there would have been nowhere to park a car, Mum, Dad and both their sons had cars so the driveway and the road outside were already full. They were sociable people and there were often conversations over breakfast, often concerning annoyance with traffic jams and the cost of fuel. One morning my landlady told me that it was going to be expensive for her but because she was so concerned about the environment she was buying a new "green" car (she used the word "green", which then just as now I found an odd choice to describe any car).

2017: Car companies have never shied away from claiming
that their product is "green", but actually cars are anything
but a "green" product. Similarly, this sign claims that a
product which kills over a million people every year is "safe".
It seemed to me that the problem with that area was that is was dominated by cars. I couldn't see how changing from one model of car to another was going to achieve any sort of transformation (I think I've been proven to be right as it's still dominated by cars, just like the rest of London). I pointed out that building a new car costs in lot of energy and resources and that therefore keeping an older model going for a few more years would quite possibly have a lower environmental impact than changing prematurely to a new one. I also pointed out that the new car would burn fossil fuels at much the same rate as her old car so those gains would be marginal at best. But it was too late for any of this as the marketing people's work had been done and a mind had been made up: My temporary landlady was convinced that new technology made the new car so much better than the old so she was buying one. What was this new technology ? It was merely that the new vehicle could (optionally) run on unleaded petrol.

The environmental advice on offer to drivers is confusing.
These energy labels for new cars show a better rating for
a car with higher emissions. Why ? Because they are based
on the weight/class of the car. The lighter car with the C
rating produces lower emissions per km. No advice is given
to not buy or use a car.
I was a guest in someone else's home and I left it at that, but this thought always stayed with me: Marketing works. A very pleasant woman had been convinced to part with a lot of money to buy a new "green" car because she thought it would allow driving with a clean conscience, in addition to it being a nice thing to show off to her friends. Of course she was far from the only one convinced: Many millions of people have since followed the same path.

Now it's a good thing that lead was removed from automotive fuels. The entire planet was being contaminated with lead from the exhausts of cars and this was especially concentrated in cities and alongside busy roads where many people lived. The result of lead pollution included lowered intelligence and higher crime rates. But could a car modified only so that it could run on lead free fuel be said to be "green" ? Surely not. Hardening valve seats to allow use of unleaded fuel was a relatively inexpensive development which allowed for a new model year of car to be produced, distinct from the old, but it was really just the smallest improvement which the manufacturers could make when faced with possible legislation against them. The greater problems with cars had not been tackled - new cars burnt just as much fuel as the old and carbon emissions were therefore the same. The "green" marketing served its purpose in that it extracted money from customers' bank accounts and sold more cars, but it did nothing for the environment.

Let"s not forget about the other environmental effects of
driving. Tyre rubber makes up a large % of the "plastic soup"
in our oceans. The heavier the vehicle, the quicker the tyre
wears. Electric cars produce more rubber dust than petrol
cars and all cars produce far more dust than bicycles. There
is still no viable method to recycle tyres. See update below
about emissions from EVs
Since that time there have been several other claimed environmental improvements to cars, including catalytic converters (introduced later than lead-free in the UK), autogas, "clean diesel", hybrid, plug-on hybrid and fully electric cars. In each case, bold environmental claims have been made by car manufacturers. Each new type of car was marketed as offering the dream of continuing our lives as usual or even of increasing our use of cars while allowing drivers to have a clean conscience. It's public knowledge now that the clean diesel claims were deliberately based on a deception, but actually this has all been an illusion.

Electric cars are the current hype so that's something that's worth talking about now.

A 1950s mini and a modern mini have similar CO2 emissions.
So does an electric car. This slide comes from a presentation
which I gave in Assen in January on the subject of genuinely
clean and green transport.
In the Netherlands, 25% of electricity is generated by burning coal and 60% by burning gas. i.e. in total the electricity is generated 85% from the burning of fossil fuels. That is why the CO2 output as a result of driving an electric car is almost identical to that from driving a fossil fuel powered car.

I'm doubtful that any real progress has been made in reducing total CO2 emissions from cars since I had that conversation nearly 30 years ago because while cars haven't become significantly more efficient, their use has most certainly increased since then. Extend the time-line a little and we can be absolutely sure that modern cars produce more CO2 emissions than were contained in the obviously dirty exhausts of the 1950s because today's "green" cars are far higher in number and this swamps the relatively small efficiency improvements made.

The red line shows car usage growth since the 1950s in the
Netherlands. Today's slightly more efficient cars are far
more taxing for the environment than the dirtier cars of
old because they are being driven ten times as much. The
growth continues, reaching an all-time high in 2016.
Deaths per passenger km (in blue) have improved but
while that's good news, it's a topic for another day.
I think at this point it's worth bearing in mind that by the late 1980s in western nations, car usage had already been through its steepest growth period. In countries where the strongest growth is happening now or where it is yet to come, all the growth is just growth and all the emissions are in addition to what was there before. There is no possible argument that these new emissions can possibly be countered by improvements in efficiency over what there was before.

More cars are leading to more pollution. It doesn't much matter what the fuel source is, the result is the same. The only way to produce less pollution from motor vehicles is to have far fewer motor vehicles and to use them less.

Update 2018: A study from the University of Edinburgh / INNAS has suggested that particulate emissions are in fact no lower from electric cars than from internal combustion engine cars. To summarize: 90% of PM10 and 85% of PM2.5 emissions do not come from the exhaust pipes of cars but from tyre and brake wear. The heavier weight of electric vehicles results in their emissions from these sources being higher, cancelling out the relatively unimportant issue of not having an exhaust pipe. The report suggests that lighter vehicle weights should be pursued in order to improve emissions.

Government reaction to a growing problem
1970s magazine impression of a futuristic efficient electric
car, light weight and low performance. Unfortunately, the trend
has been towards higher weight and better performance which
has led to higher emissions. Subsidies are now given to
encourage people to buy relatively inefficient vehicles instead
of encouraging people not to drive cars when we know
that most car journeys are over cycle-able distances.
Governments around the world are now falling over themselves to offer incentives to those who buy new electric cars. Many millions of $, €, ¥ and 圆 are now being given away to encourage people to drive.

For example, the Dutch government has offered €1000 to people who scrap their old cars, but only if they use the money to buy a new car. This is a subsidy which encourages people to continue to drive. Anyone who wishes to scrap their old car and not drive at all cannot receive the subsidy. In addition, there are other incentives worth thousands more for people who buy an electric car. All these subsidies and incentives can only be used by those who choose to continue to pollute by continuing to drive. What's more, the more you drive, the bigger the saving that can be made because there is also a tax free 19 cent per km payment for commuters who drive. The Netherlands actually subsidizes driving, so it's hardly surprising that Dutch car ownership and use continue to rise.

Most journeys made by motor vehicle are short enough that they could instead be made by human power. In most cases a normal bicycle or by using an efficient bicycle such as a velomobile to cover slightly longer distances and enable comfortable cycling in all weathers. There are no subsidies to help to enable people to buy velomobiles. Modern, efficient, velomobiles are almost all produced by Dutch companies, but these companies do not receive the support from government which is offered to foreign companies producing electric cars.

The Netherlands continues to achieve more for cycling than any other country but even here there isn't enough attention being placed on encouraging people not to use motorized transport. Roads for cars receive at least ten times the funding available for cycling facilities.

Only 25% of Dutch electricity is now generated by burning
coal vs. 100% 50 years ago. Unfortunately the growth in
consumption means that twice as much coal is burnt to
generate electricity now in comparison with then.
But can't we use "green" electricity ?
50 years ago, almost all electricity generated around the world was the result of burning coal. This was the case in the Netherlands as well. Now just a quarter of all electricity in the Netherlands comes from coal, which might look like progress.

Unfortunately, the consumption of electricity has grown so much that to generate a quarter of our electricity today requires burning twice as much coal as was burnt 50 years ago. In addition, 60% of electricity results on burning gas, which produces about half the CO2 emissions of coal for the same useful electricity output but because more than twice as much generation comes from burning gas as from coal, the emissions of the gas power stations are even greater than the emissions of the coal stations.

It's not just the Netherlands that is reliant on fossil fuels for
electricity. This graph shows the growth in generation world
. The brown part is the contribution of fossil fuels.
It's completely unreasonable to expect that "green" electric
cars which double the total demand for electricity will be able
to run solely on renewables when faced with this data.
The contribution from renewable sources is still small at around 10% of the total, and it's still intermittent. We have an array of solar panels on our roof which generates more electricity than we use in our home and our business combined each year. Unfortunately, on overcast rainy September mornings like this morning, our "3600 W" system only produces about 1/10th of the electricity required to boil a kettle for a cup of tea. While we generate more electricity each year than we use, we don't only consume the electricity that we generate. Output in winter is far less than our use during that period and of course we could never run our lights at night time from our solar power. The balance of the energy used comes from other sources, which in the Netherlands mostly means gas, coal and nuclear despite our having signed up to a "green" tariff.

If everyone were to switch to driving an electric car then double the amount of electricity would be required. Not only would this require very many more generators but it would also create an expectation that vast amounts electricity ought to be available immediately to every motorist who arrives home at the end of a working day because they expect to be able to drive their car again later that evening or next morning. Unfortunately, the huge current consumption of fast charging (30 A for each Nisssan Leaf fast charger) of millions of electric cars plugged in at the end of the working day is simply not compatible with the way in which electricity is generated, at a consistent level all day through for traditional generators and when the sun shines or wind blows for renewables, and there are absolutely no viable storage technologies which could smooth this out (no, not with a battery and not with pumped storage either).

Forget about batteries
Let's re-iterate that. We can't rely on batteries because the resources don't exist on our planet to build them. Nor can we rely on such things as pumped storage because they simply don't scale. British people often like to point to the Dinorwig pumped storage facility in Wales. It's a marvelous machine and the roughly 75% efficiency is actually quite good, but its capacity is just 10 MWh which is a small fraction of the 830 MWh which the UK consumes each day. To provide enough storage to cater for seven days of normal electricity usage to allow for variations in wind strength you'll need to build another 500 of those plants. Are there 500 suitable places in the UK ? I doubt it. Add electric cars and you can double that. That's to give just a week's worth of storage. If you want to rely on solar power you actually need 6 months of storage...

The only solution is to use less electricity, especially overnight and during winter when there is less solar power and also at any time when the wind isn't blowing hard, when what we should be looking to do is to reduce electricity usage. That means not expecting to be able to charge vast numbers of electric cars.

Buses, trains and cars have quite similar energy
consumption per passenger kilometre
. There's not
much to gain by convincing people to travel by bus
or train instead of driving a car. Bicycles are
a completely different story.
What about trains or buses ?
Unfortunately, public transport such as trains and buses use a very similar amount of energy per passenger kilometre to a car. There's no substantial gain from switching from one mode to another. To reduce energy consumption and the resulting emissions caused by transport we have to fewer journeys by motorized means over shorter distances.

The Dutch railway company NS boasts of using entirely wind energy to power their trains, but this is an illusion. All that's happening is that they have signed up for a wind energy tariff. Anyone can do that. I'm sure many of my readers have already done so. We did this many years ago and when I looked into it I found out where my "green" electricity really came from.

Having a green tariff doesn't mean that your electricity genuinely comes from that source because there would then be no guarantee of supply. Dutch trains don't grind to a halt when the wind stops blowing, they simply continue to run on the same mix of electricity sources as every other electrical device in the Netherlands. i.e. 25% coal and 60% gas.

Growth in air-transport
Aircraft and ships
Not only do we now use cars about 10 times more than we used to in the 1950s, but we fly about 30 times as much as we did at that time. Despite great increases in the efficiency of aircraft this has resulted in enormous growth in emissions.

Not only passenger transport, but the shipment of goods has also also grown enormously. The Berlin Airlift required an unprecedented effort by the Western Allies using military and civilian aircraft to move enough food, fuel and other supplies into Berlin to sustain the population over 15 months in 1948 - 1949 however routine civilian cargo flights now move the same weight of goods by air every four days.

The original Boeing 707 was sold in the 1950s on the basis that it consumed a tenth of the fuel per passenger km, and therefore would create about 1/10th of the CO2 emissions, compared with a contemporary ocean liner. Since that time, jet aircraft which were then a new technology have become three times more efficient while the efficiency of ships, which were already a developed technology, has not moved markedly. Anyone who travels by ship instead of by aircraft on the grounds that it's "green" has made a huge error.

The only way of reducing the emissions of your journeys is to travel less.

Ships powered by sails alone have genuinely low emissions but while there have been frequent stories over the past few decades (even so long ago as the 1920s) about new ships with sails, wings and kites, only a handful of ships have ever used these techniques to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and there are (very nearly) no sailing ships in current use for cargo or passenger travel.

Carbon offsetting doesn't work. Removing coal, gas or oil from the ground and burning it is a one-way process. Paying someone in a far off country to plant a tree does not remove CO2 from the air and put it back underground, it merely moves some amount to temporary storage in a tree. If you live in a western developed nation it's quite likely that where you live now is a place which was once a forest, or at least covered in more vegetation than you see around you. Please do plant trees as that compensates to some extent for deforestation which has already happened and continues to happen, but recognize that doing so is only replacing the trees which have already been displaced. It does not compensate for using fossil fuels.

Similarly, you can't compensate for higher usage of fossil fuels by eating a vegan diet or by not having children. Yes, it's true that both of those things will reduce your carbon footprint relative to someone who eats meat or has children, but they cannot make it it negative as would be required to compensate for burning fossil fuels.

Airlines, movie companies and other businesses have partnerships with carbon offsetting companies because it's good marketing, greenwashing a company reputation rather than actually solving a problem. We can't buy away our effect on the planet, we can only reduce our effect by consuming less.

Reduce, Re-use, Re-cycle
The Three Rs of environmentalism are supposed to be "Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle". They're always stated in that order because "Reduce" is most important but unfortunately it's also always been the least popular suggestion of the three. Buying ever more stuff and sending it away at the end of its (short) life so that someone else hopefully will be able to recycle that stuff is not the same as buying less stuff in the first place.

Where transport emissions are concerned it's really only "Reduce" which has any relevance. The only way we can reduce our emissions through travel is to reduce the number of kilometres per year that we travel by using motorized modes of transport. Unfortunately, the pattern of the last few decades has been one of extraordinary growth with people using cars more and flying much more so that they can take holidays at greater distances from home.

Who is a "cyclist" ? As "cyclists", are we helping or hindering ?
What proportion of the distance that each of us covers each year is by bicycle ? The average Dutch person walks or cycles about 10% of their journeys by distance. Similarly, I suspect that many enthusiastic people who read this blog and identify as "cyclists" actually cover rather more distance by a mixture of car, aeroplane, bus and train than they do by bicycle. If we do that, and our cycling is actually a minority mode for us, then perhaps we should identify instead as "motorists" as the majority of our transport is actually by motorised vehicle.

I'm not getting at you, dear reader, I'm asking you to think about it. Think about your own travel patterns and those of others. I'm thinking about it. I refused an invitation to attend a cycling conference in Australia a few years ago because of the travel and more recently refused to open a cycling event in Norway for the same reason. However at the same time we've been encouraging other people to make long journeys by offering study tours. We can't continue to encourage it and have stopped offering tours, but unfortunately this won't be enough to stop people from making long journeys by motorised means to visit the Netherlands or other places in order to cycle short distances.

Harvey, Irma and Jose too
On the same weekend as I wrote this, on the same weekend as
the storms continue to cause havoc, The Guardian, a relatively
enlightened UK newspaper, ran an article about the joys of
flying to New Zealand to go on a 15 km bike ride. Other
stories covered by the press include how long it will be until
flights to Florida will be able to resume. Are we going to
continue to ignore the problem that we're creating ?
While it's impossible to say that the storms which are currently affecting millions of peoples' lives are directly the result of man-made climate change, it's widely accepted that even if they are not so caused, climate change will certainly have made their effects worse.

The people affected by these storms are suffering at present and we can all do a little to help. In the Netherlands, the Rode Kruis is organising a help effort. Give what you can, but think also about how your personal behaviour can influence future weather patterns.

None of us can continue with "business as usual". So far as transport is concerned, and transport is the subject of this blog, we need to reduce how much we use all motorised modes. Cycling can't "offset" motoring. It can't "offset" the burning of fossil fuels and there are no motorized modes which don't use fossil fuels. Are we, every one of us, individually, part of the solution or part of the problem ?

This blog post is based in large part on a presentation which I made in Assen in January. If you wish, you can read the original slides and a version of some of the text of that presentation.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Bikes for refugees

I've not written much on this blog recently. This is a cycling blog and it's rare that I've strayed far from cycling subjects, but at this point in history there are other big issues which simply can't be ignored and I've not wanted to distract from them. Many of my readers are from the UK and USA and both countries have far greater problems at the moment than their lack of decent cycling infrastructure.

I'll start with a message to Americans: Please hurry up and impeach Trump. He was obviously not of presidential material before many of you voted for him and in the few days he's been in power he has undermined your nation. Trump is a danger not only to the US but also to the world. But at least there is an obvious protest movement in the US and Trump has been of huge benefit to satirists.

To British people: Brexit will be a disaster for the UK. Your massive debt, poor infrastructure, poor social conditions and lack of much to export won't be helped at all by devaluation of your currency and loss of the very good trade deals which you currently have with the EU and through it to the world. Millions of people are already living with uncertainty due to the vote (us included). There's not much good news in the pipeline for the UK. For Britain I think it's worse than for the USA. A president is voted in for four years while brexit is forever. Yet while some British politicians are busy getting close to Trump the official "opposition" has failed to actually oppose anything, and there are no significant protests so I can't see this juggernaut stopped.

Most mainland Europeans understand more than one language. As a result, they're not hostage to what their own media wishes to publish. What's more, newspapers and TV news over here report what's going on in other countries quite well. As a result, the people have been able to see what has happened in the UK and USA, how "fake news" and outright lies misled the electorates of those countries. The result of this is that support for the EU has increased since June last year and the chance of European nations falling foul of the same influences as caused Brexit and the Trump presidency has waned.

A positive message
The world is a strange place at the moment. However that seems like a good reason to write about something positive:

Last year, the Grote Culturele Prijs van Drenthe (Great Cultural Prize of Drenthe) was awarded to the architect Cor Kalfsbeek. Cor and his wife Sibylle decided to use the €10000 prize money to do something for society and what they've done is to buy 100 bicycles for refugees living in a centre near their home in the North of Drenthe.

In this video from our local TV station you'll see people learning to cycle and find out how the bikes are being used. Because cycling has been made accessible to everyone, newcomers to the Netherlands use bicycles just as the locals do, to go to school and work, make shopping trips, and for pleasant rides through the countryside. Cycling is not only useful, it also makes people smile.

Cyclists near one of the many refugee centres in Drenthe
In the words of Sybille Kalfsbeek: "What can be better than cycling in the Netherlands ? You must do it. It takes you far, it relaxes you, you're outside, you're distracted and must pay attention. It's an activity which frees you and it makes your world a bit bigger."

The Netherlands is currently home to many thousands of refugees. There have been objections from some people afraid of what might happen, and crimes have been commited by a small minority, but the majority of asylum seekers are people very much like you and I, singles, couples, families, who are in desperate need and the majority of the Dutch population are compassionate and wish to help.

The school closest to our home in Assen which had fallen out of use after a new school was built has instead re-opened as a centre for educating refugees of secondary school age. Therefore a group of refugee children cycle to that school every day.

The hands of children learning Dutch at a local asylum seekers'
centre. On each finger they've listed something that they care
about:  Family, friends, school, work, football, swimming,
facebook, cycling, cars, cooking, eating, pizza, reading,
television, music... The same concerns as anyone else.
It doesn't matter where they come from, people have the same concerns and the same desires. Primarily, people wish to live in a place which is safe for their family and themselves. All people want their children to do well, they want work, and they want an enjoyable life.

And now back to where I started. Campaigners in countries which we have targeted most for study tours in the past may well have other things on their minds right now. I understand that. However, no matter what happens next, cycling won't grow unless infrastructure for cycling is improved.

This is our twelfth year of offering study tours. Again we'll demonstrate the best of the infrastructure in Assen and Groningen and we'll point out pitfalls to avoid. Open tour dates in April and May can be found on our website.

Keep cycling, and keep resisting injustice.

Friday 13 January 2017

The effect of snow clearance from on-road cycle-lanes vs. off-road cycle-paths demonstrates why off-road paths are superior for cyclists

There are many disadvantages of on-road cycle-lanes vs. off-road cycle-paths. This was well illustrated today when cycling along a road with a cycle-lane on one side and a cycle-path on the other.

Cyclists using the on-road lane suffered from that lane being halved in effective width from the usual 2.1 m to about 1 m due to swept snow filling half the lane. This pushed those cyclists closer to passing motorized traffic.

On the other side of the same road cycling was as safe as usual because the off-road path required sweeping separately from the road and therefore remained close to its usual 2.5 m width.

This road in Assen has an on-road cycle-lane on one side but an off-road cycle-path on the other. Though the separation between the off-road path and the road is narrower than is ideal, this kerb requires that the snow plough driver properly on the cycle-path and cyclists remain properly separated from the traffic on the road. Cyclists travelling in the opposite direction, using the on-road lane, found themselves pushed closer to motorised traffic.

In another location you can see how clearance of this cycle-path was not perfect because the width of the snow plough used was less than the width of the path. However, this still left a perfectly usable bidirectional path which still served to provide cyclists with safer conditions separated from the road alongside which carries motorized traffic.
A few days after the other photos were taken. The temperature has remained below zero for several days now. All the trees are white, covered in frost, and the canal is frozen. The cycle-paths are mostly clear. Wide paths like this, which is 4 m wide, don't tend to be clear to their full width because the snow ploughs are less than 4 m wide.

Find out more

The road at the top also features in blog posts about two other potential problems with on-road cycle-lanes: Dooring and pinch points. In both cases this road provides relatively good examples of relieving these problems, though an off-road cycle-path is generally a better solution. Also see a blog post summarising all problems with on-road cycle-lanes. For positive infrastructure ideas, see all blog posts about good design.

Support this blog. Buy products for winter cycling from our webshop. We use studded tyres on our bikes to greatly reduce the chance of falling.