Friday, 7 June 2019

This Week in 1992. A thirty year old time capsule demonstrates both the problems due to cars and the lack of progress that we've made in addressing them.

This TV programme was transmitted in the UK in 1992. That's 27 years ago. I'm fairly sure that I watched the programme as I would certainly have been interested in this subject at that time. None of the the problems shown in this nearly 30 year old video have really been resolved. Many of the proposed solutions remain the same but they've not been implemented. It's another story of missing opportunities resulting in the problems only getting worse:

Points of interest:
  • Cambridge, like most cities, had a problem with car traffic in the city centre. They "solved" this by banning not only cars but also bicycles from some central streets. The bicycle ban was the reason why many of us who took part in protest cycle rides around that time. It was also the catalyst for the formation of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. The bicycle ban has still not been overturned on the city centre streets so cyclists are still forced to make their journeys on less direct roads which were made more unsafe by heavier traffic due to the cars routed around the central streets.
  • When the video was made, there were already 23 million cars in the UK. A doubling was predicted to occur within 30 years. The last date for which Wikipedia has data is 2016 and by then there were 38.9 million cars on the UK's roads. i.e. up to 2016 the rate of increase was actually somewhat ahead of the prediction in the film (23*2*24/30 = 36.8).
  • Climate change effects due to cars are covered. Because the number of cars has doubled this is  twice the problem now that it was then.
  • Electric cars are suggested as a solution though the presenter points out that they could of course never solve the problem of congestion and that the emissions are mostly just pushed to power stations. We now know that total emissions of electric cars are comparable with those of IC engine cars. But even if that were not the case, adding a tiny number of them to a near doubling of the total fleet (all of which were sold as "green") they would have had no effect next to the near doubling of total emissions due to the growth in use of IC engine vehicles. This is why total emissions have also almost doubled.
  • Local pollution due to cars is seen as a problem. Many cars still ran on leaded fuel when the film was made and few had catalytic converters. These two changes to cars resulted in genuine reductions to health problems due to local exhaust emissions. However, particulate pollution always came in large part from the tyres and brakes. A doubling of the number of cars will have resulted in a doubling of this type of local pollution.
  • A traffic jam near Amsterdam. This is from a recent TV
    program about trying to solve the problem of traffic jams.
    Cars remain a huge problem in the Netherlands.
  • Amsterdam had supposedly "virtually banned" cars, with a policy of reducing car parking spaces which has echoes 27 years later as much the same thing is being done now, again to much fanfare elsewhere. I try to resist hype on the this blog. The Netherlands genuinely has taken some steps to make life without a car easier. It's possible to cycle without many interactions with cars. However much more money is spent on improving conditions for driving and very little has been done to arrest the popularity of cars. Dutch commutes are the longest on average in Europe and many people find themselves pushed into car ownership to get to work. What's more, many Dutch employers pay their employees a tax free compensation per km travelled which with an economical car can make commuting so far as possible by car profitable. As a result, Dutch car ownership has grown at a very similar rate to the UK. The Netherlands had 373 cars per thousand people in 1992 while the UK had 360 per thousand. This has now grown to 556 per 1000 in the Netherlands (2015) vs. 579 per 1000 in the UK (2016). Similar growth can be seen in all countries across the world.
  • Business owners in all countries where restrictions on cars are proposed have always worried that their customers will disappear if motor traffic is reduced. It is never actually a problem. Through traffic makes streets look busy, but drivers anxious to get to somewhere else rarely stop to browse around shops while traffic jams can make it impossible for customers to reach their shops. Motor traffic free city centre streets make for a far better shopping experience. The Dutch hotel manager who fears that Amsterdam will "become a kind of Disneyland" where "most economic activity will have disappeared" can now reflect back on years of growth in tourism in Amsterdam since that time, resulting in a problem which is quite the opposite of his prediction.
  • Luud Schimmelpennink demonstrates a velomobile in Amsterdam. Velomobiles are genuinely zero emission 365 day per year vehicles which maximise the potential of human power. They fit well both into human scale cities and make the option of cycling into a viable proposition over longer distances in all weather. Unfortunately, this genuinely innovative transport mode still receives no government support anywhere, not in the Netherlands where they remain a small minority mode even though we have more velomobiles and more manufacturers of them than any other country. Schimmelpennink is better known for other innovations such as his involvement in the famous white bicycle scheme of Amsterdam and the WitKar shared electric car system from the 1970s.
  • Professor John Whitelegg is still saying sensible things about transport.
  • Finally, the last man interviewed laments that it takes him up to two hours to drive five miles in London and he wonders why he has a car. Five miles, 7.5 km, is an ideal cycle commuting distance and even at a relaxed pace this distance can be covered in half an hour by bicycle. But sadly the majority of London remains an unpleasant place to ride a bicycle even now, so many people find themselves as reluctant drivers because for them this is the least bad option.
Progress ? What progress ?
This video shows how not addressing the problems of the present simply results in them becoming larger problems in the future. If we don't learn from the problems of the past then we will repeat them. And repeat them. And repeat them.

The problems due to cars have become larger in the last thirty years, not smaller.

While it's very nice indeed to see positive developments, it's important not to pat ourselves on the back too hard when the overall direction isn't actually what we wish it was.

More examples
See also how the same problems were seen in the UK forty and fifty years ago and in New Zealand fifty years ago, but they weren't addressed then either. The Dutch provided a video blueprint 30 years ago, which was ignored everywhere else, but of course even these policies didn't prevent greatly increased car usage in the Netherlands.

Monday, 13 May 2019

The first cycle campaigning youtube videos are in danger because of The Orchard Music and Youtube's broken copyright infringement detection

Judy and I went touring in the Netherlands in 2002 and brought
back many photos, but the even more primitive camera which
I had then couldn't record video at all.
YouTube was founded in 2005 and grew quite rapidly. At the end of 2006 it was bought out by Google and YouTube has remained under Google's ownership since that time. I started using YouTube quite early on, making what I think were the first videos of cycling infrastructure on YouTube which were created for the purpose of campaigning for better infrastructure elsewhere.

I had taken still photos and VHS video back to the UK several years before, but it was difficult to arrange to show videos to people and people couldn't see that still photos were not just of isolated spots so it was difficult to explain why what was pictured was important to a large audience. I realised that YouTube potentially offered a way of reaching that larger audience.

The four videos below were created in early to mid 2006 and are amongst a few dozen which I uploaded on the day in November 2006 when I created my YouTube account. Because the camera which I had at the time was primitive, the picture quality is poor (320x200 10 fps) and there is no sound. Much of what is shown is dated and doesn't serve as the best example but even these old cycle-paths still look like some kind of science fiction to people in many other countries where there has still not been much progress in cycling infrastructure.

This video shows the quality of a cycle-path which leads between a village and a city. See more blog posts and videos of rural cycling infrastructure.

Meerhoven was then a new housing development on the west of Eindhoven. I followed the cycling infrastructure all the way from the centre of Eindhoven, through Meerhoven, to the airport 8 km away. I made several more videos showing other parts of the guided bus system beacuse I thought was of interest at the time because Cambridge was planning a far less sophisticated guided bus which finally opened in 2011. You can see the other videos a web page about it which I created in 2006.

Cycling infrastructure in and around railway stations has long been excellent in the Netherlands. These are routes used by cyclists in Eindhoven to get to and from the railway station in 2006. Since this time I have written about many newer Dutch railway stations and in on of my recent blog posts you can see how Dutch cities continue to improve the experience for cyclists near railway stations.

When I started visiting the Netherlands, one of the first things that jumped out at me was the freedom of Dutch children. I have now written many pieces about how Dutch children cycle to school.

These old videos don't get many views these days. I'm quite happy about that because you can now find many many better videos of cycling infrastructure on my blog, e.g. at the links above under each of these videos, and on my youtube channel. But these videos are still available to watch. To me they're interesting primarily as historical artifacts. I'm fairly sure I was the first to use youtube for this purpose. Unfortunately, all my early cycling infrastructure videos are now under threat:

The Orchard Music and what appear to be fraudulent claims of copyright infringement
One of the things that changed with YouTube since 2006 is that uploaded videos are now checked for copyright infringement. This is intended to ensure that artists (or their agents) are paid for their work. It also earns money for YouTube / Google. I'm not arguing for or against this in this blog post. What I am concerned about is the overreaching claims of copyright infringement which are being made on behalf of companies which cannot be contacted and which do not reply to emails.

One of the many copyright infringement claim emails from today,
claiming that this silent video includes copyrighted music.
I regularly receive copyright infringement notices for videos which are entirely my own work, including silent videos like those above. Claims are made that the video includes copyrighted music. Obviously these silent videos don't include music, but because a claim is made against them the company involved then is allowed to run advertising on my videos in order to generate income.

In particular, an organisation called The Orchard Music makes many claims. I also received one claim from SourceAudio Holdings today. There have been other companies in the past. The Orchard Music is by far the biggest offender.

Ten incorrect claims today
How many incorrect claims do I receive ? At the time of writing this today (21:00) I have had to react to no less than ten copyright infringement claims by The Orchard Music, all of which were made against silent videos. My email inbox looks like this as a result. Almost nothing to see except notices of copyright infringement ("auteursrechtclaim ingediend") and my objections to those claims ("Je geschil is ingediend"):
My email inbox today. It consists almost entirely of "copyright infringement" claims by The Orchard Music against some of my earliest youtube videos, all of which are silent. By the time I finished writing this blog post I had received three more claims of copyright infringement just today. These claims are all against silent videos. There is no sound at all on these videos and therefore no chance at all of any of them including any content which The Orchard Music could possibly claim as their own. This is becoming ridiculous.
The problem with receiving ten copyright notices a day is that it takes a considerable amount of time to fight each one. There is no automatic way of doing this. I have to click on the link in the email and then go through several pages on clicking boxes and typing in a claim that actually I own these videos before being asked to "sign" with my name and click several more times to confirm that I know that I could be punished for making an incorrect claim. It's not only demeaning but it also takes a lot of time. Not to react would be to allow the use of my work, however old it may be, to earn money for other people. In particular, The Orchard Music. To react costs at least five minutes per complaint, more if I add in the time lost due to being distracted from whatever useful work I was doing. Merely objecting about these incorrect claims took an hour of my time yesterday. I can't continue to put so much time into trying to avoid being ripped off.

This has been going on for over a year and it has cost me hundreds of hours to deal with the  No-one at Youtube or Google or The Orchard Music reacts to my emails or tweets about this problem. I'm getting really very fed up indeed with constantly having to defend my ownership of my own work. Even if these videos are old and not particularly interesting any more, they're still mine and not theirs.

Other problems with YouTube and Google
In 2008 YouTube added an "annotations" feature. This allows text to be added to videos so that title screens and textual explanations were displayed above the video itself. It was also possible to make videos automatically pause using this feature. It worked well and I used it on many of my early videos. Unfortunately, youtube never supported annotations properly on mobile platforms and earlier this year the support also went away suddenly on the web browser as well with the result that many hundreds of hours of work that I had put into using this feature was discarded. Because youtube not only threw away this feature but also threw away the annotations themselves which I had spent many hundreds of hours to create (they provided no way of downloading the information) there is now unfortunately no way to view those early videos with annotations as they were intended to be viewed.

Google has also seemingly become unable to stop spam comments on blogpost. These days the majority of comments received are spam which tries to advertise some worthless product or other. This wastes almost as much of my time as dealing with the copyright claims on youtube.

Overall it does not seem that Google has much respect for the people who use their products. The big companies are the customers now.

Youtube: What do you want me to do ? Should I delete these old videos ? Can I trust you in future ? Should I never upload anything to your service again ? If I take your offer of "replacing" the "copyrighted music" with your cheesy non-copyright music, something which I really do not want to do, would that even stop this problem from occurring again in the future ? I have used copyright free music in the past and received copyright complaints on those videos as well !

Readers: Should I move to Vimeo ? Do readers have experience of Vimeo ? Is it better than Youtube at protecting the rights of the people who make videos ? Does it allow others to claim ownership ?

Update 6th June 2019
After a few days of silence I today received 12 emails after one another from YouTube about the disputed videos:

In all but one case, The Orchard Music decided to give up their claim to own the "music" behind my silent videos. But in once case, a private video of us riding a roller coaster many years ago, they claim they own the music that they claim exists on the silent sound track of this video. This means that The Orchard Music, who have made repeated false claims against my videos, now have my home address and content details because the only way of making an appeal is to give them this information through YouTube.

On the 8th of June the copyright claims started rolling in yet again, with The Orchard Music again trying to claim copyright infringement for the silent Crazy Mouse video. YouTube stinks.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Discovery Of Heaven

It was a lovely day yesterday and the cycle-paths of Drenthe were calling so I decided to make the journey to the Dwingelderveld to eat my lunch next to the somewhat famous radio telescope. Why there in particular ? I'm currently reading Harry Mulisch's "De Ontdekking van de Hemel" ("The Discovery of Heaven"). The author stayed in the area of the radio telescope during the time when he wrote the novel and the telescope features in the book as well as in the film adaption of "The Discovery of Heaven".

This was cycling for no reason other than it was pleasant to cycle so I looked at the map and roughly picked out a reasonably scenic 70 km round trip including the aforementioned planned stop for an extended lunch...

On the way out I stopped at a village bakery to buy some of their delicious, sourdough bread for my lunch.

Continuing onward, a reminder of the continuous progress being made. This country road isn't very busy, but it is used by some heavy vehicles and this cycle-path, which I followed for about 6 km before turning in a different direction, is a big improvement.

Cycle-paths which provide safe and direct routes make cycling accessible to everyone.

"For your and our safety, 60 km/h". A reminder that some places are yet to be improved.

The many cycle-paths through forests are a highlight of cycling in Drenthe

Sometimes cycle-paths through woods need bridges over areas of wet land.

The most beautiful cycle-path in the province, according to the local paper.

The destination

I made sandwiches with the bread I bought earlier and read a couple of chapters of the book.

A popular spot for hungry cyclists.

Europe's radio telescopes are linked to a centre near here, one of the many excellent things funded by the EU. The EU also contributed funds to build some of the cycle-paths along which I rode to arrive here.

On the way home, a reminder of what keeps us safe from the danger of large vehicles. It's not that Dutch drivers are especially skilled or careful, it's not that large vehicles don't exist here (for example, larger trucks are allowed here than in the UK), or that they're not allowed in to the same places as cyclists. We are safe because we rarely interact with those vehicles because both cycle-paths and the road junctions are designed to eliminate conflict and city centres exclude through traffic.

Also on the way home, the man in a fluorescent jacket is directing traffic in one direction at a time past the cherry picker. Cyclists were not hindered. Road works need not inconvenience cyclists
I returned home about three hours after I left, having had a good bit of exercise and a very tasty lunch. A very enjoyable extended lunch-break, re-discovering a little bit of heaven here on earth, using nothing more than my muscles and one of the most efficient means of transport to do so.

Monday, 25 March 2019

How bidirectional cycle-paths improve cycling safety and efficiency

Imagine if sidewalks (pavements in the UK) for pedestrians were unidirectional. If you wanted to visit your neighbour who lived on the right side of your home then you could walk there directly, but to come back home again in a legal manner you'd be expected to cross the road, walk until you were opposite your home and then cross back again. Does that make sense ? Of course not. The inconvenience of expecting people to cross the road simply to walk in the opposite direction is absurd. All sidewalks are therefore bidirectional.

Bidirectional cycle-paths, well implemented, provide cyclists with a similar level of utility as do bidirectional sidewalks. Instead of having to cross a road to travel a short distance in the "wrong" direction, cyclists can stay on the same side of a road. This makes short journeys significantly faster. It also improves their safety because they don't have to cross the road twice. Crossing the road is a significant risk: I noted in a previous blog that the most dangerous locations for cyclists in many Dutch cities are often simple uncontrolled crossings (at least where more dangerous examples of infrastructure have been eliminated)

Directness of routes is important for cycling to succeed. The more efficient that we can make cycling, the more journeys there are for which people will find it a convenient mode of transport. Bidirectional cycle-paths allow for this convenience.

It is, of course, possible to create a poor version of almost anything. That includes bidirectional cycle-paths. Where they are criticised, look for other issues. For example, poor junction design which may create conflict or make cyclists less visible to drivers.

Here are some examples of where bidirectional cycle-paths make sense. Click on the links in the descriptions of the photos to see more examples:

In a city centre
In the city centre, where a cycle-path replaced a busy road, only a bidirectional cycle-path makes sense

In the countryside

Cycle-paths through recreational areas are almost always bidirectional. There would be no sense in making them otherwise. 

Alongside a busy road
This bidirectional cycle-path is alongside a busy road through an industrial area which has four lanes of motor traffic, a central reservation and destinations on both sides. It is not desirable to require people to cross the road than is absolutely necessary. Bidirectional cycling is possible on both sides of the road.
in residential areas
This bidirectional cycle-path is in a residential suburb. In this case there is a canal on the other side of the road so it would make no sense at all to require cyclists to cross the road in order to ride next to the canal instead of next to the homes which are destinations for cyclists.
Brand new infrastructure linking a residential area to the centre of the city. There is a road behind the bushes on the right, but after the road there is nothing but the railway track. Here also it makes sense for cyclists to ride on one side of the road in both directions.

Where all destinations are on one side of the road
All destinations along this road, including shops and cafes, are on this side of road while on the other side of the road there is a canal. It would make no sense here to make cyclists cross in order to ride towards the camera. On the other side of the canal there is a bidirectional bicycle road which does not offer a through route to drivers. Note also how the road junction design reduces the danger of collision with motor vehicles. The turning radius is small and the black "cannonballs" prevent drivers from cutting the corner.
Roundabout design
One of several features which defines the safest urban roundabout design for cyclists is a design which allows safe use of bidirectional cycle-paths. These also increase convenience by allowing so few crossings to be made as possible (you are never required to ride across three arms of a roundabout to turn across traffic).

Traffic light design
Simultaneous Green traffic light junction. Cyclists can go in all directions at once when the lights are green for bikes. All motor vehicles are held behind red lights and all possibility of conflict with them is removed. A very useful design for use with bidirectional cycle-paths. Also note the width of the cycle-path, which can cope with large flows of cyclists. Also see a different traffic light design which feeds into a bidirectional cycle-path without conflict.

Through tunnels
Cycle-paths through tunnels are nearly always bidirectional. Otherwise we would require two tunnels. Tunnels are generally preferable to bridges for cyclists.

Bicycle roads
This bicycle road is on the other side of the canal from the last photo. Bicycle roads are of course always bidirectional for cyclists, though they are sometimes one-way for drivers.
Where a bicycle road ends and cycle traffic is led onto a cycle-path it would be absurd to use anything other than a bidirectional cycle-path such as is shown here. In this case there are some recreational destinations on the right of the road, but the vast majority of destinations (homes and shops) are on the left, and are served well by this cycle-path. 
Adequate width for tidal flow or at junctions between cycle-paths
Just short of four metres wide, this cycle-path copes well with considerable cycling volumes, especially tidal traffic at school times (the low building behind the cyclists to the right is a secondary school). Behind the camera there is a busy road junction.

Junctions between cycle-paths require even more width. At this point, the cycle-path exceeds six metres in width. The bridges cross a canal.
We sometimes hear blanket criticism of the idea of bidirectional cycle-paths, but it is not justified. In many cases they improve both safety and convenience for cyclists. To a first approximation a bidirectional cycle-path is always more useful than a single-direction path for the simple reason that cyclists can use it in both directions.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Assen's new railway station

Assen's first railway station was built in 1870. It was completely demolished and replaced in 1989 by a modern design of station. That station has now also been demolished and replaced with another entirely new design. The new station opened a few months ago. There are still a few details of the work to be completed, but everything is in place now. As was promised, the cycle-parking has again been expanded and improved again. This video shows the excellent access from the platforms to the indoor guarded cycle-park:

The work started in 2015 with building of a temporary station, after which the old station was demolished and the new one built. Occasionally it has been chaotic around the station as all the roads were also rebuilt, two new tunnels were made (one for pedestrians, one for cars) and one tunnel was reconstructed (the bike tunnel). The result is really very good. Through motor traffic has been sent underground which makes the entire area more pleasant (apart from buses and taxis) and as a result, the outdated traffic light junction was removed and there are fewer delays for cyclists to cross the road. In particular, cyclists who headed south from the station used to have to stop twice for traffic lights before riding on an on-road cycle-lane along a relatively busy road so it feels as if we are rather spoiled now with the choice of two very high quality bidirectional cycle-paths on both sides of the road which can be reached without any stopping at all.

Assen's population is about 68000. There are now 3500 bicycle parking spaces, 2500 of which are in the underground guarded parking while the other one thousands are on the surface near the pedestrian entrance on the eastern side of the station. This isn't the largest cycle park at a Dutch railway station, but Assen also isn't the largest city and this isn't the busiest railway station. 3500 spaces for a population of 68000 means we have better than once space for every twenty people in the city which compares well as a proportion with other Dutch cities.

There are now a total of 3500 bicycle parking spaces at the railway station. Assen's population is around 68000 so we now have slightly better than one place at the railway station cycle-park for every 20 citizens.

What it used to look like
When we moved to Assen in 2007 there was a small number of indoor parking spaces and approximately 750 outdoor cycle-parking spaces split between the two sides of the tracks. They looked like this:

In 2009, car parking spaces were removed so that the the outdoor cycle-parking could be doubled in size and it was announced that the total was to be increased to about 2300 spaces.

The 2010 upgrade: A building to accommodate 1000 bicycles which seemed quite impressive at the time. This was demolished to make space for the new station.
In 2010 there was a big upgrade to the indoor cycle-parking, taking the total number of spaces to about 2550, reaching

Because the busy road past the station has been buried in a tunnel, the irritating traffic lights which were required to control motor traffic have also been removed (read more about them in a blog post from 2014) so Assen now has one fewer traffic light junction for cyclists.

The 1989 station had a blue roof. The traffic lights in front of it were annoying. This was the most awkward traffic light junction for cyclists in Assen, requiring people to make a two-stage left turns. It is best if cyclists don't have to make two-stage turns and that can be avoided with other traffic light designsDon't take inspiration from older infrastructure like this.
Cars now travel past the station using this tunnel, built on a huge scale using a vast amount of concrete (the photo was taken on the opening day)

The temporary station
While the old station was out of action but before the new one had been completed, Assen had a temporary railway station. This included temporary lifts to take passengers over the lines to the platforms, temporary shops for flowers and snacks, a temporary full service bike shop (the new one can be seen in the video above), and a few thousand places in a temporary cycle-park:

This photo of a group from Washington University who came for a Study Tour in 2016 and not quite ready for their photo to be taken, taken outside the temporary bike shop also happens to show the temporary steps and lifts in the background and the orange post box. Everything was provided at the temporary station.

What has been built is an impressive new railway station and it has impressive cycling facilities. I'm also impressed with how well the temporary station worked. But what is its purpose ?

The sole purpose of these particular bicycles, OV-Fietsen, is to enable and encourage people to make more and longer journeys by means of a polluting motorized mode of transport - the train.
Bicycles are the most efficient transport mode on earth but not when used like this
The problem with these huge and attractive bicycle parking facilities at railway stations is that the station isn't really a destination. The destination of the people who cycle to the station is tens or hundreds of kilometres away and it is likely that 90% or more of the distance covered by any given passenger will be in a powered vehicle, the train, and not using their own power on a bike.

Huge bicycle parks at railway stations serve the same purpose as motorways - they encourage people to make more and longer journeys by polluting means of transport.

Bicycles are the most efficient transport mode on earth. It seems rather a shame to limit the scope of that most efficient mode of transport to that of providing a link to a far less efficient transport mode. But that is what we are building.

To truly to reduce the impact that we make on this planet we need to stop making journeys that are beyond the distance that we can cover by our own power. We can't travel ever more and achieve a reduction in energy usage. It requires something other than building lots of infrastructure to support more journeys - it requires redesigning both our cities and our lives so that what we need is close by.

Calling for less flying is a good thing for the environment.
However calling for more use of trains (or more of anything
actually) isn't "green" at all. I have supported the Dutch
Groenlinks political party in the past, but can't support this.
Even the greens are encouraging more travel, not less
There is a disturbing tendency for people to assume that travelling by train instead of by air or by car is automatically a win for the environment. Unfortunately, there's just not a huge difference in energy consumption per passenger kilometre between different powered transport modes. Making the same or a similar journey by a slightly less polluting mode doesn't make for a non polluting journey. That can only be achieved by making that journey by a genuinely non-polluting mode (walking, cycling, sail-boat) or by not making the journey at all. i.e. by not commuting, by not taking holidays, by not taking that tempting 'weekend break', whether by air, sea or rail.

Claims for trains
The Dutch railway company makes rather large claims which I think have to be looked at more closely. Claiming to use "100% green electricity" because you've signed up for a green tariff does not mean that all the electricity that you use comes from wind turbines. Just like everything else which runs from Dutch electricity, the trains are connected to a grid on which 80% of the electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. When the wind isn't blowing the trains run on fossil fuels. The stated ambition of becoming "carbon neutral" by 2020 is a start but it actually falls a long way short of the already existing claim to use "100% green electricity", which has been made since 2017.

Even if the trains really did have no emissions when running, only around a quarter to a half of the emissions of even diesel powered trains come from the exhaust pipes. The rest comes from other factors including the infrastructure on which they run. This will be a more significant source than average for Dutch railways because the infrastructure has such a short life span. They may be slightly or even quite a lot more efficient than the least efficient modes we can imagine but that's not good enough. We can't pretend that trains don't have emissions so that we can continue to make journeys.

The impact of infrastructure
Railway stations in the Netherlands are demolished and rebuilt over remarkably short time-scales. Assen's "old"station lasted only 26 years, from 1989 until 2015, before it was demolished and a complete new station built in its place.

At the opening ceremony there was one protester. His concern
was primarily with the local oil and gas company.
Even during the 26 years of its existence the old station didn't stand still. For instance, the indoor cycle-park built in 2010 which lasted only five years was itself a substantial structure. The temporary structures had a huge cost as well. Elements of them may be able to be re-used, but requirements won't be the same in other locations, some parts will have been damaged and of course there is transport and construction to account for.

Much concrete was poured to build the old station, to build new structures around the old station, to build the temporary station and vastly more has been poured to build the new one. Concrete production and use is one of the major sources of CO2 emissions. Replacing buildings so frequently as we saw here is definitely not a win for the environment.

Update summer 2019
Since the station opened it has been much criticized for the lack of safety of cycling facilities around the station.

There is indeed a problem. While the majority of motor traffic which used to be around the station now travels underground through the tunnel, the traffic which remains is large buses, taxis and people dropping off or collecting passengers. There are three cycle priority crossings which are supposed to give cyclists priority over the motor vehicles, but as I've explained before, it's very difficult to design a cycle priority crossing so that it is actually safe for cyclists and there are few places where it works well. Giving cyclists priority in the law does not mean that all drivers actually give way as they should. The other area criticized in the article to the right is a temporary roundabout in Assen on which it was attempted to give cyclists priority. Priority for cyclists on roundabouts is also dangerous. There are better ways to design cycling infrastructure than this. It is best to remove the threat posed by motor vehicles by, to the greatest extent possible, removing interactions between cyclists and drivers. Merely giving "priority" does not lead to safety or convenience.

Thus far we have not had any serious cycling injuries around the station, but there have been many near misses and it is probably only a matter of time before this happens.

Monday, 21 January 2019

To the sea and back in January. A winter ride through Drenthe and Groningen + PPPPPP

We have installed triple glazing in some
of our windows. These ice crystals were
on the outside when I set off yesterday.
Yesterday was the date of the Noordelijke Velomobiel Tocht - a winter recreational ride starting in Groningen and heading to the coast and back.

The distance of the ride was supposed to be around 80 km, but it ended up a bit longer and when I added my ride from Assen to Groningen and back again my total distance for the day was 152 km. Some people came from somewhat further afield, one rider adding about 60 km on top of this.

We've had a mild winter until the last few days, but it was -9 C in our garden when I set off yesterday. The peak temperature in the afternoon was around freezing but it dropped again to -6 C by the time I had got home in the evening. Even with the weather protection offered by a velomobile the temperature does take something out of you if you're out in it all day.

A Dutch scene: Windmill, cycle-path, frozen canal, velomobiles. It's cold but there was no ice on the paths because there's not been any precipitation over the last few days.
One of several stops out in the countryside between the very pretty villages of rural Groningen.
Our lunch time destination - probably the most Northerly cafe on the mainland of the Netherlands
Most people had hot chocolate with apple cake. Significantly higher in calorific content than the vegan alternative of black coffee (more on that later).
Quick stop for a photo on the dyke
A "make your own postcard" view of the sea, with ice.
And then we began the return journey, first heading to the west along one of the roads nearest the sea.
Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (the knock, the bonk, hitting the wall)
A fabulous day out, well organised, friendly and enjoyable. And yes, while what I'm about to write about might suggest to some readers that I didn't enjoy it, I can assure you that I most certainly did.

Unfortunately, it went a bit wrong for me at the end. All my own fault. The ride back from the organiser's home was in darkness, it was cold and I ran out of energy about 15 km from home. Most people who have ridden any distance will know how this feels. Having run out of available sugar to burn your body tries to keep going by burning fat, but because this is not so easily available you simply can't keep up the same effort. Trying to do so results in feeling quite awful. If you've ever felt like you wanted to vomit during extended exercise this is quite likely why. Depressing thoughts about perhaps never getting home at all can also follow.

There are two possible solutions:

  1. Stop and eat something
  2. Slow down.

Both options will cost time. Ultimately, slowing down will cost more time if there is a long way to go and the remainder of the ride won't be very enjoyable. For me that was the only viable option  because this came on when I was in the middle of nowhere and pretty much everywhere around here is closed on Sunday evenings so there was nowhere sensible to stop for food which didn't involve a detour. I didn't have far to go so I slowed down to the low 20s km/h and kept going. It's important not to let your body temperature drop and at least I could still work hard enough to keep myself warm.

Luckily I didn't have far to go and I wasn't alone. Three of us were riding towards Assen together. One of them needed to go somewhat further and he wisely kept his speed up and continued onward. Peter and I live very near to each other and he was kind enough to accompany me back to Assen at my speed. I was at no risk of getting lost as this was the last section of my old commuting route but it really helps a lot to keep your spirits up if someone rides with you.

A refreshment stop on an organised ride last summer. A top up of energy drink and food were available at regular intervals. It was also warm. This makes it much easier to cover distance.
It's been some years since I made this mistake and I should have know better. Knowing the symptoms is a good thing as at least you know what to expect and how to react, but I if I had planned ahead I wouldn't have had a problem. I should have had the right food and drink with me, but I did not. I took sandwiches, water, a couple of cartons of soya milk and some snacks. By the time I ran out of energy I didn't have anything left which was attractive and which I wanted to eat. I needed easily available sugar, not a packet of nuts. One more sandwich earlier on might have been enough to address the problem. I should have planned better for a lack of vegan food and drink at our stop in the countryside as that's standard and I should have been more self sufficient. A drink which contained sugar would have been better than plain water. Real sport drinks work well (not the horrible cough mixture flavoured stuff that teenagers like). That could have made a difference but I find it is difficult ever to drink enough when it's cold - because all drinks are cold in your mouth and while feelings of thirst come quickly in hot weather, I never feel thirsty in cold weather.

You live and learn. This was a great day out. I've taken part in this annual ride most years since we've lived here and I certainly intend to do so again. Next time, I'll prepare better instead of leaving it to the last minute !

Sunset in winter
Winter jobs
I've once again fitted Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tyres to the front wheels of Judy's and my own city bikes. These are the bikes that we ride in any weather over short distances and while our local authority is mostly incredibly good at removing snow from the cycle-paths, there are sometimes little pockets in corners which can be dangerous and a few patches of old-fashioned tiled surfaces are a bit treacherous. For early morning cycling when you can't necessarily see ice, these tyres work as an insurance policy against falling. Schwalbe's Winter and Marathon Winter tyres are amongst our range of recommended products for winter cycling.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Netherlands, people are getting ready for the first ice-skating Marathon this year.