Monday 29 June 2009

The Dutch Railway Station Cycle Parking Crisis

The Fietsersbond reports in the May/June 2009 "Vogelvrije Fietser" that cycle parking at railway stations in the Netherlands is in crisis. There simply are not enough places to accommodate people's bikes. Growth in use is around 5% per year, which means there will be a shortage of 150000 spaces in three years time.

Ten years ago, the ministry responsible made half a billion gulders available for cycle parking. This seemed a lot at the time, but more is needed. It looks like a billion euros will be required over the next ten years for railway station cycle parking in the Netherlands. That works out as 60 million a year for the actual building and 40 million a year reserved for maintenance, advertising, planning etc.

The map shows how many extra spaces some cities are planning. Delft, for instance, is building a new 5000 space underground cycle park. However, there is already concern that it will be completely full from the first day that it is available because cycle and train usage is growing so quickly between the time that plans are made and the cycle park opens.

Cycle parking is also under pressure to look attractive, and that often means that it should be underground, covered parking, rather than being a vast area of bikes exposed to the elements in front of the station. Groningen already has done this. However, the problem is that each underground space costs about 2100 Euros to build, while an outdoor space costs just 300 Euros per bike.

I've previously covered the cycle parking at Assen, Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht and Beilen stations. The last link includes comparisons with British railway stations.

There are also other articles about cycle parking and planning.

100 million Euros per year for railway station cycle parking ? That's roughly twice what the UK, a country with 4x the population, spends each year for everything to do with cycling. Britain recently announced a once off sum of 5 million pounds for improved cycle parking at ten railway stations, but that's only around half the amount that was spent here in Groningen alone... The Netherlands does have some problems too, of course. Mark Wagenbuur pointed out to me in email that the railway company has so far only promised to build 100000 spaces, not the 150000 which are expected to be needed...

Sunday 28 June 2009


A group of local recumbent enthusiasts meet each Sunday morning. The video shows the ride from a couple of weeks ago. We went about 65 km through the Drents countryside.

It was a nice day, so lots of other people out cycling as well. Not just to get somewhere as they do during the week, but in order to enjoy the countryside, which is of course easily accessible by bicycle.

Perhaps I'll be doing something similar this Sunday too...

Update later on the same day...

... and so we did. I wasn't sure I was going to go as I have had a cold for a few days and worke with a fever. However, it was another excellent ride. Very enjoyable, including the long stop at Anton's for tea. For me it was 87 km this time. I didn't video it this week. However, one part of today's route was this human powered bicycle ferry that I videoed last year:

Wilfred took some photos.

Update 20th July: He also made a nice video of the day:

There are other similar videos of huneliggers rides on this blog, or see youtube.

Friday 26 June 2009

Bike Trailers - Carry Freedom City

The Carry Freedom City trailer is our newest bicycle trailer. Judy used it on Wednesday last week to make a 75 km round trip to pick up 35 kg of bicycle racks.

Unlike the BOB trailer covered last week, this is a recent addition. It has a few unique characteristics which make it useful for us.

This photo was taken on the outward journey, showing Judy's bike pulling the trailer. Note that it's empty in this shot but there is a good view of the bag which comes with the trailer.

This is not so effective for carrying large amounts of things, but you can bungie on considerably more on top of the bag as shown above.

A close up of the way the trailer attaches to the bike. You have to remove the left wheel nut or quick release and re-install it with the hook attachment. That's it.

One of the outstanding things about this trailer is how it folds completely flat and can be unfolded in seconds.

Ideal for someone who lives in a flat with limited bicycle storage (we don't), or if you want to be able to take a bicycle trailer by train. In most places it is not allowed to take bicycle trailers on trains even if you are allowed to take your bike. This folding trailer may well be a good way of getting around the restriction, as when folded it really doesn't look that much like a trailer. One day I will try a cycle / train tour with folding trailer and folding bike.

There is just one drawback to the City trailer. I find that the supplied bag is a little too small for most uses. However, it's quite OK to attach other things on top, as you see in the first photo here, and at some point I'm going to get around to making a basket to fit on top of this trailer for shopping trips.

Another review of the same trailer.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

School Triathlon

The circle shows the 20 km radius from within which children
cycle to school in Assen. The green spots are approximate
locations where friends of our children live and from where
they cycle to school. The red line shows the triathlon route
We're nearing the end of the school year and school activities are leaning towards the less serious. Yesterday my youngest daughter took part in a triathlon. All the children in the first year of education at her secondary school (most are now thirteen) were given a pink sheet of instructions with directions to a running track and swimming pool roughly a 35 km round trip distance. It is, of course, expected that every child will have arrived at school by bike and be able to take part in the activity.

The instructions start "at the front of the school, by the cycle parking". Part of her school's cycle parking is shown at the left. There are more cycle parking spaces than students.

Perhaps some of the more sporty minded children rode quickly, but I'm quite sure that for many children the journey was made at a more relaxed pace while talking with friends. At secondary school, constant supervision isn't usually necessary, but during the triathlon there were teachers out on the route at controls every few km to make sure no-one was taking a short cut !

Last year my daughter was still in primary school at this time of year. The last primary school cycle trip was a 150 km cycle camping tour. At that age they were accompanied by teachers or parents at all times when cycling.

Staying on the school theme... Last year I made a video of primary aged children going to school by bike on a perfectly normal (though cold) morning. That video has now had over 20000 views. It's worth seeing again:

Explanatory captions on this video are only visible if it's played on a computer and not on a mobile device.

While we knew that children cycled to school before we moved over here, we had no idea about the number of other school trips that they made by bike.

School bags dangling from flag poles are a common sight right now. When school is over, this is a way of announcing the fact.

While most live closer, some secondary students ride a 40 km round trip each day just to get to school.

Monday 22 June 2009

Cycling as medicine

Fietsersbond, together with medical insurance company Zilveren Kruis Achmea, have a new book called "Fietsen als medicijn", or "Cycling as medicine".

A quick translation of part of the website:

"The book is about the relationship between the bicycle and health. Obesity, hart and cardio-vascular illness, diabetes and depression are at the top of the list of preventable problems. They cause much personal harm and result in high costs in health care. But there is one "all on one" house, garden and kitchen medicine: The bike. In the book, normal people tell how cycling makes them healthier and experts put the medical value of the bicycle in plain language, both for prevention and cure."

They go on with a few examples. e.g.
  • Housewife Monique Ilbrink (120 kg / 260 lbs ) takes her children to school in a bakfiets. 'If I didn't cycle, I'd get fatter'"
  • Former gardener Peter van de Ven cycled after his two heart attacks to become fit again. He is addicted to cycling and now seldom uses a car.
  • Marco Meijerink tells how he can keep his insulin level better under control by cycling.
  • Dr Willem Heckman uses the bike as an anti-depressive. 'A daily round trip of 40 km works just as well as a pill, but without side-effects'
There are other health stories on the blog, including how cycling saves employers money due to lower sickness costs.

Update January 2010: This book has now been placed in thousands of doctors' waiting rooms in the Netherlands.

Friday 19 June 2009

Bike Trailers - BOB Yak

We've got three different bike trailers, and they're used in different ways. All three of them have been used in the last few days and I think all three are worth a few words.

Our oldest is the BOB Yak trailer. In the early 1990s when we lived in Cambridge I read on the HPV (Human Powered Vehicle) mailing list about the newly introduced BOB Yak single wheel trailer. Much to my surprise, a few weeks later when I visited my parents in Somerset, their local bike shop happened to have a BOB Yak before any had been officially imported to the UK. It had been left behind by an American cycle tourist who passed through the area and sold his equipment before returning home. That's how I came to have one of the very first BOB trailers in the UK. Thirteen years later we still have that trailer and it's still used regularly.

It has its limitations. You can only transport relatively light loads, up to thirty kg or so. Load it up too heavy and you will have a hard time keeping the bike upright. Put too much weight on before heading down a steep hill and you discover there is a speed at which it starts steering you rather than the other way around. Because it's a single wheel trailer it's not the best choice for shopping because it doesn't support itself, and of course if you want to carry children or pets, you need to look elsewhere. However used for what it excels at, fair distances and speeds, and it's wonderful. A single wheel trailer never tips when you corner. I find the BOB works excellently with recumbent bikes.

I used to make a basket especially to fit the trailer, which meant you could simply sling stuff in instead of having to muck about with zips.

The photo shows the trailer in use on Tuesday when I took it to Groningen with me and returned with a roll of packaging. A light load, but not an especially aerodynamic one. A while ago I made a blog post including a video showing the trailer in use. More trailer posts to come...

Wednesday 17 June 2009

The Daily Life of a Parisian Cyclist

Theo Zweers just sent me a link to this remarkably well made video about cycling in Paris. While the video is in French, the use of graphics makes it extremely easy to understand the majority of it for speakers of any language.

The title is "Angles Morts" which means "dead corners". i.e. "blind spots" in English or the "dode hoek" in Dutch. I assume this is a play on words in French as well, it indicating that cyclists are being ignored even by those who should be upholding the law.

The statistics at the beginning show that like in many other places with car dominance, 47% of car journeys are under 3 km, 22% are under 1 km and 12% are under 500 metres. If conditions for cycling are nearly as frightening as they appear in this video, it's hardly surprising that this is the case.

For me, viewing the video was a good reminder of how things are in the UK. The roads are full of cars, there is a need to be constantly alert for what drivers might do next and cycle facilities frequently result in inconvenience. There is no sign in the video of any regard for the subjective safety needed to make cycling a pleasant experience that everyone wants to take part in.

I expect that some people reading this will be thinking along the lines of "what about the velib system?". I've written previously about the wishful thinking involved in these schemes, which actually have scope only to be used for a tiny percentage of total journeys. Let's hope that French cyclists start to see real infrastructure improvements, making journeys convenient and pleasant.

It may seem to many that the incidents shown in the video are simply normal life for any cyclist anywhere. However, it would be impossible to make a video like this where we live in Assen. Such incidents as are shown simply don't occur. Seeing this video made me think about this and I've been unable to recall a single time that anything unpleasant of note has happened in the two years that we've lived here. Such pleasant conditions are, of course, what makes all cycling pleasant, and mass cycling possible.

Zero deaths in Paris ?
There's a very popular idea going around that somehow Paris is incredibly safe and has zero deaths of cyclists. You may have wondered whether this is true or merely a myth. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given what Paris looks like in the video above, the real figures show Paris to be about as safe or unsafe as London.

To make real progress in cycling safety and convenience, you need to copy the best examples. This means copying the best that the Netherlands has to offer. Dutch cities are not only far more convenient for cycling but also far safer than Paris, London or indeed anywhere else outside the Netherlands.

For reasons that have always been a mystery to me, many British cyclists would seem to think France is a particularly good place to cycle. In France, just 3% of journeys are by bike. It may be three times the cycling rate of the UK, but it's still barely more than a tenth of the cycling rate of the Netherlands. There is a reason why the French don't cycle more, and you see it in this video.

Monday 15 June 2009

Apeldoorn cycle parking

A new video from the fietsberaad shows a cycle park in Apeldoorn called De Serre ("the conservatory") which was designed as a transparent building so that its use was obvious from the outside as well as the inside. It is located in a shopping area near to a large department store.

With space for 600 bicycles, this is not a particularly big cycle park by Dutch standards, but it is quite novel in design.

This cycle park provides daytime guarded parking, with a receipt in order to retrieve your bike (as shown previously in Nijmegen). This makes it very secure. It also has double layer cycle parking by means of a special lift called the velovator, but while this makes lifting bikes easy, it is obvious that most people avoid the extra work if they can:

The cycle park also has a social purpose of helping re-integration into the workplace.

This cycle park has been popular enough that Apeldoorn is now planning a second with a similar design. The new "glass palace" will have 2000 spaces and be located next to the railway station.

There are many more cycle parking examples.

Saturday 13 June 2009

End of week roundup

The Mango velomobile that I borrowed for a few days was great fun to ride. However, I had the small problem of keeping track of my possessions while riding. I lost my keys under the seat.

This prompted me to make a basket of the peculiar shape needed to fit beside the seat so that I could drop things like the keys into it, and I rode the machine back to Groningen without losing my wallet, keys or my lunch which travelled there in the basket.

The weather was absolutely terrible for the Thursday commute, so I didn't take any pictures. Regardless, it took just 53 minutes despite a mighty headwind and strong rain. Only my head was exposed and got rained on.

I also made some more normal bike baskets last week, including the basket of white willow for a customer back in Cambridge where we used to live.

I'd noticed last week that the rear tyre on my PDQ was badly worn again. I last wrote about this in November when I wore out the last tyre. The tyre worn , and now it's time to swap again. The tyre through to the anti puncture strip this week is the one fitted in December. Despite getting to this stage several times, I've still not ever had a puncture with a Vredestein Monte Carlo tyre, so I'm happy to stick with them.

We went to the Ooievaarsringen ( "Stork Ringing" ) yesterday evening. It takes place at Droonessa, just 6 km or so from home.

The first photo shows the unsuspecting mother sitting in her nest.

The mother remained remarkably calm when these guys turned up and took her children.

The ringing took place with a huge audience. Children were allowed to sit in front for a good view, but it was difficult to see past the crowd.

I couldn't help but take photos of some of the bikes that people had ridden to see this. It had been advertised for several weeks on signs outside, and as it is on my commuting route I'd been past lots of time.

There are very many more photos to view by following the "fotoboek" link from the Droonessa web page, and even a webcam. The birds are happily back in their nests now.

Finally, a video made last Sunday when we still had the Mango:

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Military spending and cycling

The BBC recently reported that the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has calculated that US military budget is now 58% of the total for the whole world. It has grown enormously even during the recession. And now stands at $607bn, or about $2000 per US citizen per year. That's 4% of the GDP.

After the US the second highest expenditure is now China, which spends about $85bn per year, which due to their huge population is only $63 per person per year, and third and fourth place are taken by France and the UK, each spending about $65bn, or about $1000 per person per year.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, now spends about $10bn per year, or about $683 per person per year. That's about 1.5% of the GDP.

And what does this have to do with cycling ? Well, Assen spends about 27 Euros per person per year on cycling infrastructure. That's about $37 per person per year, and a fairly typical level in the Netherlands. A small sum compared with the military figures we're looking at.

In the past, people from both the US and the UK have told me that providing decent cycling infrastructure as the Dutch do is too expensive for their countries. However, to take the USA as an example, if the military budget was cut by a mere 2%, still leaving them easily outspending the whole of the rest of planet on weaponry, they could also outspend the Dutch on cycling provision. The UK would have to cut its military budget by more like 4% to achieve the same thing, still leaving that country as one of the biggest military spenders.

It really depends where your priorities lie. Bombs vs. bikes.

The "axis of evil" countries are also interesting. Take Iran, for instance. They spend about $6.7 bn per year on arms. That's about 3% of the country's GDP. Their population is 70 M. so that works out as about $96 per person per year. i.e. roughly 1% of the overall figure and under 5% per person compared with what the USA spends.

You can find these figures for virtually any country directly on the SIPRI website.

The photos of Swiss soldiers on "Swiss Army Bikes" come from the website of the Condor Club in the Netherlands, enthusiasts of the machines who have have a great list of military bicycles from around the world. Switzerland spends just 0.8% of its GDP on the military.

Monday 8 June 2009

Dealing with abandoned bikes

It is often noticed that the huge cycle parks in the Netherlands seem to be full of abandoned bikes.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, people who regularly leave a bicycle at the railway station will often keep a tatty old bike for this purpose because of the risk of theft. These can look like they are abandoned. Secondly, there are also genuinely abandoned bikes.

Generally it is not allowed to leave a bike for longer than 28 days at such a cycle park.

The cycle parking has to be open 24 hours a day, every day, so bikes can't simply be removed at a particular date.

Luckily, there is a simple way of separating the wanted bikes from the abandoned ones. Labels like those shown are attached to the bicycles showing the date on which they were placed and the date on which bikes which still have a label will be removed.

As ever, there are some important details in the way in which this is done. The labels are designed so that removing them breaks them. This is important.

Cambridge once had a similar scheme, however the labels were attached just by rubber bands and could be moved from one bike to another. That's not good enough. I once left a bike for 5 days and returned to find that a label was on my bike saying it had been there over two weeks and would be removed the day before I returned. It's just as well that they were inefficient and had not removed my bike, as otherwise I'd have found myself without transport.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Borrowing a velomobile

I worked at the ligfietsgarage today, a Saturday, as we had several people wanting to try the Sinner Mango velomobile.

The demo machine isn't needed until Tuesday, when I next work there, so I've borrowed it for the weekend and rode home today on the Mango, leaving my PDQ at work.

It's the first time I've ridden such a machine more than a few hundred metres, so I was timid with it to begin with as I started on the 31 km trip back home. As I grew more confident I was quite happy with speeds around 36-37 km/h, roughly the top speed I'd expect on the PDQ, but in the second half of the commute I started to get more used to it and went a bit quicker.

It doesn't initially accelerate very quickly, but your speed can just continue to increase. Wow, it's fast. In open stretches on the cycle paths between villages I was going along sometimes at 45 km/h without really trying all that hard.

When I arrived home, the elapsed time was just under 52 minutes, the best average speed I've done to date for the commute. If I was to use this bike every time then I'd get used to it and the average would perhaps drop a little on good days.

Several months later: I now own my own Mango.

I've previously shown my commute here and here, or you can see more velomobiles here.

Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

European elections and a new cycle path

Thursday 4th of June is the date of the European elections. The local paper included the article shown which details what connection Assen has with the elections. The sign on the right, giving an example of something with European support locally, is at the end of a brand new cycle path in the countryside near us that I've been taking photos of lately.

Even though it's not complete, we rode along the path last week. It's concrete surfaced and a bit over two metres wide. This seemed a bit narrower than usual for a cycle path around here, but I put it down to this being a recreational path, not a main route.

Further along, the reason for the many blocks at the side of the path became clear. The path is actually considerably wider once these are added. In fact, it means there is a bit over a 3 metre ridable width. The outer bits feel a bit rough compared with the bowling green like surface of the main path. They allow for drainage and as they are a little rough they also wake you up if you happen to move from the centre of the path. They also, if nothing else, mean you can use the full width of the concrete part without any danger of falling if you happen to hit the edge.

A couple of weeks earlier I rode along it with Peter. You can see the thickness of the concrete part of the path relative to the 20" wheels on his bike.

This is not all, of course. There is also a thick and very hard foundation. The top layer of this foundation seems to be exactly the same stuff as is often used for cycle paths in the UK without any concrete on top (e.g. like this one that someone got a photo of me riding along when I lived in Cambridge. I used to think that was pretty good).

This last photo shows the way this cycle path is joining to a road. Note that the cycle path surface is the same thickness as the road surface. That's the way to build them if you want them to last ! The path continues towards Assen on the other side of the same road.

The new cycle path stretches for a bit over 2 km, and looks like it will be just as promised last year. It links the new Arboretum to the city and in the opposite direction it goes to outlying villages. Very pleasant.

One more detail. We saw how the path was laid. The concrete is continuously laid, and then slots are cut in it, part of the way through - presumably to deal with expansion. This is why what appeared initially to me on other similar paths to be separate slabs can have such perfectly smooth joins between them. There is no roughness at all as you cycle over the "join".

Anyway, on to the politics bit. On one of our Study Tours last year there was an interesting discussion when a local expert explained that there are "no anti-cycling political parties in the Netherlands". Some are, of course, more keen than others on cycling, but it would be a brave politician who took an anti-cycling stance in a country where 93% of the population cycle at least once a week. It's not the same everywhere in Europe, just take a look at one of these candidate's responses from Cambridge (especially the response to the last question) !

If you're a European voter and a cyclist, look closely at the policies of your candidates before voting tomorrow.

Update: Somehow I hadn't quite noticed that the 2020 blog covered the politicians response several days ago.

Monday 1 June 2009

Free bicycle for commuters

I really can't add anything to this story from the fietsberaad, so I'm repeating it verbatim below:

The minor road N302 in Harderwijk will soon be overhauled completely. A bicycle transfer point is provided for motorists willing to cycle the last stretch to work during construction operations. In addition they will be provided with a free bicycle.

Overall 150 people will have a transfer bicycle on loan during work on the N302. In return they are expected to cycle to work from the transfer point at least three times a week (in a five-day working week) over fourteen months. Anyone meeting these requirements is allowed to keep the bicycle (at a value of 700 Euro) afterwards. The electronic entrance to the bicycle shed registers daily who is retrieving and returning his bicycle. Participants may choose from eight different types of bicycle. Participation is completely free. The underlying reason is that supplying and maintaining a bicycle transfer point is expensive, but a shuttle bus is far more expensive. By now over 150 people have applied for the free bicycle.

Cyclists do quite well over here when there are road works. We've more examples, including how road lanes are reserved for cyclists during road works.