Tuesday 29 December 2009


The largest social ride for velomobiles in the Netherlands (and therefore the world) is the Oliebollentocht. This year, the eleventh, it was held in and around the city of Utrecht. A hundred and fifteen people registered for the ride and we covered 57 km with a few stops for coffee and cake.

It was a social ride, not a race, so we rode at a fairly slow pace (well, most of the time).

I made two videos, on two different cameras. The times overlap, but much of the start of the ride is on the first video, and much of the end is on the second. The first has genuine velomobile sounds, the second has music.

Some of the other Sinner Mangos on the ride. It's great to see people riding the machines that we build.

Also there were many Quests and a few Alleweders, Versatiles, Sunriders and WAWs. I also spotted one completely home made machine.

These are Oliebollen. They're a type of doughnut served in the Netherlands especially around New Year - and hence the name of the tour.

I've also got a few other photos from the Oliebollentocht on my picasaweb page, and ligfiets.net has more links to photos, videos and stories.

A picture and description of the cycling superhighway shown at the end of the first video appeared on this blog a little while ago.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Saturday 26 December 2009

Mike Rubbo's Film

The renowned Australian film director, Mike Rubbo, recently made a film about cycling in the Netherlands which features me. It's rather unusual to be the subject of a film in this way, and I've resisted putting it on my own blog, not because I don't like the film, but because it seems a bit conceited for me to do so. However, Mike kept asking me to put it up, and here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

In the film I make reference to a Dutch study relating cost savings by employers to commuter cycling. There are quite a lot of shots of one of the cycle paths by a canal here in Assen, and then some of streets in Amsterdam.

Also, the film includes clips of a film showing cycling in the Netherlands in the 1950s and refers to reliable everyday bikes, the important features of which I covered a few months back.

What I'm riding at the start of the film is a Sinner Mango Velomobile. This is not only is very fast indeed, but also comfortable, and it has the fully enclosed chain, reliable brakes and puncture resistant tyres essential to make for reliable everyday transport. Oh, and we could have adjusted it to fit Violeta properly...

Mike's own blog can be found at www.situp-cycle.com. It includes many other videos which he's made, including interviews with other people such as Mikael from the Copenhagenize blog, a cycling doctor in Australia and Sue Abbott who has achieved some fame due to fighting the helmet laws in Australia.

Mike Rubbo also has been busy making bicycle art. Kindly he sent us an example which you can see here. Please visit Mike's website for more information. The video was shot for Mike by Violeta Brana-Lafourcade.

Two years after this video was shot, the cycle-path along the canal was resurfaced and improved.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Monday's cycle paths - mostly snow free

It's Tuesday. As I write this, the outside temperature is now the highest it's been for over a week. Either -1 C (30 F) or 0.5 C (33 F) depending on whether you trust the weather station at the local airport (-1 C) or the cheap electronic gizmo we've got dangling outside our window. Light snow is falling again.

30 cm ( 1' ) of snow fell on Thursday and Friday last week and it was topped up over the weekend. It's not had a chance to melt away naturally, but the city has been fairly efficient at clearing it from the cycle path network.

Small residential streets, such as our own, are a bit of a challenge on the bike. However, if you don't want to ride through the snow, it's only a 100 metre walk to where it's easy to ride, and then the network is there to support cycling right across the city.

Yesterday I had to return something to a DIY shop at the opposite end of the city, and I combined this trip with a bit of shopping. As a result, I cycled through the centre of the city and out through an industrial area. No problems at all after that first 100 metres.

It was around -4 C ( 24 F ) yesterday, and as is normal, there were families out cycling together, people going about their business on their own, teenagers in groups.

Many of the cycle paths were not completely cleared. They were down to the width of a snow plow, about 2 metres, instead of their full four metre width.

You might find it interesting to compare with conditions on Sunday.

This is probably the last post before Christmas, so Prettige Kerstdagen (Merry Christmas) to all my readers.

Monday 21 December 2009

To the Winter Market

We rode to Assen's Christmas / Winter market in the Asserbos yesterday. Judy was a bit reluctant to cycle in the snow, but actually found it quite easy on freshly fallen snow. It's when it's hard packed and turns to ice that it becomes a problem.

The snow plows and gritters were out in force, but it's difficult for them to be effective when the snow keeps coming. There are photos of them in the slideshow, but as I know my readers like to see such things, here are others.

The plows have to be able to fit down the cycle paths, which means practically they are not as wide as the cycle paths. Hence some paths have in effective been temporarily narrowed from four metres to two metres in width at the moment.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Two days of winter commuting

On Thursday it was -6 C and snowing as I left home. I set off anyway, on surfaces which varied over the 30 km of my commute. Our road was quite snowy, so progress was slow. The canal cycle path had recently been plowed, but it was a bit slushy due to more snow having fallen. The same was true of much of the rest of the distance, but half way it greatly improved. I followed a wonderfully clear path, and even stopped and took a photo of it. However I then caught up with the snow plow, which was itself stuck in snow. After this the surfaces got a bit worse. It was clear that the attempts to clear snow were not quite working.

It took an hour and fifty minutes to get to work. Twice as long as usual, and it was quite hard work. The Mango picked up quite a bit of snow along the way to work. Harry got a nice photo of it just after arrival.

As we worked, the snow continued and attempts to clear it were only temporary. The snowfall was actually quite heavy for this area. 30 cm fell in some places.

It was quite clear that the normally very comprehensive gritting and ploughing of the cycle paths was not working as well as usual, and I was concerned about how long it would take to get home by bike.

A delivery had to be made in Assen, so I drove the Sinner van home on Thursday evening. It was the first time I'd driven in over two years. I'm not that keen on driving, but due to concerns about whether the paths and roads would be clear I happily took the chance to drive. It took over an hour. Longer than it usually takes to cycle.

On Friday morning I drove back to work. This time the roads were mostly quite clear, and apart from getting lost in Groningen due to only knowing the route by bike, it was a straightforward commute. After work I returned home in the Mango, and made reasonable time. An hour and 15 minutes. Most of the cycle paths were pretty clear, but I did have a bit of fun on slippery stuff along the way. I was soon down to two layers as it was simply too hot with my fleece on.

Judy got some photos from the city centre and of snowballing outside our home. My daughter's friends arrived by bike as usual.

My Mango is just over two months old and has just short of 2200 km on the clock. Great fun ! Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Friday 18 December 2009

Cycle rush hour in the snow

Another of Mark Wagenbuur's videos, showing rush hour yesterday in a snowy Utrecht.

Dutch cyclists don't cycle much less just because it's cold.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

It's too cold to cycle...

A few weeks back someone pointed out to me that cycling in winter is difficult in Portland, Oregon because of the low temperatures.

I looked into this. Portland's average low in January is 1 C (33.7 F). Groningen's average low in January is -0.6 C (32.9 F). I haven't found figures for Assen, but it is just a few km south of Groningen so it'll be virtually identical.

Note: Video has captions which are only visible on a computer, not on a mobile device.

Last year we had several days of -12 C ( 10 F ) weather. Cycling continued, and ice-skating became popular. So, as you'll see in this video and several other examples, people cycle to go ice-skating.

It was quite cold today, and the radio reported that in some areas it is already possible to skate on natural ice, so there will already be scenes as in the video.

OK, so sometimes the weather really is too extreme in some places. However, mostly "it's too cold in the winter here" is just another of those excuses people use not to cycle, and not to provide for cyclists. It isn't necessary for everyone to make all their journeys by bike, but there are few places where the weather is really too much of a challenge for cycling in all four seasons.

Here in the Netherlands the cycling rate in winter for utility purposes is about 95% of the rate in the summer. Cyclists are supported by the cycle paths and roads being kept clear of snow, and cycling is thus just as convenient and safe as at any other time of year. That's why there is significantly more cycling in Assen and Groningen in the middle of winter, despite the conditions, than in Portland in summer.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

A cold commute, and what goes on at work

This morning at 7 am when I left home it said -3 C on our thermometer, the probe of which dangles outside of, and a bit too close to a window, and -5 C on the computer, which tells us the temperature at the airport, very close to the half way point of my commute. Bike paths go to the airport as well, of course, but my route is slightly different.

It was quite cold, but my commute was also quite uneventful. There was plenty of ice either side of the cycle paths, but none on them.

As ever, it was very pleasant to be able to take a direct route without so many traffic lights as I'd go through on the road, and to be well away from cars for virtually my entire commute. It was also excellent to see how many other cyclists were about. All the groups of teenagers that I'm accustomed to seeing on their way to school were out there. Lots of adult commuters too at this time of day.

The Mango kept the weather off me, so I was warm as I cycled. I wore no gloves, and I got a bit too warm with my fleece on, though the tips of my toes were slightly cold when I arrived at work - the ligfietsgarage in Groningen.

The journey took a few minutes longer than usual as my British expectations mean I just can't trust this Dutch idea of there being no ice on cycle paths in the winter, and I go around corners extra slowly. However, it still took under an hour for the 30 km journey.

My Mango stayed outside for the day, picking up interesting patterns of ice on the bodywork and the cover, and a few icicles too.

Inside we were making more Mangos.

Three new Mangos are expected by their new owners at the end of the week, so we're busy. The bodies and frames for these three have been made already, but there are wheels to build and fit, transmission parts to install, pedals, seats, all the small electrical parts like lighting, indicator and brake lights, bike computers to set up. It takes a while.

The video shows how flexible the thinner parts of the body of the Mango can be. Of course not all the body is as thin as this. Some parts are structural so have to be very rigid.

Some of the Mangos in the shop right now. These are a selection of personal machines, test ride machines and a few which customers are waiting to pick up.

Anyway, once it had got dark again, a few minutes after five in the evening, I got back into my Mango and rode home again. Again I felt warm, while the world looked very cold around me.

It's supposed to be a bit colder tomorrow...

I've now had my own Mango for just a few days over two months (this was the first blog post mentioning it) and I've ridden over 2000 km in it. Most of this has been commuting, and of course it's all been in October, November and December, so it's involved quite a few cold and wet days. I'm not running up the distance as quickly as some of our customers, but even so, it's not too bad. It's roughly equivalent to Land's End to John o'Groats every six weeks as well as working - and I do ride other bikes as well.

A "review" of a bike by someone who makes them can never be impartial. However, I believe in "eating my own dogfood." I wouldn't be involved if I didn't like the product. It's a really good machine, which I'm very happy to be associated with, and extremely fortunate to be able to ride daily. However, there's no need to just take my word for it. Peter Haan made a video review of his Mango a few days ago.

Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Monday 14 December 2009

Mountains and valleys. In the Netherlands.

A direct translation of the name of the Dutch village of "Berg en Dal" is "Mountain and Valley". Much of the Netherlands is flat, but there are some quite hilly bits too, and people do cycle in those hilly bits.

Hills are often used as an excuse for low cycling rates, even though they are very rarely the true reason why people don't cycle. That hills don't really put people off cycling was discussed previously (go there for all the arguments).

There are a number of posts showing things that people use as excuses for why there is less cycling elsewhere.
If you have problems with hills, consider changing your gearing

Sunday 13 December 2009

Cycling over Auckland Harbour Bridge

I lived in New Zealand from 1974 until 1981, my family returning to the UK when I was 15.

I crossed the Auckland Harbour Bridge on many occasions - but always by car. The original plans for the bridge were to have included paths for pedestrians, but these were dropped as an austerity move. It is still not possible to cross this bridge either by bike or on foot.

Bridges ought to provide a link for cyclists. However, in this case it's a barrier. The detour by road to cross the harbour is about 40 km in length.

There is now a campaign, www.getacross.org.nz, trying to get permanent access to this bridge, as the detour by road is a considerable distance. Auckland cyclists have said they are willing to pay a toll to cross the bridge - even though drivers do not currently pay a toll.

The main span of Auckland Harbour Bridge is 243 m - just 8 metres longer than the main span of a bridge for cyclists in Nijmegen in the Netherlands that I covered a few weeks back. That bridge, like all I've seen for cyclists in the Netherlands, is free of charge.

The Auckland harbour bridge also appears in Google Street View

In New Zealand, like all English speaking countries, only around 1% of journeys are by bike. If you want to know why this is, read other blog posts about cycling in New Zealand. There are also several other blog posts about bridges for cyclists as well as about tunnels, which often work better for cyclists than bridges.

Saturday 12 December 2009

More developments in 's-Hertogenbosch and Rotterdam

Via the Fietsberaad, I hear that 's-Hertogenbosch is to spend 16.5 million euros on cycling between now and 2015. 's-Hertogenbosch has a population of 136500 people, so this amounts to €120 per person - around €24 per person per year.

The money will be spent on new cycle paths, separating car routes from cycle routes (as seen here), more cycle parking, and tackling cycle theft. The intention to increase the cycling modal share in the city from the current 33% of all journeys to 44% of all journeys.

(Note that the relatively high figures for cycling modal share shown above are not reliable. They result from not including walking as a transport mode and only considering cycling within the city.)

After this has been achieved, the city says that they will be able to tell everyone that they are now a real cycling city.

There's a nice video on their website as well as many other details, including a map showing the cycle routes grid.

I've had a few other posts showing Den Bosch in the past, largely thanks to Mark Wagenbuur, who lives there.

Meanwhile, not to be left behind, Rotterdam says it is planning to become the cycling city of the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, I've no details of the Rotterdam investment apart from that they're planning to build an underground cycle park for 5000 bikes at the railway station.

Assen also didn't refer to itself as a "cycling city" until the cycling rate was over 40%. The Dutch are very modest about their achievements in cycling compared with many other places.

Friday 11 December 2009

Little known about the effect of bike share on modal splits

Another article from the Fietsberaad:
"Does the introduction of bike share systems such as in Barcelona and Paris lead to a different pattern of travel and a change in the modal split ? However many signals there are this is still difficult to know for sure. That was the conclusion of Gert Brams from Belgium who analysed all the data for these systems for his post graduate thesis at the PCVO Handel in Diepenbeekalle. With his report "Take care, there comes a bike" he presented much interesting material over the introduction and use of loan bike systems in Europe, but only in one case did the numbers support the proposition that residents cycled more frequently. Barcelona is this best example. Traffic counts show a substantial growth on some cycle routes. The BICING system takes some credit for a 26% growth in cycle usage over these routes, 46% of that growth was due to BICING. Over the whole area, the cycling share has approximately doubled. Brams says that the counting figures don't give the full picture about the success of bike share systems: "Loan bikes help also to break throught he myth that in some countries no cycling culture exists." There are a number of factors that are important for success of bike share. From all the studies it is clear that 90% of rides were made for free and that is something that people setting up systems should keep in mind."

I've made clear before my suspicions about the effectiveness of bike share. At that time, Barcelona was the example I picked out as having the best chance of success. They have enough bikes for 1.8% of journeys to be made on them.

Of course, what would really make a difference would be for these cities to invest in cycling infrastructure which makes cycling into an attractive proposition. That's a more difficult thing politically in many places.

End of December update: The Fietsberaad now have their own translation.

Thursday 10 December 2009

New Mango rider's epic ride home

A few weeks ago, a new customer, Gerd Pachauer, came into the ligfietsgarage to pick up his new Sinner Mango. Number 211. Many people come to collect their new bikes, and many ride them straight home. However, this customer was from the South of Austria and his first ride on the bike would be an epic 1900 km in ten days ride to get home. That's an average of 190 km a day, or nearly 120 miles, into a prevailing wind and in winter. Not bad at all with a brand new bike, and showing a lot of confidence in his new machine.

Gerd didn't even take the most direct route, but first headed west to cross the Afsluitdijk and he further rode through a good part of the Netherlands and Germany, following the course of several rivers including the Rhine, before reaching Austria.

Gerd took many photos on the way, and has put them in an online gallery. The photo above is one of his, showing his Mango as he rode through a mountain pass. For those who understand German he also has a ride story in the German velomobile forum. What's more he has continued to make videos on his youtube channel.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Bus and bike access only. Don't bring your car.

Bus-road on the left, cycle-path on the right. There is no conflict between cyclists and buses. Also no conflict with car drivers on this route.
The new housing area of Kloosterveen on the edge of Assen has not yet been completed, however most of the transport infrastructure is in place. This photo shows the route from the western edge of the development into the countryside. It is for cyclists and bus passengers only. The cycle path is on the right in this photo and the bus lane (one bus in width, but for bidirectional use) is on the left. Note that while the bus road is not heavily used - there are only buses every few minutes - cyclists are not expected to share space with the buses. This would lead to conflict between cyclists and bus drivers, and a reduction in subjective safety for cyclists.

The sign makes it quite obvious what will happen to a normal car being driven over this obstacle, as does a close look at the second photo.

There are more routes out of the city by bike than by car, which is part of what makes cycling such an attractive option.

This is the cycle path you eventually end up on if you follow the route from the city centre to the new housing estate and keep on riding out the other side.

Earlier I featured another example of a bus road next to a cycle path, and posted about the lack of fears that cyclists have about buses in an environment where cyclists and buses only very rarely mix. There are also other integrated transport posts which might also be of interest.

Sunday 6 December 2009

The truth about Copenhagen

This is a long post, but also a factual one. Please do read the comments. I think it notable that Copenhagen residents would appear to be in agreement with me, including the Head of the city's Bicycle Programme, Andreas Røhl

The Copenhagen conference is upon us, and what's happening ? Well, CO2 emissions from delegates travelling to the conference are huge for a start, so let's hope they achieve something.

No doubt we've also got any number of articles about "the world's cycling capital" to look forward to.

So what's the problem with this ?

Danish cyclists are increasingly scared to cycle. A recent press release from the city revealed that the number of people who feel safe cycling on the city's streets has fallen from 47% to 40%. An officer from the city's cycling programme is quoted as saying 'More parents don't want their children to ride.'

You can see why there is this concern over safety in almost any photo of cyclists in the city. The majority of cycle paths have no real separation from the street. To cycle in Copenhagen is to cycle in close proximity to motor vehicles. This leads inevitably to a lower level of subjective safety.

The paths are also very narrow. Many are just two or 2.2 metres wide. This is much narrower than the 2.5 m + 1.5 m separation from the road which is normal in the Netherlands for single direction paths. A recent report from the Fietsberaad reported that there is "no promotion" and "almost no important technical or infrastructural innovation."

The cyclists of Copenhagen include relatively few children. Helmets are much more common than here in the Netherlands (they reflect the feeling of safety of those who choose to wear them). There are lots of motor vehicles.

When the Copenhagenize blog includes a piece on cycling to school, you don't see videos of Danish children. Rather, the blog has used the video I shot of Dutch children here in Assen. That's great, but where are the Danish children ? This is important. I can see the next generation of Dutch cyclists already riding their bikes, but not where the next generation of Danish cyclists will come from.

Danish children cycle to school less than ever. Lots of people do use cargo bikes to transport their children within cities, but children are relatively infrequently seen on their own bikes. To be fair, Copenhagen is trying to do something about this, and Mikael is right to point out the absurd direction in which cycle promotion has been heading in Denmark. But the cycling rate in the country as a whole has dropped 30% since 1990. (Sadly, it continues to drop).

So how much cycling is there in Copenhagen ?

The diagram above comes from page ten of "Cycle Policy 2002-2012", an document produced by the City of Copenhagen, showing the modal shares for the city. The text says "The (bicycle) share of the total number of all purpose trips is slightly less than one fifth, but the share of home-workplace traffic is as high as one third." Note how the figure for commuters is substantially higher than that for all trips. This is very often the case because when you concentrate on commuters you conveniently get to ignore the problems faced by pensioners, disabled people, parents cycling with their children and children cycling on their own. Working age adults are less sensitive to a low level of subjective safety.

These figures come from ten years ago. Why am I looking at such old figures ? Well, as it turns out, newer figures from a reliable source are not that easy to find. More recent "Bicycle Accounts" omit the "all trips" figures and only talk about the more impressive figures for commuting. According to the "Bicycle Account" for 2008, the commuting figure has risen to 37%. If we scale the "all journeys" figures by the same proportion you can expect that around 22% of all journeys in Copenhagen are now by bicycle - and around twice that number are by car. John Pucher independently reports that "A 2005 travel survey found that 20% of all trips in Copenhagen were by bike." (page 26 of this document).

Do I have something against the Danes ?

I am sure that some people will ask my motivation for posting this. Do I have something against the Danes ? Of course not. Denmark has the second highest cycling rate in Europe. That is something to be proud of, and to build on. I want to see them reach their target for 40% of commuters by bike. I'd like to see them set targets for wider demographics than just commuters, too.

Denmark needs to try harder than they are at present, for the sake of their own cyclists quite apart from for the rest of us.

Copenhagen looks impressive compared with countries where few people cycle, but the cycling rate is not that high in comparison with many cities in the Netherlands. Several Dutch cities now have more cycle journeys than car journeys. However, while Copenhageners also like their bikes, they still drive a lot more than they cycle.

I think it's quite simple. The infrastructure has let them down. Cycling in Copenhagen isn't as stress free as it needs to be. Not quite so pleasant as it needs to be. There is inadequate subjective safety.

Dutch cities with less than a 30% share are considered to be doing quite badly and work to make improvements. At 27% of all journeys, and 35% of all journeys under 7.5 km, the cycling modal share for this entire country is higher than that of Copenhagen.

Copenhagen's targets

Back in 2002, the City of Copenhagen set some targets:
  • The proportion of people cycling to workplaces in Copenhagen shall increase from 34% to 40%.
  • Cyclist risk of serious injury or death shall decrease by 50%.
  • The proportion of Copenhagen cyclists who feel safe cycling in town shall increase from 57% to 80%.
  • Cyclist travelling speed on trips of over 5 km shall increase by 10%.
  • Cyclist comfort shall be improved so that cycle track surfaces deemed unsatisfactory shall not exceed 5%.
These are all worthwhile aims, but how successful has Copenhagen been in achieving them ? That recent press release that I referred to earlier gives a few answers:
  • The 40% commuting target has not yet been met. Rather, the city still says that "more than a third of residents pedal their way to work."
  • The fears associated with cycling in Copenhagen have risen. The proportion who feel safe has dropped from 57% to 53%.
  • Actual death and injury rates have definitely dropped, which is very good news.
  • The other two issues, of speed and comfort have not been reported on, so I can only assume there isn't much progress to report on these.
So, why the lack of progress ? It comes down to quality of infrastructure and levels of subjective safety. As shown before, cycling in Copenhagen means cycling in close proximity to cars. Road junctions generally don't separate cyclists from motorists as they do here. The 2008 bicycle account reports that "58% (of Copenhagen cyclists) feel unsafe because of cars." Cycling simply doesn't feel safe enough with Copenhagen's infrastructure and that is why growth has stalled where it has and why the demographics are as they are.

How is the infrastructure different ?

Some of the language from the Cycle Policy document explains the difference. For example, "Normally cycle tracks are wider than two meters across." Two metres is actually rather narrow by Dutch standards which require 2.5 metre minimum widths. Also, there is no mention of any separation from the road. We have a 1.5 m separation standard here, while on many of the Danish cycle tracks, there is simply a kerb which will drop you onto the road. This makes the usable width of the cycle tracks narrower than their actual width.

Copenhagen (urban population 1.8 M) has around 350 km of cycle tracks. This are in large part not separated from the road by more than a kerb. Also, at junctions bicycles and cars are mostly mixed in together without separate traffic light timings (even with their newer designs). There are more details and lots of photos of different types of Copenhagen cycle tracks on page 23 and onwards in this document.

By contrast, even tiny Assen (population 65000) has over 100 km of separated cycle paths (double that if you count both sides of the road - I'm not sure how Copenhagen counts), which are mostly quite well separated from the road, and road junctions mostly keep cars and bikes separate (as seen here, here, here).

Copenhagen is also growing a network of "green cycle paths" away from the road, and now has more than 25 km of these. From the videos and photos I've seen, these look very good. They quite closely resemble some of the better cycle paths we have in Assen and Groningen. I've recently featured some typical local cycle routes here and here. The reaction of an American visitor to the streets of Groningen can be seen here.

So, why write this now ?

Copenhagen's marketing as "the world's cycling capital" has been very successful so far. Nice branding too. However, real growth in cycling comes not from marketing and branding, nor from taking photos of pretty girls on bikes, but from investment in infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the effects of the hype now go beyond the residents of just that one city. London, for instance, seems to think that merely painting its cycle paths "copenhagen blue" will lead to success. It won't. To get a really high rate of cycling you need the proper infrastructure. There is one country in the world which has it.

So what's to be done ?

These are figures for all journeys, not just commuters

Groningenize ! What is needed everywhere is to build better infrastructure and make cycling more attractive. Copenhagen itself could do with a good dose of "Groningenization" in order to improve both its cycling rate and the demographics of its cyclists. Groningen itself needs to continue to improve its infrastructure in order to continue to increase its cycling rate.

And the rest of the world would be best off watching the best example. To "Copenhagenize" is to copy what is second best. "Groningenize", "Netherlandsize", even "Amsterdamize".


Copenhagen has achieved a lot. It has the highest cycling rate in Europe outside of the Netherlands. There is quite a lot of catching up to do to get to the point that many Dutch cities have reached, but they're still doing really well by world standards. Let's keep it in perspective, cheer on their success so far. However, it's also important to realise why their success has been limited, and try to understand why Dutch cities have achieved so much more.

Other countries wanting to achieve a significant modal share for bicycles really do have to look beyond Copenhagen. Groningen leads the world.

And us ?

And what about Assen where we live ? Well, the cycling rate here is 41% of all journeys. Not as high as Groningen, but not far off double the figure for Copenhagen. It's a very high figure for a city which doesn't have a student population to boost the cycling demographics. This city only started to refer to itself as a "fietsstad" or "cycling city" after the all journeys figure reached 40%, and then did so just with a small piece in Dutch on the city's website. That's called modesty.

We weren't born here, but came here for a reason. The cycling environment is first class (not only in the city but also in the countryside) and it's a wonderful place to live.

There are several other posts about Copenhagen. Copenhagen has continued to make claims which are not supported by evidence. For instance, a widely reproduced press release which claimed a huge number of cyclists on "the busiest cycle street in the world" did not stand up to scrutiny.

2013 update
You read it here first in 2009, now it's confirmed by the Danish press (English translation). Cycling has stagnated in Copenhagen at about 35% of commuters, well short of both the 40% target which I wrote about above and the 50% target which the city then set. As I suggested in 2009, Copenhagen has at last started to look to Groningen for advice.

The Danish article discusses several of the things that we recommend and which feature on our study tours: Simultaneous green junctions, the much larger railway station cycle parking facilities in the Netherlands, and it is topped by a photo of the Gerrit Krol triple bridge which saves cyclists an enormous amount of time.

It's also been confirmed this year that two stage junctions used widely in Denmark are an unsafe design of junction which has led to many deaths.

These problems could have been avoided or minimised by Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole following a path of building better infrastructure which invited people to cycle rather than relying heavily on marketing, both within the country and to an outside audience.

We can help cities in Denmark or any other nation by demonstrating best practice.

2014 update
Five years after publishing this blog post, calling for Denmark to attempt to stop trying merely to use hype to sell cycling and instead "Netherlandsize" itself so that the country can genuinely grow the popularity of riding bicycles, there is at last official recognition within the Danish government that cycling has been in decline for twenty years in their country. This is a very good thing. It is only after recognition of a problem that the beginnings of a solution can be found.

2014 update - part 2
Unfortunately, this new found sense didn't last. A few weeks after I wrote the last paragraph, Copenhagen once again started claiming implausible numbers of cyclists on one route as a success.

For the sake of your own population, it's time that international city marketing and promotion of prestige projects took second place to building a useful network of infrastructure.

Independent EU statistics for cycling
in Copenhagen for 2010 and 2012.
Cycling dropped from 31% to 26%
Car usage rose from 29% to 33%.
Independent research shows that cycling continues to decline in Copenhagen.

2015 update
Sadly, the cycling embassy of Denmark reports that funding for cycling has been severely cut. Official figures from the city also show that cycling in Copenhagen declined between 2010 and 2012.

This post was inspired by a post on a similar subject on the Amsterdamize blog, and not quite believable figures quoted on the Copenhagenize blog. The Groningen chart comes from page 23 of this presentation by Cor van der Klaauw. Since this blog post was written, the claims on the Copenhagenize blog have been slightly modified.

Saturday 5 December 2009

A "superhighway" out of Assen

When a new suburb was built on the edge of Assen, the new residents would be living 3.5 to 4.5 km from the centre of the city. Many may have been put off cycling into the city if the route was not of adequate quality, offering enough safety and directness.

There are many examples of where Dutch cyclists get to dodge traffic lights.

The planners came up with a great solution. The most direct route from the city centre to the new development was to be by bike. That's the red line on the map. The driving route is in blue. The red line takes in no traffic lights, and is as cycled in the video above. The blue line has three sets of traffic lights on the route as well as a couple of roundabouts. It's also a bit longer.

Much of the distance covered in the video, and shown on the map, is on road. However, these are "bicycle roads" on which driving is made awkward due to restrictions. Residents can use the road for access to their homes, but it's of no use for a through journey as there are no "destinations" on the road. Motorists are expected to give way to cyclists. They are not supposed to park on the road (residents parking is provided alongside). For cyclists, though, it's wonderful. Direct. Pleasant. Car free (well, very nearly).
When the work was being planned a couple of years ago, the local government made some very amusing cartoon versions of what it would eventually look like, including details of the four new (and one reconditioned - subject of a future post) bridges that would have to be built along here to help cyclists or to relieve motor traffic from this route.

I showed another part of the route in a video a few days ago. That video was shot from the hill which is where the yellow dot is on the map above. Also, there's a view of the last part of the road heading into the city centre, and a view of the rush hour at one point on the road. All three of those videos show a lot more cyclists than the one here, shot on a quiet Sunday morning to show you the infrastructure - which is really the star of the video. Also, the blue bridge featured in a piece about how cycling should not be an extreme sport.

Since the building of the new development, the cycling rate in Assen has risen, not fallen. 41% of all journeys in the city are now by bike.

I had to edit the Google Maps image to get the red line on. Here's a link to it without. The bike I'm riding is the marvellous Sinner Mango velomobile.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The world's first cycling superhighway. Seven kilometres with right of way

This video has explanatory captions which can only be read on a computer and not on a mobile device. If you view the video only with a mobile device then you won't understand what is special about this cycle-path.

While other places talk about the possibility of "cycling superhighways", they already exist here in the Netherlands. This route was the model of a "fietssnelweg" or "cycling highway" in the Netherlands. It provides a direct route for cyclists over a town to town distance, and has increased the use of bikes on a popular commuting route.

Mark puts it as follows: "This cycle route in the South of the Netherlands was created in 2003/2004 as a model route for a fast and safe cycle route between cities and towns. The example route goes from the city of Breda to the town of Etten-Leur. It is over 7 kilometers (about 4.5 miles) long with the right of way for cyclists on every junction but one, where traffic lights were placed. The entire route is at least 3.5 meters wide and surfaced with smooth asphalt. The provincial government financed this so-called cycle highway for 80%, the rest was paid for by the city of Breda. Costs were about half a million euros per kilometer. This project was to be an example of how well designed cycle infrastructure can increase cycle use between towns and cities.

In 2009 the city of Breda stated the route is a succes. After an investigation showed 1,300 cyclists use the route every day.
To emphasize the special status of this cycle highway three shelters were placed along side of it. Finally an observation tower (18m or about 60 ft tall) near a motorway and the highspeed railway Amsterdam-Paris draws extra attention to this route."

Also, the Fietsberaad have an article about this route.

Just to prove that we're not hiding anything in the edits, Mark also has a sped up video showing the entire route.

Some places think that merely putting a bit of blue paint on narrow on road cycle lanes constitutes a superhighway for bikes. If you want to see how to do it properly, you need to look to the Netherlands for inspiration.

November 2013 update due to explain why this special.
Very nearly every village and every town in the Netherlands are connected together by rural cycle-paths. They are not all called "superhighways". In fact, none of them are. This particular path was given the title of "Fietssnelweg" because it met particular criteria. The surface is very smooth, the path is very wide and this width is maintained for the entire length. Interruptions are very few and very well designed. They mostly favour cyclists. To compare it with a bumpy and narrow shared use path in Ireland is to miss the point.

The 7 km length of this path is not all you get. At both ends this path links to the a network which covers the entire nation, all built to an exceptional standard by comparison with other countries. It is possible to travel hundreds of kilometres in almost any direction without interacting in a significant way with motor vehicles.

Most rural cycle-paths in the Netherlands without spectacular names are also built to a very good quality. For instance, see what our local "Fietsroute+" paths look like.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Cycling plays a part in reducing CO2 emissions

The Fietsberaad just published a story about how cycling plays a part in reducing CO2 emissions. What they report is as follows:

There look to be big differences between towns in the Netherlands as the CO2 emissions vary with the mobility of the resident. As a result, a resident from Almere (a new city which started being built in 1976 on reclaimed land) produces twice as much CO2 due to transport as a resident of Amsterdam. It is not just coincidence that bicycles are used for 27% of journeys in Almere vs. 38% of journeys in Amsterdam.

Cycle usage is an important, but not the only, explanatory factor with regards to CO2 emissions per resident in relation to transport. Other important foctors are the spacial characteristics, the composition of the population and the travel habits of the population.

Bureau Goudappel Coffeng calculated the CO2 emissions per resident withy help from the travel statistics from the Mobiliteits Onderzoek Nederland (MON - Mobility Survey of the Netherlands) and the figures for CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre due to travel by car, bike, bus or train. That resulted in an oversight from the average CO2 emission per resident per city.

In greater than 100000 cities, Leiden (48% of journeys by bike), Amsterdam (38%), Haarlem (36%), Enschede (38%) and Rotterdam (26%) scored highly.

That cycle usage is not always the deciding factor is shown by Rotterdam. This city gains through a higher public transport usage and fewer journeys per person per day. And despite a high cycling mode share (48%), Zwolle did badly, as did Emmen, Amersfoort and Almere.

Amongst smaller towns, Vlaardingen, Delft, Schiedam, Gouda en Katwijk did well. In last place came Hardenberg, due to its high number of car journeys.

The investigators concluded that considerable differences exist in the use of public transport and bikes between different towns, and that there is space for these towns to make improvements.

I previously posted a story about how the most important ways of reducing CO2 emissions were those which increased cycling.

Sunday 29 November 2009

A good through road transformed into an excellent through road. Costings of improvements for cyclists

In 2007, when we moved to Assen, this road, Groningerstraat was being redeveloped. It is a popular route for cyclists as it provides the most direct route possible to the city centre from the North of the city.

The road was dug up to a considerable depth, all the way from the front gardens on one side of the street to the front gardens on the opposite side of the street. Then everything in between was replaced. A complete new road was built for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

While the road was dug up, the electricity, gas, telephone, sewage and other services were updated at the same time. This is the normal way of organising things in the Netherlands because it prevents wrecking the new surface in order to do maintenance.

The new road was then constructed, including very much upgraded cycle facilities as you can see from these before and after photographs. The new cycle path is 2.5 m wide on each side of the road (each side is unidirectional), has a completely smooth surface (an upgrade from the old tiled surface) and provides much better segregation from motor vehicles. The cycle path has priority over every side road.

We were surprised not only at the quality of this work, but also at the price. A budget document from the city shows that the cost of this work for a 0.4 km section (both sides of the road so 0.8 km of cycle path) was just €200K (see the item on the second page: "fietspaden langs Groningerstraat, tussen Thorbeckelaan en Kanaal, verbreding fietspaden naar ca 2,5 m, rood asfalteren, voorrang bij de kruispunten, € 200.000"). That compares very well with costings I've seen for cycle paths of a much lower quality in the UK.

And not only is the amount taken from the cycling budget for this piece of work low by UK standards, but the total budget for cycling in the city is extraordinarily large by UK standards.

The budget for the two years covered by that document is arranged under different headings. Each heading has its own budget. These come to a total of over € 5.7 M to be spent on cycling in Assen over the two years covered by the budget. That works out as a cycling budget of 43 euros per resident per year over these two years.

The combination of low cost and high budget is what makes it possible to get things done so quickly.

The junctions were also renewed, including a simultaneous green junction shown in another blog post, which cost just €32000 (the first item in the budget document)

Some more photos. One extra "before" and three "after" photos.

Note that there are children in several of the shots. It's quite normal here for children to travel right to the centre of the city on their own bikes. This is perhaps the ultimate expression of parents feeling confident in the safety of the cycling environment.

This level of subjective safety is vital to achieve a high cycling rate including all demographic groups.

Note also in this photo how on-road car parking was preserved for residents. It's important that residents concerns about car parking were also addressed when the new work was done. Not taking care of this can result in conflict between cyclists and residents, or cars being parked on the cycle path.

Also you'll see how it's possible for friends to ride beside one another, and how everything is possible while motor vehicles are kept at a distance.

The cycling rate in Assen is now 41% of all journeys. While it's not the highest rate in the Netherlands (Groningen has a higher cycling rate), that's still a higher rate than any city in other European countries. More journeys are made by bike here than are made by car. Infrastructure like this is has made this possible.

I've featured this road twice on this blog as a comparison with Gilbert Road in Cambridge, a road near where we used to live in the UK, which is much the same width and had much the same budget for cycle infrastructure, but which received far inferior reconstruction for about the same price.

It was also featured to show how secondary school children cycle along this street as part of their route to get to school from villages outside the city.

Also see a newer blog post which illustrates why "dooring" is not a problem on this road.

The explanatory captions on this video are only visible when you play it on a computer and not on a mobile device.

The photos were taken on Saturday afternoon when there were quite a lot of people about. I made this video on Sunday morning when the shops were shut and very few people were doing anything. However, the video shows the infrastructure of the entire length of the new part of Groningerstraat. This quality of cycle path makes for efficient as well as safe cycling.

Several other blog posts cover other aspects of this street's highly successful design cycling. Please click here.

The "before" photos come from an official document of the local government of Assen, and the bike that I rode to make the video is a Sinner Mango velomobile.