Monday 15 November 2010

A proper obstruction

Dutch cycle paths are not completely perfect. Nor are the roads. There are over 29000 km of separate cycle paths in this country and 120000 km of roads. It would be a miracle if all of it was perfect in every detail all the time.

Mostly the problems are quite minor, and the result of older provision not having been updated, or surfaces being a bit past their best. However, very occasionally you find something which is simply bad design.

On a recent ride to visit a friend in Deventer, I came across this example. It was not on the main route, and I shouldn't have been here. I only found it after making a wrong turn into a housing estate. As you can see, I had to get out of the Mango and pick up the back end to turn through this tight corner between unnecessary barriers which had been put in the way.

I suspect this also causes problems for people who have child trailers, bakfietsen, or any other more unusual bikes.

Nowhere that you have to get off your bike and lift it can be classed as good quality infrastructure. It's precisely the sort of nonsense that is so readily and commonly criticised in the UK. Indeed, I used to criticise it myself. And there's a Dutch website which keeps a log.

However, the big difference is in the frequency with which you find such things. This is only the second such obstacle that I've found in the three years that I've lived in the Netherlands, and I had to travel 60 km and accidentally take a wrong turn through a narrow alley to find it. In Cambridge, I could find any number of such things within a very short distance from home. So many, in fact, that I stopped bothering to take photos and update the website on which I put them.

Grotere kaart weergeven

The other horrible barrier that I found is here. It's worth pointing out that the only reason I found this obstruction in Raalte is because I was seduced into going too far along a very nice cyclepath in the town. It was when I decided to change direction that I found this short path and its barrier. Raalte has plenty of other good cyclepaths which make the efficient network needed to support a high cycling rate.


dr2chase said...

The Dutch are so well-behaved. I think you could fix that obstruction with a saw, pretty quickly, too. The most hateful obstruction I know of was a "dismount gate" on a pedestrian bridge over 101 in Palo Alto, California. Steel, so much slower to saw it, or else thermite, and it was a complete no-go for a child trailer -- so if you were towing a trailer, you had to mix it up with the cars on the overpass.

And while I've never destroyed broken-by-design infrastructure, I have carried an ax and a saw to clean up a path after a storm, and used them, too.

Frits B said...

Well-behaved? I think this obstruction was put there on purpose to prevent motorized vehicles from sneaking up the cycle path in order to go from one cul-de-sac to another. Which doesn't mean of course that some more thought might have gone into making the turn easier. But if there is room for a Mango, there is also room for a motorcycle.
Now if only motorists were well-behaved enough to make such obstruction superfluous.
You will find the same type of road-blocks in Emmen (Angelslo) and I suppose also in Marsdijk and Peelo.

David Earl said...

I know you like to dis Cambridge, but since you left some of these things have improved.

Progress is slow, yes, and cuts will make it slower, but over time almost all the obstructive gates onto the paths across the commons have been replaced with cattle grids (there really are cattle) - we think there is only one gate left now, and none of the old pinch stiles - double cattle grids side by side where there is a high cycle volume.

While some council people are obsessed with "you have to slow cyclists down where they meet a road" (in situations like the one you showed), there has been a programme to remove or reduce the severity of chicanes over the last three years, and the County Council has even set up a website to draw their attention to exactly this kind of problem with a view to fixing it (

The bugbear of many, a tight steel chicane insisted on by Tesco stores between Riverside and their store is, we understand, to be replaced with a simple bollard shortly (bollards are needed because people have this habit of driving stolen cars onto cycleways and setting fire to them; and sometimes it is necessary to slow cyclists down because some won't respect pedestrians in these situations).

So things have and are improving slowly in Cambridge in this respect: attitudes have changed among a lot of the people who make these kind of decisions.

They still make far too many compromises that the Dutch don't, of course. E.g. while we are about to have the first two serious attempts at decent cycleways with priority over side roads (construction starts in the new year), on one of them (Cherry Hinton Road outbound) the crossings will be set back with sharp wiggles, which the Dutch would never do (the other - Madingley Road inbound - will be better).

Anonymous said...

From the photograph the barriers look new. Such things are either put in to stop car drivers taking a short cut or to bring a cyclist to a near halt where visibility is poor. The measures are rarely worth the continued inconvenience to the rightful users. For sure you would have to work hard to get your super Velomobile down much of our Bristol to Bath railway path.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

Neil said...

"But if there is room for a Mango, there is also room for a motorcycle."

there is always room for a motorcycle. Light weight off road motorbikes or small scooters cannot be stopped while still allowing access to cyclists.

Yes large motorcycles can be blocked, but then trailers on longer bikes won't be able to have access. UK chicanes often seem to just allow a moutainbike through (which of course are very common here) and those will stop most motorbikes, but also stop other cyclists and a small scooter is just as short.

David Hembrow said...

David: I take no pleasure in "dissing Cambridge" and I'm very glad to hear that some things are being improved, if slowly.

However, I can't help but notice that the examples you specifically give, of cattle grids and the ever popular Tescos bollard, are problems which I didn't even get around to mentioning on my old web page. As I said in the blog post, it was quite quickly obvious that detailing all the obstructions was simply too much work. There are currently 563 photos tagged as obstructions on the Cambridge photomap, so still much to do.

The main reason why it is "necessary" to slow cyclists in the UK is because there is simply inadequate space provided on paths which are shared between cyclists and pedestrians. Such attempts to slow cyclists down are virtually unknown here. This page shows one of only two which I've found in three years, neither of which was on a main route. More frequently you get a type of speed bump which you can pass with any bike. You can see an example of these here.

As for the problem with people setting fire to cars, as you might expect, I've not noticed it happening here. Britain does have a lot of social problems to deal with. A few years ago that combined with the low price of scrap steel so that you had to pay to get rid of an "old banger". This lead to people reporting their cars as stolen and setting fire to their no longer needed cars walking distance from home as a "cheap" way of getting rid of them.

When you buy a new car in the Netherlands you pay the trivial extra cost of disposal in advance. This removes the end-of-life disposal issue.

Good luck with the Cherry Hinton Road and Madingley Road improvements. Hopefully these will be properly designed cycle facilities which allow cyclists to make faster progress than on the roads themselves.

Mark: I have never tried the Bristol to Bath path. I'm sorry to hear of the obstructions as with this being a long distance path it really ought to have been designed to allow riding at a sensible speed.

Theo Z said...

In your neighbourhood there are at least a few of those blockades. Here is one in Annen:,6.712502&spn=0.002237,0.004206&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=53.063125,6.712622&panoid=gfGEMjbYFilhy0g1Y62HBw&cbp=12,65.81,,1,2.63

Zoom in. At the end of the cycle path there is a similar blockade. At the other end of that part there is also one (road: Annerstreek). I know some in Zuidlaren (Lageweg).

David Hembrow said...

Theo: I think you prove my point quite well !

Your example of another obstruction "in my neighbourhood" is actually in a residential street 15 km away... Like the other obstruction, I'd only ever possibly find this by accidentally going the wrong way.

It's not perfect here, and I'm not claiming by any means to have found an exhaustive list of problems. However, compared with anywhere else, the number of problems you find here is actually remarkably low.

Pjotr320 said...

Sorry 'Rest of the world', it really is hard to find such blockades here :-p

I ride about 15,000km/year and also visit other parts of the country with/by bike. I might see a few obstacles per year on quiet unimportant paths that aren't part of an important cycle route.

Yes, they exist. But if you can find them, you can also find a route around them. There are plenty of alternatives in most cases.

Isla... said...

The new cycleways in Cambridge, with priority over side roads sound mightily interesting for us UK dwellers.

Sirius7dk said...

About the Bristol to Bath path, the problem is not the path itself, but the access that makes it impossible or difficult to access it most places for anything larger than a normal size bike.

In my opinion, the path itself is wide enough for a velomobile or a bike with trailer.

I can take some pictures of various access points if it is of interest.

Rasmus Jensen

Neil said...

@ian - Agreed. I'd definitely like to hear how the Cambridge thing goes and see the results.

Micheal Blue said...

We don't really have problems like this in Toronto. It may be because we don't have very many bike paths, though ;-) Well, some city parks have gates that are hard to get by even on a normal bike, but those paths are not true bike paths - they are general use park paths. Our main bike trail along the shore of Lake Ontario has a few metal gates where a biker has to zig-zag through. A trike would probably have a problem there. Dave, your bike shines like a Xmas tree - I guess you used flash, eh? That reminds me - do you know bike lights by DiNotte? I just ordered one of their powerful rear lights. Apparently it has such a high output that the photons actually push the bike.

David Hembrow said...

Hi Michael. I've seen the DiNotte lights on websites, but I'm not convinced. They use round lenses, which mean a lot of wasted light where you don't want it, and they also quote their light output in lumens, which is misleading because it has no allowance for distance from the bike or beam pattern.

When I used to make bike lights myself, I found that some 20 W halogens were of less use than 2 W halogens for bike riding. The problem was entirely due to the shape of the lens and reflector. B&M currently have the nicest lenses and reflectors in their IQ series of lights and these remain for me the best lights available.

In defence of DiNotte, if you are mountain biking, which requires a wide angle of view at much lower speeds, then round lenses make some sense and I wouldn't recommend the IQ lights for this.

All lights push the bike due to their photon output... That's simply what happens. Whether it's a measurable effect is something else altogether. I'm not particularly interested in finding out if I can cycle faster at midnight with my front light turned off.

Anonymous said...

To be fair that is a fietspad indicated in letters instead of one indicated by a the bicycle symbol. "Fietspad" bicycle paths are optional, you can still use the road where available. Most "Fietspad" bicycle paths are in not so great condition.