Tuesday 8 March 2011

This is not a cycle path

This video has explanatory captions which are only visible on a computer and not on a mobile device
I cycled to Azor in Hoogeveen and back home this afternoon to get more front luggage racks for the shop. A 75 km round trip pulling a trailer, which makes for a decent mid-week workout.

I went after lunch and returned just after the schools had shut, so there were a lot of school children making their way home both in the same and the opposite direction to me. A few of them are in the video and photos below.

Most of the first half of the route between here and Hoogeveen is on roads, not cycle paths. However, these are not roads as you probably know them. Yes, in theory they are "shared" with cars, but in practice you only very rarely see a car using them. Some years ago, a parallel road with a higher speed limit was built to take the through traffic. The only cars which use the minor road are those which are accessing properties along it. Today I saw no cars using the minor road in either direction, but I did see a lot of cyclists. On the parallel road with the 80 km/h speed limit there were quite a few cars, but no cyclists. It is illegal to cycle on that road, but we lose nothing due to that.

The Netherlands has 35000 km of cycle path, vs about 130000 km of roads. However, this doesn't imply that when you cycle on the roads that you have to "share" with large numbers of cars. Rather, you are segregated by mode, even when on the roads. What I'm highlighting here is road, not cycle path, so is not part of the 35000 km cycle path total. There are a lot of roads like this in the Netherlands, both in rural and urban settings.

Sometimes it seems that cyclists from the UK in particular get particularly vexed over the issue of being "banned from roads". However, in this case it really makes no difference at all to cyclists. We get the better half of the deal, in fact, with a direct route which is only very rarely invaded by a motor vehicle. What cyclists need to fight for is better conditions for cycling, which result in more cycling. Spending time in defending a position of being allowed to use roads which the majority of the population find unpleasant may slow the decline of cycling, but it will never grow it. The best defence is a good offence. In the case of cycling, growth comes by fighting for cycling conditions with a level of subjective safety such that everyone will want to cycle, and direct routes which make cycling efficient. The Dutch have done this for a while now, with great success relative to other countries.

Most of the still photos which follow were taken heading South, so that's why the main road is on the left in some of these photos, while it's on the right in the video:

A lone cyclist on the service road, while the parallel road for cars has several cars. Note that the street light is on the quiet road.
Several more cyclists on the quiet road. The main road is now on the left of some housing, so it's temporarily out of sight.
An adult cyclist blithely passes by a sign saying that he's banned from using the main road. Somehow he seems not to be concerned about this. 

Another adult cyclist, passing another sign, who doesn't seem to mind one bit about being banned from the road on the left.
Two girls riding together with no concerns about motorists.
One of the points where the service road becomes a cycle path. This makes it discontinuous for drivers, and is another reason why the road we're using only has cars on it which are being driven to access properties along it.
Now on the cycle path. This boy doesn't seem to feel sufficiently threatened by the traffic that he thinks he needs to hold his handlebars properly.
An elderly couple out for an afternoon ride. They're heading towards a roundabout, which if you're on the cycle path you completely avoid.
I'm also quite glad I'm not on the road. It wouldn't improve my feeling of safety either. Subjective safety is the big question. If there's not enough of it, people don't cycle. It's not just "for beginners". Experienced cyclists also also benefit from conditions which make cycling more pleasant.
On the way home now. We're on the cycle path on this side of the trees, the cars are on the right. Here two bikes are being used by four teenagers. Coming in the opposite direction are another elderly couple out for a ride.
Two more girls heading home on the cycle path.
Back on the road, with more children heading home from school and using the full width. The cars are on the other road to the right of those trees.
Another group of children riding home together. They were more spread out before they saw me coming in the opposite direction and made room.
None of the photos or video show cars using the minor road. This isn't just due to me being selective - I saw no cars using that road today.

The route highlighted by this post is shown on the map below. If the only route here by bike was the main road then there is simply no way that there would be this level of cycling, especially by school children. Few parents would see that option as safe. That is why even "on the road" it is important to have segregation of modes.

A 17 km one way distance to school

Conditions like this are what makes the difference between 1% of journeys being by bike in the UK, USA, Australia etc. and 26% of journeys being by bike in the Netherlands. It's the reason why 16 million Dutch people make more cycle journeys between them than 300 million Americans, 65 million British and 20 million Australians all added together. It's also the reason why Dutch cyclists are the safest in the world.

Hoogeveen and back is quite a regular journey for me now, and I've videoed it twice before. Article originally referred to 29000 km of cycle-path. This was incorrect - the Netherlands now recognises 35000 km.


Pjotr320 said...

The minor road between Assen and Hooghalen is indeed a good place to ride. It's part of my short (28km) training route. Comfortable, safe and fast.
My top speed on that stretch is 65kph :-)

amoeba said...

Recently it was announced that the Cycle Network has reached the 13,000 mile landmark.
By my reckoning that's ~21000 km which on first impressions sounds pretty impressive and broadly comparable with the Netherlands' 29000 km.
Sadly, the reality of comparing cycle facilities in the UK with those in NL is like comparing chalk with cheese. I prefer cheese to chalk any day and if the cycling statistics are any guide, so do other people who would otherwise be tempted to ride bicycles.

Why are we so dumb? Why do politicians etc. keep on with fobbing us off with what I can only call rubbish?

David Hembrow said...

Peter: I was hard pressed to maintain half that speed today with the trailer, 30 kg of stuff in the trailer, Marathon Plus tyres (excellent puncture resistance, but I'll fit something more fun for the summer).

Amoeba: The distance initially sounds comparable, but as you correctly point out, it's not.

The Netherlands is a country with a quarter of the population and an eighth of the area of the UK, so Britain surely actually needs rather more cycle path than NL does.

What's more, the greatest part of the NCN is on roads, very few of which are anything like this, and some of which are quite busy. Nevertheless, they count this as part of the length.

Meanwhile, only a small part of the 16 km or so that I highlight in this post are counted as part of the 29000 km of cycle paths in the Netherlands. Most of this route, the main bit which the blog post is about, in fact, is not cycle path so doesn't count towards the total, even though it's about as car-free as it could possibly be.

christhebull said...

When I saw the title I though this was going to be like Crocodile Dundee or the M&S adverts, mocking the pathetic efforts of the British...

Some UK roads have similar service roads along them, but they rarely form a continuous route for cyclists. This location is quite well known from a stock photograph, but you can see that while local buses can continue, cyclists are left out in the cold, expected to illegally continue and then squeeze past the barrier. You can clearly see how cycling is going to boom in Outer London.

Anonymous said...

@christhebull That picture sums up the complete lack of consideration for cycling in UK transport planning. Cyclists just don't exist.


Severin said...

Fascinating, don't know how often such a street would be workable in Los Angeles. These streets are mostly on rural roads, right? Impressive nonetheless!

Paul Martin said...

@amoeba & @David Hembrow

Yeah, in Australia they count this rubbish in the tally as well as designated 'shared' roads (ie painted bicycle symbol and nothing else!).

Apparently Brisbane has 1000km of bikeways - I'd love to know where they're hiding because I can't find them (I think they might be beneath the gravel & glass...)

That's a crazy cruising speed in the Mango! I wish I were that fit...

amoeba said...

@ christhebull,
I've been along Malden Way, it's really noisy, nasty and not for the meek or the cyclist. I'll probably not go there again any time soon.

Unfortunately, these 'all but motorways' built in UK suburbs are 'roads to hell'. They encourage unnecessary car ownership and use; dissect and disrupt communities; encourage crime; create pollution; noise and etc.

If there was ever was demand to put urban planners on trial, then urban & suburban motorways and their de facto equivalents would lead to the Judge wearing a black cap at sentencing time.

Bob said...

Back in June of 08, before we had made the move to the Netherlands and I was there scoping out a place to live, I mentioned to the estate agent (we'd call them a "real estate agent", but whatever) that there was this convenient "short cut" from a house we were thinking of renting that led directly to my wife's place of work. Well, you should have seen the look of horror on her face! "Oh, don't get caught driving there!"
See, I wasn't quite at the point where I had a decent grasp of the lingo (not that I ever completely would) so I really had no clue of the extent of my transgression.

Many months later, when the main road between Hengelo and Delden was being worked on, and traffic was being diverted to one of these side roads, I was as nervous as a cat driving there even though I knew it was at that moment an OK thing to do.
Funny how that works.
I could ride all the way to Hengelo without so much as worrying about what anyone at the wheel of a motor vehicle would do, but then again I think I'm preaching to the choir.

Frits B said...

@Severin: These service roads exist in cities as well. They are a practical way to keep traffic flowing on thru routes. Try for instance Rotterdam, Mathenesserlaan, on Google maps. Old street, so it's not even a new idea. I took it in my school days 50 years ago and it hasn't changed a bit.

David Hembrow said...

Severin, Frits: Actually they're quite common in urban areas, including here in Assen. Here is an example less than a kilometre from our home.

Matt Nicholas said...

Severin: I am familiar mainly with Rotterdam but there are several urban examples of this sort of road to be found, such as here , here and here .

Severin said...

David, Frits, and Matt, thanks for the information and links. Come to think of it, I know of one similar service street not too far from my neighborhood. However, it seems nothing prevents cars from speeding on the one I'm thinking of. Is there a particular reason why the service road would be implemented over separated bike infrastructure? Is it an access issue?

David Hembrow said...

Severin: Yes, I think it is entirely for access. Also, for safety, separating slower from faster vehicles. Often you'll find that tractors going from field to field will use the service road, for instance (I saw one in a video I made before on the same journeys).

What stops cars from speeding on these roads is that they go no-where. For cyclists they form part of a straight line together with sections of cycle path, but for drivers it's a zig-zag, going on and off the main road.

It's perhaps theoretically possible to go on them and get up to an illegal speed, but if you want to make progress when driving you'll make be better off on the main road. There will be fewer cyclists to swerve around as well.

Elizabeth said...

75 km in one day you hardcore .the most l've dont is 305kn in one day you hun

David Hembrow said...

Elizabeth: I don't think you've quite got the hang of what this blog post was about...

But, anyway, well done. I mean that. It's a good distance to do in a day.

And you're right, it's also a bit further than I've ever ridden in a day - though perhaps not quite as much more as you think it is. I've ridden more than 200 km quite a few times. Last year I did so twice, in one event riding 235 km in six hours and in another it took a bit over eight hours to ride a bit further. I don't expect I'd have too much of a problem with 300 km if I wanted to do it.