Tuesday 22 November 2011

Speedbumps on the cycle-path

Something often misunderstood about Dutch cycle-paths are the speed bumps. We don't have any to show you in Assen, but there are a few in Groningen. This is one of them, on my commuting route:

Children riding to school cross a device designed to reduce the speed of a slow class of moped which is permitted to use this cycle-path
What's important to keep in mind is that these things are not to slow down cyclists. Policy requires that cyclists' journeys are made more direct and faster. These are intended to slow mopeds, not bikes, and you find speed-bumps like this on main cycle routes where mopeds are also allowed.

These speed bumps are larger than might be obvious from photos (especially photos with no cyclists in them). I measured this one at 10 m long by 3.75 m (32' x 12 '). 3.75 m is of course also the width of this cycle-path. Note that pedestrians have their own separate path.

A drain built into the gutter prevents
The distance between the humps or dips determines the speed at which you can ride over these.

At normal cycling speeds, you barely notice that you've ridden over a speed-bump like this. If you cycle faster, then you do need to be aware of them.

I've found that 35 km/h is on the edge of being uncomfortable over this speed-bump. That's quite typical. I guess at that sort of speed the speed-bump ought to warn me as well as the mopeds about the upcoming road junction (behind the camera).

Note also the lighting to preserve social safety at night-time. The upcoming tunnel, which gives cyclists a short-cut under the railway line, is always lit.

Another set of speed-bumps at the junction of two main cycle-paths in Groningen. You can see this speed bump in action, slowing mopeds, in a video here
Bromfietsen and death
It is quite often the case that people from outside the Netherlands, not to mention those born and bred here, greatly overestimate the danger posed by bromfietsen and snorfietsen - the small mopeds / scooters which are allowed on some cycle-paths.

There are two classes of mopeds. The slow ones can travel at up to 25 km/h, the same speed as an electrically assisted bicycle, and don't require the rider to wear a helmet. These are allowed on the cycle-paths in just the same way as are electric assisted bicycles. The faster mopeds are limited to 45 km/h and require the rider to wear a helmet. These are not allowed on urban cycle-paths but are allowed on some rural cycle-paths, where they occasionally provide entertainment for faster cyclists.

How many are there ?
It's also worth reflecting on how few mopeds there are. Due to being noisy and smelly and attracting attention as well as criticism, people often greatly overestimate the number of mopeds in the Netherlands. Actually their numbers are much smaller than people think.
  1. At the main railway station in Groningen which currently has parking for more than 11000 bicycles, there is space provided for only about 10 mopeds.
  2. In the most remote suburb of Assen, where for every 100 people there are 116 bicycle trips per day, just 3 trips per day are made by moped.
  3. In a video which shows cyclists crossing a bridge, one moped makes more noise than several hundred bikes
Mopeds are about as common as bicycles are in the UK or USA. They are exposed to much the same bias against them, including claims that they are dangerous, as are bicycles in the UK or USA.

Who rides mopeds ?
Mopeds are largely ridden by elderly people who generally ride responsibly. In general mopeds are not considered to be particularly aspirational and they're not really very fashionable. This is reflected in their relatively low numbers. You'll rarely see mopeds parked outside a school which caters for higher educational standards so there's a degree of snobbery about who might be seen on a moped. In some areas they're ridden more often by immigrants so we also can't rule out a degree of casual racism.

Mopeds ridden by teenagers are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not always ridden responsibly. Teenagers also quite often make simple alterations to the machines which remove the speed restrictions (similar models are sold in other countries without the speed restriction devices fitted here). This is quite a good way to get pulled up by the police and the machines can be confiscated as a result.

In the Netherlands, moped riders are an out-group just as cyclists are elsewhere and they are subject to similar prejudice.

How lethal are they ?
How lethal are these mopeds ? Almost certainly less so than you think.

I've not been able to find any data to support the hypothesis that injuries due to badly ridden mopeds are a really major health issue in this country. As Toby Sterling put it, "scooter deaths (amazingly!) were a rounding error." as well as pointing out that you are "more than twice as likely to be murdered in Amsterdam than killed while riding your bike." and that as the US murder rate is four times that of the Netherlands you are "certainly more likely to be murdered while living in the United States than to die while biking in Amsterdam."

Note that Amsterdam is not all of the Netherlands. It's the largest city and quite busy and in fact it's probably one of the most dangerous parts of the country with regard to mopeds as well as other dangers. Most of the country, including Assen where we live, has a far smaller "problem" due to mopeds.

Something to complain about
To summarise, mopeds are one of the things that people get upset about in the Netherlands. But you have to put this in context. This country is very safe and there is very little to get upset about. A bit of perspective is required. What is complained about here are things that would not be complained about elsewhere. In fact, I'd go further than that: the Dutch quite often complain about things which in other nations might be a reason for boasting. You're not actually at any great danger from mopeds even though they are a nuisance and they are disliked by so many people. Nevertheless, mopeds need some control because this has become a subjective safety issue and I'd not suggest that other nations follow the Dutch example of allowing mopeds of any class onto cycle facilities because of that subjective safety issue.


perthcyclist said...

ah, when I first saw the topic to this post I was like "why would cyclists need speed bumps?" 35kph is a good sensible speed to keep people to (unlike some of our paths that are shared with peds and the fastest you could safely go anyway is 20kph) - it's fairly unique that in the Netherlands there is a whole 'other' transport system (ie the bike paths) which can also be used by mopeds. The mopeds I noticed when I was in Utrecht & Amsterdam though were often riding 2-up and couldn't go much faster than 40kph in that configuration. In Perth, Australia, there's a common perception that 50cc scooters are 'dangerous' because they are 'slow' and 'hold up traffic'. Go to any Australian motorcycle forum and they advocate a 250cc minimum to be riding a motorbike on the roads. Just another example of how our road/transport culture is all wrong!

Tallycyclist said...

I personally do not like the mopeds sharing the cycle tracks. I was passed by a few in Copenhagen, where smaller motor bikes are also required to use them. It wasn't extraordinarily unpleasant and I was only passed by 3 the entire 4 days of cycling around. But the exhaust they give off is awful and they can go quite a bit faster than even the fast cyclists. I also didn't hear them approaching until a few meters away and was actual startled a bit 2 of the 3 times. They are also bigger and heavier and can cause greater damage to cyclist/pedestrians, etc.

Jon Bendtsen said...

Copenhagen has speed stripes. Some white layers across the cycle paths to indicate that you should stop or give way.
In front of bus stops where the passengers has to step down on the cycle path they are especially annoying to drive on.

Mopeds in Denmark are allowed to go 30 km/h and allowed to drive on the cycle path. There is a bigger kind of moped called the EU-moped, it is allowed to do 45 km/h, but the driver must be adult and it must drive on the road. But yes, they do smell.

I havent seen or heard of any such moped hitting a cyclist, but I am sure it has happened.

I can almost go as fast as a 30 km/h moped in my Mango velomobile. A more fit person would be faster than them.

Tallycyclist said...

@ Jon Bendtsen:
I probably made mopeds out to be more unpleasant than they are overall. I'm sure they would have been banned from the cycle tracks by now if they were causing large number of accidents/injuries. My experience with them was limited, but I would prefer cycle tracks to just be for human-powered vehicles.

My main issue with them is that they have the potential to go much faster than the average speed of most cyclist. I've read that this is something like 15 km/hr or less in Copenhagen. On paths that are only wide enough for people to ride 2 by 2, this speed differential can be quite unpleasant, and lower people's subjective safety. While there are definitely cyclist who can and do go as fast as 30 km/hr, most that I saw in Copenhagen do not get anywhere near that.

If they are allowed to go 30 km/hr, I don't see why they would ever go slower unless they physically had to, due to congestion, etc. Potentially, they could also go faster than this.

Is this much worst than another cyclist going 30 km/hr or faster passing me? Probably not. But in the grand scheme of things, bicycles and mopeds are not the same thing.

Neil said...

They are a good deal more unpleasant (noisy, faster, more alarming) than a fast cyclist coming past you. But as you say, it is probably more about subjective safety.

Frits B said...

@Tallycyclist: The legal situation of mopeds in NL is complicated, or rather simple enough but with too many loopholes.
Firstly, there are two categories, both 50cc. One must be limited to 50 km/h, the other to 25 km/h. The first has a "real" number plate, yellow, the other a blue one to show that it is insured. Yellow plate moped riders must wear a helmet, blue plate ones don't. Both categories are too slow for main roads outside towns, so there they must take to the cycle path. Within towns, yellow plate mopeds should ride on the road, blue plate mopeds are allowed in cycle paths. All of this: unless signposted otherwise.

As it's all too easy to make a moped go faster than it should, and as it's always easier for a moped of either category to take the cycle path, you usually find all of them on the cycle path where they are a pest. There has been talk of sending them all over to the road, at least within towns, but such initiatives take their time.

Paulius B. said...


does anyone know if stripes and speedbumps can help controlling cyclist speed in gradient cycle paths? We have a downhill to a city centre in most ways and need to somehow slow down the cyclist before turn in the middle of the path.