Monday 19 December 2011

Groningen. Not Fietsstad 2011.

A few weeks ago, Mark wrote about how 's-Hertogenbosch had won the Fietsstad 2011 competition. Groningen had also entered in the competition. However, many locals didn't think it was good enough to be called a "cycling city". The local TV news carried the following video, titled "Still much work for Groningen Cycling City":

In this video:
  • 0:00 : Groningen wants to become the most cycle friendly city in the Netherlands once again.
  • 0:10 : But is the city really so cycle friendly ? The local government has much work to do to get the title.
  • 0:20 : "For pensioners, the new Berlage bridge is a test like the Alpe d'Huez". There are many complaints.
  • 0:30 : Fietsersbond representative: "The incline is too steep"
  • 0:45 : Further, consideration is needed that the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands is within Groningen. The crossing by the Rodeweg, Boterdiep and Korreweg (see earlier post about this junction)
  • 1:00 : Interview with people talking about the danger of the junction. "People come along quickly and it's difficult to see"
  • 1:15 : It's not obvious and therefore it's dangerous. "I need eyes in the back of my head and in both sides", "students come along here in a hurry and don't look. The junction is dangerous."
  • 1:40 : In 2002, Groningen got the award Fietsstad 2002, but how about this time ?
  • 1:52 : Fietsersbond representative: "I think it's impossible this time"
  • 1:57 : The Fietsersbond also see problems in other areas of the city, including by the railway station.
  • 2:00 : Local politician: "I've not heard of this problem of the bridge being too steep but I'll take a look"
I covered the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands a few months back. 14 injuries amongst all types of road users were reported here in three years, a better record than junctions in London and Cambridge.
A test like the Alpe d'Huez ? Read more discussion of this bridge including a video of riding over it.
As for the steepness of the new bridge, which of course includes separated cycling infrastructure as do all bridges, I think many readers from outside this country wouldn't see the problem here either.

How space is allocated on that
"problem" bridge. This would be
cause for celebration in any
other country.
Oh to have such "problems". But this is quite illustrative of what has made the Netherlands the leading country in cycle usage. Nothing is ever finished. Groningen may have won "Cycle City 2002", but that doesn't mean that they can sit in their laurels and expect to win "Cycle City 2011". Many improvements have been made in Groningen in the last 9 years, but they were not enough. Other cities have done more. It's a brave person who talks of any Dutch city as a "Cycling City", as they'll soon have someone pointing out the defects, which even if they might be minor elsewhere, are of great concern here.

The correct decision was made
's-Hertogenbosch has a few lower cycling modal share than does Groningen. It's actually relatively low for any city in the Netherlands, nothing special indeed. However, what 's-Hertogenbosch has done in recent years is to make bold plans and to achieve real growth. For this reason it is far better than 's-Hertogenbosch won the prize than Groningen. Groningen has more cycling than any other place in the Netherlands, indeed than any other place in the world. But the city also has too much dated and lack-lustre infrastructure. Groningen has work to do.

Meanwhile, exaggeration continues elsewhere
In Britain and America, things are entirely different. For example, in Dumfries and Galloway with a cycling modal share of approximately 3%, the local transport strategy says "Overall, cycling and walking infrastructure is considered to be of a good standard and the council consequently considers that only incremental improvements to existing networks will be required in the short term".

Meanwhile, in the USA, some people think that Portland "has a great infrastructure" and that with a 4% modal share for bikes, it is second only to Amsterdam. The same "second to Amsterdam" claim was made by Cambridge in the 1990s.

To make such a claim is absurd for both these cities. There's nothing wrong with positive speaking. However, they some grounding in fact is needed. While the Dutch are modest and have frustrating reluctance even to call Groningen a "cycling city" even though it has the highest cycling modal share in the world, other places in the world are keen to exaggerate relatively small achievements.

For a model of what is possible, the best place to look remains the Netherlands. Campaigners in the Netherlands set their sights high and rather than hyping their cities they make clear what is not good enough and work towards fixing it. Campaigners elsewhere must also make sure that they don't set their sights too low and that they don't overly praise actions taken which not entirely positive. Doing so results in a distinct lack of progress, as seen in most other places in the world.


Unknown said...

The bridge issue is sort of funny, however I suppose when you're use to more level bridges or infrastructure in general, it can be an issue.

What I love about the Dutch is there seems to be this attitude that; "there is always room for improvements".

Here in Canada when there is a dangerous junction (or anything else safety related), cities and governments claim they will eventually look into the matter, residents get upset for as long as the media reports it, then when everything settles down all is forgotten...until the next issue arises and forgotten.

Dennis Hindman said...

I suddenly realize a major reason why the Dutch are able to spend much more per mile on roads, sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure than the U.S.; taxes on a gallon of gasoline are higher in the Netherlands than the total price of a gallon at the pump in the U.S., and the Dutch have some of the highest petro taxes in the world according to Wikipedia.

If California would increase the current average $3.57 price of petro at the pump in Los Angeles, by adding about $2 in taxes, then L.A. would have the money to put in Dutch style bike paths, instead of unprotected bike lanes. That should be simple to do, after all, how many voting citizens would object to raising petro prices at the pump by that amount?

If petro prices are raised by that amount and no bicycle infrastructure improvements were made, then there still would be an increase of people who will turn to bicycling as a substitute for some of their car trips. The price of petro does affect the rate of driving and that is a reason why the Dutch replace some of their driving with bicycling.

You stated that Portland has a 4% bicycle modal share. I assume you get that figure from the yearly American Community Surveys conducted by the Census. According to a previous ACS result, Portland bicycling reached a 4.2% commuting modal share in the year 2006. The ACS results for 2010 state that Portland has a 6% bicycle commuting modal share.

The question on the ACS survey that would pertain to the rate of bike commuting asks what was your primary mode of transportation to work last week. If you only used a bicycle for one or two days out of the five to commute to work, then bicycle should not be your answer. The questionaire also states that if you used two forms of transportation to work, then the one that covered the greatest distance should be your answer. If this was a question on a census survey in the Netherlands, then most of those who left their bike at a train station should choose train as the answer. This survey is under reporting the rate of bicycling in U.S. cities.

You also stated in a previous article that a reason why Portland has a higher rate of bicycling compared to most other U.S. cities is due to the city having a high percentage of college students in it's overall population . Portland has 10% of it's population in college or grad school. Los Angeles and New York City have 8% of their population in college and Chicago has 9%. A 1 or 2 percent increase in the amount of college students per population, compared to the three largest cities in the U.S., would not qualify the city as a campus town.

David Hembrow said...

Ryan: Your Canada story reminds me of how it generally is in the UK.

Dennis: The problem with the theory about petrol prices is that it's nearly as expensive in most European nations including the UK as it is in the Netherlands, but this is not reflected in building of cycle paths or higher cycling rates. Besides, cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build, so not building it does not save money at all.

Unfortunately, something that both the UK and the USA share is a desire to spend lots of money on weapons and wars. This is where at least some of the tax on motoring in the UK goes. It hugely dwarfs the expenditure on cycling and has in part led to those two countries having two of the very largest budget deficits in the world.

As for the modal share of Portland - you're talking the place up by referring to "commuting" rates rather than all journeys rates of cycling. A 6% cycle commuting rate when 10% of the population are in that easy to reach university demographic is not actually very impressive. That's why I compared it to Cambridge which has a 25% commuting rate with a 30% university demographic. Portland is simply a similar story on a smaller scale. Just like Cambridge, they've not done what it takes to get the entire population to cycle.

marven said...

It appears that someone in Portland finally got around to reading this blog post. A petition is going around to have the League of American Bicyclists take away Portland's Platinum designation for many of the exact same reasons that the Groningen residents campaigned against the fietsstad designation.