Monday 19 March 2012

Winter. How did we cope ? How did you cope ?

We had quite a mild winter this year right up to the start of February when we had quite a cold snap. As is usual in the Netherlands, the plans for sweeping and gritting were followed, and as usual the GPS controller gritters (drivers follow a route but salt comes out only when they're in the right place to avoid waste) did a very good job. Cycling wasn't much affected by the weather.

Friday 3rd February
Quite a snow-storm today. It left about 10 cm / 4 inches of snow.
Snow storms are of course no reason not to take children by bike. Due to the freshly fallen snow it's difficult to tell, but this is a cycle-path separate from the road.

You can see in this photo that the cycle-path has been swept already. However, more snow has fallen since then. It's no problem to ride through soft snow like this but it must be moved before it is compacted.

Saturday 4th February
Some of the temperatures around this date in February were very low. The lowest temperatures where we live were about -19 C, which according to the weather websites "felt like" -22 C. Temperatures weren't very much higher than this when people rode to work.
We live where it says -18.6 C. That's about -2 F. Due to wind chill, it felt like -22 C ( -8 F ). This does not stop people from cycling.

This is the cycle-path which featured in yesterday's photos. After the snow stopped falling it was swept of snow and treated for ice.

Bicycle Road towards the centre of Assen. The canal is frozen solid, but cycling is no problem at all.

Lots of people cycling in the centre of the city going about their business as usual. The surface is wet due to the action of the salt but it is not slippery.

All the routes in and out of the city by bike and by car were clear of snow and ice.

Early evening on the edge of Assen, cycle-paths continue to provide safe passage for cyclists, wherever they're riding to. In this case the route is to the furthest suburb which is still part of the city.

5th February
The temperature was -11 C, but the cycle-paths were clear. I went out for a ride early this morning.

Robert and I not only rode next to the canal, but also on the canal. I made a video which shows this beautiful day. We covered a long distance, mainly on cycle-paths as clear of ice and snow as this.

6th February
Another really beautiful day today, and again a very cold day. The lakes were frozen and covered in skaters. By now there was real hope that the Elfstedentocht (a 200 km ice-skating race/tour on canals between 11 cities) might take place. It was -13 C ("feels like" -17 C) this morning when I set off to ride on almost entirely clean cycle-paths to the Paterswoldsemeer lake just south of Groningen.

Frozen lakes are not just for skaters. I made a video of riding on this too.

The cycle-paths were of course almost all like this.

And people again kept riding right through the day and into the evening

10th February
People started skating a lot. A friend of one of our daughters was one of those who skated to school. She lives in a village called Smilde, 10 km South of Assen. Normally, like all older children in that village, she cycles this distance to get to school.

A pleasant place to skate in the afternoon. A lot of school children had taken skates with them to school so that they could skate with their friends before riding home. I've made videos from this hill before, showing typical morning traffic patterns, and why very few cars are ever seen here.
11th February
The Bruggentocht took place today - this is an ice-skating touring event with distances of between 10 and 60 km which goes through Assen. Over 2000 people took part. Also, a few km west of here, quite a lot of people skated the Elfstedentocht route (unofficially). We went shopping for ice-skates in the hope of at least trying to do a bit of skating (I've never learnt) but couldn't find any to fit.
Inside the shopping centre there were as many bikes as usual
Outside, people were taking advantage of the weather and doing everything that they possibly could on the canal

12th February
It's warmed up through the week and was -5 C this morning. I went out again for my usual morning ride. Other people go to church on Sunday mornings, and I decided to take photos of the bikes parked by a couple of those churches.

You'll notice that the snow looks a bit thinner in these photos. This didn't happen because it thawed but because the air was very dry and so the snow was evaporating into the air. Despite the cold weather, wet clothes hung outdoors dried quite rapidly this week.

Part of the route of my morning ride today. This rural cycle-path clear of snow and ice was not an exception but the norm. I made a video here a couple of years ago showing the contrast between summer and winter and why cycle-paths likethis are kept clear in winter.

Cycle parking by a church at -5 C. The wonderful wide smooth and completely ice free cycle-path next to the church is a good part of the reason why most of the congregation choose to cycle here even in such cold weather (click on the picture for a larger view)

This rural church was also on my route this morning and there was a smaller crowd of bikes (too spread out to fit in one photo) here too. Clearing of ice and snow doesn't stop at the edge of the city.

In early afternoon there was a small shower of snow. We waited for it to finish before taking our dog for a walk and almost immediately saw this vehicle clearing a cycle path a couple of hundred metres from our home in the suburbs. Because it is less wide than the four metre width of the cycle-path, more than one run is required.

This is the cycle-path that the vehicle above had just come along.
The temperature has now been above freezing for more than a week. All dreams of the Elfstedentocht happening this year have unfortunately been crushed.

How was winter for you ?
How was winter where you live ? Were cycle-paths kept clear so that cyclists could use them ?

It is all too common in the UK that excuses are given and promises made after winter, but that nothing actually changes for the next winter. Did this happen to you ?
The main railway station of Colchester in the UK serves 11,500 people daily. 300 m from the station, the road was clear, but the shared use cycle / pedestrian path stayed icy.
If you wish to "name and shame" your local council in the UK, or elsewhere, please send a link to a photo and a suggested caption in the comments and I'll add them to this blog post.

Prepare for next winter !
We still have stock of Marathon Winter studded tyres. Unfortunately for us, the Dutch mostly don't need them, and with a mild winter like this they need them even less. However, if you live somewhere which isn't treated for ice so well as Assen is, you perhaps wish you'd had them this winter. Until the end of this month, we have a very good discount on these tyres. Stock up now and be prepared for next winter.


Kevin Love said...

In Toronto, we've had one of the mildest winters ever. There was not one single day that I felt uncomfortable cycling to work.

We had fun at the annual bike races on ice. This event started on the Toronto Islands, North America's largest urban car-free zone. See:

My wife and I were not successful in the December lottery to get on the waiting list to buy one of the homes on the Islands. The demand for car-free living is so high that there were over 10 applicants for every home available.


I've recently moved, due to a new job, to the suburb of Burlington. I commute about 10 km to my job in Hamilton.

Most of the distance is along the Lakeshore Trail. Quite an excellent piece of cycle infrastructure, it is 6M wide for most of its length and cleared to bare asphalt promptly after any snowfall.

It is almost as good as similar infrastructure in NL, except that the streetlighting at night is inadequate and the crossing over a bridge is not well done. The government has plans to fix both problems, but I'm not holding my breath waiting.

Michael S said...

Winter cycling in Berlin was a bit difficult in the last hard winters. Clearing the cycle paths hadn't been a priority then. This winter the city promised to do better, but it is hard to proove, because the winter was quite similar to the Netherlands. Based on the impression of the two winters before, I bought a used MTB bike for 35,- at ebay in November, attached some parts to make it a real bike ;-) and bought a Schwalbe studded tire for the front wheel. Since I bought the tire in good time, I payed 50,- €. That's more than the bikes price :-) Unfortunately there was no real need for it this time, but I don't regret my decision. It felt very pleasant to drive with this in the few days with ice and snow - virtually no difference to riding on dry ground. So, everyone without studded tyres and without proper bike path cleaning during the winter: go for Davids offer!

Anonymous said...

In the west of Holland, it was a mixed bag. Delft and The Hague had many cycle paths cleared, but in between lies Rijswijk, and this city always fails. Many people live in Delft and work in The Hague or vice versa, so the chain was as strong as the weakest link.

On several spots in Delft both the road and cycle path were cleared. However, because there was not enough capacity, it wasn't done well. I guess it would have been better to move to a 'temporarily shared space' with one thourougly cleared road.

Anneke said...

Hi Dave,

First of all, I want to thank you for your blog and those great pictures of biking in the Netherlands. I was born, raised and educated there and moved to the US at age 22. I now live in rural SE Arizona where there are no bike paths (not many paved roads in fact), but where it is quiet enough for people to give you lots of room when they pass a bicycle. Sometimes it is a bit unnerving as this can happen at 65mph speeds. I try to keep my Dutch wits about me.

As for the winter, it has been mild and we have been riding in summer kit here already. Today there is snow however, about one inch, and everybody revels in it. It will be gone by noon, and we'll be back to spring.

Thanks again for your blog, and for your tireless energy in making the world better for cyclists.

Slow Factory said...

As Michael S. mentioned the winter was very mild here in Berlin, at least in regards to snow and ice.

The paths here that are above - or drain into - the trees, are not salted. This is good for the trees. What say you about salt in NL?

Merlin said...

This winter has been one of the two or three warmest in Winnipeg since records have been kept, I believe. Today the temperature was up to 23C; it would normally be below freezing. The mild temperatures meant that we had several thaws, followed by freezes that we didn't have last winter, actually making things more difficult because of the icy ruts. As usual, the city made no effort to clear bike lanes (not that they're much good anyway). Then again, they barely even plowed the streets... Oddly, on my usual route (taking my kids to and from school via bakfiets), when the bike lane disappears in the winter, things become easier for me, and I get less trouble from the cars that I need to share a lane with.

Last fall, I attended an open house for the city's "transportation master plan" in order to find out what they had in mind for improving the cycling infrastructure, and was sorely disappointed. When I talked to one representative, and asked him if anyone involved had been to the Netherlands or studied its street designs, particularly junctions, he dismissed it as "too much of an outlier" to attempt to emulate. So, they plan to try to keep cyclists on side roads, increase street parking, and force us to use the "Copenhagen left", rather than employing designs that might actually substantially increase cycling. And now the provincial legislature might pass a helmet law...

As for the winter, it's been very mild, but for me, it was easier going when the temperature stayed down around -20C or colder for weeks on end, and I got to ride on fairly smooth, hard-packed snow (which filled the cracks and potholes in our poorly-maintained roads).

Multiparty Democracy Today said...

I cannot see reason to really stock up on winter tires (my dad spent quite a lot of money on getting nice winter tires for my family's van, but spend exactly $0 on studded tires or even just puncture proof tires. He complains when I spend a few dozen dollars on a bike lock for my bike, you sold that one to me, and he does not complain when he spends the same amount on a set of book. Not a particularly important book like maybe the Lord of the Rings, but an average book, so not a particularly important part of your life. My bike not being stolen is not given equal weight to a set of fiction and not really that interesting books. Imagine if his car was stolen.

Back to winter. My city clears bike paths (which are as cycle paths go, not too bad on an average stretch of road, they are a bit narrower than Dutch ones, only 3 metres for bidirectional use, intersections is where they screw up in the clearing, let alone the physical design) reasonably well, but not too great, especially clearing just the access to the path at intersections.