Monday 11 August 2014

Pragmatism. When campaigners and planners should use it. How such things as car parking and beer delivery in the Netherlands are made to coexist with excellent cycling infrastructure

Cycle-paths in red. The truck has to travel a considerable
distance along cycle-path to reach the club and then
must drive the same way back again to leave.
It may not look like it, but the photo above is actually an example of very good infrastructure being used as intended.

The photo shows where cyclists have gained a great cycling facility due to pragmatism. I'll explain, with help from the map on the right:

The club building was built on a strip of land between the large and wide ring-road (in effect an urban motorway) and part of the existing cycle-path network. There is no way to access this sports club except via the cycle-path. No other route exists and there is nowhere to build another route. Therefore there is no choice but for deliveries to the sport club to use the cycle-path. Football players and audience members also cycle. There's a car park nearby which can be used but it's a fair walk between there and the club.

The junction between two cycle-paths from where I took the photo. The speed bumps are designed to have no effect at normal cycling speeds. They are an effective measure to slow mopeds, permitted on this cycle-path, at the junction.

Trucks using the cycle-path leave in the same direction as they entered. They don't continue and use the cycle-path as a through route because there's a busy cycle-path junction in the way. The cycle-path isn't abused as a through route by drivers.

As part of redevelopment of this area, cycle-paths were widened and gained a smoother and more robust surface. This is a big plus for cyclists. The small cost is that a truck has to come along here perhaps once or twice a week to make deliveries. The alternative in this situation would have been to convert the cycle-path into a road or to not have built the sport club at all.

In this case, pragmatism means an obvious and large win for cyclists. It also serves footballers who cycle to the pitch and like to drink beer afterwards.

Examples in residential areas
There are many other examples of this way of thinking all across the Netherlands. Two of them within a few hundred metres of our home are shown here:
Two homes in this location in Assen have garages next to each other which open onto the cycle-path. The cycle-path is therefore used very occasionally by car by those two families. A very minor inconvenience for cyclists in comparison with the major gain of being able to use this cycle-path and its associated tunnel to avoid a large and very nasty traffic light junction. Cyclists never have to stop at those traffic lights because this facility exists. A major gain for cyclists due to a little pragmatism.

The house was built long before the cycle-path. The residents of the house need access by car to their garage. It's no problem at all that they are given this access. Cyclists gain a marvellous wide and efficient cycle-path. Most cyclists won't realise that part of this "cycle-path" is actually a road.
Bicycle Roads. Segregation without cycle-paths
Part of a bicycle road in Assen. This very popular very high quality route for cycling provides the shortest possible way into the centre of the city for people who live in a new suburb. It was only possible to provide this by being pragmatic. There is no through traffic here so the only motor vehicles along this short stretch of road are for access to ten homes situated along here. Most of the time, this works as a de-facto cycle-path which is 5.5 m wide. A huge improvement over this being a route into the city by car, as it was until 2007.
Cycling is safest, most pleasant and most efficient when cyclists do not have to "share" with motor vehicles. The greater the extent to which motor vehicle and cycling routes can be unravelled, the greater proportion of the road network can be dominated by cyclists. It's not possible to achieve this while roads remain as useful through routes by motor vehicle.

There are many ways in which cyclists can be segregated from motor vehicles without building cycle-paths.

Nearly car free streets in the centres of Dutch cities provide excellent cycling conditions while also allowing access by car. Pedestrianized zones in the Netherlands usually allow access by bike. These situations are almost opposites of one another, in that motor vehicles mustn't create problems for cyclists in the first while cyclists must not create problems for pedestrians in the second. We have examples of both which work extremely well.

Maintenance vehicles
It's a rare person who complains that maintenance vehicles will occasionally drive along cycle-paths, but of course they must do so.
Good maintenance of cycle-paths as well as such things as cutting grass or dredging canals next to cycle-paths will always require access by some maintenance vehicles. This cycle-path in Assen belongs to the local water board. It's an essential part of our flood defences but also forms a very useful cycle route. The slight downside is that we very occasionally have to share it with a maintenance vehicle.
Also in the countryside
In the countryside there are many cycle-paths used mainly for recreational use which were once farmers' tracks or which go through natural areas by following a similar line to vehicles used for maintenance within those areas.
This photo is from last Sunday's recreational rides through the countryside near Assen. A beautifully smooth cycle-path which was once a farm track. It's still, necessarily, used by the farmer so occasionally we meet tractors along here. The farmer has gained a much smoother tractor path than he had before while everyone else gains a wonderful facility for cycling in the countryside.
When to be pragmatic
Signage on another ex farm track
Cycles only - tractors excepted
Cyclists should never have their journey made less convenient, less direct or less safe due to motor vehicles. Cyclists should never be given a choice of either a "safe" or a "fast" route to take, all routes must be both safe and fast. All routes should work for all cyclists. We don't plan roads for timid new drivers differently to how we plan for experienced drivers, and the same should be true for cycling. Cyclists should not be forced to fight for space with motor vehicles as this is not a fight fought on an equal basis and it cannot be won in favour of the majority of people cycling, regardless of training or experience.

In practice, places which don't provide good infrastructure for cycling simply have fewer cyclists. Compromises on quality lead to fewer people cycling, so quality should never be compromised. Progress is not made by adopting low aspirations reflected in inadequate design guidelines as these in themselves come to stand between potential cyclists and cycling. Cycling expands in popularity only by winning a popularity contest, by being the most attractive contestant. To encourage people to cycle, cycling needs to become the most pleasant and convenient way to make a journey.

There will always be places where cyclists must come first but where access by motor vehicle is sometimes also required. We shouldn't be afraid of this, but instead make sure that it is something which is planned correctly so that 'sometimes' really does mean 'sometimes'.

Occasional use by a resident's car or by a tractor or maintenance vehicle, as shown above, is not a problem for cyclists using cycle-paths any more than it is if a cycle-path is occasionally used by an equestrian or pedestrian. This is where real pragmatism comes in. Near 100% segregation of cyclists from motor vehicles can be achieved so long as we accept that there will be very small compromises. There should never be wholesale compromises on quality. Nothing should be compromised easily which will diminish the overall experience of cycling.

Equestrians have their own paths
and are not normally expected
to be found on Dutch cycle-path.
This surface is better for horses
than the asphalt or concrete
required for a proper cycle-path
Where we can't be 'pragmatic'
While they are sometimes thought of as synonyms, pragmatism and compromise have quite different definitions. Pragmatism demands that dogma be put aside so that we can make a rational choice and take a practical point of view. As an example, while we don't normally want trucks to be driven along cycle-paths, I've yet to hear anyone argue against snow-ploughs driving along cycle-paths in winter. The examples above fall into similar categories.

On the other hand, to compromise is to make a concession. We should do this only as little as possible and if a good outcome can still be guaranteed. Of course, in real life there will always be compromises, but they should come as late as possible in the process of campaigning

Campaigners should always be pragmatic but compromises should be rare.

Problems for cyclists arise when other modes come to dominate what should be cycling infrastructure or if accommodating these other modes changes the design of what should be cycling infrastructure so that it in fact becomes more suited for another mode. This principle applies even if it affects only part of the day.

There's no point in suggesting that usually "empty" roads which fill with motor vehicles at rush hour or at school times are suitable for cycling because at those times of the day, which will also be busy times for cycling, they won't be suitable.

Designs encouraging cyclists and pedestrians to share cause conflict because these two modes are not compatible. Similarly, shared spaces for cars and bikes have proven to be dangerous. These also are not truly a cycling measure but readily demonstrate exactly the problems caused by allowing other modes to dominate.

Sometimes suggestions of compromise comes not due to another mode, but because of specious reasons such as false environmentalism. This also needs to be resisted. Any problem that can be caused by a cycle-path and cyclists using it is minute next to the problem which would be caused by building a road and people making their journeys by car instead of by bike. This comes up remarkably frequently.

Cycling declined quickly in the UK as planners
concentrated only on motor vehicles
and cars took
over the roads
Of course, not planning to accommodate cyclists safely at all is the biggest compromise and it remains the biggest danger. This is what led to huge declines in cycling in many nations. Dutch cycling also went into free-fall, but the decline was turned around in the 1970s due to concerns about rights and safety of children.

Any of the situations described in the last few paragraphs are a compromise too far because such compromises damage cycling.

Where motor vehicles dominate it's important that there should not be "sharing". In those locations it's essential to provide proper cycle-paths and well designed junctions to prevent clashes between cyclists and motor vehicles and it's essential that these are conflict free. This is the only way to make cycling pleasant and convenient for the entire population.


Robert said...

You missed something important off your very interesting chart, David. John Franklin published Cyclecraft in 1988. I'm sure you can see the effect it had on cycling in the UK.

Jim Moore said...

Another great post David. No scratch that, it's a superlative piece of writing. Thanks once again.

This time last year I was on the train to Assen from Amsterdam for the Study Tour. Looking forward to one day returning for the advanced "weekend" tour but in the meantime I'll be continuing to absorb as many lessons as possible via your blog.

Kind regards to you and Judy,

A West said...

It is nice to see that common sense can prevail. We can share the bitumen, though Holland has the advantage that bikes appear to have been part of the planning process for quite some time now.

Repeat; as a former bus and taxi driver, a motorist and a keen cyclist, I like to see people share the bitumen in a sensible way.

David Hembrow said...

A West: I'm not entirely sure you've understood. There should be so little "sharing" as possible between modes. It is only where cyclists dominate that cyclists should "share the bitumen" with the very few remaining motor vehicles, which should then be driven so as to minimally affect cycling.

Unknown said...

"We don't plan roads for timid new drivers differently to how we plan for experienced drivers, and the same should be true for cycling. "

No, but we do plan roads for different expectations of speed, and transport modes. THere are highways, motorways, local roads and streets, and rural routes - all with their own identity and characteristics. So cycling should expect all routes to be 'safe and speedy' perfectly flat, cycling only, asphalt. Recreational routes, particularly in rural areas should reflect the nature of the area, not be some alien, sanitised network of perfect paths for the main benefit of one user group as you are suggesting. Rural areas may not have the ratepayer\taxpayer base to afford such luxury, and alienate locals who wish to ride (horses), walk their dogs, walk to the local store, or need to drive the tractor, move their stock etc In these cases pragmatism should also apply (you suggest you cannot be pragmatic about sharing with horses).

David Hembrow said...

Viv: Cyclists need smooth surfaces while horses definitely don't benefit from walking along hard concrete or asphalt. What's more, horses are easily frightened by cyclists. These things are well known.

You appear to be advocating that these two very different user-groups should be forced to use the same paths when this will create precisely the type of conflict that you have written about on your blog.

I suspect you have little idea about how many cyclists use the cycle-paths in the Netherlands. This is not a minority pursuit. You really wouldn't want them all to be on your horse riding routes.

What you see as a "sanitised network" is actually a minimum requirement for quality in order to make the countryside accessible to everyone and not accessible only to a minority who want to deal with difficult conditions. It's democratic. It's about opening the country to everyone, to all types of people and all levels of ability.

Your concept of what a rural area should look like is entirely artificial. I assure you that the countryside of New Zealand didn't look at all like it does now before the Pakeha turned up a few hundred years ago.

You may think it's better to restrict access only to those who can ride a horse or a mountain bike, but I would prefer to see older people and those with disabilities able to go everywhere.

Note that I'm not proposing that those who wish to ride horses should in any way have their experience compromised so that the rest of us can enjoy the countryside. There's plenty of room for all of us, even in a crowded country like the Netherlands, and certainly so in New Zealand.

Note that every residential area in the Netherlands already also has dog walking paths to prevent conflict between dog walkers and other groups.