Saturday 29 August 2015

Deventer: An efficient route for cycling in a city which has much to offer.

A few days ago, Ranty Highwayman wrote about visiting Deventer. He covered the central streets quite well, but unfortunately, the central streets are not where you find the best developed cycling infrastructure in that city. Therefore, I've brought forward a long overdue blog post about Deventer, including a long video which I shot back in April 2014 just after a new cycle route had opened.

Efficient cycling infrastructure isn't limited to one corner of the Netherlands. Actually, there are great examples of infrastructure across the country. We run our study tours here in Assen and sometimes look very closely at particular aspects of the infrastructure in this city. Assen is better than average even for a Dutch city, but there are quite a lot of places which have better than average infrastructure and had we settled elsewhere in the country we'd have taken a closer look at what was on offer there instead.

A ten minute long video (sorry!). This shows most of a very high quality newly reconstructed route for cyclistswhich runs all the way from suburbs and villages to the east of Deventer right to the centre of the city. This is very good infrastructure even by Dutch standards.

A friend of mine (who does something entirely different on youtube) lives near Deventer so Judy and I have visited that city several times. I've cycled every cm of several possible routes along the 100 km which stretch between Assen and Deventer and occasionally written a little about the city on this blog or elsewhere. Deventer's a very pleasant city to visit. The ancient central streets are popular with shoppers and also a pleasure to cycle in. When people have asked me about other places which have good cycling infrastructure, I've sometimes suggested Deventer as another of those relatively unknown places in the Netherlands which is better than average.

Between villages and suburbs to the east of Deventer and the centre of the city, there's this cycle-path (featured in the video above)

Another day, another view. This is top quality infrastructure for efficient cycling. Efficiency is essential to make cycling attractive even for longer journeys. It's only by addressing all journey lengths and all journey types that mass cycling becomes possible.

Deventer also has other good examples of infrastructure in its suburbs such as this bicycle road.

Another view of the same bicycle road. The through route for bikes has priority over the minor route for motor vehicles.

Just as in other Dutch cities, through traffic has been diverted around the city centre in Deventer. The old central streets now carry a great deal fewer motor vehicles than they once did. When routes have been unravelled and motor traffic removed, city centre streets don't require obvious cycling infrastructure. The old streets in the centre of the city don't look the same now as they used to at the height of car oriented thinking back in the 1960s and 70s.

Free of charge guarded cycle parking, surrounded by historic buildings in Deventer

Cafe "culture" appears when cars are removed from cities.

Occasion delivery vehicles, but otherwise the central streets are for cyclists and pedestrians.

The centre streets of Deventer are used only by cyclist and pedestrians, except for service vehicles and those which set up and remove stalls on market days. Note how quiet these streets are: while tidying up, this driver can pull four trailers at once without causing any problem for anyone. Ranty Highwayman's blog post, linked above, shows many of the central streets.

I've cycled between Assen and Deventer on many occasions. In this case, catching up with racing cyclists who are as is entirely usual in the Netherlands, using the same high quality cycle-paths as everyone else.

Here entering a village with a low speed limit on a quiet country road. Country roads in the Netherlands have traffic unravelled from them in just the same way as do city centre streets. My route sometimes includes the town of Raalte, a town where cycling success was achieved for just the same reasons as elsewhere in the Netherlands, though a mistranslated article suggested otherwise.
Nowhere is perfect
Just because something exists in the Netherlands, that doesn't imply that it's good. Just as with other Dutch cities, not everything is perfect in Deventer.

Like other places, Deventer has a mixture of newer and older infrastructure. In particular much of cycling infrastructure near the city centre appears to be quite dated. Some things have been done better than others and in some places mistakes have been made. For instance, Deventer has at least one safe Simultaneous Green junction which has a perfect safety record for cyclists, but the adopted a less safe roundabout design resulting in a roundabout being the most dangerous junction for cyclists in the city. More worrying, recent removal of separate cycling and walking provision within an industrial area mirrors a change in Hoogeveen which had awful consequences.

Because I don't spend much time in Deventer, I don't know the details of what is happening there so it wouldn't be wise for me to organise study tours in that city.

Study Tours
While there are good examples across the Netherlands, on our study tours we take a very close look at the two cities of Assen and Groningen. These are cities in which we spend a lot of time and which we know well. We don't travel from place to place on these tours as that would mean giving a helicopter view of highlights which would be misleading. Instead, by looking more closely at a small area we can present a balanced and representative view of the whole, including examples of what works and what should not be copied. To find out more about Dutch cycling infrastructure, book a tour.

Monday 17 August 2015

The most dangerous junctions in Assen and other Dutch cities. What makes junctions dangerous ? What can we do to address that danger ?

Though there isn't a huge amount of traffic at this location, and though speeds aren't particularly high (this is an intersection in a residential area between a 50 km/h road and 30 km/h roads), this is the most dangerous road junction in Assen for cyclists. It doesn't look like much - just a simple road crossing. But simple crossings like this can be dangerous for cyclists.

The problem at this junction is recognized. It led to a redesign
early in 2015 which makes the junction look a lot smaller
than it did. It is not yet clear whether this will be enough
to address the safety issue in this location. Given that the
change was minor and near misses still happen here, I'm not
sure that I believe enough has been done..
This junction was the scene of seven cyclist injuries in the six years between 2007 and 2013. Compared with other cities, especially in other countries, this number is low. For instance, I once wrote about how a single junction in Cambridge had seen 43 crashes with cyclists in six years and how another in London managed to ring up 89 cyclist injuries in just two years. Assen's most dangerous junction perhaps cannot compete with the danger faced by cyclists elsewhere, but this doesn't mean that there is no problem. These most dangerous places could be better.

This junction stands out in large part because cycling in Assen is very safe. Seven cyclist injuries at one location is exceptional because in the same time period just 11 cyclists were injured at all of Assen's 28 locations with traffic lights put together and just two cyclists were injured across all 21 roundabouts.

The very good safety record of Assen's roundabouts is due to adopting a very safe design.

The traffic light junctions have a less obviously impressive safety record but this should be balanced against there being more traffic light junctions than roundabouts and due to traffic light junctions dealing with heavier motor vehicle flows than roundabouts. Many of the traffic light junctions used by cyclists in Assen have a design which is exceptionally convenient and particularly safe for cycling.

If Assen had not adopted such safe designs for larger junctions then it is likely that uncontrolled junctions like this would not be the most dangerous places for cyclists. But as a result of that policy elsewhere, the second and third most dangerous junctions in Assen for cyclists are also uncontrolled junctions - in this case where cyclists have to cross roads unassisted by traffic lights. These caused five and four cyclist injuries each (+ two fatalities - one of a cyclist and one of a moped rider).

Two weeks ago I took a follow-up study tour group to see why
this junction is dangerous. While we were there, both Charlie
and Mark photographed a near-miss. The cyclist was not
surprised to be told that this was an unsafe junction. The
driver was shocked by her mistake. Note that this happened
after the re-design which is supposed to have improved safety.
Why uncontrolled junctions are dangerous
The problem with uncontrolled junctions is that they rely upon perfect driver and cyclist behaviour for their safety. If everyone always behaves correctly, everyone always manages to work out exactly what every other participant in traffic is doing, no-one is ever distracted or makes mistakes, then these junctions work perfectly. Unfortunately, these junctions actually have to be used by real human beings and people do make mistakes.

Dutch drivers and Dutch cyclists are not special. They're people too. Given them confusing situations and they'll make mistakes in just the same way as do people elsewhere.

The problem with this particular junction was illustrated vividly to us on a recent study tour when a near miss was caught on camera (above). This was a genuine SMIDSY ("Sorry Mate I Didn't See You") incident. The driver simply had not seen the cyclist. Luckily, she took a second glance left and stopped her car just in time so that no collision occurred. Both parties were shocked by what had happened.

Let us consider the pressures on this driver as she wished to pull out of this junction and turn right: At this position, the driver has much to too. She needs to check for cyclists in her own street who may try to overtake on either the left or right side of her car and who may potentially conflict with a right turn and also check the cycle-lane on her left for cyclists (including the one she missed). She also needs to bear in mind what drivers might do - both those approaching from behind (hesitation may result in being rear-ended) as well as those going both left and right on the road she's pulling into and also those approaching from dead ahead who may turn across her path. This requires a lot of concentration and also a lot of head swiveling in order to look in all directions at once.

The danger at uncontrolled junctions is due to many pieces of information to be processed at once.

The most dangerous junctions in other Dutch cities
Uncontrolled junctions are not the most dangerous locations in every Dutch city, but they do appear quite often. For instance, Groningen's most dangerous junction for cyclists is an uncontrolled junction which is also the most dangerous junction for all modes in the whole country. 12 cyclists were injured across both sides of the junction over a period of six years.

Second place in Groningen is a tie between two junctions, each of which injured six cyclists: One of these is a different uncontrolled junction and the other location is a roundabout of the unsafe design in an older suburb which allows through traffic (read more about suburbs further down the page).

This is the safe roundabout to copy.
Unsafe roundabouts:
The unsafe roundabouts in Groningen (see the last paragraph) follow a design where cyclists have priority over other traffic by using a concentric circle cycle-path around the main roundabout. Unfortunately, this is nearly as difficult for drivers to use correctly as an uncontrolled junction, with a requirement to keep track of cyclists and cars from several directions at once and involving nearly as much head swiveling as an uncontrolled junction. A study showed that this design offers cyclists only an 11% improvement in safety over an uncontrolled junction so it should be no surprise to us that roundabouts of that design also quite often appear amongst the more dangerous locations for cyclists in the Netherlands.

The less safe roundabout design was first trialed in Enschede so perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that Enschede's most dangerous junction for cyclists happens to be one of those roundabouts, where six cyclists were injured. Enschede's second most dangerous junction is an uncontrolled junction which injured five cyclists.

Heading west, the city of Deventer also uses the less safe roundabout design and there too the most dangerous junction is a roundabout. As in Enschede, their second most dangerous is uncontrolled.

Another city to use the less safe roundabout design is 's-Hertogenbosch. In this city, a roundabout which injured five cyclists and three moped riders is the most dangerous junction and second place is taken by another roundabout which injured another three cyclists and a moped rider.

Zwolle's most dangerous junction is another of those unsafe roundabouts, which injured seven cyclists, while second place is taken by an uncontrolled junction.

I have not been able to find a single example which where a roundabout of the safer design stands out.

Shared Space
The Laweiplein Shared Space in
Drachten, Many claims are made for a
low accident rate but it's the second
most dangerous place in the city.
Claims have often been made about improvements in safety in Drachten due to Shared Space junction designs. As it turns out, the most dangerous location in this small city is not a shared space, but another of those unsafe roundabouts, where four cyclists were injured and one cyclist died. However the second most dangerous place in the city, with three cyclists and a moped rider being injured, is a location which I've covered before: the Laweiplein Shared Space "squareabout" which has been central to many claims of improved safety in the past. Far from improving the safety of Drachten for cyclists, the Laweiplein is one of the main causes of danger.

Shared Space designs do not have a good record for cyclist and pedestrian safety nor for inclusiveness.

Traffic light junctions:
The most dangerous junctions in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam are large and traffic light junctions with an outdated appearance which include tram tracks and which have two-stage turns. These junctions, which injured ten and eight cyclists respectively, have similarities with those which have proven to be lethal in Copenhagen.

On the other hand, traffic light junction designs which remove all conflict from the junction don't stand out in these statistics.

Detail from the most dangerous Amsterdam junction. The cyclist on the right of the picture is perhaps trying to reach the left turn box just left of the car. Poor infrastructure design results in cyclists seeing a reason to position themselves like this.
Dangerous streets
While it's relatively easy to find the individual most dangerous locations, it's more difficult to identify streets with an obvious line of injuries along them. I'll give just three examples from Assen and Groningen:
Weiersstraat in Assen. A location with a poor layout of on-road cycle-lanes causing conflict between all modes. I criticized this earlier this year (maps and data from the excellent ongelluken kaart).

Gedempte Zuiderdiep in Groningen. While buses get their own lane, cycles and cars are made to "share". An unpleasant street layout which uses cyclists as rolling traffic calming devices: resulting in a row of cyclist injuries along it.

Nieuwe Ebbingestraat in Groningen. There's plenty of width here for proper cycling infrastructure and this could be a pleasant road to cycle down, but none is provided. The street has much through motor traffic and many cyclists are injured both by moving cars and by parked cars, e.g. through dooring. Cyclists are again used as traffic calming devices here and the result is another string of injuries as seen above. Update 2016: Remarkably, Groningen now sees this design as inspirational and wants to build more streets with this same dangerous design.

Video of Nieuwe Ebbingestraat: Groningen's most dangerous street for cyclists. The problems may look minor compared with some other places, but note now they arise for the same reasons as elsewhere: No or poor cycling infrastructure such as narrow cycle-lanes, advanced stop (bike) boxes leading to close over-takes, door zone cycling etc.

Whole suburbs can be made safe
Assen suburb of Kloosterveen.
Population 10000. No yellow:
No cyclist injuries recorded.
For the last 40 years or so, Dutch suburbs have been designed to have few connections by car and to discourage high speed driving. The result is that cyclists and pedestrian injuries are very rare within these suburbs.

We live in the Assen suburb of Pittelo, first to be designed along these principles and built between 1970 and 1975. There are many ways out of the suburb in all directions by bike, but just two exits by car, both of which go to the ring-road. As a result, there is no through traffic and there are no recorded cycling injuries over the last six years. The same characteristics are true of the very newest suburb of Assen, Kloosterveen, which also has zero cyclist injuries recorded.

Groningen suburb Vinkhuizen.
Population 11000. Cyclists
injured in several locations.
The Groningen suburb of Vinkhuizen has about the same population as Kloosterveen however it was built at the very end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s and came just too early to benefit from the new ideas about not allowing through traffic. This suburb has many more exits by car and allows through traffic both to an industrial area and another suburb. Many locations within Vinkhuizen have proven to be dangerous for cyclists, including both the roundabouts in this suburb, one of which is listed above as the second most dangerous junction in Groningen. Note that Kloosterveen has twice as many roundabouts as Vinkhuizen and that they appear on the busiest roads within that suburb. But these are all of the safer design and no cyclists have been injured at them.

Note that the most dangerous junction in Assen is also situated in an older suburban area, on a road which allows through traffic.

What is the role of infrastructure ?
Infrastructure of any type should be designed to serve the people using it. That may seem self evident, but time and time again we see infrastructure which is not designed in this way. e.g. streets in cities with a lot of cycling which ignore cyclists (as in the example shown in Groningen above, these can be dangerous). Infrastructure should be designed to accommodate the pattern of use which it is expected to receive, and should also be designed to take into account that human error is inevitable and therefore to reduce the likely consequences of error.

What improves safety ?
It is not enough to put a lower speed limit on a dangerous road design. 30 km/h speed limits are more common in the Netherlands than in any other nation: a third of the whole road network has this speed limit or lower. Lower speeds help a little, but note that many of the examples above are in low speed limit areas. It has long been recognized that lower speed limits do not ensure safety of their own accord.

Infrastructure which relies upon perfect driver and cyclist behaviour for their safety can also not create a perfectly safe result. Human beings make mistakes. "Accidents" are inevitable. Create situations in which there are too many things to do at once, especially where drivers' heads have to swivel repeatedly to look in several directions for things to respond, and you've created a situation where accidents will happen.

Uncontrolled junctions are unsafe compared with controlled junctions, but of course it's not practical to add traffic lights everywhere. Roundabouts of the "with priority" design are somewhat safer than uncontrolled junctions for drivers, but offer only an 11% improvement in safety for cyclists so these are not a solution to the problem.

The genuinely safe roundabout designs and safe traffic light junction designs lead to real improvements if they replace a more dangerous junction design, but of course they won't fit everywhere either.

Luckily, these larger and more expensive designs of junction are not required everywhere. In fact, they're only required where there are motor vehicles. Without the added danger of motor vehicles, especially of through traffic, uncontrolled junctions can have perfect safety records too: The safe suburbs discussed above (Kloosterveen and Pittelo) both have many uncontrolled junctions. Neither of these suburbs includes any traffic light junctions and only one of them includes roundabouts (four roundabouts of the safe design in Kloosterveen).

Almost all significant danger to cyclists comes from motor vehicles and therefore restricting car, truck and bus access from where bicycles need to go is the most effective way to improve cyclist safety.

  1. Residential streets should never be through routes by motor vehicle.
  2. City centre streets can largely be closed to car access and should also not operate as through routes.
  3. Main routes between these places which must be shared with drivers need good quality cycle paths and well designed junctions.
  4. Routes from which motor vehicles have been excluded have less need for such infrastructure because they will already not have the same clusters of injuries along them as appear along roads where cyclists and drivers "share" the same infrastructure.
  5. Data which exists shouldn't be ignored. We can tell from a map of where injuries have occurred where intervention is required.
  6. New isn't always better. Wide pavements do not improve conditions for for cycling. Unfortunately, such designs are now quite common around the world, including in the Netherlands.
  7. Shared Space where cars and bikes are mixed is not a success for improving safety.
  8. Paths shared between cyclists and pedestrians lead to conflict.

The most effective way to improve safety of cyclists is the same as it's always been: remove motor vehicles from where cyclists need to be and give cyclists their own space This not only improves safety for cyclists but also enables improvements in efficiency for cycling.

Sometimes it's necessary to build new roads or new bridges for cars in order to improve conditions for cyclists.

Study Tour
Study Tours. Click for booking information.
Since 2006 we've demonstrated the difference between safe and unsafe infrastructure on study tours of Dutch cycling infrastructure. We offer independent advice. See many examples in real life.

Update: Dutch Drivers
A news item published two days after this blog post includes the interesting fact that over 21000 speeding fines were handed out to drivers in Assen last year, who paid over €1.2M in fines as a result.

As I pointed out many times before, including above, Dutch driver behaviour is not different to that of drivers elsewhere. Safety for cyclists in the Netherlands comes primarily through good infrastructure design, not better driving.

Monday 3 August 2015

A day at the races: Motor racing events have no effect on cycling in the Netherlands. It's the quality of infrastructure for everyday journeys that influences people towards cycling. Similarly, cycling events elsewhere don't increase cycling levels because they're not supported by infrastructure

I've never had much interest in motor sport. When I was a child I remember being taken to see motor racing twice and having found it noisy and unpleasant. I now live in Assen. The city's TT circuit is world famous, known as the "Cathedral of motor sport". This facility attracts many thousands of visitors to the area, but motor racing was not one of the things that attracted us to the area and until yesterday I'd never been to the track for a motor racing event...

Thousands of local people arrived by bicycle

The Dutch DIY chain Gamma holds an annual Racing Day at Assen's circuit. It's free to attend this event if you have tickets from the shop or their website. When I bought some DIY materials a few weeks ago the cashier pushed a couple of free tickets into my hand so we decided to go and check it out yesterday.

As with any event in or around Assen, thousands of local people arrived by bicycle. But with this event attracting over 100000 people in total from across the Netherlands (more than Assen's population), it shouldn't be any surprise that a lot of people arrived by car and motorbike.

But far more people arrived from all around the country by car and motorbike
Just as noisy as I remember the being as a child.
Assen recently built a new motorway junction by the TT circuit and this helped to keep cars away from the city and from cyclists but of course when lots of people try to drive to one place at the same time, that tends to cause problems. There were so many visitors that the police put out a warning that the car parking was full and suggested that visitors find alternatives. There was at least one injury on the way to the event and a huge traffic jam afterwards due to a crash on the motorway.

Curious about where those black circles came from ?
Wonder no moreTyres are clearly too cheap.
None of this had any effect on our 6 km cycle journey to the circuit. Our route was shorter than the shortest possible driving route, mostly unravelled from that for drivers and we had far fewer traffic lights to wait for than would have been the case by car. For us this was far more convenient than driving and clearly lots of local people thought the same as these are the reasons why people cycle to events. After we'd had a years' usual dose of fumes and particulates, we had just so uneventful a cycle ride back home again.

Three children and their parents wearing "Kawasaki racing
 team" jerseys cycling home from yesterday's event on one
of Assen's many safe cycle-paths.
My verdict: Well worth the price of admission ;-) In fact, it was actually quite a lot of fun - especially watching smaller older cars being driven fast around the hairpin on three wheels (not all of them finished the race intact). After watching this event, I got back on my bike and cycled home - just like thousands of other people.

Cycling is popular, motor racing is popular too
When I've been to the TT circuit before, it's been because there have been occasional cycling events there. The 2009 Vuelta a Espana had its prologue on the TT circuit, and that one-off event (for which we also got free tickets that time through a bank) attracted a fair crowd of 40000 people. But that's not so much compared with the 100000 people who can be attracted to the same location for motor sport events.

Motor racing is incredibly popular. So is private car ownership.
But cycling is always safe and is more convenient for many
journeys so Dutch people cycle a lot. In Assen, more journeys
are made by bicycle than by car.
Dutch people like cars a lot. They also like bikes. Many people have access to both modes of transport. Both modes of transport have their uses. Many people take part in or watch both related sports. An interest in any one of these things does not have to exclude any of the others.

Dutch cycling is not in the blood but in the infrastructure
It is sometimes forgotten by camaigners elsewhere that the Dutch cover 3/4 of all their km traveled by private automobile. The Netherlands is a wealthy country with a fairly high rate of car ownership. There are enough cars and there is enough driving in the Netherlands that cars could be utterly dominant to the extent that they would make cycling unpleasant. Indeed, that situation had already arisen by the 1970s in the Netherlands, when people owned far fewer cars than they do today. Domination of cars led to an increase in cyclist injuries and a steep decline in cycling.

In the early 1960s, British people cycled more than the
Dutch now. Without support, cycling declined sharply.
With support it would have remained significant, just as
it did in the Netherlands.
Dutch people now cycle for a higher proportion of journeys than people of any other country not because cycling is "in the culture" but because cycling been transformed through a change in infrastructure so that almost any destination can be reached conveniently by bike without having to deal with motorized traffic. Dutch cycling infrastructure has made it possible for cycling to survive alongside a rise in motoring, removing danger and noise and enabling journeys to anywhere by bike, even motor racing circuits.

Go back a few decades and you'll find that British people cycled for a higher proportion of their journeys than Dutch people do now. As cars came to dominate roads, the UK suffered the same steep decline as the Netherlands did, but because no measures were taken to prevent that decline the decline continued. The same happened across most of the world. For instance, in New Zealand.

Nations once thought to have "cultural" cycling can suffer declines just as well as can those where cycling was forgotten about decades ago. Twenty years ago, Denmark stopped emphasizing cycling, bringing about a decline. The fastest decline in cycling ever seen is that happening now in China, where cycling was once far more significant than in the modern day Netherlands.

Cycling can survive only where it is supported. Unfortunately, recent plans in the Netherlands do not offer the same support to cycling as was offered 20 years ago and this is putting Dutch cycling in danger. If cycling is no longer the most convenient and safe option then people will drive more. This is demonstrated by all the places where that has already happened - a very long list of places which includes the Netherlands.

But while there are always reasons to warn about a possible decline, we're not at that low point yet. Cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is of the best overall quality in the world, good new examples of infrastructure are very good indeed, and stand out cities (Assen is one of them) demonstrate good practice which all other countries would benefit from emulating.

Want to see change ? Change the infrastructure, don't run events
Just as how motor racing events in Assen don't make people in Assen drive everywhere, cycling events elsewhere won't make people cycle. What does change peoples' behaviour is infrastructure. Assen has a comprehensive, finely spaced grid of very high quality cycle-routes which allow anyone of any age to make their journeys safely by bike. If you build the same in your city you will see a change in behaviour.

A previous event in Assen: Every year there is a driving demonstration on city streets. People mainly attend this event by bicycle. No sign whatsoever in Assen of a sporting legacy leading to an en-masse switch to formula one racing cars...

This isn't a sponsored post. Our free tickets came in the same way as the other 100000 attendees free tickets - through buying DIY materials. Gamma's Racing Day is an entertaining event and I can see why it's popular.