Tuesday 22 September 2020

Living without engines and car free day in the Netherlands

A photo from today's "commute", a round-trip
rider which brings me back home to work.

The last time that I travelled in any kind of motorized vehicle was in February 2019 when I took a lift with a friend to help him with an event. The last time I travelled with a motorized vehicle for my own benefit was in August 2018, driving the car that we owned but never much used to be recycled.

It's "car free day" today, but just as everywhere else across the world this is ignored by the masses who continue to drive their polluting vehicles to and fro. Every trip made by car, in every car including those which claim to have zero emissions, contributes substantially to climate change, the effects of which we increasingly feel as a result of the "natural" disasters which result from our changed weather.

There has been much on the news about the fires in California and Siberia, but here in the Netherlands we also see the result of this with new records being set on a regular basis. We began this summer with a near drought and just last week we had the warmest September day ever in this country, but just as with previous warnings, this resulted in no real change. People are back to their usual high emitting lifestyles. Cars are very much a part of this, with their numbers, their usage and their size all growing year on year.

But we can't blame cars alone for the problems that we're facing. The growth in flying is such that even now in the middle of a second wave of the pandemic there are just as many flights as there were four years ago without a pandemic. Almost all the growth comes from the richest people and the richest people continue to deny that they are the richest people.

That the short blip of reduced emissions due to corona was just a short blip shouldn't really surprise anyone. It certainly didn't surprise me as I predicted it back in April as even then people were talking about a "return to normal". The problems which face us are enormous but it seems that people don't know how to or do not wish to react in ways which will address them, and that applies even to the case  of a very immediate threat to our health from a deadly virus.

We are the rich and polluting minority and it is us who need to change our lives in order to leave a liveable planet for our descendants. Don't we want to do that ? Is it not a worthwhile thing to do ? If we can't convince people even to take the tiny step of taking part in a single car free day once a year, what hope do we have in effecting real change in behaviour and thinking ? However I'll try to set an example by living with the smallest footprint that I can manage, avoiding motorized transport so much as I possibly can.

No subsidy for the car-free
An interesting thing about the Netherlands is that drivers of cars receive subsidies from taxation paid by all, which of course means that while I try not to contribute to the pollution and other problems caused by cars, our government makes sure that I do so anyway. Talking of which:

Local newspaper on the 22nd of September
Our local newspaper has not covered car-free day at all. It is just not a thing here in the Netherlands. However car companies have huge budgets for promotion and there is always a budget to try to associate their dangerous and environmentally destructive product with something other than its danger and environmental impact. So instead of car-free day coverage we have, on the 22nd of September, a full page dedicated to a different event spread over three days in October when car drivers will fill the roads, waste a vast amount of energy and produce a lot of emissions by driving a million kilometres in "green" cars.

The quotation marks are mine. The article is promoting a deliberately created traffic jam of polluting vehicles. There is nothing truly sustainable about these vehicles. Unfortunately, governments listen to car company propaganda and therefore I and other people who do not drive are made to contribute to a government subsidy given to people who do drive. What's more, the subsidy is not having a useful effect and emissions from cars continue to grow in the Netherlands because people who drive overwhelmingly choose larger more polluting vehicles.

The text includes some words about cycling, walking or just staying home, but the emphasis is obvious. This is an event about cars and their intention is to do something incredibly wasteful, to drive cars a million kilometres for no reason whatsoever, while somehow managing to promote this event as "green".

Update: Car companies continue marketing their destructive product
The above can only sensibly be seen as a marketing exercise. There is nothing "green" about any kind of car. And is this marketing working ? A few days after this blog post was written there came an answer: it most certainly is working. Car usage in the Netherlands continues to grow year on year. The biggest increase is again in use of petrol / gasoline (benzine in Dutch) powered cars. Car companies spend much time pushing the absurd idea of green motoring which is a myth in itself but this myth is presented in such a way that it gets absurd amounts of attention such as that from our local newspaper above and from politicians, however their main product remains what it always was: Cars remain the same old polluting, planet destroying, dangerous product that they ever were. We can only ever solve the problems due to cars by having far fewer of them driven less. But car companies are still selling the nightmare scenario of more cars.

Real green transport
The million kilometres travelled in three days target of the motor lobby is actually not all that much anyway. A target for cycling in the Netherlands would need to be much higher. Most cycle journeys are more than a kilometre long and for most of any given working day Dutch people make more than a million journeys per hour by bike so a million kilometres would easily be reached by the end of the first hour on the first day of this exercise if encouraging cycling was really their aim. 

Wednesday 16 September 2020

An endless search for quick fixes results instead in repeated failures

The Netherlands in April during the "intelligent lockdown"
which was actually no lockdown at all.
A new record was set in the Netherlands today. 1560 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today - the highest level of new infections that we've ever had in one day. This is a higher rate of infection by some margin than any day during March and April during the first wave of the disease. The second wave of infections is truly upon us.

How did we get here ? The answer is obvious: without actually eliminating the disease, without actually ever having had a proper lockdown which could perhaps have helped to eliminate the disease, our government re-opened everything. Instead of taking this seriously, as did countries such as Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea and China (started by trying to cover it up, but have taken effective action since January), our government decided to downplay the risks from the beginning and when they were forced to take action they took minimum action for a minimum period of time.

Dutch people are now travelling to other countries on holiday, drinking in bars, eating in restaurants, going to school and university, commuting to work, and spreading the virus between themselves as if there was nothing at all to avoid. There are still some rudimentary hand washing facilities at shops, but hardly anyone wears a face mask (I do and it leads to odd looks) and people just do not keep the mandated 1.5 m distance from one-another.

What happened in the Netherlands was that instead of taking proper action to fix this issue, our government looked for a shortcut. Rather than a short and sharp lockdown to eliminate the disease locally followed by ensuring that people who visit or return from another country really do go into quarantine, international visitors are merely requested to quarantine themselves while everyone knows that most don't bother. Testing and tracing have been stretched to the breaking point so they are no longer effective.

Failure resulted from taking a shortcut. From looking for a quick fix which it was thought would allow the economy to be minimally damaged. In reality this is far from over and we can expect further damage to the economy as well as further deaths due to an inadequate response. The quick fix was anything but a fix. The countries which took effective action now have the least disruption to their economies and to lives.

The Climate
Of course it's not just on the pandemic that our policies have failed. Our environmental policy is also failing. Another record was set just yesterday: The hottest September day ever in the Netherlands.
Already two years old and we have not begun to
respond in an effective way.
Our emissions are not decreasing. We're not even slightly close to doing this. Why ? It's the same story. Instead of taking decisive action to change habits and reduce emissions we are taking a minimum change approach, which can only make a very small difference to emissions.

Instead of tackling the over-consumption which has led to climate change, people are looking for a magic way to continue with their wasteful lifestyles. Many people would rather buy a new car than consider making the changes to their lifestyle required to live car-free. Though the difference in energy usage and emissions between different powered transport modes is not large, it's easier to sell the idea of continuing a wasteful lifestyle including much international travel by switching from flying to some other slightly less polluting mode such as train travel than it is to sell the idea of travelling far less.

Instead of travelling less, we travel more and more each year by every powered mode, so even the slow growth of some slightly less polluting modes doesn't in any way "offset" the more polluting modes because they are growing as well. All this growth, whether from car, airplane, boat, bus and train, simply adds to the total emissions.

The top 10%, those with earnings over $13700 per year,
are the big polluters. We buy and throw away too much.
Unfortunately, people like to buy stuff. Buying a "green" product makes people think they've done something good, even though it is always better for the environment to reduce consumption. Buying less, not replacing goods regularly, not going on holiday, not buying new clothes when the old ones can be repaired and worn again, doesn't impress the neighbours but it does reduce emissions. Every product has a footprint. Using what you have for longer, and using it less if it's a product which consumes energy, is far more powerful than swapping to something new and certainly more effective than buying "offsets" to assuage the guilt of over-consumption.

The quick fix of buying things to try to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle, of trying to continue to live in the exact same wasteful way but with "green" products, isn't a fix at all. To reduce our footprint on the planet, to maintain a liveable climate, we need to change how we live. We need to live with less.

Building cycling infrastructure
This blog is of course mostly about cycling infrastructure. Here too we see the quick fix mentality.

This isn't exceptional, it's the normal standard. Cycle-paths
like this need to go everywhere to enable mass cycling
Very few places outside the Netherlands have even tried to build the complete grid of cycling infrastructure which we have known for 40 years is required to enable the majority to cycle. Instead, almost everywhere, there's a piecemeal approach. Small steps are taken. There's no continuity in space or in time. Not only do pieces of infrastructure not join up, but they don't necessarily last long either. An extreme example may well present itself after the covid crisis ends, or perhaps even before it ends, as we can unfortunately expect many temporary pieces of cycling infrastructure which have popped up during this period to be removed. Why ? Because they were never really a sign of genuine policy change.

With the growth in popularity of Dutch ideas around cycling, many countries are putting on a show of attempting to replicate this success but unfortunately it seems rather like cargo cult infrastructure which has a vague resemblance to what has proven to be successful in the Netherlands but with shortfalls which make it far less useful or far less safe. There are cycle-paths built far too narrow to work efficiently which give way at every side-road, and bicycle roads where the level of motor traffic is such that it will dominate and result in nothing more than a differently decorated normal road, big expectations from building a single "Dutch roundabout" in a totally different setting from the Netherlands complete with an expection of a level of safety which could not reasonably be expected if the same thing was built in the Netherlands under similar circumstances, "Dutch" style "protected intersections" in much busier settings but without the single most important aspect of the design, i.e. safety enforced by traffic light designs which totally remove conflict, so that the the same outcome surely cannot be expected, and design guidelines which look like grab-bags of good and bad practice from multiple sources. Short-cuts have been taken. None of this is the successful approach which people have seen in the Netherlands but something far more superficial.

It's also common to see praise heaped upon brand new infrastructure, rather than waiting for a proven track record of safety. That's something that we sadly see here in the Netherlands as well. In reality we can't ever know much about an individual junction's safety until we wait long enough to see what the long term safety record is, though of course immediate problems should be taken as a warning that there is a problem. Official Dutch stats about, for example, roundabout safety are based on observing hundreds of "roundabout years".

Merely swapping one kind of junction design for another won't solve many, if any problems. The Dutch success with cycling (and while this country has failed with Covid, it has done better than anywhere else with cycling) results from taking a comprehensive look at traffic across whole cities, and indeed the country. Motor traffic has been relocated to an extent which almost be comprehended elsewhere and this goes a long way to explain how cycling has been made safe and convenient in the Netherlands (at the same time, driving has never been more popular, but that's another story).

Waiting for a vaccine
While we continue to take shortcuts and opt for quick fixes instead of solving problems properly, we will continue to fail. Waiting for a vaccine can also be a position of putting off doing the needed work now in the hope that something else will remove the need to do that work in the future.

A few inadequate cycle-paths and junctions are not a vaccine which will result in people abandoning their cars en-masse and result in mass cycling. This is not new. It's been known for 40 years that a complete grid of safe go-everywhere infrastructure which keeps motor vehicles away from cyclists is required to begin to achieve that goal (luckily, it doesn't take 40 years to do the same).

Electric cars are not a vaccine for the myriad problems caused by cars just as trains are not a vaccine for the problems caused by aircraft. The best way to reduce the impact of motorized transport is to use it less. Cycling comes for free.

Negative CO2 emissions can't be relied upon to vaccinate us against climate change because this is an unproven technology which has never been scaled up to the extent that would be required. We need to change our lifestyles and reduce our emissions, quickly, leaving fossil fuel under the ground, not rely on future generations using as yet not invented technology to solve problems caused by our selfishness.

There is also as yet no vaccine for Covid-19. Many groups are doing research but until there is a vaccine we can never be sure that there ever will be one. This magic bullet against the virus won't be a quick fix either. Production will take time to ramp up and distribution will be an enormous logistical problem (IATA article: "Just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft").

There is really no alternative to doing a proper job instead of opting for a quick-fix solution. Business as usual can't continue. Not for Covid, not for the climate and not for cycling either. And anyone who promises you that a vaccine will solve everything in a few weeks time is a liar or a fool.

Just after this post went live, five days ago, the main news here in the Netherlands was that both Belgium and Germany, our closest neighbours, had taken measures against travel to and from the most infected parts of the Netherlands. Non-essential travel is forbidden, but it leaves open the question of who defines what is "essential" ? One of the problems that we've had this whole time is that people will continue to travel, continue to spread the virus because far too many people think they are the exception to the rule.

Five days later we now have a new record infection rate. Over 2200 people tested positive for covid 19 over the last 24 hour period. The peak in April was just over 1300 so we're not far off double that now, and as the trend has been steadily higher each day (except Saturday and Sunday when there are fewer tests), this is really not good news.

Perhaps you wonder why I get my figures from "someone on Twitter". The reason is that the Dutch government stopped reporting daily figures back in July and someone voluntarily took their place (read his story here). Actually, our government has really let us down over Covid. With this new peak in infections you may also wonder what action they've taken. The answer is surprisingly little. Last Friday it was announced that bars would have to close at 1 am, resulting in considerable push-back from bar owners, and that some kinds of group events should have no more than 50 people at a time. These measures came into force on Sunday, and mostly apply only to the worst affected areas. Today our prime minister added that the huge crowds, not limited to 50, of football fans at matches should not cheer or sing. I doubt this will be adequate.

Update 29th September
Just a few more days and we've passed a new milestone: more than 3000 infections in just one day. That's well over double the highest number that were seen in the first wave of infections. Our government's response ? Yesterday there was a press conference at which it was suggested that bars and restaurants should shut at 10 PM instead of 1 AM as before and that people might like to wear face masks when shopping. It's not compulsory though. Shops have to make their own decisions about whether to try to enforce this, so they mostly are not.

The response of the Dutch government to this disease is astonishingly inept. Just today, 13 people more are reported as having died of Covid, making a total of nearly 6400 so far. Let us remember that this is optional. Compared with other countries we're doing astonishing badly. Taiwan for instance has a bigger population than ours, with 23.8 million people compared with our 17.4 million, yet their total deaths due to the virus thus far are just seven. Not seventy, seven hundred or seven thousand, the last of which which would make their rate comparable with ours, but just one digit. 7. i.e. relative to the population the virus has killed more than a thousand times as many people here as it has in Taiwan.

People continue to become infected and ill in this country because our government is incapable of acting in the face of a crisis.

A second wave in the Netherlands was not unexpected. Indeed, watching our lacklustre response I've been expecting it for a while. My Dutch class began at the start of this month but I had already opted out in August because it was obvious where we were heading. But it's been obvious for much longer than that. In June I wrote a computer game based around this eventuality. It's a free download. You'll also probably need an emulator for the antique computer that it runs on.

Thursday 13 August 2020

Roundabout safety for cyclists and why Cambridge's new 'Dutch' roundabout is not what it should have been

This is not the Cambridge roundabout. It's an example of a different
design, the safe roundabout. This design is much more tolerant of
driver mistakes and results in a far lower rate of cyclist injuries.
Please read my blog post about this design and watch the
accompanying video as both of those describe how this
design keeps cyclists safe.

Cambridge in the UK recently opened a "Dutch style" roundabout on Fendon Road to replace another roundabout which had a poor safety record for cyclists in the city. People keep pointing this out to me. I think it's perhaps time for a response.

The design chosen is that which I have consistently recommended against. Why do I recommend against it ? Because it has a poor safety record here in the Netherlands. It has a safety record which is not very different to an uncontrolled crossing or having no cycling facilities at all on a roundabout, which was the situation in Cambridge before this new design was built. I am not convinced that British drivers are better trained or will behave in a safer way on roundabouts than Dutch drivers and therefore I am also not convinced that it will be safer to use this design in the UK than it is here. Dutch drivers have been trained for decades to expect to give way to cyclists under some circumstances and they have also had decades to get used to this type of roundabout, yet it remains unsafe in the Netherlands. Why should we expect this to be different elsewhere ?

Now you might wonder why all my emphasis so far has been on drivers. There's a simple reason. The danger comes from motor vehicles which are faster and heavier than any cyclist. That's why injury rates for cyclists are higher at roundabouts with more cars. Remember always that there is no design of roundabout which is built for cyclists. If it were not for cars then we would have no roundabouts at all and cycling would be all the safer for it.

Dutch research into roundabout safety

Dijkstra's research into roundabout safety in the Netherlands in 2005 is one of the most referenced articles about this subject. Here's a link. It's written in Dutch and having seen the mess that bad machine translations make of this and similar documents I suggest that if you can't read the Dutch then you're best off going no further than the abstract and my explanation below.

The research drew its conclusions from looking at three different earlier studies each of which looked at large numbers of roundabouts. They're well run studies and the people making them attempted to compare like with like. There was no attempt to study only a subset in order to favour a conclusion already drawn by any of the authors. Dijkstra's article is often used by proponents of priority on roundabouts, though I wonder if they actually read it all the way through. It's very clear about the danger caused by giving cyclists priority on roundabouts.

This graph compares the number of serious cyclist and moped injuries per year (Y) at roundabouts of differing types with differing motor traffic intensity (X). The green line shows the effect of a cycle-lane around the roundabout, which has been known to be dangerous for decades and is recommended by no-one  The black line shows a roundabout with no facilities, cycling taking place on the road amongst cars. The blue line shows the effect of cycle-paths around roundabouts, but this is an average as it is not specified which roundabout design or priority rule it refers to, which is a problem as I'll discuss later.

This graph looks a lot like that above, but it includes all serious injuries in all vehicles, not just those which occur to cyclists. However it is clear from comparing this graph and the one before that roundabouts are, generally speaking, far more dangerous for cyclists than they are for drivers. The relatively small number of motor vehicle occupants who are injured at roundabouts pushes each of the lines upward a little. The effect is especially obvious on the lower, blue line as in this case motor vehicle occupant injuries become dominant as traffic intensity increases. But comparing the two graphs does not make a clear-cut case for all roundabouts with cycle-paths because there is no distinction made between two very different roundabout designs discussed later by Dijkstra.

Three different studies are referenced by Dijkstra, that of Van Minnen/CROW (1998), Weijermars (2001) and Gerts (2002). All three of those studies showed that "with priority" roundabouts are substantially more dangerous for cyclists.

Three studies are summarized by Dijkstra. All studies show worsened safety with cyclist priority ('in voorrang') at roundabouts. Crashes (ongevallen) are between 1.75x and 2.9x more common and injuries resulting in death or hospital treatment (slachtoffers) are found to be between 3x and 6x more common. Gerts' study only reported crashes and not injuries.

Some of the data in the document, such as this example, show all injuries and not just cyclist injuries. Overall, a junction with cyclist priority ('in de voorrang') causes about three times as many injuries.  About as many motor vehicle occupants are injured on the two different types of roundabouts, the difference is made by the radically different results for cyclist safety. See the next table.

The same data from Weijemars is used here, but just the figures for cyclists and mopeds are included.

This table shows the number of roundabouts in total, within urban areas, with cycle-paths, with cyclist priority (470), without cyclist priority (314). These numbers come up repeatedly.

Estimated annual hospitalizations of cyclists and moped riders (on the cycle-path - now largely replaced by e-bikes) in the Netherlands due to crashes with motor vehicles on urban roundabouts. There are about 50% more roundabouts with cyclist priority ('in de voorrang') but they cause ten times as many serious injuries as the safe design of roundabout ('uit de voorrang').

Note that Dijkstra used data from Gerts who referred only to roundabouts which strictly followed the CROW design standards. By doing so both Gerts and Dijkstra tried to exclude potentially worse results which could have come from priority roundabouts which didn't follow the standards. This turned out to be less important than was expected because Gerts found that there was no statistically different result for roundabouts which followed the CROW norms vs. those which did not (bottom of page 13). Also read pages 34 and 35 where this is confirmed. i.e. The difference in safety between differing roundabouts with cycle-paths is almost entirely due to the priority rule. That is confirmed on page 36 where the conclusion is made that there is a significant link between priority and safety.
A note about 'mopeds'. Most of the data lumps cyclists and mopeds together because mopeds are not actually very common. They make up around 1% of the total traffic volume. As a result, I don't expect that their presence here makes much difference to any of the results. Low power mopeds which theoretically are limited to around 25 km/h on the cycle-path are losing ground these days to electrically assisted bikes which travel at a similar speed. Many Dutch people really don't like mopeds, but they do seem to like e-bikes which are now far more numerous. The two modes are quite similar from a safety perspective. There does seem to be an indication that 'with priority' roundabouts are more dangerous for faster cyclists (moped, racing bike, e-bike) who are more likely to surprise drivers because their speed makes them more difficult for drivers to spot, hence the idea that they suddenly appeared "from nowhere" over the driver's shoulder. Faster mopeds (limited to 45 km/h) are banned from urban cycle-paths so are not of interest here.

Comparison with a non-signalled crossing
In order to find a point of comparison for the effectiveness of substituting one type of roundabout or another, comparisons were made of 177 locations where non-signalled crossings ('voor, kruispunt') were converted into roundabouts ('na rotonde').

Note that this is not a comparison with traffic light junctions. That's a completely different story which I have addressed elsewhere: well designed traffic light junctions which separate cyclists in time and space from cars create an almost completely safe space for cyclists and as a result have an excellent safety record in the Netherlands. But they are not discussed by Dijkstra. These comparisons are between roundabouts and the straightforward non-signalled crossings without roundabouts or traffic lights which existed in the same location before they were built.

The comparison over time with non-signalled crossings in the same location across 177 junctions gives us a very good idea of the relative danger creating by giving cyclists priority at a roundabout.

Roundabouts are highly effective at preventing motor vehicle occupant injuries, reduced by 80% on average over the previously existing crossing, however for cyclists they are far less effective. Compared with non-signalled (no traffic lights) road crossings, Dutch roundabouts on average only lead to around a halving of cyclist serious injuries. But this statistic is deceptive because both the 'with priority' and safe roundabout designs have been mixed here to create an average.

In this table they've been separated and we if we consider only the safe roundabouts where cyclists do not have priority ('uit de voorrang') then we see a significant 87% reduction in the number of injuries vs. a non-signalled junction.

By comparison, if we consider only the roundabouts where cyclists do have priority ('in de voorrang'), the improvement in injury rate over a non-signalled crossing is just 11%. i.e. priority for cyclists on roundabouts results in nearly eight times as many cyclist hospitalizations as occur at safe roundabouts when replacing non-signalled junctions. But carry on reading...

The simple conclusion to reach here is that 'with priority' roundabouts achieve about an 11% improvement in safety while safe roundabouts achieve an 87% improvement in safety, making them eight times safer. However it's not actually that simple. Over the same period of time, non-signalled crossings across the country became on average about 10% safer (Dijkstra last paragraph of page 10) so we should perhaps reduce both outcomes by this amount. That would imply that there is actually almost no significant difference in safety between an non-signalled crossing and a 'with priority' roundabout while a safe roundabout achieves about a 77% improvement in safety for cyclists.

How safe are 'with priority' roundabouts in reality ?

This blog post began with one of the first graphs from Dijkstra which showed the relative safety of cyclists using cycle-paths and cycle-lanes around roundabouts with cycling on the roadway on the roundabout itself. Unfortunately, that graph did not distinguish between the different types of Dutch roundabout which include cycle-paths. However later in the same document with the discussion about replacement of non-signalled junctions, Dijkstra calculates the relative safety of roundabouts with and without priority, and we see that the 'with priority' cause nearly eight times as many excess cyclist injuries as the safe roundabout design. I find it unhelpful that both roundabout designs are presented as one item in that graph as they really are not the same.

Below you'll find a modified version of the same graph showing the likely real-world safety of 'with priority' roundabouts vs. the average for all cycle-paths on roundabouts, cycle-lanes and cycling on the road:

The red line shows what the probably injury rate is for roundabouts with priority cycle-paths in the Netherlands. The blue line is an average for all roundabouts with cycle-paths. A line which represented only safe roundabouts would be lower than the blue line, especially in the first half of the graph.

You'll note that up to around 10000 vehicles a day there is no great difference between the black line, showing the rate of injury for cyclists riding on the road, the green line showing a cycle-lane painted around the perimeter and the red line showing the injury rate for cyclists on 'with priority' cycle-paths. Therefore swapping between a roundabout design where cyclists ride on the road to a design where they use a priority cycle-path should not be expected to bring an improvement in safety. The only option which always looks good is the blue line showing as an average for all roundabouts with cycle-paths, which is skewed downward by the greatly improved safety of the safe roundabout design over the 'with priority' design.

Explanation of the red line: Over half of all urban roundabouts in the Netherlands gave cyclists priority when Dijkstra's graph was created. He found that on these roundabouts about eight times as many injuries per year could be expected. i.e. the corrected data for with priority roundabouts should be at about four times the level of that for the safe roundabouts. The red line which I have added to the graph is at approximately three times the height on the Y axis of that for both types of roundabout combined. This places it at approximately at the level we would expect to see if the two different types of roundabouts had been  treated as two different cases.

Explanation of blue line shape and stippled red: The blue line, for all roundabouts with cycle-paths, has a rather unusual shape, with a peak at around 10000 vehicles a day before dipping downward and rising again with motor vehicle intensity. I believe that this is caused by priority roundabouts causing the vast majority of crashes and injuries but being built mostly in places with lower motor vehicle intensity. As a result, the blue line is pushed upward in the first half of the graph by crashes on 'with priority' roundabouts, but I think the second half of the blue line is made up to a higher extent of data for safe roundabouts. I used a stippled red line from ~10000 onward because it's likely that it is no longer reliable past this point for the same reason. Unfortunately the separate data is not available so that I can test this hypothesis.


Back in 1998, SWOV's own research already demonstrated a worse safety record for 'with priority' roundabouts. Their research indicated that 52-73 extra cyclists would find themselves in hospital with serious injuries each year if that design was used. Despite this concern, a political decision was made to go along with a standard recommendation that cyclists should always have priority on urban roundabouts. This happend after they were given two re-assurances: first that the new standards advised by CROW would be applied everywhere and second that introduction of these standards would result in improved safety for 'with priority' roundabouts.

Unfortunately, the expected safety improvement was not realised. This was not merely because the guidelines still were not followed in all cases, but because it was discovered that the guidelines didn't actually have a measurable effect on safety even where they were followed. In an appendix on pages 29 to 35 of Dijkstra ("Voorrang voor fietsers: effect van vormgeving?") it is shown statistically using data gathered from many real world roundabouts spread across the country over five years that there is no detectable difference in safety between 'with priority' roundabouts which adhere strictly to the CROW guidelines and those which do not. Therefore it would seem that roundabouts with significant differences from the norms (e.g. different radii, crossings too close to the roundabout, inadequate road markings, allowing bidirectional cycling around the roundabout etc.) were not worse from a safety perspective at all. The research suggests very strongly that exactly following CROW's guidelines is not important for safety at all. Just one thing makes roundabouts with cycle-paths dangerous and that is giving cyclists priority.

Since the decision was made to go along with the "with priority" guideline in urban areas, the number of roundabouts in the Netherlands has tripled. For that reason we can now reasonably expect that instead of 52-73 extra cyclists receiving injuries resulting in hospitalization or death each year that there are now between 150 and 210 more than would have been the case if the safe roundabout design (used all over Assen with extremely low injuries as a result) had been standardized upon across the entire country.

The CROW argument that roundabouts with priority are "slight less safe" than the safe design was based upon the 52-73 extra casualties being only between 1.8 and 2.5% of the total. Unfortunately, with their number having tripled, we can now expect that these dangerous roundabouts account for between 5.4% and 7.5% of cyclist casualties per year, which is certainly not insignificant. Given that after a period of decline, Dutch cyclist deaths are now rising once again, this is something we should be looking at more closely. We already know how to reduce injuries on roundabouts by 87%. We just have to switch to building the proven safe roundabout design.


So now back to Cambridge. Why did that city outside the Netherlands adopt a design has been proven to cause excess injuries and deaths in the country where it came from ? Why are they following a decision which was made in the Netherlands for political reasons and not based on safety ? Personally, I think they were extremely badly advised.

Valkenswaard roundabout visited in 2006. Not a safe design.
See statistics. This roundabout does not conform 100% to
CROW standards, but as you can read above, we now
know that it probably wouldn't make a difference if it did.

Now I take a little responsibility for this because I used to live in Cambridge, I was a member of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign who campaigned for Dutch style cycling infrastructure to be built in that city, and I organised study tours in the Netherlands for members of the campaigning group and people working for the council. Indeed, on the first of these study tours, way back in 2006, I was myself enthusiastic about the cyclist priority design of roundabout and I showed it to people from Cambridge.

However my enthusiasm for priority roundabouts didn't last long after I moved to the Netherlands, experienced near misses on these designs, learnt Dutch and read Dijkstra's and other studies of roundabout safety. I change my mind when presented with contrary facts and it's simply not possible to continue to believe that these designs are safe when they clearly are not. That is the reason why I promote the safe design of roundabout, especially in countries outside the Netherlands.

The advantage that the safe roundabout design has is of complete predictability for the cyclist. As a cyclist you can take control of your own safety. While mistakes made by drivers on priority roundabouts where the driver does not cede priority often result in crashes and cyclist injuries, drivers on safe roundabouts who make errors typically just slow or stop when they need not have done. This can actually be slightly annoying for a cyclist who has adjusted their speed to slip across the road before or after any given car, but it's a safe failure mode which doesn't result in injury.

There is also the potential difference between British and Dutch drivers. I've not only cycled but also driven in both countries and I think the ability to drive safely is quite similar between the two countries. However there is a difference in behaviour in that Dutch drivers typically drive more slowly, at least on minor roads and in towns, and that there is less aggression. This is probably also a function of the unravelling of routes which keeps drivers who are minutes late for their destination from making through journeys near cyclists. They are also used to the idea of ceding priority to cyclists on roundabouts and elsewhere, and most people here do cycle. What effect this difference in driver behaviour will have on a roundabout design which requires drivers to cede priority in order to ensure cyclist safety is currently unknown.

Unfortunately the mistake in Cambridge goes far beyond just choosing a poor and dangerous design of roundabout. Their ambition unfortunately went no further than substituting one roundabout design for another and it is now being heralded as a victory for cycling before we even know whether it turns out to be safe in this location. In reality there is no roundabout design which has ever been built for the benefit of cyclists. They're all just ways of trying to address the problems caused by motor vehicles.

Most road junctions in Dutch residential
areas look something like this. Much
more common than any traffic light
or roundabout design, a non-signalled
junction in a residential area, with 30 km/h
speed limit, raised table, small corner
radii, and most importantly it's not a
through route for motor vehicles

Addressing the problems of motor vehicles could have been done in many other and more effective ways. The roads leading to the location of Cambridge's new roundabout are places where people live. Residential streets which have for years endured high traffic volumes. If they had their usage changed so that they no longer had to support that through motor traffic (already done on a tiny scale in Cambridge) then the roundabout probably wouldn't be required at all. A simple non-signalled junction but with very cars, or if a stream of traffic was required to flow between two arms of the junction perhaps a signalled crossing, would have resulted in a better outcome for cyclists.

You could have asked...

There are few people who have lived, worked and cycled on an everyday basis in Cambridge for more than a decade and who have then done the same in a Dutch city for more than a decade. Fewer still who have written about cycling for decades, about cyclist roundabout safety and made suggestions for how countries outside the Netherlands can best learn from the Dutch experience regarding roundabouts and other infrastructure. Still fewer who have gone to the effort of learning Dutch, reading the research and trying to advise on the basis of that research, and I would guess that also bringing people from the council and the local cycle campaigning group in Cambridge to the Netherlands in order to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of different roundabout designs amongst many other things on top of those other things would make me pretty much unique. I'm also not hard to find.

So do you think anyone from Cambridge ever thought to contact me about their new roundabout ? Of course not. Actually that's a bit unfair. A couple of people on the periphery who were concerned about the direction in which that was going did make contact and I have heard from them how what I'd written was dismissed rather rudely. But why ? Did they have some other local expert who could read the Dutch documents in depth and translate them ? Did they not believe the stats therein ? Did they expect that a design which is relatively dangerous in the Netherlands with Dutch drivers would somehow be less dangerous in the UK ?

I of course don't expect any answers. But it's a shame. I could have helped. I fear that Cambridge will regret what has been done. Not now. Not soon. It'll take a while before you have stats - the Dutch research on which I based my advice was itself based on the stats from many roundabouts over many years. The stats above are based on up to 940 rotonde-jaren, or roundabout years. These results have not been cooked up after just looking at a single location for a few weeks.


I am left with a fear that what Cambridge has done is merely to replace one dangerous roundabout design with another. It's a pity that they have done this because it's been done with such a lot of publicity and this may tarnish the concept and make it more difficult to adopt a better design elsewhere. Britain's cyclists need safe infrastructure. It's high time that they got it instead of ineffective projects like this example. However this is just one junction in one city of a country of many millions of people. It won't in itself make a huge difference one way or the other. No single junction ever could do that.

What is required, in Cambridge and elsewhere, is to start looking at the bigger picture. It is a mistake to think that any real change can result from a piecemeal one junction at a time approach. The UK, and everywhere else, needs a complete grid of effective safe and attractive cycle-paths in order to enable efficient go-everywhere cycling. The Netherlands is fabulous for cycling not merely because some of the roundabouts are safe (as you can see above, some certainly are not). An holistic approach makes the difference. There is nothing new and novel about any of this, it's been known for forty years.

Planning occurs in the Netherlands on a much greater scale than in the UK. There are traffic circulation plans which limit the effect of motor vehicles on residential areas and direct cycle routes. Almost all roundabouts form part of a plan which removes motor traffic, especially through motor traffic, from locations where cyclists need to be to make everyday journeys. This makes even less safe designs safer. But removal of motor traffic can even result in a much bigger prize: the removal of roundabouts and traffic lights altogether from cycling routes. Cyclists don't themselves need either of those types of junctions. They are not actually for us, but exist only to moderate motor traffic. There exist very good traffic light designs which benefit cyclists and roundabouts which do likewise but in both cases these things should only be built where there is no choice. i.e. where it's impossible to get rid of the motor vehicles. Cyclists are always better off without big road junctions. This has happened on a large scale at least around the centre of most Dutch cities, spreading outward from the centre in many cities and into the renovation of old suburbs and the design of new suburbs. The process did not begin by changing the design of a single busy junction which will remain busy, but then making a lot of noise about it as if a great change has been achieved.

The piecemeal approach, resulting in years of little or no real action and the effect of such small forward steps as occur usually being swamped by backward steps elsewhere, is precisely why people in the UK have gone from saying that their country is 20 years behind the Netherlands to 40 or 50 years behind. It's only possible to catch up by doing the hard work required to make things better, consistently over years. This is something which no country can afford not to do: when all things are considered, it's cheaper to build cycling infrastructure than it is not to build it.

Update May 2023
Three years later we now have reported collision data for the Cambridge roundabout. In the three years since the roundabout was rebuilt as "Dutch" style there have been 10 collisions, including three which caused serious injury. In the three years before the change there were just six of which none were serious.

I'd been advising people in Cambridge about roundabout designs for well over a decade before they ignored my advice and chose to build this dangerous design instead. They now have injured cyclists as a result of their choice. I take no pleasure in saying that "I told you so", but I did tell them, repeatedly, and the result that they now have is just what I predicted.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

A glimpse of a better future (where are we heading to after the pandemic ?)

Suddenly it seems that nearly everyone can see, hear and smell the benefits of fewer motor vehicles. Stories are appearing from all around the world about clear skies, fresher air and being better able to hear bird song. The corona virus lock-downs have brought us more peaceful streets, fresher air, less noise. Fish are seen to have returned to rivers, insects appear to be more numerous. Tourists no longer dominate historic cities. Stress levels are down (non corona related stress, at least).

Fewer cars
Most people alive now were also alive when there were half as many cars.
Many were alive when there were a quarter as many, or even less.
Your country is almost certainly similar.
Here in the Netherlands, car usage has approximately halved due to the corona crisis. This has made headlines. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember we've had no traffic jams caused by traffic for nearly a month. It's been described as an historic drop, but actually we need only go back about 30 years to find a time when this level of car ownership and use was normal. i.e. what we consider to be a relatively quiet situation now isn't actually extreme at all - this is something that most people alive now took for granted when they were younger. Indeed, it wasn't seen as a benefit back then because we were too busy looking at the problems which existed already due to this level of car usage. People had already started taking to the streets to protest about the effects of excessive motor car usage much longer than 30 years ago. The "historic low" level of traffic which we have now was seen by many as rather an excess when this was "normal", and there are people alive now who protested against the dominance of cars when they were less than a quarter as many cars in use as we think of as "normal" today. i.e. less than half of what we have during this "historic low".

At the time of writing, more than 120000 people have already died due to the corona virus. That's a terrible death toll over the last four months and all of us would of course like to see an end of this virus. However this terrible death toll is nothing in comparison with what is seen as "normal" due to cars. There have been more than a million deaths annually due to car crashes for some years now, and in addition four million or so people die each year die due to air pollution, a good proportion of which is also due to motor vehicles. To solve the problems due to motor vehicles, we need far fewer motor vehicles. Most people in the world already live without cars and it's not difficult to be one of them.

Fewer flights
Another thing which people have commented on extensively is that our skies are now spotless because there are fewer vapour trails due to aircraft flying overhead. Of course there is a difference, but again it's not as extreme as many people imagine. In March 2020 there were about half the number of flights that there were in March 2019. A halving sound quite extreme, but the number of flights doubles approximately every 20 years, so there are actually lots more aircraft in the skies now than there used to be.

I used to know what they all were...
Most people alive today were used to seeing far fewer aircraft than are in the skies now, even during this crisis. When I had a childhood hobby of aircraft spotting there were less than half as many aircraft for me to spot as are flying now during this crisis.

So with aircraft too, this dramatic change has actually meant that we have only returned to a time when the problems with aircraft were already apparent. People were already protesting about noise and pollution from aircraft when there were fewer of them as are flying right now during this crisis.

The current level of air travel, during this crisis, remains far too high. It is not sustainable. And it's not just air travel. Moving from one mode to another mostly just means a similar level of emissions from a different mode. That is not sustainable either. We will survive without holidays this year, without work trips. To solve the problems due to travel we must continue to travel far less.

Reduced oil production
The oil producing nations have agreed to an historic 10% reduction in their production in order to prop up prices. Note that this actually only takes the rate of oil production back to what it was about ten years ago.

People have protested about environmental destruction due to oil companies for decades longer than this and at times when their production was very much lower than is the case now. One particularly high profile case of a protestor who was executed was in 1995 when the rate of oil production was around half of what it was at the beginning of this year.

The oil companies have not reduced their output in order to try to save us from the inevitably destructive environmental effects of their product, they are merely trying to prop up their own profitability. The best way we can fight against this is to try not to buy their product. To solve the problems due to fossil fuels we need to go as far as we can to stop using fossil fuels.

Who really needs greener vehicles ?
Watch this excellent documentary about bullshit jobs
The subject of "bullshit jobs" has been discussed quite a lot over the last few years and some people are right now discovering that their 'important' job is actually either not quite so important after all, or in some cases an utterly pointless waste of time. This crisis has shown us who the real essential workers are. It's also shown us who we don't miss much if they don't go to work.

There is a realisation now that the lower level of car traffic due in large part to cutting back on the bullshit commutes used to travel to bullshit jobs is beneficial for everyone. But another thing that we've seen is that rather than getting in the way of "essential" commuters, some of the other vehicles on the roads (e.g. ambulances, tractors, trucks and vans) actually provide truly essential services such as keeping us healthy and providing us with food and other supplies.

The realisation that we do need food, we do need (some) goods, but we don't actually need nearly so many commuters demonstrates something important: we've not only been placing emphasis on the wrong workers but we've also been putting the majority of our efforts at greening transport into the wrong vehicles. Building electric vehicles is a resource intensive and polluting industry. Instead of using the limited resources available to build so many electric cars, trains and buses as possible to enable people to continue to travel excessively we should all along have been looking to green the essential vehicles (ambulances, tractors, trucks and vans etc.) while we encouraged people not to spend their time travelling regularly back and forth on commutes. Some of us have of course been saying this for a long time now...

Tackling emissions and improving our quality of life fit together and both can far more effectively be achieved by reducing the number of motor vehicles than by merely substituting the latest examples of what the motor industry wants to sell as a slightly greener alternative to the already greatly over-used motor vehicles which already exist.

At present we see that existing road infrastructure has become more welcoming to cyclists because there are fewer cars. While we can design infrastructure to maximise safety around cars (e.g. the safe roundabout design), it's always best to remove the cars. No roundabout or traffic light actually exists for the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians. They all impede cyclists and pedestrians while they attempt to reduce the danger of motor vehicles.

How much more pleasant could our towns be if we went further down the path of giving more space to people by taking it away from unnecessary motor traffic ?

Reducing carbon ?
We need a much more rapid downward slope in emissions than the
side-effect of the corona virus will result in. It's not even close to enough.
A small carbon emission reduction looks likely this year due to the virus. But at best this will be very small and at worst there may be no reduction at all. The likely outcome is that this year's emissions will end up around 3% lower than last year's emissions. We might think this small reduction will help, but over time this will merely look like another year in which we did not act. It is unfortunately not even close to the 18 percent per year steady decrease that we need to keep our planet in a condition where human life is supported.

Meat and travel
It is highly likely that COVID19, like so many other human illnesses including swine influenza and avian influenzabovine tuberculosis, EbolaBSE/CJD, and very many other diseases, was transferred from animals to humans due primarily to people raising, killing and eating products derived from those animals for food. The disease was then spread around the world in a very short period of time because people travel so much.

So this world-wide pandemic, like so many previous disease outbreaks and just as we expect for future pandemics, was caused by meat and travel. Meat and travel. Also amongst the biggest contributors to global warming.

For the sake of ourselves, our children, our children's children, if we want to avoid disease or merely keep this planet's climate such that humans can continue to live here we need to limit our consumption of meat and dairy products and reduce the amount we travel.

Keeping up with the Joneses ?
Will people still feel a need to "keep up with the Joneses" if they no longer see the Joneses ? Could the virus trigger a change in thinking and reduction in pointless consumerism ? Will the rich people who now buy far too many clothes, electronic gadgets etc. still feel a need for those things if in the future they go out less ? Over consumption by the richest 10% of the population (this probably includes you, dear reader) is one of the other great drivers of climate change and another of those things which needs to change.

What future shall we choose ?
There is no herd immunity against climate change. There is no immunisation, no easy cure. While we're all talking about COVID19 now, the biggest problem facing us all last year was climate change, it's still the biggest problem this year and it will remain the biggest problem next year and after we have solved the problem of this virus.

There is currently much discussion about an exit strategy from the virus and about how we will "get back to normal", but a return to a "normal" which is similar to that which existed a few months ago would not be any more sustainable now than it was before and will not in all ways be better than the situation which we have now. The death rate from the expected effects of climate change due to "normal" behaviour will be far higher than what we currently have from the virus. We of course need to do what we can to tackle this virus, but let's not jump straight back into a situation in which we return to the smog, noise and road deaths which we had before. A better future world is possible. Our future doesn't have to be a continuation of the past.

The richest 10% of the people on this planet consume wildly
too much relative to the poorer people on this planet. Top
ten percent salaries begin at $13700 per year. If you are
reading this then you are probably one of the elite.
Outside of the direct and unpleasant effects of the virus itself, we also now have before us a glimpse of what a possible better future for all of us could look like. We need to grasp the positives and build upon them, creating high quality and low stress conditions for local transport by bicycle and by foot while encouraging people not to make the longer and more polluting journeys, especially those which lead nowhere except to a high stress but perhaps also completely unnecessary job. We need to change our society so that we do not emphasize the most pointless aspects of that society, for it is the pointless jobs, pointless commutes, pointless vanity and pointless greed which have got us into this mess. We need to consume less and be happy to do so because the alternative to doing so is far more terrible than this virus.

Some of the same solutions work for both the virus and climate change. But not all. We need to go much further in limiting our excessive consumption but while the negative effects of climate change could be far more destructive, they are also in many ways less cruel. For example, the climate places no demands on our social behaviour and we do not need to isolate ourselves from nearby neighbours and friends in order to live in a sustainable way. All we need to do is live within our means, i.e. within what is possible with the resources available on the planet we share. We need to learn to live in a way which is possible for the entire population of this planet, without some people demanding a far bigger slice of the pie, a higher standard of living than is possible for everyone. Let's start now, by consuming less.

Please don't forget about developing nations
At present much of our concern is about our own nations. Many of us are worrying mostly about other relatively prosperous people who are likely to have access to health care and who probably have enough to eat, and who have the luxury of being able to isolate themselves. Not everyone in the world has such an easy life as we do in the developed world and I fear for the effects of the virus in the nations where people are not so well cared for. At this time, if you can, please consider donating to development charities who can help those who are not in the top 10%. They didn't spread this virus but they are likely to be the worst affected by it - another unfortunate parallel with climate change.

Will this be remembered as the summer of "corona blue" skies, a brief moment when the air was clear and we could breath more easily, or will we return to what has been seen as a "normal" level of pollution in the near future ?
Trivia which demonstrates how long effects of health crises last: Because I lived in the UK during the time of the BSE/CJD health crisis of the 1980s/90s I am not allowed to donate blood in the Netherlands. That applies even though I didn't eat meat so I'm a long way from being a high risk donor. People who lived in the Netherlands during that time frame and who did eat meat can give blood in the Netherlands. I could find myself receiving their blood donation even though Dutch people are not allowed to give blood in the USA for the same reason that I can't here and this is true even though the USA had its own cases. Such restrictions often have more to do with national exceptionalism than logic, this being a factor which also contributed to many Western nations including the Netherlands apparently thinking initially that they'd somehow be immune to COVID19, leading to slower responses and much worse outcomes than in several Asian nations where the disease was taken seriously earlier.