Showing posts with label unravelling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label unravelling. Show all posts

Monday, 25 August 2014

Assen's best bicycle "tunnel" is a bridge. How a crossing of a main road, once a large traffic light juncion, has been made almost invisible to cyclists.


The video has a short spoken introduction but I then shut up and let you hear for yourself how quiet and peaceful this area is for a place where we cross four lanes of motorized traffic. This is not peak bicycle traffic but an average level of traffic for mid morning.

The video above shows the best "bicycle tunnel" in Assen. It's actually a bridge for cars. This deserves some explanation.

In the 1960s the canal which used to head to the centre of Assen in this location was filled in and a ring-road built around the city. Until late as early 2007, the ring-road was still at ground level. At this point Assen could be accessed by motor vehicles heading in from villages around the city. The lifting bridge was used by motor vehicles and cycle alike.

When cyclists wanted to go to the centre of the city they had to use a light controlled crossing and wait for a gap in the motor traffic. Boats could of course not access the centre at all.

A new route for drivers heading to the right on this picture
(i.e. west) is just off the bottom of the image. This new route
is also paralleled by cycle-path. Drivers didn't lose a route
as a result of this bridge being built, but cyclists did gain.
However, Assen has been growing rapidly and a new suburb on the west of Assen needed not only better facilities for access by car, but also required that cycling facilities were improved in order that the cycling modal share of the city would grow rather than shrink as people moved into the new suburb. That is why this area needed to change.

The ring-road was to be doubled in width for a short section to allow for the large increase in population at this side of the city. It's unrealistic for cyclists to expect that roads should never be improved as unless we're going to ban people from owning cars, people will want to drive the cars that they own. The Netherlands is remarkably free of obviously anti-car policy. The highest cycling modal share in the world is the result more of cycling being made attractive than of driving being made unattractive. When infrastructure is retrofitted to an existing city, as happened here, we do sometimes have to be pragmatic - hence the bicycle road discussed below rather than a cycle-path as the direct route to the city centre from this point. However we should never accept that cycling infrastructure comes second and should be built to a low standard. Cyclists should benefit even from new road building.

The existing road to the centre was no longer to be used for motor vehicles. Rather, this most direct of routes was changed into a bicycle road divided by stretches of cycle-path so that it could not form a through route by car. The existing lifting bridge became part of the bicycle road, also used only by residents' cars for access. This has now become a main bicycle route unravelled from motoring routes. As a side benefit, the canal could also now be re-opened as a public amenity (these days it's used for tourism, not for industry).


This blog post highlights just one of
many crossings of main roads and
railway tracks in Assen. Many
crossings are required in order
to avoid the funneling problem.
One crossing is not enough
Note that this is just one of many crossings of large roads and railway tracks in Assen, just one of many crossings which prioritize cycling.

Bridge or tunnel ?
A bridge for cyclists to cross the ring-road was considered, but this would have had to be extremely long to have the required gradual incline and of course any bridge requires cyclists to climb to a considerable height before they can ride back down the other side, which slows cyclists down. Cycle-paths should be built to maximise the speed of cycling in order to make this mode as attractive as possible. Therefore it is best to avoid high bridges.

The option of a tunnel was also considered. This would also have solved the problem of expecting cyclists to wait and it would have come without the price of sending bikes and their riders up an incline. However it would also have required sending people into a hole in the ground and it was judged that in this case the subsequent reduction in social safety could lead to less cycling.

The distance between the new suburb and the centre of the city was already long enough. It was considered to be important to keep journeys times so short as possible and to avoid any other reasons why people might choose not to cycle.

A comprehensive grid of cycling
infrastructure covers Assen as it does
other Dutch cities. Red=main routes,
Blue=secondary, Green=recreational.
Of course, it's still not enough. Assen
has not finished with building and
improving cycling infrastructure.
So the city chose to leave cyclists on the level and to build a bridge which carries four lanes of motor vehicles above the cycle-path. It is easier for motor vehicles to climb than for cyclists to climb.

Cyclists stay on the level, but with no need ever to stop for the road. Sound barriers were installed which make the sound of motor vehicles almost completely disappear. Cyclists now barely even notice when they cross the ring road.

If your aim is to encourage cycling then it's important for the cycle route to be as good as it can possibly be. This means it should be so direct as possible and have so few stops as possible.

The old direct route
You may wonder what happened to the old direct driving route into the city which has now been closed to through motor traffic. Two photos illustrate how this road has changed:
In the 1970s this was a narrow road shared by cyclists pedestrians and motorists. A hand painted sign reading "drive slowly" was put up by a resident.
The same road is now a bicycle road. It is no longer possible for motorists to use this as a through route. The only through traffic is by bicycle between the new suburb of Kloosterveen and the city centre. Local residents no longer have a need to erect signs to ask drivers to slow down for the sake of their safety.
Exceptional or unexceptional ?
Of course, one piece of cycling infrastructure can do very little on its own. There is often too much emphasis on exceptional pieces of infrastructure when what is truly exceptional in the Netherlands is something altogether different:

True mass cycling is enabled when the entire population is attracted to cycling and when all journeys can be made by bike.

Cycling is made attractive by segregating cyclists from motor vehicles almost 100% of the time because motor vehicles are what people fear most when cycling. In the Netherlands this has been done by building a remarkably tight grid of cycling infrastructure which would be considered to be exceptionally good in any other country. No-one has to make their journey in unpleasant conditions which might scare them off cycling.

The need for a high quality grid of traffic free routes was the most important lesson learnt by the Dutch way back in the 1970s and this is what has been built upon since that time. Nothing stands still. All cities across the Netherlands continue to improve their infrastructure. During the seven years that we have lived in Assen, the majority of the city's cycling infrastructure has been improved. Other places can't catch up by doing less, only by doing more.

We visit this bridge and ride the entire length of the bicycle road on our study tours. The whole of the uninterrupted route between the bridge and the city centre can be seen in a video.

Link to Bing Maps bird's eye view of the site of the blue bridge.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Unravelling of modes


Cyclists have more direct, safe and pleasant journeys if their routes are separated from the routes taken by drivers. This video shows examples of how on the west of Assen, cycle-routes are mostly quite separate from driving routes. By this I don't only mean that cycle-paths run alongside the roads, but that the routes themselves are different. It is increasingly common in the Netherlands that cycling and driving routes are unravelled from one another.


The map (courtesy of Google Maps) shows many of the routes featured in the video. Blue routes are for cars, red routes for bikes. The traffic lights featured in the video can be seen on the map, as can the blue arched bridge, one of four bridges clustered together, three of which make part of viable routes for cyclists, and two of which make viable routes for drivers.

The blue arched bridge, the largest of four bridges close together in the centre of the map and the only one of the four map on which cyclists can't ride, was actually built to benefit cyclists. It adds nothing for drivers over the flat junction which was in this position until 2008. In fact, the construction of this bridge removed the option to makes turns left and right to use what is now a cyclist only through route. This bridge was constructed to take the dual carriageway ring-road above the cycle-path so that cyclists neither had to wait at a crossing, dive through a tunnel or climb over a bridge.

I've shown all the possible through routes by car on the map but note that they do not join up in the top left corner where a road runs under the motorway bridge next to a cycle-path. By comparison, I've only shown the relatively heavily used bicycle through routes. In fact, while drivers have relatively few through routes to choose from, every road and street on the map except for the one car only road (on which there is a traffic light) and the motorway can be used as a through route by bike. The majority of the map have been drawn as solid red for bikes, even though these residential streets are not useful through routes by car.

Driving between one traffic light and another, on a road
between noise barriers. Would you prefer this ?
Note that not only car routes but also bus routes are unravelled
from cycling routes. There are few things less pleasant than
riding with buses.

In the video, I highlight one of the no cycling signs on the ring-road which runs over the blue arched bridge.

These signs are sometimes misunderstood by people in English speaking countries, who think that cyclists being banned from roads like this one leads to having to take less direct, less convenient routes than would be the case if cyclists could ride with the cars and trucks.

Actually, of course, this is completely incorrect.

In this case, should our intrepid cyclist defy the sign and cycle with this bus and van, he/she would simply find another set of traffic lights four hundred metres from this one.

Fighting for the "right to ride" on roads such as this one would be a meaningless gesture. No-one is interested in doing so, because it makes no sense at all to prefer to ride in those conditions. This is a road which exists to deal with the consequences of cars.

Or this ? It's the same bridge and this is the direct route to
town. However, cyclists have not just direct routes to
places that they want to go, but also ride in places
designed for an open feeling leading to a high degree
of social safety.
As you see on the map segment above and in the video, there are far more viable through routes by bike than by car, and cyclists frequently avoid traffic lights by using cycle-paths. No-cycling signs like this exist only on roads where no sensible person would want to cycle anyway.

Motor vehicles do nothing to lend anywhere a sense of "place", and they are rightly removed not only from city centres and residential areas, but also from main routes for cyclists. Stick to cycle-routes and a cyclist finds not only fewer traffic lights and routes which are more direct than those available to drivers, but also he/she will ride along real streets where there are people, shops and cafes and not between noise barriers erected to separate motor vehicles from people.

Freewheeler once said to me "I do wish cycling campaigners would drive more". He made a very good point. Without knowing what conditions are like for drivers, cyclists can't really make a valid comparison.

This is particularly true when considering the subjective and social safety of different modes. In most countries, driving wins over cycling hands down when it comes to subjective safety, and this is a very strong reason why many people don't see cycling as a viable alternative. However, in the Netherlands, the most pleasant and safest conditions are usually to be found when cycling. This is so because motor vehicles have been removed.

Monday, 2 April 2012

100% segregation of bikes and cars

City centre street, no cars allowed.
Clear signage gives loading times
Again and again I read comments of the form "even in Holland not all parts of rides are segregated" or talk of "similar road exposure" in the UK vs. the Netherlands. I've been accused of making out that the cycle-path network in the Netherlands is more extensive than it actually is.

Such comments are based on a misunderstanding of the differences between the way that roads and streets are designed and used in the two countries.

"Shared" street ? Not on an equal basis.
It's a through route for bikes but access
only for cars.
The misunderstanding usually arises because someone notices the simple statistic which says that while the Netherlands has about 130000 km of roads, there are only about 35000 km of cycle-path.

This sounds, of course, like there is a serious short-fall of segregated cycle paths.

People look at these figures as if those 130000 km of roads are exactly the same as roads in their own country.

City centre streets are busy, but with
bikes instead of cars
This is not the case and it is the wrong way to look at the figures.

Dutch people cycle on a mixture of cycle-paths and roads. However, this does not mean that cyclists in the Netherlands spend much of their time mixing with motor vehicles.


Over the last few decades, the Netherlands has unravelled the networks of car and bicycle routes. If you compare routes for the same journey by bicycle and by car, then in very many cases you will find that the two routes are very different to one another.


A child rides a bike in the middle
of a bicycle street. This was once a
busy through road by car. Now access
only by car / through route by bike.
I've demonstrated this principle several times on this blog (1 2 3 4 5 6). In some cases the separation of routes is achieved by building of cycle-paths. However, in many others it is achieved by removing cars from the roads.

These days, very many roads and streets are not part of the route network for cars. They still allow access by car, so that people who live along them may reach their own homes, for instance, but they are not through routes by car. As a result, such streets are absolutely not dominated by cars. A cyclist using a road on such a route has much the same feelings about safety as someone using a cycle-path.

It is only when cycling doesn't feel like an extreme sport that it can become so popular as it is in the Netherlands.

Residential street. No cycle-path
required as it's not a through road for
cars. Residential parking, but cars
rarely move.
Residential streets in the Netherlands rarely work as through roads for cars, even if they were originally designed to do so. This makes them excellent places to cycle or walk with a high degree of comfort and safety.

In some cases, this has been formalized by creation of woonerven, but many of the same characteristics can be found in residential streets which are not woonerven.

Woonerven have a speed limit of "walking pace". However, they are not the only roads with low speed limits. In fact, over 40000 km of roads in the Netherlands, a third of the total, have a speed limit of 30 km/h or lower. This lowering of speeds on minor roads has been done to the maximum possible extent. It is now difficult to achieve more safety by this method  as roads which remain through routes for motor vehicles are not effectively calmed simply by changing the speed limit.

In a village, primary school children
cycle home unaccompanied on streets
which are not through routes for cars.
From an average age of 8.6, children
travel unaccompanied
The photos give examples of different roads and streets on which cyclists have the same feeling of subjective safety, and similar degree of actual safety, as on a cycle-path.

These principles are not used only in towns. They are also common in villages and in the countryside.

Minor streets in villages don't work as through roads. This makes it possible for quite young children to cycle to school and back unaccompanied.
Between towns in the Netherlands you can often find two roads next to each other. One for cars, the other for cyclists, agricultural vehicles and access to homes. Sometimes the route for drivers isn't visible from the route for cyclists.
Route signs in a village. Only one
direction offered by car, lots by bike
.
Even in the open countryside you can ride long distances by bike on "roads" and rarely see any cars at all. Such roads only make a through network by bicycle because they are joined by cycle-paths. For drivers, many roads in the countryside offer nothing more than long detours, dead-ends, and roads with rough surfaces which don't get cleared in the winter.

Unravelling, or separating, the routes taken by motorists and cyclists has many advantages, including a reduction of noise and exhaust fumes as well as the increase in safety which comes due to a reduction in the number of chances for conflict.

Cyclists achieve subjective safety when they do not have to mix with cars, not specifically because they are on a cycle-path. Roads which have (almost) no cars on them do not require a cycle-path to parallel that road. A remarkably large proportion of roads in the Netherlands are, for all practical purposes, free of cars. This is just one reason 29000 km of cycle-path does not represent a short-fall compared with 130000 km of road.

Those roads on which there is an appreciable volume of traffic can be relied upon always to have segregated cycle-paths alongside. By this manner, very nearly full segregation of modes is possible when cycle-paths have a total length which is "only" about a quarter of the total length of the roads.

While cyclists are segregated from traffic in every photo in this blog post, this is the only photo in which this was achieved by building a cycle-path. This is a through road for cars and is used by a higher number of motor vehicles, so it needs a cycle-path.
The title of this post is deliberately provocative. However, it's not inaccurate. This has been my experience: When cycling in the Netherlands, you are almost always segregated from traffic, whether by means of a cycle-path, or otherwise. I have ridden many tens of thousands of kilometres in the Netherlands but not yet found anywhere that felt so dangerous for cycling as did my daily commute in Cambridge. My total experience of "road rage" in this country remains just one minor incident in nearly five years.

This map, which accompanied the printed version of this article from the Fietsberaad about Enschede, shows how main routes for cycling have in large part been unravelled from main routes for motor vehicles in that city. In the article it is explained that the absolute maximum number of motor vehicles per day on these routes should 2500 - i.e. a number that you might find on a residential street. More than this and the route starts to feel unpleasant and threatening for cyclists.
This unravelling of the cycle network from the motor vehicle network is taking place all across the Netherlands. Where there are higher levels of motor vehicle usage, even within residential areas, the public shows a preference for separated cycle-paths.

Many cyclists who visit the Netherlands on holiday remain oblivious to concepts like this. It is common that people who visit on holiday report that they had few problems cycling in the Netherlands despite there being cycle-paths for only part of their journey. Often this is ascribed to better driver behaviour, perhaps through better training. However, people who make such statements have simply not noticed this "hidden" policy. Roads here are not the same as roads in other countries. Segregation of modes takes place even where there are no cycle-paths. Sustainable safety principles require that conflict is reduced and that is what results in the much better subjective safety when cycling.

Our unique experience of having lived, cycled and campaigned in both the UK and the Netherlands has led to the programme of our three day study tours in which we transfer as much as possible of this knowledge. The tours are hands-on. Or, rather, they really are tours. You use the facilities for yourself, accompanied so that we can explain about what you are experiencing. To find out more, please book a tour.

It's not a substitute for a tour, but to get a flavour of what this is like in practice, please watch the following video. It shows a complete, normal journey by bike in the Netherlands. In this case, nothing more than the route from a fairly close by shopping centre to our home:


This post originally referred to 29000 km of cycle-path in the Netherlands. However, this was an older figure. There are now reckoned to be about 35000 km of cycle-paths.

This blog post introduced the term "unravelling" into the English language as a translation of the Dutch term "ontvlecthten". There was no previous English translation of this term. Others have picked up my translation while an academic paper in 2013 used the term "unbundling" instead to represent the same concept. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Transformation of a city centre street

Drivers' access to these city centre
streets are controlled by a one-way
system. Bicycles are excepted.
There are many things about streets in the Netherlands which are misunderstood. For instance, many people write that Dutch cyclists "still share with drivers" on many streets. It's true in the literal sense, but streets here are not the same as streets in other countries such as the UK. This can be difficult to understand, as the difference is not so obvious as when there is a segregated cycle-path. However, even on streets like this, cyclists benefit from a form of segregation of modes without cycle-paths. It's not "sharing the road" as many people think of it because routes for drivers and cyclists have been unraveled from one another.

The direction of the one-way street
varies for drivers. Always a through
route by bicycle.
In this post I show a few streets in the centre of Assen and show how they work for cyclists and drivers such that despite their appearance, they are optimized for cyclists. After watching the video, read further to see a map showing the layout and  towards the bottom of the post for photos of what the same streets looked like in the 1960s when they were optimized for drivers.


Note that this video has many captions which explain what you are looking at. They are only visible on a computer and not on a mobile device.

This video shows the route for bikes directly through the city centre along Noordersingel, Nieuwe Huizen and the most Southern part of Groningerstraat. It's shown on this map in red:

Click for Google Maps. The video follows the red line from bottom to  top. Drivers are directed by the one way system along Javastraat, Jan Fabriciusstraat and Het Kanaal. This removes them from the route through the centre taken by cyclists.
These used to be the busiest streets in Assen for motor vehicles. However, they were redesigned, using a one-way system which prevents motor vehicles using it as a through route. Drivers now have to take the streets in yellow, which are optimized for driving and which have traffic lights on them.

The one-way system for drivers. Cyclists can use any of these streets in any direction.
Note how the The cycle route is more direct and doesn't have delays caused by traffic lights, but drivers can't use it because for them it is no longer a through route. By these means, the streets are calmed and cyclists are given priority in the central area. This has been so successful that very few moving cars are encountered by cyclists on these streets now - a huge contrast with the older situation. Note that in many places, this street is less than 12 m in width. That figure includes all available width including pavement (sidewalk), parking, cycle lane and road.

Read more about this street, watch a more up-to-date video.

Here are some photos of how it used to look:
In the video we ride from right to top/left from approximately 0:45 until 2:02. This photo shows how the same streets looked in the 1960s.
This is how the junction at 1:15 in the video looked in the 1960s. Note how pedestrians had to walk on narrow sidewalks behind barriers which prevented them from crossing the road wherever they wanted to and how there was "not enough space" for cycle-paths on these streets. This is similar to many current British road layouts.
This junction appears at 1:38 in the video. In 1965, this was the busiest junction in Assen and traffic lights were needed in this location. There is a blog post and video specifically about this junction.
There are shops on these streets which sell items such as washing machines and televisions. These are the types of goods which many people would rather transport by car than by bike. They can do so. You don't need any special permission to drive along here, these are still streets which are open to all users including drivers. However, the way in which they have been developed prevents their use for through traffic.

This is an example of segregation of modes without cycle-paths. It works. Even in the city centre. Due to their central location, and that they remain a through route for bikes even though not for cars, these streets are very popular with cyclists. A count here showed nearly 9000 cyclists per day using these streets: a very impressive figure in a small city of just 67000 people.

Nearly 9000 cyclists a day use this route now. They use the entire space. Encounters with moving motor vehicles are rare.
Streets which some commentators from outside the country think are "shared equally" with motorists are in my experience never anything of the sort. This is not a rare arrangement, but a very common one in streets like this - optimized for cycling, but allowing access to drivers. Where there is significant through traffic, cycle-paths are required to preserve an acceptable level of subjective safety. That includes just North of where the video in this post ends.
Access to this road by car is possible, but it's not a through route by car any more so people drive here only for access.
While cycling always benefits from segregation from motor vehicles, that does not mean that all cycling is on cycle-paths. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all streets. Sometimes segregation is achieved by moving cars elsewhere. It is very easy to get an incorrect impression and to miss things like this. Unfortunately, some people visit the Netherlands and go home again still with the wrong impression. This is why we offer study tours and encourage campaigners and planners to come on them. They are a means to explain how details like this work, and to show people actual working examples.

The photos come from the book "Assen Verandert" which we reviewed. There are a number of other posts about Groningerstraat, showing more about the road North from the end of the video in this post. You'll note that where the road is busier, there are cycle-paths because you can't achieve a high enough level of subjective safety for mass cycling on roads with a large number of motor vehicles.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

This is not a cycle path


This video has explanatory captions which are only visible on a computer and not on a mobile device

I cycled to Azor in Hoogeveen and back home this afternoon to get more front luggage racks for the shop. A 75 km round trip pulling a trailer, which makes for a decent mid-week workout.

I went after lunch and returned just after the schools had shut, so there were a lot of school children making their way home both in the same and the opposite direction to me. A few of them are in the video and photos below.

Most of the first half of the route between here and Hoogeveen is on roads, not cycle paths. However, these are not roads as you probably know them. Yes, in theory they are "shared" with cars, but in practice you only very rarely see a car using them. Some years ago, a parallel road with a higher speed limit was built to take the through traffic. The only cars which use the minor road are those which are accessing properties along it. Today I saw no cars using the minor road in either direction, but I did see a lot of cyclists. On the parallel road with the 80 km/h speed limit there were quite a few cars, but no cyclists. It is illegal to cycle on that road, but we lose nothing due to that.

The Netherlands has 35000 km of cycle path, vs about 130000 km of roads. However, this doesn't imply that when you cycle on the roads that you have to "share" with large numbers of cars. Rather, you are segregated by mode, even when on the roads. What I'm highlighting here is road, not cycle path, so is not part of the 35000 km cycle path total. There are a lot of roads like this in the Netherlands, both in rural and urban settings.

Sometimes it seems that cyclists from the UK in particular get particularly vexed over the issue of being "banned from roads". However, in this case it really makes no difference at all to cyclists. We get the better half of the deal, in fact, with a direct route which is only very rarely invaded by a motor vehicle. What cyclists need to fight for is better conditions for cycling, which result in more cycling. Spending time in defending a position of being allowed to use roads which the majority of the population find unpleasant may slow the decline of cycling, but it will never grow it. The best defence is a good offence. In the case of cycling, growth comes by fighting for cycling conditions with a level of subjective safety such that everyone will want to cycle, and direct routes which make cycling efficient. The Dutch have done this for a while now, with great success relative to other countries.

Most of the still photos which follow were taken heading South, so that's why the main road is on the left in some of these photos, while it's on the right in the video:

A lone cyclist on the service road, while the parallel road for cars has several cars. Note that the street light is on the quiet road.
Several more cyclists on the quiet road. The main road is now on the left of some housing, so it's temporarily out of sight.
An adult cyclist blithely passes by a sign saying that he's banned from using the main road. Somehow he seems not to be concerned about this. 

Another adult cyclist, passing another sign, who doesn't seem to mind one bit about being banned from the road on the left.
Two girls riding together with no concerns about motorists.
One of the points where the service road becomes a cycle path. This makes it discontinuous for drivers, and is another reason why the road we're using only has cars on it which are being driven to access properties along it.
Now on the cycle path. This boy doesn't seem to feel sufficiently threatened by the traffic that he thinks he needs to hold his handlebars properly.
An elderly couple out for an afternoon ride. They're heading towards a roundabout, which if you're on the cycle path you completely avoid.
I'm also quite glad I'm not on the road. It wouldn't improve my feeling of safety either. Subjective safety is the big question. If there's not enough of it, people don't cycle. It's not just "for beginners". Experienced cyclists also also benefit from conditions which make cycling more pleasant.
On the way home now. We're on the cycle path on this side of the trees, the cars are on the right. Here two bikes are being used by four teenagers. Coming in the opposite direction are another elderly couple out for a ride.
Two more girls heading home on the cycle path.
Back on the road, with more children heading home from school and using the full width. The cars are on the other road to the right of those trees.
Another group of children riding home together. They were more spread out before they saw me coming in the opposite direction and made room.
None of the photos or video show cars using the minor road. This isn't just due to me being selective - I saw no cars using that road today.

The route highlighted by this post is shown on the map below. If the only route here by bike was the main road then there is simply no way that there would be this level of cycling, especially by school children. Few parents would see that option as safe. That is why even "on the road" it is important to have segregation of modes.


A 17 km one way distance to school

Conditions like this are what makes the difference between 1% of journeys being by bike in the UK, USA, Australia etc. and 26% of journeys being by bike in the Netherlands. It's the reason why 16 million Dutch people make more cycle journeys between them than 300 million Americans, 65 million British and 20 million Australians all added together. It's also the reason why Dutch cyclists are the safest in the world.

Hoogeveen and back is quite a regular journey for me now, and I've videoed it twice before. Article originally referred to 29000 km of cycle-path. This was incorrect - the Netherlands now recognises 35000 km.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Cycling vs. driving


Note that the explanatory captions on this video are only visible on a computer and not on a mobile device. If you watch on a mobile device you will not understand the video. Since I made this video, the cycle-path along the canal has been completely resurfaced to a very high standard.

I made this video a few days ago, showing the first four km of my commute by bike next to the route which I'd have to take if I drove to work, or indeed if I insisted on cycling on the road which I'd use to drive.

The map shows the bike route in red and the car route in blue. The five sets of traffic lights which are on the car route are shown with a black background. The white background traffic light is on the bicycle route, but this defaults to green for bikes (all three of those include similar maps showing bike and car routes to different destinations). That single traffic light is the only which exists between my home and work 30 km away. However, if I was to drive then after coming off the motorway in Groningen there are several other sets of traffic lights waiting for me before I get to work.

Cycle routes are more direct than driving routes. That's the case whatever direction we set off in. This is about the best possible case for driving, but cyclists are still prioritized such that it's possible to come close (and perhaps "win" if parking at the far end is included).

I've featured several examples before of where cycle routes are more direct than driving routes. There are also many examples of where Dutch cyclists get to dodge traffic lights on this blog.

Unfortunately, the video is rather small inside the blog page. You may prefer to watch it directly on youtube.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Pedestrianization without adverse effects for cyclists


Explanatory captions on this video are visible only if you play the video on a computer and not on a mobile device.

It may seem surprising to some, but these photos and video show a pedestrianized area in the Netherlands. It's in the shopping and social centre of a brand-new housing development on the outskirts of Assen. Cyclists are allowed. The signs say so.

These are not old buildings in an old city centre. Everything you see here was built in 2009 and 2010. The official opening was in December of 2010. Shortly before, this was farm land.

It's a very child friendly place. Children can be seen in the video running amok in front of a delivery van, which has to move at a very slow speed as a result. They also ride on various small-scale human powered vehicles in the shopping streets. This suburb was designed to enable 2/3rds of primary school children to cycle to school.

Everyone knows that pedestrians come first here, and behaviour is according to this principle. But note that the design is according to this principle as well.

Cyclists are allowed to cycle all the way through the pedestrianized zone, and ample cycle parking is provided outside all the shops to encourage cyclists.

However, this is not a through route for cyclists. Cyclists whose destination is elsewhere, and who wish to get wherever they are going faster, will take other more convenient, faster routes rather than riding through here. This is important as it makes no sense at all to have a pedestrianized area which is also a major through route for cyclists.

What's more, it's actually unusual to see a van being driven in this location. A delivery only road built behind the shops serves for most deliveries.

You can see the main route from the centre of this city to the centre of this housing development in a previous blog post. Another post shows part of the route in the opposite direction.

You may be wondering what happens should you want to drive here ? Well, actually you can do that too. This whole place is in fact built on top of an underground car park. Residents living in apartments here not only have the legally required secure bicycle parking, but also have have allocated secure car parking under the development. Visitors to the shops can also drive.

Aerial photograph from 2007.
No permanent buildings yet in the
centre, but many facilities were
provided as temporary buildings.
Car parking here is free of charge. It often is so in the Netherlands, a country which is not "anti-car" as some cycling advocates imagine it must be. Should we ever want to buy a large item here which could not easily be transported by bike, there would be no problem with driving to these shops. However, we probably never will do this. Cycling is too convenient.

Free indoor car park. It never fills up.
The only driving route from our home to this place (in blue) has two sets of traffic lights on it and three roundabouts. It starts off by heading in the wrong direction, and the distance is significantly further than any of the many plausible routes by bike (some shown in red). Additionally, if we cycle then we can park our bikes directly outside the shops. A car would be buried somewhere underneath and involve a few minutes walk to the shops:

If it were not possible to park your bike immediately outside the shops, and if bikes had to be placed in the same underground car-park as cars, then this would make the car much more competitive in terms of time. Perhaps it could even be quicker than cycling if you were lucky at the traffic lights.

This is why in order for pedestrianization not to favour the car over the bike, it has to accommodate cyclists very well. That's exactly what we see here. The sign shows that it's a pedestrian area, but underneath it says "cycling allowed". A nice simple message, and an essential one. Take away easy access by cyclists and you actually create a car-oriented pedestrianized area which promotes driving over cycling. I've seen that before,  more than once.

Free indoor cycle-park at a school in
the complex. Overflowing.
This new centre provides not only a range of shops (supermarkets, baker, toy shop, stationery, flower shop, chemist, hair-dresser, opticians etc.), but also primary schools, adult education facilities, a sport hall, cafes and restaurants, a public library, a town hall, health and fitness centre, medical centre. It's a proper centre for the community. And of course all these things are convenient to cycle to.

As the whole area is not yet complete, this temporary cycle path (3.5 metres wide, smooth asphalt) provides access for people who live north of the centre:


Before any of the above was built
People lived in Kloosterveen for several years before the shopping centre shown above was built. During this time there were temporary facilities provided on the edge of the site now covered by the new central development:

Temporary car-parking by temporary supermarket, chemist, post office and snack bar
Temporary cycle-path leading directly to the cycle-parking in front of the temporary supermarket
By the provision of temporary shops, people were allowed to form the habit of shopping locally rather than arranging their lives around making longer journeys in order to go shopping.

If I show something old, someone always says "but you couldn't do if it were new". If on the other hand, I show something new like this, someone always says "but you couldn't do it if it were old". However, the city centre of Assen also provides an excellent example of somewhere which is both pedestrian and cycle friendly, and Assen is 750 years old. Where there is a will to do so, cyclists can be accommodated well anywhere. Policy in Assen prefers cycling, so we get cycling. If you do what works then mass cycling is possible anywhere.

I published this a bit earlier than originally planned after hearing about troubles with pedestrianization in Canada.

The centre which is the subject of this post has its own website.