Showing posts with label dodging traffic lights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dodging traffic lights. Show all posts

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Disappearing traffic lights. A second transport revolution in the Netherlands made mass cycling possible despite the rise in cars by removing motorized traffic from where cyclists and pedestrians needed to be


Assen's first traffic lights were at
this junction, once the most busy in
the city.
The first traffic lights in the world were installed in London in 1868. This gas operated signal exploded shortly after installation.

It wasn't until the 2nd decade of the 20th century that electric traffic lights were invented and after the first of those was installed on August 5th in Cleveland Ohio, they were swiftly adopted worldwide.

The Netherlands followed shortly afterwards, installing the first traffic light in 1928.

Traffic lights were invented for very a reason: The adoption of motor vehicles led to a growing number of deaths and injuries. Controlling motor traffic was essential to improve safety. There are far more cars now than there were a hundred years ago, so they are still needed - but only on streets used by motor vehicles.

Nowadays, the same junction looks
like this. It's still busy with bikes, not
so many cars. The result of deliberate
policy to improve city centres. Note
empty car parking bays. There aren't
many provided but they're rarely full
The first revolution
During the 20th century, not only were traffic lights installed in order to control the problems of motor vehicles, but other changes were made to streets in order to control pedestrians and cyclists.

The transformation of city streets to favour car drivers over cyclists and pedestrians happened across the world. The Netherlands was just like other countries in this regard. Traffic lights were required to avoid motor problems caused by motor vehicles, but those same motor vehicles were still seen as the solution rather than the problem.


Not so long ago, Dutch children were educated about traffic
by "Bruintje Beer in het Verkeer". This junction is just like
the one shown above. Chains stop pedestrians crossing
the road, formal crossings show places where this is allowed,
cyclists are not kept apart from motor vehicles, which appear
to be going rather quickly compared with everyone else.
The text specifically tells children not to cross diagonally,
It's now encouraged by the most modern Dutch traffic light
junction design which make diagonals safe & convenient
Into the 1960s, Dutch towns were actually removing cycle-paths built earlier in order to make more space for cars and in other places the building of cycle-paths was opposed on the grounds of causing delays. For example, in Heerlen, "The head of the traffic police division has declared that the city's traffic situation is leading increasingly to the use of traffic signals at intersections. Should bicycle paths appear at these intersections, this would require separate traffic signals, which would be too costly. Moreover, it would cause too great a delay for 'fast' traffic".

By the 1970s, the streets of Dutch cities had been redesigned with many features associated priotizing motor vehicles:
  1. Pedestrian barriers to prevent pedestrians from crossing the road where they want to.
  2. Pedestrian crossings to enforce crossing only at places situated for the maximum convenience of drivers
  3. Narrow pavements (sidewalks) to make more space available for wide lanes for motor vehicles.
  4. Asphalt road surfaces replaced the older tiles to enable higher speeds of driving with lower noise within the car.
  5. Traffic lights were required to control mass driving and make it safer, but they were mostly built without much thought to how they could be used to make convenient and safe journeys by foot or by bike,
Another view of how grim Assen had
become by the early 1970s. This street
is no longer open to cars at all. Watch
a video showing how it is now.
The second revolution
Starting in the 1970s, the Netherlands began to transform towns to reduce the problems caused by cars. This resulted in taking a step back from many of the "improvements" made in the mid 20th century, and  returning city centre streets to a similar condition to which they had in the early 20th century. Because cars are either completely banished or have been reduced to mere guests on streets which are dominated by cyclists and pedestrians, the problems that they create have been largely removed from most city centre streets.

Assen in the 1970s. Waiting for a
traffic light which no longer exists
The result of removing motor vehicles from these streets is that the traffic lights and other street features once required to control those vehicles are no longer required and that has made walking and cycling both pleasant and convenient.

Having got rid of the motorized through traffic, the traffic lights could go too. But it couldn't be done without first getting rid of those cars.

City centre streets can be made more civilized, quieter, less fume-filled and more pleasant spaces to be in if motor vehicle access is restricted. Such streets are referred to as Autoluwe or Nearly Car Free. This should not be confused with the far less successful "Shared Space" which seeks to keep motor vehicles in the same spaces.

Another junction in Assen in the 1970s vs. now. Apart from the traffic, note that the photo on the left features the same chains to prevent crossings and narrow pavement (sidewalk) as Bruintje Beer used to educate children about. There is far less traffic and far more space and freedom for pedestrians in the new situation as shown on the right. It's also a lot quieter and the air is cleaner than in the 1960s. Note that the old photo shows a petrol station in the city centre. They were removed from such locations decades ago and can now only be found around the edge of the city.
This is a very small junction
View Larger Map
The junction shown in the video and photos above, the site of the first traffic lights installed in Assen, is very small. With 1950s and 60s methodology (which took hold just as well here in the Netherlands as elsewhere), it made sense to dedicate a small junction like this, with streets barely more than 10 metres wide, to motor vehicles. This was the wrong solution for such a street. The "second revolution" took away that mistake and other places should not seek to replicate the mistake.

Nowadays, if you go looking in the Netherlands for traffic light solutions for streets of these small sizes, you're likely to be disappointed. This blog post shows you the current situation. i.e, it's no longer a traffic light junction. On a map which shows all of the traffic lights of Assen, this junction now shows up as a white space.

Not only in the city centre
With modern infrastructure, you do not usually have to stop for traffic lights with anything like the frequency in the Netherlands that you would do in other countries which still resemble the mid 20th century in this country. This is enormously beneficial for cyclists as you'll see from this video, showing a complete journey from a village outside Assen to the city centre.


At the end of the video there's another glimpse of how the city centre looked in the 1970s

Why stopping matters to cyclists
Stopping a motor vehicle and re-starting it consumes a great deal of energy. However, it's not especially wearing on the driver, who merely has to move their feet between the brake and accelerator pedals. Stopping is much more serious for a cyclist because the cyclist is not merely the "driver" of their vehicle but also the engine. Stopping not only costs a cyclist time but also energy. It greatly reduces average speeds to have to stop, making all journeys take longer and thereby also making an acceptable journey time cover a much smaller area.

For a cyclist, each stop can easily be the equivalent of riding several hundred extra metres. Cycling becomes a far more attractive mode of transport, even over longer distances, once it is made into a much quicker and more convenient mode of transport. This is why Dutch people not only cycle more of their short journeys than people of other nations, but also cover far more of their middle distance and longer journeys by bike than do people of other nations.

When I visited London in November, I expressed my annoyance not only with the danger of cycling in that city but also that cycling is dreadfully slow on the streets of a city which is still designed very much around the motor vehicle (the video that I shot in London shows many of the problems with that city, others are discussed in blog posts). London is by no means unique. Many other cities also combine dreadful cycling provision with time-consuming stop-start journeys. In such an environment we can never expect to see cycling grow beyond a 5% modal share. Even convincing people to make a low proportion of their journeys by bike will be difficult so long as cycling remains both dangerous and inconvenient.

Not only is cycling infrastructure required to removes cyclists from the danger of 'sharing' streets with motor vehicles, but it is also necessary to unravel routes sufficiently that cyclists can reach their destinations without having to continuously stop and restart. Stop-start cycling is also an artifact of motor dominance because it comes from streets being designed around motor vehicles. The solution is not to put cyclists onto back-roads which don't go to their destinations, but to give them direct routes which do take them to their destinations.

Every country followed the first revolution, however most haven't yet begun to catch up with the second revolution which started 40 years ago.

What can we learn?
Study Tours can be organised for groups on
almost any date. The next open tour is in April.
Read more about what we cover.
It is possible to make city centres more attractive for cycling and walking by making these modes more pleasant and more convenient. Removing traffic lights achieves these aims if the traffic is also removed. To see this in real life, book a place on a study tour.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Default to Green: cyclists have priority while drivers wait for the lights to change



Assen has 28 traffic light junctions. Three of them are set up in such a way that they default to green for cyclists. i.e. their usual situation is showing a green light for cyclists and they will only switch to red for cyclists and green for motor vehicles a sensor leading to the junction is triggered by the motor vehicle.

Red shows cycle-paths, blue shows the direction from which cars are leaving the motorway at this junction. X and Y are two junctions which default to green. The video was made at position X.
The area covered by this map is only about 500 m wide. Cycling infrastructure has to be built at a very high density in order that it is useful. At the western end, the cycle-paths link with little used service roads. To the east they are unbroken to the centre of the city.
The junction featured in this blog post is one of two very close together on a secondary cycle route in an industrial area in the west of Assen which give priority to bikes.

The roads in this area all have 50 km/h (30 mph) speed limits and with this being an industrial area you might have expected that most cyclists would be adults. However, even in this location, cyclists are provided with separate infrastructure from the road and are prioritized on those cycle-paths. There are good reasons why. Cycling has to be efficient and subjectively safe in order to be an attractive means of transport. Cycling also needs to be a "go anywhere" mode of transport to make it a default method of getting about rather than a "some journeys" mode of transport. If the cycle-path network did not reach into the industrial area, this would be a "no go" area for many people and what's more, if there were many places like this then cycling would no longer be a mode which could be relied upon to take you to any destination in comfort. As a result, fewer journeys would be made by bike.

If you want a high modal share for cycling then you need good infrastructure everywhere. When there is a tight grid of high quality cycle provision over the entire country it becomes possible for the whole population to cycle to any destination. Distances become less of a barrier if the experience is pleasant and that is why the Dutch do not only make shorter journeys by bike but are also more willing long distance cyclists than the people of any other nation. This wouldn't be true if the infrastructure didn't make it attractive.

On the way to junction X on the map above I first had to ride past junction Y. This young girl was riding alone in the industrial area next to a motorway junction. It's not a route used by many school children because it's not really a direct route for them between school and home. Perhaps she was riding to her parents' workplace or to a dentist further along here? However, the point is that whatever her destination, it's safe for her to get there by bike. It is an error to only try to provide good cycle facilities in town centres, for short journeys or only close to schools and housing. Unless cycling is made to be safe and convenient everywhere, it will never become a mode of transport used by everyone to make a large proportion of their journeys. For a high cycling modal share, a grid of high quality provision needs to go everywhere.
Why so few bikes in this video ?
This video has been six years in the making. That may sound ridiculous, and of course I'm not claiming that I've spent six years sitting there with a camera. However, this junction is particularly difficult to demonstrate because it reacts to both cyclists and drivers and normally there are either too many people using the junction for it to be demonstrated or it's the middle of the night and you can't see anything.

Have Dutch cycling infrastructure explained to
you as you use it. Book a study tour.
This was the first time that I've found myself in this location with my camera and with little enough motor and cycling traffic that the timing of the traffic lights could be recorded. At more popular times you simply can't see so clearly what these traffic lights are doing. This is the reason why we show you a different default to green traffic light on our study tours.

Traffic lights which work like this are almost exactly the reverse of many pedestrian and cycle crossings. e.g. "Toucan" crossings in the UK. As it happens, we have three of those in Assen as well, and they have also been made efficient for cycling.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Consistent, Convenient, High Quality Cycle-Paths Encourage Cycling


To achieve a high degree of subjective safety and through this convince the whole population to cycle, cyclists need to be kept away from motor vehicles. A comprehensive network of cycle-paths, as seen here in Assen, is a particularly good way to do this.

The first underpass runs top right to left
on this image, completely avoiding this
Roundabout on the ring road - previously
shown when I wrote about all
roundabouts in Assen)
In the video we cross the ring-road around Assen (there are many other crossings including here, here and here), go throught a residential area and leave the city by crossing the path of a motorway until we reach the edge of the first village (which featured in an earlier blog post). The cycle-path is continuous. In fact, this is only a very small part of it, and it's continuous for a long distance both before and after that shown.

This infrastructure is not named a "superhighway". In fact, it's not named in any special way at all as no-one thought it significant enough to put their name to it. It's "just" a standard Dutch cycle-path, one of many which make up the comprehensive grid which criss-cross the city and make mass cycling possible for everyone.

 It is normal to cycle to school even at a
temperature of -8 C with snow on
the ground
.
En-route, you'll see many children on bikes. Also we pass a school entrance. You can't see the extent of the parking at this school from this video. Click on the link on the right to see more.

Speed limits on the roads nearby vary. At first we parallel a 50 km/h road. The ring-road which we cross has a speed limit of 70 km/h. All roads in the residential area have a speed limit of 30 km/h, and even though traffic is light because there are no through roads in this area there is still a cycle-path which provides continuity and directness for cyclists. The motorway has a speed limit of 120 km/h and then we ride parallel with a main road in the country which has a 60 km/h speed limit before the speed limit reduces to 30 km/h in the village. There is a separate cycle-path through the village too.

The route in the video is from A to B taking the blue line which is direct and provides consistent high quality inside and outside the city. Cars must take the red route, 3.5 km long and including a crossing which prioritizes cyclists.

Read more blog posts about how cyclists in the Netherlands make more direct journeys than drivers by avoiding traffic lights, or more about cycle-paths, or about how segregation is possible without cycle-paths, about school travel or many other things (see links to articles on particular themes on the right of every page, tags for posts at the bottom of every page).

This video resulted from running a camera as I rode around the route of the last study tour a few days before it started. However, I thought it showed enough interesting stuff to be worth showing here.

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.

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.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A "superhighway" out of Assen


When a new suburb was built on the edge of Assen, the new residents would be living 3.5 to 4.5 km from the centre of the city. Many may have been put off cycling into the city if the route was not of adequate quality, offering enough safety and directness.

There are many examples of where Dutch cyclists get to dodge traffic lights.

The planners came up with a great solution. The most direct route from the city centre to the new development was to be by bike. That's the red line on the map. The driving route is in blue. The red line takes in no traffic lights, and is as cycled in the video above. The blue line has three sets of traffic lights on the route as well as a couple of roundabouts. It's also a bit longer.

Much of the distance covered in the video, and shown on the map, is on road. However, these are "bicycle roads" on which driving is made awkward due to restrictions. Residents can use the road for access to their homes, but it's of no use for a through journey as there are no "destinations" on the road. Motorists are expected to give way to cyclists. They are not supposed to park on the road (residents parking is provided alongside). For cyclists, though, it's wonderful. Direct. Pleasant. Car free (well, very nearly).
When the work was being planned a couple of years ago, the local government made some very amusing cartoon versions of what it would eventually look like, including details of the four new (and one reconditioned - subject of a future post) bridges that would have to be built along here to help cyclists or to relieve motor traffic from this route.

I showed another part of the route in a video a few days ago. That video was shot from the hill which is where the yellow dot is on the map above. Also, there's a view of the last part of the road heading into the city centre, and a view of the rush hour at one point on the road. All three of those videos show a lot more cyclists than the one here, shot on a quiet Sunday morning to show you the infrastructure - which is really the star of the video. Also, the blue bridge featured in a piece about how cycling should not be an extreme sport.

Since the building of the new development, the cycling rate in Assen has risen, not fallen. 41% of all journeys in the city are now by bike.

I had to edit the Google Maps image to get the red line on. Here's a link to it without. The bike I'm riding is the marvellous Sinner Mango velomobile.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Commuting speeds

Show route on Google Maps
Back in 1995, when I was 29, I lived in the village of Melbourn in Cambridgeshire and worked for a computer company on the Cambridge Science Park.

The route was 13 miles ( 21 km ) long and typically it would take 50 - 55 minutes for me to cycle to work. The route was mainly along the busy and unpleasant A10. There was a shared use path alongside, but as is normal in the UK this was a bad joke, it had never been more than 60 cm or so wide, was overgrown with, and grown through by, weeds, often blocked, and it gave way to every possible side road. As is normal in the UK, I generally stuck to the road despite the 60 mph / 100 km/h speed limit. I also had to stop for a lot of traffic lights and negotiate some large roundabouts in order to get to work, so my average speed of 14 - 15 mph ( 22 km/h ) was actually not that bad under the circumstances.

Show on Google Maps
My current commute is from Assen to Groningen. It's a distance of 30 km ( 18.6 miles ). 40% longer than the old commute.

The quality of the route here makes a huge difference. Roughly 28 km of my 30 kms are on cycle paths, and they're wonderful. The surface is (mostly) miraculously smooth, roads give way to the cycle path where they cross and I rarely have to stop. There is only one set of traffic lights on my entire route, and it defaults to green for bikes. On average I stop about once per commute. Often I don't stop at all for the whole distance.

My commute time is if anything slightly less now than it was back in 1995. It took under 50 minutes both ways on Thursday and Friday, an average of 36 km/h or 22 mph. Today I worked an extra day for the test ride day, and took it easy coming home. This resulted in a 55 minute ride home.

Part of my route as it passes through
a village. This cycle-path is 2.5 m
wide and unidirectional. This photo
shows a study tour group. It's one of
the locations that we visit.
Being 43 years old instead of 29 surely ought to count against me, but there's no doubt that I'm commuting somewhat faster now than I used to. Of course, it does help to have a somewhat quicker bike, but it would be a fair bit faster here on any bike. A lot of the difference is due to being able to get up to speed and keep it. Cyclists benefit enormously from cycle routes being unravelled from driving routes so that hold-ups caused by motor vehicles don't affect bikes.

Longer distance cycle commuting is so much more practical here than in the UK, so it's hardly surprising that long distance commuting by bike is also so much more popular here than in the UK. While in Britain less than 1% of all journeys of any length are by bicycle and most of those cycle journeys are very short, the Dutch cycle 15% of their journeys between 7.5 km and 15 km and 3% of their journeys over 15 km. 3% may not sound like much, but this is a measure of long journeys only, excluding the more popular short journeys.


Update 2014: This video shows the first 10 km of my old commuting route, a Fietsroute+ which goes between Assen and Groningen. It's already excellent, but in our recent local elections there were calls for this to be upgraded to make journeys by bike even more convenient.

A network of long distance, direct and convenient cycle-paths designed to enable long distance cycle commuting are currently being constructed (called "fietsrouteplus" and "fietsnelwegen").

Read other posts about cycling quickly in the Netherlands.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Visiting the dentist

A few days back I had reason to visit the dentist. My dentist is very pleasant, but I can't say that visiting her is my favourite activity. I'm sure you have no desire to read about my teeth, but I thought the journey there and back might be of interest.

Most of it is on cycle paths like that shown in the first photo. The road next to the cycle path in this case is not a through road, but provides access only to the few houses along this stretch. the road ends at the point of the hill in the photo, just a few hundred metres from where I took the photo, but the bike path carries on.

The dental surgery is about 2.5 km by bike from my home. It would be slightly further by car, as I'd have to start off by heading in the wrong direction for a short distance.

My route by bike is mainly along the side of the canal and on very smooth and wide cycle paths. There are no big roads to cycle on at all

At this point the motorway junction is on the left, as is a major road. However, I ride on the access road here where there are no vehicles except those visiting businesses along here.

This is the only set of traffic lights which I come across by cycling to the dentist. A specific cycle traffic light which stops all the traffic on this multi lane road so that I can cross safely and peacefully.

On the other hand, If I had driven to the dentist I would have to pass through six major traffic light junctions like this one. This would make the journey take a lot longer than it does by cycling, and of course it would be somewhat less pleasant too.

As you see, there is a cycle path here too, so it's possible to cycle this way. However, you then have to go through all the same sets of lights, so I would not normally go this way.

So, back to the bike route. The last two photos were taken on the ride back home.

It just so happened that I passed the head and deputy head teachers from the primary school that my youngest daughter attended last year. They're on their way home, riding together along the bike path by the canal. Quite a common site. It's not only children who cycle to school. Driving to work would be rather inconvenient for these teachers as there is no-where for them to park a car.

And now we're very close to home, just the last little stretch along the canal and then I have two hundred metres of residential road to ride along.

Happily, my dentist didn't hurt me at all, and given such a lovely route it was quite a pleasant outing overall.

And why show this ? Well, it's just a typical journey. We didn't buy our home for its convenience for the dentist. Choosing a dentist came later. However, set off on any journey for any reason and it's probably going to be rather like this.

This map shows the route by bike in red and by car in blue. Only the traffic light on the far left has any relevance when you cycle. That's the one shown in the photo above. The two others on the direct route back into the city centre before the major junction default to green for bikes.

I also posted about a shopping expedition a few months back. Making mundane journeys like this attractive by bike goes a long way to attracting people to cycle for a large percentage of journeys.

Monday, 13 April 2009

A tale of three traffic lights

Heading back into Assen yesterday from the North I realised I'd not yet mentioned the efficiency of cycling in this location. There are three sets of traffic lights here within a few hundred metres, but they're (mostly) not for cyclists...

We're riding on a cycle path which is four metres ( 13 feet ) wide and separated from the road by a 3 m ( 10 feet ) green area. This set of traffic lights is for drivers who wish to use the motorway, which goes over the cycle path on a bridge just behind the camera. No need for cyclists to stop here.

This second set does have a light for cyclists, but it defaults to green for bikes. Drivers who wait in the right turn lane here or who are leaving the industrial estate on the right can trigger a green light for themselves and for the cycle light to turn red. Otherwise it will be green for bikes. I featured this before, with a video. Cyclists can also make a left turn here.

Now the third set. This again doesn't interfere with cyclists at all. No need to slow down or stop here on a bike. Neither cyclists nor drivers can make a left turn here, but drivers may have to stop to let other motor vehicles coming from the left merge. The scooter like vehicle on the cycle path is a three wheeled electric buggy which transports the rider in her wheelchair. People with all sorts of disabilities make much use of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. Next to that person on the right of the cycle path is a cycle only access to the industrial estate.

A video showing the three sets of traffic lights from the point of view of a cyclist:

The speed limit on this busy road is 50 km/h (30 mph).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Extreme sport ? Why there is no point in saying that cycling is safe without it being subjectively safe

This bridge provides an essential link for bicycles by
keeping cars out of the way. Read more.
Skydiving is a very safe sport. In the USA in 2007 there were 2.2 million jumps and only 18 deaths of sky-divers. That's an average of a death every 122000 jumps. If you were to jump once every day you could expect to live to 334 years of age before a skydiving accident killed you. (source: USPA website)

What does this have to do with cycling ? Well, these are precisely the sorts of statistics that many cyclists like to quote to non-cyclists to try to encourage them to cycle in countries where there is little cycling.

Does this work ? Generally not. Cycling remains at around 1% of journeys made by bike in the English speaking countries. People who are enthusiastic cyclists cycle. Those who are not enthusiasts don't. In that way it's very much like skydiving. People use both activities to raise money for charity.

I share with a lot of my readers that I wouldn't willingly jump out of an aeroplane with a parachute no matter how safe I was told it was. I can see that it's thrilling, and I'm sure it is fabulous fun. However, jumping from an aeroplane offers no utility to me, and it is way past my threshold for subjective safety. Many people feel the same way about cycling.

So what is the difference between the Netherlands, where everyone cycles, and the countries where few people cycle ?

It's quite simple. There are two main points. First the high level of subjective safety achieves this:
  1. A cycle ride here is always a pleasure.
  2. Motor vehicles are generally somewhere else.
  3. Street design is such that conflict between motorists and cyclists is rare
What's more, there is the great efficiency of cycling in the Netherlands:
  1. Cycle routes are often shorter than driving routes
  2. You can skip past traffic lights
  3. You can park closer to your destination
What's more, everyone does it. From children, through families together on to older people.

It's a logical impossibility to expect 40% of journeys by bike if cycling only appeals to 5% of the population. That is why cycling here has to be for everyone and why a high degree of subjective safety is vital. A high cycling rate and high subjective safety cannot be separated. This is why I've highlighted subjective safety in a number of posts.

If you live in a country where there is a low level of cycling, you live in one where the subjective safety for cyclists is too low for most people to consider cycling. Without improving conditions cycling will continue to look like an extreme sport to many people and you will have as much success in increasing the rate of cycling as in convincing the general public to skydive.

While cycling in busy traffic might sometimes seem like an extreme sport in some countries, it doesn't here. The woman in the photo is definitely not engaging in an extreme sport. There is no "traffic jamming" here in Assen. The nearest any car travelling at speed will get to her today is if one crosses over the bridge she's just passed under. What's more, she is on the most direct route to the centre of the city. This high quality cycle route is closer to a straight line than any route by car, and has no traffic lights on it, vs. a minimum of three sets by car. Wonderful conditions for cycling like this attract people to cycling.

To see conditions for cycling which are so irresistable that they attract everyone, come on a Study Tour. If you simply want to relax in conditions away from the stress of cycling elsewhere, consider one of our holidays.

I should perhaps point out that I have no argument with skydivers. If you want to throw yourself out of a working aeroplane, that's fine by me. However, if you don't mind, I'll just watch.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Right turn on red

The blue sign says "rechtsaf voor fietsers vrij" or "free right turn for cyclists."

This indicates that it is legal to make a right turn at this junction when the traffic light is red. This is a privilege that is only extended to cyclists. Drivers must always wait for a green light.

You can do this at many junctions where there is a fully segregated cycle path, and there is usually no sign then. However, at junctions like this where all the traffic comes together some indication is needed to show whether a right turn is safe at this location.

The video shows the way this works. You go from one cycle path around the corner onto another without stopping, and without having to worry about motorised traffic as none of it is in your lane.


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

The keen eyed will have noticed that there is also a white and green sign underneath the traffic light. As well as allowing right turn on red, this is also a simultaneous green junction, go to that link for more information.

From the CROW Design
Manual for bicycle traffic
April 2006 / June 2007
Thousands of traffic light junctions across the Netherlands allow cyclists to make right turns on a red light, and this contributes to making cycle journeys faster than equivalent journeys by car.

There are several other blog posts illustrating the details of what makes Groningerstraat in Assen a good place for cycling.

Update 2015: Right on red is not new
Paris has achieved much press over the last few months for its implementation of right on red (and straight through on red) for cyclists. None of this is new. It's been normal across the Netherlands for over a decade now.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Not stopping at red traffic lights

Here's a great example of where Dutch cyclists don't have to stop at red traffic lights.

The first photo shows a road junction between our home and the city centre from as close as I usually get to it.

Instead of stopping at these red traffic lights, cyclists have a cycle path which goes through an underpass, making cycle journeys quicker as well as more pleasant than they would be by stopping at the lights.

The cycle path is four metres wide and there is a separate pavement for pedestrians just over 2 metres wide.

The second photo shows what the road looks like. There are five lanes in one direction and two in the other at this junction. Not really a very pleasant place to cycle... but you never have to cycle here so it doesn't matter. Also note the noise barriers which, combined with the 70 km/h speed limit and quiet road surface, keep noise levels to a whisper for those who live near the road. This is also a bus-stop. The bus stop is built into the noise barrier and provides somewhere dry to wait for a bus.

Here's a video showing riding through the tunnel, how you get from the bus stop in the second photo to the cycle parking for the bus stop on the other side, and the cycle path which parallels the main road:

Explanatory captions on this video are visible only if you view it on a computer and not on a mobile device

This is the road which we avoided having to cross by using the tunnel:

Grotere kaart weergeven

There are many examples of where Dutch cyclists get to dodge traffic lights.

My bike is the one in the cycle parking which has lots of plastic bottles in the rear basket, left over from the kid's halloween party. They're there because there is a deposit on them and I'm on the way to the supermarket to return them for the deposit.