Monthly Archives: June 2017

Crap Groningen Cycling Infrastructure #2 – Noorderhaven

Here’s another piece of recently installed crap. It’s the north side of Noorderhaven, which forms part of Groningen’s bizarre inner ring road.

As you can see, there’s plenty of space here – two rows of parked cars! – but no safe space for cycling.

Instead, people cycling are expected to ride between parked and moving motor vehicles, in an advisory painted cycle lane which offers no protection whatsoever.

In a city which claims a 60% modal share for cycling, doesn’t it seem strange that the transport department prioritises the storage of static metal boxes over the safety and convenience of the people using the city’s most popular transport mode?

Noorderhaven Groningen, two lanes of car parking, no protected space for cycling

So there’s space for two lanes of parked cars, but only a narrow painted advisory strip for cycling? This is UK-quality infrastructure in what claims to be one of the world’s top cycling cities. Also, the usable width of the footway is very narrow due to the cars parked on it.

Noorderhaven Groningen, car zooms in cycle lane

Would you feel happy for your children or your grandparents to cycle here, between the parked cars and the moving traffic?

Noorderhaven Groningen, elderly man cycles in painted lane

Nobody should have to cycle this close to large vans, protected only by a white line – especially where there is ample space for a cycleway.

Could there be a good reason for such poor and dangerous infrastructure where there is clearly space for much better?

I just don’t understand why Groningen seems to be building for the 1970s rather than building for the future – or even for the present day.

 


For those of you interested in such things, this road was reconfigured in August 2015. Previously there were two lanes for motor traffic and nothing at all for cycling. The footways have been widened, but they’re full of parked cars, so there isn’t actually any more space to walk in. The council has essentially created an extra row of parking spaces – strange decision for a “fietsstad”, no?

 

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Groningen does not have a 60% modal share for cycling

I’m not sure why, but it annoys me that a 60%+ modal share for Groningen keeps being quoted. Perhaps it’s because I prefer facts to hype?

This figure seems to have been arrived at by conveniently removing walking from the statistics, which means that every other mode’s number can be increased by about 30%.

If you read that whole Twitter thread, you’ll note that the local government mouthpiece (whose mission is to praise everything that the council does around cycling, whether it be good, bad, irrelevant or an insult to our intelligence) doesn’t even know the modal share for walking – although they’re happy to make a guess at “1 or 2 percent”, which is laughably low for a city like Groningen, which has a city centre filled with residences, and lots of local shopping areas in the suburbs.

I couldn’t find any modal share stats for walking in Groningen, but a recent Dutch government report gives a 25% utility (i.e. not recreation) walking share for Utrecht, and a 30% share for Rotterdam, Den Haag and Amsterdam (PDF here, see page 20). Why would Groningen’s walking share (and it’s a very walkable city) be so much lower than other Dutch cities? At “1 or 2 percent” the walking share in Groningen would be lower than Detroit.

This trick of erasing walking is the same one that the Fietsersbond used a few years ago to inflate the cycling figures for Amsterdam.

The other, more common sleight of hand which city cheerleaders use in order to quote an impressive-sounding number is to present the commuting share as the overall share. (The modal share for cycling at rush hour is usually much higher – more on this here and here.) Interestingly enough, the same Dutch government report that I linked to above gives Groningen a 60% commuting share for cycling – which is believable, and possibly also a source of misinterpreted figures, but is not the same thing as the overall share.

Anyway, most statistics I’ve seen which do include walking as part of the transport mix put cycling in Groningen at nearer 40% (see the spreadsheet linked from here and this PDF, for example). This is still a hefty mode share, and a number which most cities around the world can currently only dream of achieving.

Measuring transport is very complicated, of course – do we measure by distance, or by time, or by trips? What if a journey involves multiple modes? How do we collect and measure this data? As you can imagine, it’s pretty involved, and it can be tricky to compare stats between cities which may be using different methods. But choosing to leave out walking – or to only give the commuting figures – doesn’t give an honest representation of the truth, and only makes the figures harder to compare between cities.

I’m not trying to do Groningen down here (I moved here, after all!) and it does indeed have a large amount of cycling. But the local authorities seem to have been resting on their laurels for many years now, with cycling numbers clearly boosted by the huge student population, and it feels like PR has been chosen over investment in infrastructure. While there is some good new infra, there are some downright dangerous designs too, and it seems strange that even a city which claims such an amazingly high cycling share often finds it difficult to prioritise this key transport mode, or even to maintain its existing infrastructure.


That last link, by the way, points to Mark Wagenbuur’s 2016 post about Groningen, which I’ve just re-read, and have realised that it’s basically a perfect summary of everything I wanted to write about Groningen (although I’m rather fond of the simultaneous green, but I agree with Mark that the signal phasing isn’t always done well here).

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