Tag Archives: Netherlands

German cycleways and the right to the road

This article was originally published on my German blog, but it may well be of interest to my English readers, so here it is.

It concerns the obsession that many German cycle campaigners have with the law which makes many cycleways mandatory to use. It’s known in German as ‘Benutzungspflicht’ – don’t try to pronounce it – but I’ll refer to it as the ‘Pflicht’ in this English version, because “usage obligation” sounds rather cumbersome.

There’s a lot of noise made about the Pflicht here, a bit like how liability legislation or the effectiveness of vehicular cycling is hyped up out of all proportion in the UK. Campaigners would achieve far better results if they focussed instead on what actually works.

Unfortunately the comments on the German post are largely divided into people who believe the Pflicht is a terrible thing for cycling which must be removed immediately, and people who believe the Pflicht is the only thing which is keeping the German cycleways from being ripped out altogether. Few seem to agree with my suggestion that it’s largely irrelevant and that we should concentrate on demanding great cycling infrastructure.

By the way, I’ve got permission to translate lots of great English-language blog posts, so if you know German (no need to be perfect, we can clean it up before publishing) and have the time and inclination to do some translating, then please do get in touch.

 

The Pflicht (German law making most cycleways mandatory to use) is not what holds back cycling in Germany. Bad cycling infrastructure is the cause of Germany’s lacklustre cycling rate.

Firstly, let me say that I understand why so many hate the Pflicht, and why many also oppose the concept of cycleways. Most cycleways in my city of Berlin are awful, truly dire – narrow, bumpy strips squeezed onto the edge of the footway. That’s not a cycleway, it’s an insult, and it’s unreasonable to compel people to use such rubbish.

But the oft-suggested solution to this problem – to demand an end to cycleways and to gain the right to ride on the carriageway – isn’t really a solution at all. It merely swaps one set of problems for another.

Even for fast, confident cyclists, removing the Pflicht will not suddenly make drivers behave nicely, just as plenty of other rules are ignored by people using any mode of transport. Taking down that round blue sign won’t change attitudes towards cyclists on the road, and it’s not a step towards safer cycling for all.

It’s also very exclusionary: there are huge numbers of people for whom cycling amongst motor vehicles simply can’t work. Children, seniors, people with disabilities – they all have the right to fast, efficient transport too. On-road cycling is clearly not a mass transport solution.

A wide, busy road in Berlin with fast-moving motor vehicles and no cycling infrastructure. A lone person riding a bike is on the wide footway.

Lifting the compulsory use regulation will not change this busy road into a comfortable or safe cycling environment.

Could the Pflicht even be a good thing?

The two most successful cycling countries on the planet have a Pflicht. That’s right: our neighbours the Netherlands and Denmark both have compulsory-use cycleways.

And nobody in those countries questions it. Why would you want to cycle on the road amongst dangerous, pollution-spewing cars and vans, when you can use smooth, wide cycleways instead? (The key point here being that they’re good quality.)

Conversely, my home country of Great Britain has no Pflicht at all. It never has done.

That’s right, it’s a dream come true for German cycling activists – British cyclists have the legal right to use the road, just as the driver of a car does. Surely Britain must be a cycling paradise! Surely cars are outnumbered by bikes even more than in Dutch towns!

Well the answer is no, not even close.

Cycling in the UK is almost without exception awful. It’s considered to be stressful and dangerous, something that only a fit, healthy and slightly eccentric few actually bother doing. The very concept of cycling has been reduced to an extreme sport that only enthusiasts bother with, and it’s generally spoken of in derisive terms. It’s hard to express how low the status of cycling is in the UK. Cycling for practical reasons almost doesn’t exist in most of the country.

The diagram shows that the Netherlands has very high levels of safety and very good infrastructure, while the UK is the exact opposte. Denmark and Germany are in the middle.

The Netherlands is clearly the success story, and the UK isn’t. So why would we want to copy what the UK has done?

The graph above is based on this graph which showed more countries, but I’ve simplified it to show only the countries I’m familiar with.

The Pflicht clearly correlates with a higher cycling rate and lower death rate. Of course other factors also play a role, but it could be argued that the Pflicht actually increases the cycling rate, and makes cycling safer. That’s not my contention, however the Pflicht clearly doesn’t harm cycling rates.

What the graph definitely does show is that the Pflicht is, at worst, an irrelevance with regards to more and safer cycling. The two lead nations for cycling both have a Pflicht, but as they also have good cycling infrastructure, it’s not an issue. You’ll search long and hard to find many Dutch or Danish cycle campaigners demanding the right to cycle on the road. (They do campaign for improvements to cycleways, however.)

The UK, conversely, has no real cycling infrastructure to speak of, except for painted cycle lanes on the road, which are ubiquitous. The right to cycle on the road hasn’t aided cycling in the UK one bit. Quite the opposite, in fact: once cycling on the road is the design goal, traffic engineers can effectively ignore cycling altogether. It becomes obsolete, a historic footnote.

A busy junction in London. Lots of vans, taxis, buses and cars sweep around the corner.

Yes, everyone – children, the elderly, and everyone in between – has the right to cycle here. Funny, that so few people choose to exercise that right.

And that’s exactly what will happen here too, if Germany’s cycle campaigns get their wish and cycling on the carriageway becomes the norm. Most people who use a bike for transport simply don’t want to cycle amongst motor traffic (most Germans choose to use even very poor quality cycleways rather than ride amongst motor traffic).

Cycling is never made more pleasant, safer or more convenient by the addition of motor vehicles. If the only option is to mix with motor traffic, then people will vote with their feet and abandon cycling, as happened in Britain.

The oil and motor industries must be rubbing their hands with glee when they see how so many cycle campaigners are asking for the very thing that will kill cycling off.

Cycling is too good for the carriageway

Cycling is a great mode of transport, especially in cities. It’s clean and fast, it goes directly from starting point to destination, takes just seconds to set off and to park. It’s egalitarian, suitable for people of all types, ages and abilities. It presents very little danger to the user, and compared to motoring it presents very little danger to others.

Cycling is far too important a mode of transport to be mixed in with motoring. Motor vehicles are polluting and dangerous, their queues hold everyone up, and they take ages to manoeuvre and park. How does cycling benefit from being mixed up with all that? Cycling has inherently positive qualities, which are negated by both poor-quality cycleways and by on-road cycling.

A road in London, with parked cars on the left and a queue of traffic in the nearside lane. A bus is closest to the camera. There is no space for a person cycling to get through.

Cycling deserves much better than to be mixed up with motor traffic. The queues which are an inherent problem of motor vehicles do nothing to benefit cycling.

Cycling shouldn’t merely be provided for. It solves or alleviates so many problems in cities that it deserves to be prioritised and favoured, to play to its strengths, and to make it the most convenient and obvious choice for those journeys to which it is suited. It needs be treated as a distinct mode of transport, important enough for its own place in the street – not something to be squeezed on to the footway, nor thrown in amongst the motor vehicles.

More cycling benefits everyone (except the oil companies) so journeys by bike should be a top transport priority for the authorities responsible for transport. Even people not cycling benefit from increased cycling, as there’s fewer traffic jams, cleaner air, fewer fatal crashes and less crowding on public transport. Conversely, more driving harms everyone – more pollution, more queues, more crashes, injuries and deaths.

The only proven way to genuinely promote cycling is to campaign for real space for cycling. This means real cycleways – call them cycle-roads if you want – along main roads. Back streets should all be mode-filtered to prevent them being used as through-routes by motor vehicle (bollards and/or one-way restrictions achieve this). This needs network-level planning, not disjointed bits and pieces.

Lots of people on bikes, all in casual clothes and riding in both directions at a busy junction in the Netherlands.

Cycling must be treated as a real, important, and distinct mode of transport. It mustn’t be treated merely as fast walking or slow driving.

Cycling should be a key part of public transport policy. Merely asking for it to be treated like driving – awkwardly thrown into sharing space with cumbersome, dangerous machinery – will only lead to less cycling, as the UK has so clearly demonstrated.

We must follow the leader, look to the Netherlands for the best examples (and keep a critical eye on the poorer stuff). We should talk about cycling like the great mode of transport it really is, and demand that it be treated with the priority it deserves.

If cycling advocates won’t demand the best, who will?

A montage of six Dutch cycling scenes: two young ladies, an older man, a woman with a child in a box-bike and another child riding alongside, a group of teenagers, an older woman, and two young children.

When cycling is treated properly, then all sections of society have access to this fast, healthy and cheap form of transportation.

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Infrastructure vs Helmets

Dieser Artikel wurde auch auf Deutsch veröffentlicht, hier.

This article was originally published here on my new German-language blog. It was written in response to the German government’s hateful helmet promotion campaign, but still contains points relevant elsewhere.

The safest country in the world for cycling is the Netherlands. There you’ll also find the widest spectrum of people cycling: from young children (the average age at which children begin to cycle independently is about 8 years old) to elderly people (those over 65 cycle for over 25% of journeys).

So, the Netherlands is the safest country for cycling at any age, yet helmet use is only 0.5% – and it’s likely that the 1-in-200 helmet-wearing cyclists are riding for sport. Cycling safety is clearly something more than wearing a styrofoam hat – and yet the German government’s ministry for transport is gung-ho for helmets.

A montage of six Dutch cycling scenes: two young ladies, an older man, a woman with a child in a box-bike and another child riding alongside, a group of teenagers, an older woman, and two young children.

All ages and physical abilities, cycling without helmets – yet the safest in the world.

Helmets are no answer to dangers on the street. In the UK wearing a helmet when cycling is common, yet cycling there is six times more dangerous than in the Netherlands (and that figure ignores the fact that hardly any children or elderly people cycle in the UK).

If we genuinely want to make cycling safer, more helmets aren’t the solution. They are really a good indicator that the streets aren’t safe. When people don’t feel safe when cycling, they will wear a helmet – and hi-vis vest – with or without advertising.

Cyclists in London waiting at traffic lights, surrounded by cars. All of the cyclists are wearing helmets, most are wearing hi-vis even though it's bright daylight.

Cyclists in London, where helmets and hi-vis are the norm, not because of advertising but because people don’t feel that cycling is safe.

Higher helmet use shouldn’t be a goal, it should be seen as a failure of policy, an embarrassing statistic. An increase in helmets is a sign that the government has failed miserably in their duty to provide safe streets.

The real solution is better infrastructure. The government must invest in cycling infrastructure, so that everyone can feel safe and comfortable cycling at any time, without difficulty fear. Helmet promotion campaigns are a way for the government to avoid their responsibilities.

On main roads we need wide, smooth cycleways, with good visibility at junctions, optimised for safety (not the narrow, bumpy cycleways with dangerously-planned junctions which are usual in Germany).

A young woman rides on a wide red-asphalt cycleway in Utrecht. There is room for four people to cycle side-by-side.

Smooth, wide, clearly-defined: a Dutch cycleway. Well-proven safety.

In residential streets we need filtering, so that driving through those streets as a rat-run is impossible, but residents and visitors still have access.

Four bollards placed across Warren Street in London prevent motor vehicles from being driven through, but allows cycles.

Filtering turns a rat-run into a quiet street. (Photo: CEoGB)

Long-term planning goals should be to unravel routes (1, 2, 3), to separate cycles and motor vehicles as much as possible. Cycling infrastructure should be a high priority for transport planners and local councils. Because when the conditions are right, cycling will be the easiest and most obvious way for people to travel through the city.

Helmet promotion is just an easy way for the government to absolve themselves of any responsibility for safety, by pushing it onto the people themselves. They’re saying “if you get hurt, you’ve only yourself to blame” – rather than accepting responsibility for their poorly-designed roads.

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An open letter to Aaron Rosser and TfL

I wrote this a few days ago, but I thought it might become irrelevant after the big announcement on Thursday.

But I see now that this message is actually more relevant than it was before.

To Aaron Rosser, TfL Cycle Superhighways project manager, and all at TfL who are involved with designing facilities for cycling:

Hello Aaron (and others at TfL),

We don’t know each other, but in my life as a transport campaigner I meet many people with whom I discuss transport issues. (Some of them even know my secret identity as the writer of this blog!)

Not too long ago at a road safety event I met someone who told me they’d had a good conversation with you about the Cycle Superhighways project. Don’t worry, my source was quite complimentary about you!

I’m told that you were very happy to discuss any aspect of the new CS designs, and that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your work, which is great to hear. Of course, you have to work within restrictions beyond your control, from both inside TfL and out, which can limit your options. I was also told that you’re mildly embarrassed by the grandiose name for the project — it certainly gives you a lot to live up to!

Apparently, if you were given a blank cheque you’d go nuts with great cycling infrastructure all over London. I’m very pleased to hear this, if it’s true. You sound like a great person for the job.

But then one little morsel of information shocked and disappointed me: You haven’t been to study the infrastructure in the Netherlands?!

Please say it ain’t so! I really don’t see how anybody can be considered a suitable person to design cycling infrastructure if they haven’t studied the Netherlands, any more than someone could be considered an expert on Elvis Presley without ever having listened to his records.

Apparently, you’re planning a trip to Paris to see what’s going on there. This is good – Paris is a large city which has already begun responding to calls for better cycling infrastructure. But this, to stick with my Elvis analogy, is a bit like our supposed expert listening to the Pet Shop Boys’ version of You Were Always On My Mind without having heard Elvis’ recording.*

I’m sure TfL would like a trip to New York too – why not! As a London tax-payer, I endorse it. Please do visit New York, to see how they have transformed Times Square from a motorway into a pleasant space by removing motor traffic — then come home and do the same to Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. But visiting New York to study bike facilities is like listening to Gareth Gates’ version of Suspicious Minds instead of the definitive rendition.*

What I’m getting at is this: If you want the real deal, you’ve got to go to Graceland to see The King – by which I mean go to the Netherlands and see David Hembrow. I can’t recommend this guy highly enough. He’s had an enormous influence on the thinking of many UK cycle campaigners, many of them undergoing an epiphany which changed them from committed Vehicular Cyclists into dedicated Infrastructuralists (that is a word now!).

He’s had this effect in two ways. The first is his blog, A View From The Cycle Path, in which he calmly and clearly explains why Dutch infrastructure works so well. He deals with many of the myths and rumours about the Netherlands and shows why the country’s success can be replicated elsewhere. The blog has been hugely influential.

The cycling infrastructure movement in the UK would be nowhere near as strong as it is today — and I sincerely doubt that the Mayor would have been making any announcements about cycle paths — had it not been for David’s work.

Many dedicated people have been campaigning along these lines for years, some since the 1990s, but David’s blog showed thousands of us what good cycling infrastructure looks like, and how great it can be to live somewhere where cycling is a normal, every-day transport option for everyone.

The second way in which David has influenced many people is his Dutch cycling infrastructure study tours of Assen and Groningen, explaining how it all works and why it works — something which is difficult to fully understand unless you can see it in action, and see how everything joins up. Reading the blog is great, but the study tour gives you the real detail you’ll need if London’s investment in cycling infrastructure is to be spent wisely.

He is the right person to go to, because he was an active cycling campaigner in Cambridge for many years until he had his own ‘road to Damascus’ moment and emigrated to the Netherlands about five years ago. As a British cycling expert living in the world’s top cycling nation, he has a uniquely clear viewpoint which you are unlikely to find elsewhere. Like many cycle campaigners and urban planners, I have been on the tour and I can honestly say that it is time and money well-spent.**

I returned to London with a fresh set of eyes — I can see how the decades of poor design continue to harm the city, and how it could be massively improved. It would be a wise investment for TfL to send a team on a study tour with David.

Now, my source says that you’ve been provided with details of the study tour, but I’ve asked David and he says that nobody from TfL has been in touch. I have to ask: why? Is it too expensive for TfL to afford? Is the Netherlands not as glamorous as Paris?

You might think that a town such as Assen and a small city like Groningen have few lessons for London, but that would be a short-sighted view. Assen in the 1970s was just like many UK towns still are today, with streets full of parked and queued cars and “no space for cycling”, and yet it has been transformed into pleasant, safe, liveable place. With the London plans including the excellent concept of specific areas designed as “mini-Hollands” the lessons of Assen and Groningen are very relevant to London.

If you do want a big city experience with a wide river and skyscrapers, spend a day or two in Rotterdam. The conurbation stretches the equivalent of Ealing to Greenwich, and Holloway to Tooting. But this is merely a suggestion for further research, it is not a substitute for David’s thorough and information-packed three day tour.

If you’re going to do your best work then you really need to arrange a study tour with David. It’s a scandal that you hold this position and yet have never studied Dutch cycling infrastructure. That your bosses gave you the job with such a gaping hole in your CV, and haven’t even sent you to see the Netherlands, shows their lack of knowledge of what’s required in London over the next few years.

I’m not trying to be horrible to you here, I’m really not. I’m just trying to underline how much you’re missing out on. I think your own personal career, and London’s future, can benefit greatly from a few days with David in Assen and Groningen – so do it for yourself, but most of all, do it for Britain!

You can get from London to Rotterdam in under 4 hours with Eurostar via Brussels, or it’s a relaxed 9 hours or so by train then ferry, through the day or overnight, and there are flights too, of course. The Netherlands, which is #1 for cycling however you measure it, is right next door! There’s no excuse for not going to see it.

And if TfL’s really that skint, we’ll have a whip-round.

All the best,

S.C.

 


*Okay, so Elvis wasn’t the first to sing these songs, but you know what I mean. One thing I’ve learned while writing this article is how many of Elvis’ songs were cover versions!

**I hope David Hembrow isn’t embarrassed by the flattery here, but I’m telling it like I see it. I have no financial interest in selling study tours! My only goal is to improve Britain’s streets and roads.

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #5: Older people

People who ride bikes in the UK are mostly fit, confident young and middle-aged men. Sure there are outliers of course (such as retired tricyclist blogger Zandranna) but these are exceptions to the rule and do not make up numbers of significance. Cycling in the UK does not offer equal opportunities for all.

These picture posts aim to show how good quality infrastructure means that people of all ages and abilities choose to use a bike for transport and leisure, unlike the UK style of riding on the road with cars and vans, which will mainly appeal to those fit, confident men aged 20-50.

So here I present photos of older people riding bikes. These are scenes which are rare in the UK but are commonplace and unexceptional in the Netherlands. As with my previous picture post, my brief trips to the Netherlands yielded so many photos that I had a hard time selecting which ones to use. I dare say you could hang around for a month in most British towns and never find any scenes like these.

The first photo shows a group of people out for a ride together. Note the friend in a mobility scooter further ahead. In the Netherlands, cycle infrastructure is designed to also be suitable for people with disabilities, which means that everyone has very high levels of independence and freedom.

Let’s see your Bikeability achieve that, Franklin fans!

A grey-haired woman rides a bike alongside a canal and a windmill in the Netherlands

An older woman rides a bike on the safe cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands

An older woman rides her bike along a cycle path, past houses with driveways

A grey-haired woman casually rides her bike one-handed along a Dutch cycle path

A late-middle-aged man calmly rides his bike past a cafe in the Netherlands

An older couple ride their bikes along a bicycle road in the Netherlands

An older man rides his bike past hundreds of parked bikes in a city centre in the Netherlands

And finally, an old favourite! I like this one a lot because it really does demonstrate how the Dutch infrastructure allows people of all ages and abilities to get around safely and easily. Can you imagine this man having the freedom to ride a bike around your town or village, or in the British countryside?

An elderly man rides his bike on a safe, wide, rural cycle path in the Netherlands

You can find all the picture posts here.

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #4: Children

I thought this would be one of the easiest picture posts to choose the photos for, but it turned out that I had so many photos of children riding bikes that it was hard to choose which ones to show.

It’s often said that children are the pit-canaries of our society, and if this is the case then the UK has got a problem. Our pit canary lost its feathers years ago and is now gasping for air.

One of my aims with these Netherlands photo posts is to challenge those who insist that we can achieve mass cycling without infrastructure, by showing scenes that simply wouldn’t exist if the cycle paths weren’t there. I really can’t imagine any of these scenes happening on the UK’s roads!

Two young girls ride bikes home from school in the Netherlands, safely on the cycle path, away from motor vehicles.

A boy rides down a hill on a wide cycle path in the Netherlands, safely protected from the busy road.

Groups of schoolchildren ride their bikes on a safe, wide cyclepath in the Netherlands.

Three boys ride on a Dutch cyclepath, protected from the traffic on the road.

Two teenagers ride their bikes on a cyclepath in the Netherlands, protected from the main road.

A boy rides his bike across a junction in Holland.

Three Dutch kids ride their bikes past one of the many bike parking areas in Utrecht.

Three teenagers ride bikes on a rural cycle path in the Netherlands – up-hill!

Three Dutch girls ride home on a 'bicycle road' alongside the canal in the Netherlands.

Two boys riding home from school, practising riding no-handed! They are safely on a cycle track away from the motor traffic.

Two girls ride on a cycle path in Holland, beside a busy road with a tractor on it.

And of course there’s this old favourite too.

 


As this post is meant to be uplifting I recommend you ignore the following link, but if you really want to see the UK government’s equivalent vision of children cycling then click here. Just make sure you have a nearby wall handy to bang your head against.

 

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #3: Animals

Or ‘dogs’ to be more precise. (Although I did see people with cats in cat baskets being taken to the vet, I got no photos of them.)

In the Netherlands, it’s quite common for people to take their dogs with them when riding their bike. Either in a basket, a trailer, or scampering along beside, I’ve never seen such happy dogs as I saw in the Netherlands.

Three people on bikes waiting at a crossing. One is carrying an umbrella, the second person is carrying a crate of beer, the third person has his son on a child seat, and his dog on a lead.

Note that Super-Dad here also has his son in the child seat!

A man on a bike in the Netherlands, waiting at a cycle traffic-light. His son is on a child seat, and his dog is walking alongside them.

A man rides his bike on a protected cycle path in the Netherlands. His dog is sitting in the rear basket.

A young couple riding a tandem on a Dutch cycle path. A large dog is sat in a trailer attached to the back of the bike.

man-and-dog

outside-school

Even the family dog can take part in the school run!

two-boys-and-dog


You can find all the picture posts here.

 

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #2: Shopping

Time for another picture post! This one shows people going shopping. A rather dull, every day activity really, but one which most people would never dream of using a bike for in the UK. In addition to the general fear of cycling on the roads, sensible bikes with storage aren’t the norm here, there is often no cycle parking, and shopping centres are usually designed with only cars in mind.

Most Dutch people would think this a very boring blog post, as in the Netherlands it’s a common sight to see old women filling panniers with their shopping and riding off, for example. But that’s something you’d never see in the UK, and it shows that shopping by bike is perfectly feasible for people of all ages when you have the right infrastructure.

It’s interesting to see that at supermarkets in the Netherlands the cycle parking area is right beside the entrance, as opposed to the standard UK provision of a few wheel-bender bike racks shamefully hidden round the corner by the bins.

A bike parking lot outside a supermarket in the Netherlands. Hundreds of bikes can be seen with customers amongst them.

Many bikes parked outside a supermarket in Groningen, Netherlands. A young woman rides past on a bike.

A middle-aged woman rides a bike on a cycle-path in the Netherlands. She has a shopping bag on her handlebars and flowers in the panniers on the rear of the bike.

Bikes and shoppers outside a supermarket in the Netherlands

Bikes parked outside a supermarket in Woerden, Netherlands. Shoppers are loading items into their bikes' panniers. The bike parking is nearer to the shop entrance than the car parking!

A person cycles home from the shops in Amersfoort, Netherlands. Both panniers are full and they are holding a large shopping bag on the rack behind them.

A huge number of bikes parked outside a supermarket in Utrecht, Netherlands. Shoppers can be seen.

Cycles are parked ouside shops in Groningen, a woman is riding away with shopping bags hanging from her bike. A man waits with his Saint Bernard dog in the large front compartment of his 'bakfiets'.

 

I don’t know why the only supermarket in these photos is Albert Heijn — other supermarkets are available in the Netherlands and people cycle to those too! Maybe I should mention Jumbo, C1000 and Plus, just to even out the balance a bit.

 


You can find all the picture posts here.

 

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