Tag Archives: Netherlands

Franklin and Forester quotes, in a Dutch context

I’ve just got back from the Netherlands. I rode a bike there for two weeks and experienced for myself why so many people there use bikes every day, and why transatlantic comedy duo “The Two Johnnies” are wrong to oppose mass bike riding in the UK and US. Here’s some opening thoughts: photos of real, everyday scenes which show the rhetoric of Forester and Franklin to be ridiculous.

Click any image for a larger version.

Photo of two girls cycling safely on cycle path away from the busy road, with John Forester quote: "I have described several very dangerous situations: bike paths and voonerven being the most dangerous. The correct way to handle the dangers of these facilities is to stay well away from them and ride on the normal roadways instead."

Yeah, go on girls – follow Forester’s advice and get on that road, you’ll be fine as long as you ride your bike like you’re driving a car.

 

A photo of two families happily using separate cycle paths, with stupid John Franklin quote: "...the majority of cycle facilities require more skill and more experience to be used safely, not less. It is the least experienced who most often suffer the consequences."

Oh, those poor children suffering the terrible consequences of the Dutch cycling infrastructure!

 

Photo of swarm of people on bikes using segregated bike path during rush-hour in Utrecht, with stupid John Franklin quote: "segregation has no proven record as a 'stepping-stone' to cycling well and more widely"

He’s right, this scene is a figment of your imagination. If you go to Utrecht during rush hour you will see nobody cycling on the bike paths. They’re all just for show, like North Korea.

 

Photo of a speedy Lycra-clad sporty cyclist using racing bike on long, straight, uninterrupted cycle path, with stupid John Franklin quote: "Efficient and speedy cycling is important if cycling is to compete as a mode of transport with the car. Road-side paths of almost any kind prevent this and make cycling slow and dangerous."

This guy rides his racing bike slowly, the Lycra is purely for sexual reasons.

 

Photo of a young girl (aged about three?) riding her bike without any fear as there are no cars around, with John Franklin quote: "The extra care enforced by the presence of motor traffic, generally results in the safest cycling environment overall."

If only there were more vans and taxis around here, this toddler would be truly safe from all those cycle paths!

 

Photo of three smartly-dressed middle-aged professional-looking people, calmly, casually and efficiently riding bikes on a bike path, with stupid John Forester quote: "Why is it that Dutch people persist in using bicycle transportation when the system is so stacked against them? Why do they still cycle when the system restricts them to slow speed and more and longer delays, disadvantages forced on them by the dangerous design of the system that they are forced to use?"

The system is so stacked against these guys, can’t you see the upset and stress the restrictive cycle paths are causing here?

 

Three photos of people using bike paths: one of a disabled man using a hand-cranked tricycle; one of two boys and their dog; one of an elderly man. A stupid John Franklin quote: "you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles ... a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease"

I’m sure these guys can manage that 20mph sprint speed (especially the dog). If not then they shouldn’t be allowed out cycling! It’s a tough sport for serious men like John Franklin!

I was going to include more quotes from John Forester, but to read his deranged ramblings requires more resolve than I have right now.


Update, 20th August 2012

Again, some people (mainly on Twitter) are misunderstanding what I’m doing here: Vehicular Cycling is a good coping strategy for fit, confident people to ride on hostile, motor-dominated roads. Opposition to Dutch-style infrastructure is what I’m attacking, and that’s quite a separate thing.

I didn’t have to search far and wide for these quotes — both Johns are clearly against mass cycling — and only the final one is from any Vehicular Cycling instructional material (it’s from John Franklin’s book about VC, Cyclecraft — though the book also contains unnecessary anti-infrastructure dogma too).

All the other Franklin quotes are from this document from 2002, which while I admit isn’t the most current thing available, it’s one of the first documents I came across on his website and is still often quoted by anti-infrastructure people. If Franklin has changed his views since then, he hasn’t done so publicly.

Both the Forester quotes are from this document which is of similar vintage, though again Forester doesn’t seem to have changed his opinions at all since — or even bothered to visit the Netherlands to see the improvements since the 1930s. I’m sure he’d find that a lot has gone on since then.

(The Forester document is an article attacking an academic paper which recommended Dutch-style infrastructure. One of the authors of the paper, John Pucher, replied to Forester: “I strongly oppose this ELITIST view of cycling, and think that many policies should be implemented to encourage bicycling by everyone, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, children and grandparents, students and businessmen, etc. Forester’s policies would guarantee that cycling remains a marginal mode here in the US.” I think Pucher has been proved correct, and I tip my hat to him here.)

Either way, the age of the quotes doesn’t really matter. Both these guys are still quoted frequently by people who have been hoodwinked into joining the ‘Vehicular Is The Only Way’ club, and they have been shown to have had concrete effects on the roads today. Read any article on the many blogs discussing cycling in the UK and you’ll often see a comment from someone saying that the roads are fine, we just need more training, linking to a Franklin document or quoting him. Who knows how Kings Cross junction would look today had the cycling lobby not been split in this way all those years ago?

So, use vehicular cycling all you want — there’s not much choice in the UK, after all — but don’t let that blind you to the possibilities of bike riding for everyone, which promoting VC as the best and only option has consistently failed to achieve (and obviously cannot achieve, as the final image demonstrates so clearly). There’s only one proven way to reach mass cycling: the Dutch way.

 

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Continuous paths across minor junctions

It seems to me that one of the keys to successful cycling infrastructure is getting the detail right. Not everything has to be a massive gesture or huge engineering. Among the many things which impressed me on my recent visit to the Netherlands is how minor junctions are often handled.

In most countries, the tarmac on the road connects to the tarmac on all the other roads without a gap. If you live on the UK mainland, the tarmac on the road outside your front door is joined to the tarmac outside my front door without a break. It’s quite a feat when you think about it! We’re all connected by roads.

The footpath outside your front door, however, probably only circles the block of buildings in which you live. To get to the next path, you have to cross over part of the uninterrupted network of tarmac which covers the land.

This is so innate, so built-in to our way of thinking, that it goes unquestioned. Of course the roads are connected, or you can’t drive from one to the other! But it doesn’t have to be this way, as I discovered on the first night of a recent trip to the Netherlands. It’s such a small thing, such a simple thing that it’s hardly worthy of the word ‘engineering’ and yet the subliminal message it sends to road users is massive.

(This might well have been covered already by David Hembrow – it seems that most Dutch road innovations have! – but I can’t find it if it has.)

First, some diagrams. Here’s how we treat junctions in the UK:

A British-style road junction, where the minor road disrupts the footpath.

I’m not an expert diagram-maker, but I think you’ll all recognise this as a standard UK road junction.

And here’s how we discovered similar junctions to be in the Netherlands:

A Dutch-style junction, where the footpath continues over the minor road, giving priority to people walking.

A diagram of the kind of thing we saw in the Netherlands. Again, it’s simplified and not to scale, etc., but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.

And here’s some photos of what I call “continuous path”, firstly from a bike rider’s point of view:

The view of a Dutch-style continuous-path minor junction from the view of a bike rider. The cyclepath and footpath both continue across the junction, and the minor road is disconnected from the main road. Cars have to mount the pavement and cross both paths to get between the two roads.

There’s little doubt who has right of way from this point of view. The white squares make riders aware that there’s a potential hazard at that section.

And from the point of view of a driver or rider on the minor road:

The view of a minor road junction, from the minor road. The footpath and cyclepath both sever the minor road's connection to the main road, and therefore it's clear that vehicles leaving the minor road do not have priority.

To a driver leaving the minor road, it’s clear that they do not have priority here, as they have to drive up a ramp and over the cycle- and foot-paths to access the main road.

It’s not entirely clear from that photo, but leaving or joining the side road means driving up a ramp, over the path and back down again. Here’s a close-up of one:

Close-up of ramp which enables vehicles to cross the continuous path

It slows cars down, and subconsciously tells drivers that they are no longer on the road, but crossing a footpath.

I didn’t get a photo from the view a driver on the main road would have, but you can have a look for yourself on Google StreetView here. Here’s a photo of a similar junction at a different location, where again it’s clear that priority lies with people on the cycle path or footpath:

A view of a continuous-path junction from the main road. It's clear that drivers entering the minor road do not have priority over people on the footpath or bike path.

A different location, view from the road. It’s clear that you can’t just sweep around the corner like in the UK.

I think the design here has a psychological effect, and the clues are all on the floor. Having to drive up a ramp onto the level of the path, and the path surface looking and feeling different to the road surface and continuing across the junction, makes it clear that people walking and riding here have priority and that a motor vehicle is a temporary guest passing through a non-car domain.

Compare this with the British way of doing things. Firstly, at most junctions the road takes priority and the path is severed:

A standard UK-style junction of a main road with a minor road. The footpath is severed and the road sweeps around into the minor road.

A very similar junction in London. Cars clearly have priority here, the wide corners of the junction mean that you barely have to slow when turning. (Image from Google StreetView, click photo to view on there.)

At some junctions in the UK there has been an attempt to implement the “continuous path” style by adding a hump, but as usual they seem to have got the detail wrong:

A British attempt at a continuous-path junction, which fails as the path is still clearly severed by the road, even though it rises up, the double yellow lines continue around the junction, and "look left" and "look right" are painted on the floor next to tactile paving.

A UK attempt at a similar concept.

Clearly, the road continues around the junction here, despite the change in level. There’s tactile paving, “look left” and “look right” markings, double yellow lines continue around the corner. Pedestrians stop for vehicles here, not the other way around. You can have a look for yourself here, and there’s plenty of other examples about.

Not every junction in the Netherlands has this type of “continuous path” but we found it to be common. It’s a great way to show priority, and to slow vehicles down. We never had any problems with this type of junction, vehicles would always wait for people on bikes or on foot to clear the junction before crossing.

Of course, in the UK, cars turning into a road should give way to pedestrians who are already crossing, but in practice this never happens. It’s another example of the perfect fantasy world populated with reasonable, logical automatons that the Highway Code is set in. In reality, the pedestrian either retreats or runs across the road so the turning vehicle doesn’t have to slow down or stop. The stakes are simply too high for pedestrians to enforce this rule, and most people I’ve asked have never even heard of it.

Implementing this kind of junction in the UK would be physically easy – there’s really nothing special going on here, engineering-wise. However, getting the DfT to approve such a simple measure could take years…*


Update, 22nd of August 2012

Mark Wagenbuur of BicycleDutch makes it clear in a comment what I didn’t in the article: that the break in the road also helps signal to drivers that they’re changing road type, from a faster road into a slow residential area.

And Paul James covered this type of junction on Pedestrianise London back in February. I knew I’d seen it somewhere before!


*Update, 25th August 2012

I’m wondering now if the DfT would even need to approve such a thing here in the UK. Surely there could be a short “pedestrian zone, except for access” at the end of a street, thereby creating the same effect within current UK regulations? Sure, it might be a bit sign-heavy (there would need to be ‘pedestrian zone starts’ and ‘pedestrian zone ends’ signs at each end) but still do-able I reckon.

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #1: Families

A picture is worth a thousand words, and most of the words I write tend to be rather cynical.

In an attempt to focus on something positive instead of banging on as usual about why cycling in the UK is so awful, here is the first of a series of photo-posts. The aim of the series is to show how people in the Netherlands enjoy and benefit from the cycle infrastructure — and to show how good we could have it, too.

This first instalment shows how Dutch families use the safe cycling conditions as an easy way to get around town. These photos don’t show rare occurrences — they’re all simply normal everyday scenes in the Netherlands.

A family riding bikes on a cycle path in the Netherlands.

A woman and her son ride safely along a cycle path in the Netherlands.

A mother and her two daughters set off at the traffic lights.

A mother and daughter cycling in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, a mother cycles to the shops with her young daughter in the large container at the front of the bike.

A young family prepare for a journey. Father and toddler on one bike, mother rides a 'bakfiets' with the baby in.

A family riding bikes in the Dutch countryside

Families ride bikes on the Dutch cycle paths.

A woman rides her bike along a cycle path in the Netherlands, her toddler in a seat behind the handlebars. The child is drinking from a bottle.

 

And I didn’t say the f-word once!

 


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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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 #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 #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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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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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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Crap Groningen Cycling Infrastructure #1 – Damsterplein

Wow, it’s been quite a while since my last post, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’ve missed you too.

In my defence, I’ve been busy adjusting to life in Groningen in the Netherlands – yes, I’ve moved to one of those places which people like to go on and on about because it’s great for cycling.

And Groningen really is great for cycling – mostly.

While the city and surrounding areas are generally very good or even excellent for cycling, there are many baffling gaps, neglected corners, and dangerous designs.

So after spending years praising many good bits of infrastructure in this country, I think I’ve earned the right to complain about some of the bad bits, the exceptions to the cycling wonderland that is the Netherlands.

So let’s start with Damsterplein, shall we?

Damsterplein: I think that’s Dutch for “disappointment”

I first experienced Damsterplein completely by accident, riding around the city when we first arrived, in the spirit of happy exploration. I was stunned to find such a large, busy road without any good cycling infrastructure – only intermittent, legal-to-drive-in “advisory” cycle lanes, which disappear at bus stops so that buses can pull in.

Since that first visit I’ve avoided using the road as much as possible. I cycled through there recently, to take photos for this blog post, now in the spirit of brave investigation. And yet although I’ve only ridden here maybe half a dozen times, I’ve had an unpleasant experience every single time, usually caused by having to pull out into a stream of moving motor traffic in order to overtake a bus legitimately waiting at a bus stop, or a car parked in the cycle lane.

Every. Single. Time. Now you can see why I avoid riding there.

So here’s a few pictures, some which I took myself, and some from Google Streetview to prove that I’m not cherry-picking rare situations. Avid cycling blog readers may recognise Damsterplein, as David Hembrow has mentioned it in a couple of blog posts.

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 1

Luckily for this guy, the Streetview car was hanging back (Source: Google Maps)

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 2

Does this look like an “8 to 80, all-abilities” cycling environment to you? (Source: Google Maps)

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 3

It’ll be fine, he’s just nipping in to the shop for a few minutes. Don’t worry about the bus that’s about to overtake you. (Source: Google Maps)

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 4

Motor vehicles parked three-wide, one lane of moving motor vehicles, and no actual space for cycling here on the southern side of Damsterplein.

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 5

After I took this photo, the driver of the car behind me decided to overtake as I was passing this parked car. I will not cycle here again.

And if you thought the cycling “infrastructure” here looked crap, then the footways aren’t much better. All the cars in the photos above which appear to be parked on the footway are in fact parked legally. Here’s an unusually car-free section:

Crap footway parking on Damsterplein in Groningen

The dark line marks the official edge of the parking space, leaving just a metre or so for walking – and that’s assuming that the vehicle is parked perfectly within the space. (Source: Google Maps)

This arrangement is pretty crap for walking. It’s not much fun finding a van mounting the kerb toward you, and as a recent case in the UK tragically showed, having motor vehicles mounting the footway can have lethal consequences. Could a young child be expected to know that the black line denotes a parking space into which a motor vehicle may be driven?

This footway parking design also means that cars and vans must be driven across the cycle lane in order to access the parking spaces, which creates delay and danger for people cycling – and this also means that the cycle lane is now in the door zone.

I also worry that this kind of design for parking essentially legitimises use of the footway for other things (rather like the “shared footway” designs in the UK legitimise pavement cycling). It conditions people into parking on the footway, not just here but in general. It says “don’t worry if there’s no parking space, just stick the van on the footway, it’ll be reet for a bit.”

And all this motor-centric (and anti-cycling and anti-walking) design exists despite there being acres of space here in which to get things right. See how much room for manoeuvre the driver of this car has within the single humongous traffic lane:

Extremely wide carriageway for motor vehicles on Damsterdiep in Groningen

Narrow, medieval streets?

A sea of asphalt, about three cars wide, and yet there’s no space for proper cycling infrastructure? I’m calling bullshit on that one.

(Also, how about those tyre marks? Do they suggest safe and careful driving? What you can’t see on this cropped photo are the motor vehicle tyre marks along the cycle lane…)

Cycling backwards through time

Anyway, I was going to end my post there – these “Crap of the Week” posts are meant to be brief – but while looking at old Streetview and aerial photos, I learned a little bit of recent history about the place, and my distaste for the current layout grew deeper: it’s brand new.

Well, almost – the current layout was built between 2008 and 2010 as far as I can tell. Here’s how the street looked 10 years ago:

Satellite image of Damsterdiep in Groningen, showing cycleway along southern side and painted lane along northern side

Here’s the western end (closest to the city centre) in 2007. None of the current square exists, but there is a cycleway on one side of the road. (Source: Google Earth)

Damsterplein Groningen east 2007

And here’s the eastern end. Note that a single-lane road becomes four lanes at the junction. (Source: Google Earth)

So heading west into the city, it’s always been pretty crap – the cycleway suddenly ends at the junction with Oostersingel, and people were (and still are) expected to cycle around a jumble of parked cars and stopped buses. That hasn’t changed.

But heading east, out of the city, the cycling experience has become so much poorer. In 2007, after crossing the bridge over the canal, a protected cycleway begun almost straight away and took you safely all the way to the huge junction to the east. That’s now gone.

Overall, however, the square that is now Damsterplein looked like a pretty dismal place, essentially a large car park. So the city decided to spruce things up by creating a new public square (a fine idea!) underneath which would be a massive multi-storey subterranean car park.

(Now this car park is interesting in itself. It’s often said that for a city to be cycling-friendly, it must be hostile to driving. And yet Damsterplein isn’t the only brand-new underground car park in Groningen. The city must be spending millions of Euros on these things, which doesn’t seem like the actions of a body that wishes to discourage people from driving into the city.)

So, the whole area – the entire massive space between the buildings – was being redeveloped. Every centimetre would be dug up and replaced. This was a blank canvas, on which millions of Euros would be spent.

Groningen Damsterplein in 2008, a huge hole in the city, wasteland ready for development

Damsterplein in 2008. All of this ground was about to be torn up and replaced. (Source: Google Maps)

Surely with such a large-scale project, the citizens of Groningen could expect some top-notch cycling infrastructure for their money?

For at least two years all vehicle access had been severed – enough time for people to adjust their travel patterns and become accustomed to the idea that Damsterplein wasn’t a through-route for motors. Surely a golden opportunity to introduce a pleasant, motor-free square on the edge of the city centre.

Here’s the same view today:

Damsterplein in 2015. Four lanes of motor traffic exiting at the main east-side junction.

Damsterplein today. Seven lanes of motor traffic – beautiful. (Source: Google Maps)

Now the seven lanes of motor traffic you see here aren’t as bad as they look, as at this end of Damsterplein there are proper separated cycleways – but the size of this junction suggests that the amount of motor traffic circulating around Damsterplein itself is too large for cycling to be mixed in with it.

Instead of the peaceful motor-free or very-low-traffic square that was surely possible, Damsterplein is instead surrounded by rumbling engines on all sides.

I’m staggered that with all the changes that have gone on here (and since completion there have been retrofitted tweaks for buses and for car park traffic) the designers decided not only to rebuild the old unprotected cycle lane on the city-bound side of Damsterplein, but also to copy that dangerous design across to the outbound side too.

This is a city which claims a 60% modal share for cycling (which isn’t actually true, but we’ll come to that another time) and yet even here, cycling infrastructure is chipped away at and downgraded in favour of motor vehicles.

I could forgive crap infrastructure a little bit when it’s old and in need of replacement. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But when something is just a few years old – designed and built with wilful ignorance of all that we know about good cycling infrastructure, and the dangers of mixing heavy motor traffic with cycling – it’s completely unforgivable.

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