Much discussion in the UK new cycling lobby has focused on the great success the Dutch have had in the past 30 years or so, with increasing cycling levels being achieved by building ever more extensive and higher quality cycle networks. Here in the seemingly pervasive anti-cycling culture of the UK, we are naturally jealous of the Dutch facilities that encourage people to cycle by providing an attractive cycling environment.

Some British cycle activists are overwhelmed by the difference between the Dutch cycle network and the UK’s feeble provision, prompting some bloggers and activists to conclude ‘we could never do that here’ [and therefore don’t bother with infrastructure].

I thought this Dutch article would be of interest to UK cycle activists as it documents some interesting insights into the consequences of a having a successful cycling policy. Life is a journey, not a destination; the same is true for cycle infrastructure campaigning.

British cycle campaigners may simply think how nice it must be to have the problems faced by their Dutch colleagues, but there are other more important lessons we can learn as we try in Britain to create what has been lacking so far in our country – an effective and credible cycle lobby. The key lesson, it seems to me, that can be drawn from the document below is that cycle lobbying is an endless journey. There won’t be an end point where we have achieved an adequate cycle network in the UK.

Success will reassemble the context and there will always be a need to lobby for effective, fair solutions.

So, the lesson is that there is no need to be fearful of the gulf between us and other more advanced European continental countries in terms of cycle networks and to fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Oh, we are so far behind the Dutch, we can never replicate their success’. Their success was, and still is, a process. The arguments rehearsed in the article are basically no different from the discussion we have over the divvying up of our own public realm, we are just at a different stage in that journey.

Thanks to Acquire Publishing for permission to publish this English version of the Dutch original, which can be seen at: http://www.acquirepublishing.nl/verkeer-in-beeld/de-uitdaging-van-toenemend-fietsgebruik-en-snelheidsverschillen

[The challenge of increasing bike use and speed differences]

Dutch cycle paths are being used by a wider variety of types of vehicle, from mopeds and e-bikes which can travel at 50kph, to people who pedal along at a more ‘normal’ 12 to 18kph. Also the numbers of people cycling are strongly increasing, not least because of various actions aimed at stimulating cycling. In many respects this is a positive development, but there it also poses challenges. How can cycling infrastructure be increased to the level needed by the new types of bicycle and be accommodated in urban areas of limited space?

“You’d think that the cycle infrastructure should be expanded to cater for both developments – and above all for a combination them”, says Jolanda Smit-van Oijen of XTNT organisation. “What we are seeing in the main is development of fast cycle routes [snelfietspaden] outside built up areas. That is a good development, but in the urban areas the often limited space doesn’t allow this type of solution. We seen the same as with motorways, up to the urban limits it goes very well, but within urban limits you encounter bottlenecks.

A paper, ‘The electric bicycle demands an upgrade of cycling policy’, written jointly by Smit with Huib Beebs and Godfried de Graaf,, which was published at the National Transport Congress in 2013, discusses the subject of the long term development of the cycling infrastructure.

Dividing the available space differently

Divera Twisk, co-ordinator of bicycle research at SWOV [transport research organisation], acknowledges the development: “What is going to happen?”, she asks. “We need to develop better insight into the actual use and how blockages arise. Does it lie with the throughput, the breadth of the bike path, and how do we optimise it? Sharing space differently could be a solution. It demands a different vision: how will access to the urban realm be regulated? This means that the government/administration need to look at the quality of existing infrastructure.

It doesn’t have to involve drastic regulations, such as the Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) demanded, but with the forthcoming increase in the scale [schaalsprong] of cycling, there is a need to look first overall at the quality currently offered to cyclists: think of ‘bike path bollards’, rounded kerbs, the measures taken up in the ‘Model Approach Bikes’.” Also the SWOV argues for more thought to be given to rules of behaviour. “We must promote social behaviour on bike paths with a sort of [highway] code”, says Twisk.

The Administration can improve the prospects

What direction should be followed according to Smit? As the paper’s title would lead one to expect, it concentrates on the growth of the e-bike. “We think the government can gain benefits in terms of its ‘mobility policy’ by taking account of the e-bike. That requires a supplement to present bicycle policy and – as Twisk indicates – to think in a different manner over the ‘spatial’ [‘raumtelijk’ – in this context usually translated as ‘town planning’] policy in the city/town.” At the moment about 1 million e-bikes use bikepaths; this number is expected to grow, certainly as the e-bike gains popularity among the older people and urban commuters. The paper’s authors expect that in the future the e-bike will also be used by younger people, as it takes over in short journeys and for use in getting to/from public transport nodes. Above all there is the expectation that the e-bike will become cheaper. “This development offers opportunities, but also brings bicycle queues [or jams] and challenges for safety through speed differentials,” says Smit. … Certainly the e-bike, says Smit, will create demand for parking places. “Think of greater space between parked bikes, how to avoid having to lift bikes and avoiding inclines or tight corners in [bike] parking places.

Take the bicycle seriously

Sjors van Duren of the City-region Arnhem-Nijmegen, is happy with this positive approach: “my understanding is that the e-bike is seen as ‘dangerous’. Through emphasising the disadvantages and the dangers, the image of the e-bike as a transport mode is worsened. That is an unjust and undesirable stigma: cycling is not dangerous. That is because the health benefit is ten times greater than the increased traffic danger of someone who replaces the car with the bike. Van Duren wants to see the bicycle taken more seriously. “Much has been done around traffic management for the auto and concerning public transport, but the bike should become taken seriously as a mode; that means now and then making choices.”

SWOV has researched how fast people really ride using e-bikes. The difference with the ‘normal’ cyclist is better than expected; the e-bike travels on average 4kph faster. Also older people don’t travel so fast as youngster on an ordinary bike. It is however likely that there is a risk that confrontation with a motor driver can be dangerous, as they would not expect a bike to travel so fast.

For bikepaths outside the urban realm another type of cyclist is increasing: the bicycle racer. SWOV is researching the consequences, among others with the NTFU (Nederlandse Toer Fiets Unie) [Dutch Touring Cyclists’ Union], aimed at the amateur cyclist. Twisk: “the race bike creates antipathy among the average cyclist, while sport is of course healthy and gives much pleasure. The question is primarily how the cycle traffic is going to mix safely. A hard line would be to ban competitive race cyclists from the public highway [translator meaning cyclepath I think] and let them cycle as fast as possible on circuits. Another position would be to ‘facilitate the provision of’ [faciliteren] space, on condition that it is safely used. Indeed: make the cycle infrastructure wider, then make it also more attractive for other users such as horse riders and in-line skaters.”

Create sufficient capacity in the future

The pressure on the bikepath will increase, especially in the large cities. This could have a limiting effect on the growth of the number of cyclists. Future provision must have sufficient capacity, but what must traffic engineers do? In the fifties this problem also arose in relation to the rapid growth of motor traffic. Keeping through traffic out of the city centre could – in smaller scale – also be applied to e-bikes. Smit: “Provide thus for a wider cycle network, fast cycle routes along the edge of city centre areas, and also provide for good traffic flow measures for all cyclists in the city centre.” The increasing speed differences could have negative consequences: more overtaking manoeuvres, a more difficult appraisal crossing speeds of other road users and possible more serious consequences of ‘accidents’ [ongevallen]. This makes it essential to consider practical realisation of high quality infrastructure.

Choosing the bicycle is a strategic choice

In the Arnhem-Nijmegen region works is underway on the implementation of cycle routes. Research is also being conducted about where and when which types of cyclists make use of the routes and when the routes don’t link up properly. The six fast cycle routes [snelfietspaden] that are being developed in the region run through the urban areas up to the edge of the pedestrianised centre of the city/town. Van Duren: “We make it as comfortable as possible for cyclists to get into the city centre, no least because the bike needs 10 to 20 times less space than the auto. There are cycle queues; but these are easier to solve than auto queues.” The city region chose, when installing new infrastructure, a standard width of 4m in both directions, so that it makes it easier to overtake. According to van Duren the greatest risk is run by oncoming cyclists [ie head on collision with overtaking faster vehicles in the cycle path]. “The number of head on collisions [botsingen] is increasing, and we have to deal with that, for example, by widening routes even further. My expectation is that the fast cycle routes between towns will never become so busy, but that – especially historical – inner cities must use space differently.”;

[images of snelfietspaden: http://tinyurl.com/lnqq7wj]

A moped can [legally] for example ride at 25kph, but often ride [illegally] at about 40kph; then the speed difference with the average cyclist much greater. “Choosing for the bicycle in the inner city is a strategic choice”, says van Duren. “It is often said that there is no room in the inner city, but it matters how you divide the available space. Widespread public support is important: broad support and a commonly shared ambition makes it easier to realise new projects.”

Van Duren observes that a disadvantage of fast cycle routes is that they are often associated with motorways and that they will damage the urban environment. “The ‘snelfietspad’ term raises opposition among urban architects/planners, and understandably so, but you naturally don’t lay a 5 meter wide asphalt lane over a historical square. There needs to be a scale change (schaalsprong) and alliances forged with urban architects/planners, to develop an attractive urban image where the cyclist feels at home. An attractive cycling environment leads to more cyclists. We must not forget that the bicycle enhances the liveability of the city.”

Utrecht named as most cycle friendly [place] by CNN

Utrecht was named as the world’s most cycle friendly city by CNN in the middle of August. In the centre of Utrecht 50% of people travel by bike, and the council has announced the development of the world’s largest bike parking place. Yet there are still frequent reports of bike queues in the city. This is reason enough, says Herbert Tiemens of Utrecht Region Control, to look at cycling policy. “We are pleased with this [CNN] honour, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Whether the cycle queues are actually getting longer I cannot say with certainty, [but] the cycle queues arise primarily at traffic lights and we are trying to do something about that at the moment. The existing guidelines for cycle infrastructure are outdated, [and] we see greater speed differences between types of bike. Many traffic planners/engineers have developed bikepaths at the minimum width, so that they are too narrow to give everyone sufficient space. Adapting the guidleines would be a good development. The first guidelines date from 1956, and were re-cycled by the ANWB in 1968 and then in 19993 taken over as the CROW guidelines. But the present bikes and people are faster and more room is needed.” … “In the Utrecht region most home-work distances are relatively short and thus ideal for e-bikes, although cycle use is affected by climatic conditions.”

‘Snorfietsen off the cycleway’

[note: ‘snorfiets’ is a type of moped]

With an eye on the increasing numbers and speed differences consideration being given to new regulations is desirable. Cycle policy is primarily the responsibility of councils and provinces, but should there also be something happening to regulation at a national level? For example the categorisation of vehicles, in relation to speed and whether it should be compulsory for helmet use [translator’s note: this applies to faster vehicles, not to ordinary bicycles]. Should an e-bike fall in the bicycle or moped/scooter category? The national administration should make a decisions about this says Smit. “But some things certainly demand national rules, such as the use or not of helmets on mopeds where the city of Amsterdam is currently involved”, reacts Twisk.

Amsterdam council asked SWOV in 2013 to make an estimate of safety effects of moving mopeds to the carriageway [ie banning them from bikepaths] with and without compulsory use of helmets. … The results are found in the SWOV ‘Educated Guess’ report of the consequences for moped riders in Amsterdam. Minister Schulz, in early June informed the ‘Second Chamber’ [of the Dutch parliament] that councils would be given the opportunity to decide themselves whether helmets should be made compulsory for mopeds, so that they can be safely moved to the carriageway.

This was an important step in the struggle of councils to removed mopeds (where necessary) from the bikepaths. The exact terms of the rule are being worked on by the administration. According to Tiemens the rules depend on two elements: the speed and the fact that ‘it is about snorfiets’ [ie they are disliked as a class of machines]. “Because the moped rider doesn’t provide any of the power he [sic] is less aware and thus less concerned with the traffic. [translator’s note: I hope I have got this sentence right: ‘Omdat de snorfietser geen kracht levert is hij wellicht minder oplettend en dus minder met het verkeer bezig] The cyclist’s adrenalin levels are higher. And this mental factor is important for traffic safety.“ SWOV is currently rsearching the mental load on cyclists and the increasing tiredness through ‘power effort’ is of influence on the attention paid to the traffic.

Jos Sluijsmans (Bike Service NL – Fietsdiensten.nl] on the role of ‘slow traffic’

[note: Langzaam verkeer = literally ‘slow traffic’, but is a legal term for traffic allowed to use bikepaths & related regulations]

“We must think carefully over the role of slower vehicles, such as electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters and innovations such as the ‘walkbike’ Alinker. Also the increasing number of ‘delivery’ bikes (bakfiestsen, transportfietsen and trailers], which are used for the transport of children and dogs in increasing use for urban distribution and form a distinct category of users. This brings other problems and challenges for the infrastructure. Alongside that is the visible growth of electric vehicles which are difficult to place on simple categories, such as the Segway, Qugo and Trikke. All the vehicles must yet find their place in the urban traffic. It’s going to get busier on the bikepath and we must take account of that.”

Wim Bot (Fietsersbond – cyclists’ union) on ‘scale-change bike’ [‘schaalsprong fiets’]

“The Fietsersbond calls for a scale-change in cycle policy, not only because of the arrival of the e-bike, but also because of the growth of cycle traffic in the urban realm which means that the travelling and parking infrastructure no longer meets requirements. There must literally be more room made available for cycling and to allow further growth of cycling to be realised. In that respct we can think of wider bikepaths, but also of a different division of the space for all modes. In streets where cycle traffic is most important, the space should be increased to meet needs. It is impossible to do this without thinking about the dominant role of the car in the urban area (in Amsterdam the car takes over 40% of public space).” The ‘vision document’ ‘Meer Fiets’ (More Bikes) from 2012 is available on http://www.fietsbond.nl. [The FB is also working with regions and councils to develop fast cycle routes – http://www.fiestsfilevrij.nl .

The discussion carries on at the National Bike Congres: http://www.nationalfietscongres.nl