Fietsberaad proposes 25kph speed limit
The arguments over the use by non-traditional pedal cycles of cycle paths in the Netherlands has taken a new twist with the Fietsberaard organization proposing a 25kph limit for cyclepaths in urban areas. Any user who wanted to go faster would be expected to leave the cycle path and use the carriageway.
The proposal is one of a number of solutions being suggested to deal with what is seen as a growing problem. Defining the problem is in itself controversial. Partly it is defined as inadequacies in existing cycle path infrastructure given the growing number of users. But the problem is also partly defined as being that non-traditional modes travel at higher speeds than traditional bicycles; these new modes include ‘snorscooters’, faster pedelecs as well as allegedly growing numbers of race cyclists and fast recumbents.
The problem, if it is a problem, is essentially a manifestation of the success of cycle policy in the Netherlands which has seen significant growth in cycling and the new motorized forms of scooters/mopeds/e-bikes.
The proposal is likely to cause some controversy especially among lobbyists for non-traditional users, but even the cyclists’ organizations, Fietsersbond, has cast doubt on the value of a 25kph limit, preferring a limit of 30kph, if a limit is to be introduced. However, the Fietserbond, in common with many individuals, does question how a speed limit could be enforced (not least as bicycles are not required to be equipped with a speedometer).
Snorscooters have speed limiters fitted, but these are easily, and it is claimed widely, disconnected allowing them to be ridden at speeds of up to 40-60kph. Cyclists organizations, such as Fietsersbond, have been expressing discontent with the increase in higher speed users on cyclepaths.
The proposal from Fietsberaad follows the recent rejection in the Dutch parliament of a proposal, put forward by Amsterdam council, to move snorscooters from the cyclepaths and require them to use the carriageway (and also thus to use a helmet which is not required for riding on cyclepaths).
According to the Het Parool newspaper, the Amsterdam council is ‘disappointed’ at the rejection of its proposal and a member said that ‘It is clear that something must be done on the flow and safety of the ever more busy Amsterdam cyclepaths and the rapid growth of the number of snorscooters’. He said that the council was working on a new set of measures.
However, there is vigorous opposition to the proposals. Blogger David Hembrow (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/06/being-member-of-out-group-little.html) argues that, while ‘Some mopeds are ridden aggressively .. this not a problem due to mopeds. Some cars and some bicycles are also used aggressively. Sending responsible people onto the carriageway with a slow vehicle, with nothing more than a token helmet for protection, is not an answer… The best way of avoiding this danger is to keep light and slow vehicles away from large fast vehicles, and that is what the cycle-paths of the Netherlands already do extremely well. But the majority of injuries to cyclists are not the result of crashes with motor vehicles of any kinds. The two biggest dangers are inadequate infrastructure and personal behaviour’.
He also challenges supporters of speed limits or proposals to shift faster modes to the carriageway to back up claims of ‘thousands’ of collisions between scooters and cycles and increasing numbers of users.
Hembrow acknowledges that ‘Subjective safety is very important for cycling. If cycling feels unsafe then people won’t cycle. Subjective safety is improved by building an environment where it feels safe to cycle. Quite apart from separating high speed traffic from low speed traffic, a high degree of subjective safety also requires changing the infrastructure so as to reduce the frequency of conflicts on the cycle-path.’
However, he adds, ‘concern over subjective safety should not be used to mask a desire to ban a minority group based on prejudice.’
This argument is not having much impact on the Fietsersbond which maintains its view that ‘speed pedelecs do not belong on cyclepaths in built up areas.’ They also argue that ‘cyclists who want to go faster than 30kph should have the choice of using the carriageway’ (which may well be forbidden on certain carriageways according to present regulations). Pressure is coming from cyclists who find the higher speed users of cycle paths uncomfortable and the Fietsersbond and local authorities are expressing their view nationally and locally.
The Fietsersbond in one town in Friesland supported a trial, which began last August, whereby ‘hardfietsers’ (ie fast cyclists) who wanted to go faster than 30kph were offered the opportunity to use the carriageway
According to the Burgemeester the aim is to reduce the speed differential between users of cycle paths. ‘On the carriageway the fast cyclist is not hindered by slower cyclists and thus can easily move forward and this also makes them more visible at junctions. This means too that the speed differential on the carriageway must not become too great’.
The locations for the trial have been carefully chosen, says the Burgemeester, to ensure that they are not dangerous for faster cyclists to use.
The recumbent cyclists’ organisation said that the ‘eager’ media attitude to the proposals for speed limits had caused ‘indignation, disturbance, surprise and amazement’. They suggest that more attention should be paid to improving the infrastructure rather than seeking to limit cycle path speeds.
One reader’s comment on the recumbent’s organization website illustrates the anger and frustration that is creeping into the debate on all sides: ‘The problem is not that there are more people cycling at higher speeds. The problem is that there are ever more people cycling slowly’.
British cyclists will be jealous that the Dutch have to face the problems of success. It is also interesting to note that the Dutch are considering lifting any ban on cyclists using certain carriageways. The first point raised by British (and US) cycle activists who oppose dedicated cycle paths in the UK (and USA) about the Dutch system is their concern that it leads to cyclists being banned from using carriageways. This issue would disappear if faster cyclists were encouraged/expected to share the carriageway.
Finally, I want to add that I am not taking any sides in these debates, primarily as I don’t have enough current experience with cycling in the Netherlands. I am only reporting the debate for the enlightenment (hopefully) of English-speaking cycle activists to give an insight into the Dutch debate.