Dutch Cycling Infrastructure

Why should non-cyclists support measures to boost cycling?

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This article (Kaya Burgess – The Times) describes the multifarious benefits of investment in cycling for all sorts of different groups in the UK. In what follows below, I intend to summaries and illustrate just a few of these benefits.

Motorists, for instance, would benefit from fewer traffic jams and less conflict with cyclists. Even Top Gear presenter and general motor-mouth Jeremy Clarkson has praised cycling as a way of getting around. He last year described Copenhagen’s cycling culture as “fan-bleeding-tastic” and said: “Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.”

People who commute by train and by bus will also benefit if more people took up cycling, as the intense pressure on the public transport system would be eased.

London's Underground: Rammed
London’s Underground: Rammed

As child obesity soars in the UK, parents and children will benefit from better infrastructure as cycling to school becomes an option again. The more people who cycle, the safer the streets become, and thus more people will be encouraged to take up cycling . With more than 2/3 of car journeys in the UK being less than 5 miles, most of the driving that people do is completely unnecessary anyway. The school run needn’t be the stress that it has become.

Cycling to school: is this really so radical?
Cycling to school: is this really so radical?

Ordinary adults will benefit from the regular exercise as well. Official advice recommends taking 150 minutes – or 2½ hours – of physical activity per week, but we do not always have the time – or inclination – to get down the gym or go for a jog after a long day or long week of work. Building cycling into a person’s daily routine is a brilliant way of nomalising the activity and incorporating exercise into their lifestyle.

The Dutch have shown us how cycling can be the most normal thing in the world - it definitely doesn't have to involve extreme exertion or specialist equipment
The Dutch have shown us how cycling can be the most normal thing in the world – it definitely doesn’t have to involve extreme exertion or specialist equipment. These people aren’t even close to breaking a sweat.

Taxpayers will also benefit from investment in cycling. The NHS spends around £5 billion each year on tackling preventable diseases exacerbated by inactivity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Around £16bn is currently being spent on the Crossrail project in London and a further £3bn on upgrades to the A9 road in Scotland. Health experts told the Get Britain Cycling inquiry that investing in cycle provision is by far the most cost-effective form of transport spend, recouping £4 in healthcare savings for every £1 invested.

Investing in cycling is also good for businesses and employers. Not only does a manager get a healthier and more alert workforce, but research in New York has shown that the introduction of cycle lanes led to a  49 per cent increase in retail sales. In terms of parking, bikes take up a lot less space than cars, so it follows that bikes can carry more potential customers than cars can.

yuh, good luck finding yours when they all look the same
Can you imagine how much space you would need if all these bikes were cars? The fact that drivers can no longer find parking on their high-streets has led to the death of many local and independent businesses.

As a final point, the article notes that cyclists would also benefit from improved cycle infrastructure. It might seem like an obvious point, but around 2 per of traffic on Britain’s roads is made up by people on bikes, and as this figure grows the infrastructure will need to grow with it. For instance, of all vehicles crossing bridges over the River Thames in London at rush hour, more than half are bicycles – in spite of this fact the cycle lanes (which are shared and often blocked by buses) are at best only a third of a lane in width. It really is time the Government took cycling seriously.

The UK's cycling infrastructure needs improving if it is to cope with the uptake of cycling that the government is encouraging
The UK’s cycling infrastructure needs radical improvement if it is to cope with the uptake of cycling that the government is encouraging

I really liked this article, but it did miss out some other key groups who would benefit from a more Dutch-style cycling infrastructure, as illustrated in the following video:

Cycling is not (intrinsically) dangerous

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2013 saw many articles written under titles referring to the ‘dangers of cycling’. A few random examples can be found here, here, here, and here. This one even talks about the ‘terrors’ faced by cyclists on the road.

Indeed, cycling can be a dangerous activity, but this is not because cycling itself is dangerous…

For instance, it isn’t dangerous to cycle without a helmet

no helmets

It isn’t dangerous to cycle without hi-viz
sit up and beg

It isn’t dangerous to cycle with a passenger…

The bike is king of the road in The Netherlands

Dutch bikes - an altogether more civilised way of getting around town.

Looks like fun, huh?

cycling with a passenger

…no matter what age you are!

these guys aren't having too much trouble

Even a couple of passengers (and a suitcase) is no big deal

cycling with two passengers

Cycling with kids isn’t dangerous either
DSC_7251

Riding your bike in the park on a summer afternoon... Such a simple pleasure that is so unreasonably denied to us in the UK

and it isn’t dangerous to cycle with an umbrella

So long as it's not too windy, I find that cycling in heavy rain is actually more difficult without an umbrella.

cycling with umbrella

It certainly isn’t dangerous to cycle next to your friends
children 5 abreast assen oost subjective safety

Even four-legged friends are safe to ride with.

Sometimes up front…
cycling with dogs

…or alongside
alongside

Whether you’re a little bit older…

Gustaf Håkansso
Gustaf Håkansso

a little older

…or a little younger

Vondelpark provides a totally safe environment for kids to ride their bikes

cycling a little younger

…cycling itself is not a dangerous activity.

What these photographs illustrate is how the physical environment affects the relative danger of riding a bike. Many of the pictures also show how good infrastructure is the key factor in determining whether or not cycling is actually safe.

As we move into 2014, I am hopeful that governing bodies in the UK (and elsewhere, for that matter) pick up on the merits of cycling and do what is needed to protect people who ride bikes. At present (and from my perspective), city dwellers face an unappealing trilemma when deciding upon transportation; they can either:

1. Contribute to the city’s pollution and congestion by paying through the nose for a car (+driving licence/insurance/MOT/VED/petrol/parking etc.).
2. Pay to take crowded/crappy (and notoriously unreliable) public transport.
3. Ride a bike but risk their lives by sharing the road with heavy/powerful/fast moving motor vehicles.

If a person is able to ride a bike (i.e. if their health permits it), then it should be in everybody’s interest to support them. Biker riders take up less space on the roads, and so there is less congestion for everyone else; they are not pumping out pollution into the air that we all have to breath; they are exercising their bodies and so easing pressure on an NHS that is currently strained by an obesity epidemic; they aren’t damaging the roads to nearly the same degree that other vehicles do (thus saving tax-payers money); they don’t run people over (and if they do, injuries are usually minor); and last but not least, motor-vehicle dominated cities are noisy and unpleasant places, and so bikes offer a quiet and civilised remedy to this.

I think that cycling is brilliant, not just for the bike rider but for the world. I intend to keep up the pace this year with my campaigning, and I hope to keep you updated with any developments/innovations that might be of interest.

All the best

Space for cycle lanes – it can be found!

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Whenever I tell people about my dream of having some decent cycling infrastructure in the UK, I am frequently met with the same point about there not being enough space on British roads. The general feeling is that roads are already too narrow, and that there simply isn’t any room to accommodate the type of segregated cycle lanes that work so well on the continent.

In opposition to this, I would like to present you with a group of photos taken from Google Streetview. In the left column you have shots of roads/junctions in the UK, and in the right column you have almost identical shots of places in The Netherlands. The point of the side-by-side comparison is to show how space is used differently, and how the Dutch so sensibly choose to separate pedestrians and cyclists from cars and HGVs. The streets are so similar that they could almost be before and after photos…

Road comparison 1Road comparison 2 Road comparison 3 Road comparison 4 Road comparison 5 Road comparison 6 Road comparison 7 Road comparison 8 Road comparison 9 Road comparison 10
In each case, the cycling provision in the UK is rubbish or non-existent, while that provided on a similar street in The Netherlands offers a far superior cycling experience. Of course, if cycle lanes were better then more people would cycle, and if more people were riding bikes then there would be fewer cars on the road and so less congestion and less pollution. Everyone benefits, right?

The following video explains how the Dutch got their cycle paths, and how their cities made the transition from being car-centric to being more bicycle friendly.

What the Dutch have achieved is truly remarkable, and this is why I always hold them up as the best example for the UK to follow. They are the only country in the world able to boast the fact that more than a quarter of all their journeys are made by bike, and it would be my dream come true if we could achieve this feat in the UK.

Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

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Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

For the many of you fortunate enough to not view the committee’s near two-hour session about cycle safety on Monday afternoon, I can tell you that there are scarcely enough words to describe how disheartening and shambolic it was. To give you a flavour of one journalist’s reaction, follow this link to see a collation of running tweets from the event.

The session followed the recent deaths of six cyclists in London and saw the 11-member committee first quiz a series of cycling representatives and police, then a trio of bigwigs from the road haulage world, along with Andrew Gilligan, cycle adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and an expert from the Transport Research Laboratory.

For the most-part, it seemed as if the MPs were concerned with minor issues. For instance, Sarah Champion (Labour MP) wondered whether helmet use could be made compulsory. How a bike helmet is supposed to help someone crushed by an HGV is something that we might wonder in response… The headphones issue was also raised.

Following this, Jason McCartney (Tory MP) asked if there was a war going on between cars and bikes. His party colleague, Martin Vickers, then asked – and he was being entirely serious – if the panel felt cyclists should “contribute” financially to the upkeep of roads. Yes, that’s right. The road tax question, the litmus test for someone who not only doesn’t understand the very basics about cycling policy but hasn’t the barest minimum of intellectual curiosity about it. Silly enough in a pub conversation. For an MP, let alone an MP on the transport select committee, let alone an MP on the transport select committee discussing cycling, it’s unforgivable.

An extract from a Guardian article on the subject encapsulates some real truths about how cycling issues are addressed by the people in power:

“…when it comes to cycling policy in Britain, we remain, for the most part, in the age of the dinosaur. The odd politician talks an occasional good game on bikes, but look at too many mainstream MPs and we’re right back in the 1960s, where bikes are a toy, or a faddish “pursuit”, perilous and mistrusted, while all must lie down in homage to “the economy”, a narrowly-defined set of interests with motorised pistons beating at their heart.”

Dinosaurs and bikes don't mix
Dinosaurs and bikes clearly don’t mix

Jim Dobbin (Labour MP) then proceeded to regale the committee with a series of anecdotes about misbehaving cyclists and scratched car paintwork before suggesting that currently cycle safety woes could be addressed by requiring cyclists to register themselves and their bikes, and to pass proficiency tests in order to gain a cycling licence.

Although many people may believe that Dobbin’s prescription is a good one, it is worth remembering that not a single country on this planet implements these things for the simple reason that they massively curtail bicycle use. Bicycles don’t have the capacity to be the killing machines that cars and lorries sometimes are, and cyclists don’t produce CO2 or damage the roads to the same degree as motor vehicles; requiring them to be registered and licensed (presumable at some cost) seems a preposterous and misguided contribution to a meeting about cycle safety. And while cycling proficiency is a reasonable issue, no one at the committee meeting seemed aware of the bikeability scheme.

Part two was possibly even more depressing still. The MPs, who had been quite interrogative towards the cycle groups (albeit mainly on irrelevancies) gave the haulage group representatives a far easier time. Jack Semple, policy head of the Road Haulage Association, was left utterly unchallenged when he repeatedly singled out cyclist behaviour as the reason for them being killed by lorries; an assertion for which there is, as far as I understand, no evidence.
What was missing from the committee meeting was an acknowledgement of the fact that cities are changing places. Whereas once they competed on things like skyscrapers and parking spaces, the most desirable cities in the world are now places where there is an emphasis on liveability – a more human-centred approach. People don’t want to live with urban motorways and the noise, congestion, and pollution that they bring with them. The nicest cities are more pedestrianised, with pavement cafes, and safe, communal spaces. They also prioritise (and even incentivise) walking and cycling in such a way as to make them more convenient than driving (just look at Groningen in The Netherlands for the perfect example).

To illustrate this point, it is worth noting that there are three big annual lists of the world’s most liveable cities. Not one of them features anywhere in the UK.
Things clearly need to change, and the mass extinction of political dinosaurs seems to be a necessary first step.

London Cyclists stage mass ‘die-in’

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Following the recent deaths on London’s busy streets, cyclists in the capital held a vigil and protest outside the headquarters of TfL (Transport for London). Despite the cold we lay down next to our bikes and made a pretty bold statement that TfL can no longer ignore.

Vigil and protest combined
Vigil and protest combined – TfL employees watched from their offices.
WP_001959
We’re not just ‘cyclists’, we’re people on bikes.


tfl
tfl 2

A photograph of the event posted by the 'STOP KILLING CYCLISTS' campaign
A photograph of the event posted by the ‘STOP KILLING CYCLISTS’ campaign

London’s die-in was reminiscent of the famous Dutch die-in that took place in the 1970s on the museumplein outside the Rijksmuseum.

The original Dutch die-in
The original Dutch die-in

The Dutch campaign was motivated by the number of people (particularly children) who were dying on the roads. Their protest achieved remarkable things in terms of their infrastructure, and 40 years down the line they are still reaping the benefits.

Dutch solutions to London’s problems aren’t really so radical, and their implementation would only requires a modest degree of commitment from the government.
Look at how they deal with HGVs and roundabouts – surely this sort of infrastructure is desirable for everyone, no?

On a side note, my sister was interviewed by the BBC during the protest, and her vox-pop even made it onto the evening news! I will try to upload a video, if I can find one…

My sister highlighted the benefits of cycling, both for the health of the population and for the environment. She also talked about how
In her interview, my sister highlighted the benefits of cycling for the health of the population and for the environment. She also talked about how poor the infrastructure in London is, and how standards on the Continent are much higher. Needless to say, I am very proud of her.

And the BBCs coverage of the event (my sister at 1:04)…

and another one…

Added benefits of segregated cycle lanes

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Another masterpiece from our friends at NL Cycling.

It’s not just people on bikes who benefit from good infrastructure. Check out the video and see for yourself.

Nothing but good stuff

John Snow calls for improvements in cycling infrastructure

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25046751

Veteran journalist John Snow is also an avid cyclist.

He has commuted by bike both to and from work every day for the last 40-odd years, and he raises some valid points about the dangers of riding a bike and the inadequacy of cycle safety provisions.

He talks about the probability of ‘big rewards’ for the first politician to re-draw the urban map and prioritise cyclists and pedestrians. In terms of combating obesity, reducing pollution, and making our cities more pleasant places to live, I think I can see why such a measure would be well received.

He states that, as humans, we respond to our surroundings. On the issue of cyclists who flout the law, the point he makes is that good behaviour will come when there are good provisions to protect and facilitate cycling. At the moment, it is a dog-eat-dog world out there on the roads; as the underdogs, cyclists are therefore put in a position of vulnerability, and have to make the most of their situation. Snow doesn’t condone bad behaviour on the roads, but he can at least appreciate why it happens.

Also of interest: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25013438 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25014296