Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sharing the road or segregated cycle paths? Well, it is both!



I recently attended a Cycle Nation conference in Bristol and during this conference I sensed a historic divide between “two camps”. On one side, you have those who love to see traffic-free cycle paths being implemented in the UK everywhere (“segregated”) and on the other side, there is a group that strongly prefers “share the road”-models. There is a sense in the UK cycling world that a choice is needed between these two models, but by this article I want to demonstrate that the successful cycling model of The Netherlands is really a mix of both!

Generally, you’ll find segregated cycle paths alongside busier roads. These are generally of a high quality, designed to keep even racing cyclists going at a reasonable speed. This means a smooth surface, no tight corners, priority at side road crossings and no sudden endings like we see so often in the UK. Where there are no cycle paths (and yes, there are many Dutch roads without cycle paths!) severe traffic-calming has been put in place to ensure cyclists have just an enjoyable experience as like they were cycling traffic-free.

To demonstrate this Dutch dual approach, I asked my retired dad to take some pictures of his weekly 6 km (3.7 miles) ride between two suburban towns just south of Amsterdam. His ride starts in a housing estate in my old home town Uithoorn and ends at the leisure centre in Aalsmeer, where my dad normally plunges in the pool for a well-deserved swim. 

On the map you'll find on-road route sections marked in blue and traffic-free "segregated" route sections in green. Note there are various routes available, like a southern scenic route via a quiet country lane. This route is nearly entirely on-road and is marked with a dotted line. In this article we limit ourselves to the most direct route; the route a commuting cyclist would take. 

Looking at the first picture of the "commute route", you’ll see the homes and the paved roads which still look much the same as when I grew up in the 1980s. Since then, there have been some significant on-road changes though to keep cycling fun and enjoyable. A 30 km/h (20mph) speed limit is now in force for the whole area, enforced by high speed bumps at every junction.

The busier cross-road junction on my way to school has been replaced by a roundabout, with “priority for cyclists” cycle path crossings all the way around the roundabout. Immediately beyond the roundabout, the cycle paths end and the “sharing the road” model in a 20 mph speed limit environment continues. This is a great example of the Dutch mix of “shared road” and “segregated”. In places where cyclists need further protection, the traffic-free cycle paths immediately kick in. Where the risks are lower, "sharing the road" lay-outs are used.

Cycling is easy in another residential street where a 20 mph speed limit is in force. Again, speed bumps have been put in place. This road generally only gets used by those who live here, but is an important link for cyclists. Only for pedestrians and cyclists, it is possible to leave this housing estate at the other end.


At the end of this road, my dad takes a short-cut away from the residential area, which has been here since the estate was built. This is a wide, well-lit cycle path with segregated space for pedestrians
The next section of our route may alarm some fans of Sustrans cycle paths on dismantled railway lines. My dad now cycles into a cycle path tunnel parallel to a bus route, both on the course of a dismantled railway line. In a space of about 16 m wide, the Dutch have managed to squeeze in a dual lane bus route with various stops and a wide cycle path. 

This may be a far cry from the traditional English “greenway” railway paths, but this Dutch railway cycle path scores high in terms of social safety. It is well lit once again and the high frequency of buses makes that women happily use this cycle route in the dark. This factor of social safety gets often overlooked in the UK when designing cycle paths. Also interesting, the bus stops on this route truly act as transport hubs, with lots of bike parking stands for those who are changing from bike to bus and vice versa as part of their daily commute. 

Further west, the cycle path naturally joins a cycle path alongside a busy main road. This picture shows where this cycle path crosses a side road. This side road used to be a quiet country lane when I was young. A cycle path crossing with priority for cyclists used to be sufficient. Since then, this area has been increasingly taken over by the Dutch greenhouse flowers industry, so, to secure a safe crossing for cyclists amidst increasing traffic, these lights have been installed. Note one press on a button is enough to cross the entire side road!

Further west, my dad makes his way to a very interesting junction. The N201/N231 main road junction at the east end of Aalsmeer town handles 50.000-60.000 vehicles per day. It is only a stone’s throw away from the biggest flower auction of the worldThe vast majority of flowers and plants sold worldwide are hauled by a lorry taking this junction (making you think about the green credentials of flowers and pot plants!). The junction is completely controlled by traffic lights, including safe crossings for cyclists. 


A five minute sequence allows every side of the junction a green light for one minute (motorised demand monitored by sensors) and one of these minutes is reserved for cycling! As you can see in the pictures, cyclists just have to cue as motorists to wait for their go, having to press a button as required. Once the green light appears, cyclists can take the full junction in total safety!

Another cycle path away from this main junction takes us now south, where another cycle path “short-cut” takes us into another housing estate. This is where my dad’s cycle journey goes on-road again. It is therefore greatly important that you notice the 30 km/h (20 mph) speed limit signs. 

Again, this shows how well the Dutch road system caters for cyclists. The segregated cycle path route ends, but there is immediately a 20 mph speed limit kicking in to protect cyclists on their further on-road journey. No further speed limit enforcement is in place in this housing estate, but another continental “traffic calmer” here is the “traffic from the right goes first”-rule. There are many side roads on this road. In contradiction of what a UK-road user may think, “minor road”-users from the right go first here, making it essential to reduce your speed at every junction, being ready to stop for side traffic from the right.

The journey ends on a slightly busier road in this Aalsmeer housing estate. Wide cycle lanes are in place here. Those with eye for detail will notice how these cycle lanes are continuous at the zebra crossing and the island in the center of the road. This picture, with the red car turning right, also explains something else. In The Netherlands, this type of cycle lanes is wide spread and Dutch learner drivers are taught always to look in their mirrors and to look over their shoulders first to check for cyclists before turning across this type of cycle lane. The cyclist heading straight on should go first! 

This driver's attitude is light years away from the attitude of a typical UK driver. He/she probably wouldn't even notice the cycle lane and definitely wouldn't look so extensively for cyclists before turning. This is an important issue when trying to implement Dutch cycling infrastructure solutions to the UK. The current Dutch cycling infrastructure and road calming are a result of a 40 year evolution and Dutch people are completely accustomed to it. British people have been brainwashed by 5 decades of motorised priority. A change of driver's behaviours with a serious reduction of speed limits on many roads is needed. Another issue is that most Dutch housing estates are built post WWII and very spacious, whilst many English urban areas are dating from the Victorian age and very densely built, not to mention its more hilly nature. This makes the task ahead challenging, but not impossible. Also in hilly and older urban areas, the Dutch have managed to implement their cycle-friendly layouts. 


Whatever the way,  it will always be a combination of “sharing the road” and “segregated” models. It can never be one or the other, just like in The Netherlands. Some positive notes from a UK-perspective; Bikeability is a great tool to make more people comfortable with on-road cycling. Also UK-style bike stands replace more and more Dutch "front-wheel" bike stands as in this picture at the Aalsmeer leisure centre; my dad will be keen to use them. For now dad; thanks for the pictures, have a good swim and enjoy the ride back!  


What about getting on your bicycle yourself with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Power of Bikeability

Most people in Britain will have done some kind of Cycling Proficiency training in their childhood, as shown in this picture from the 1950s. This article is about Bikeability, its 21st century equivalent, designed to enable children to cycle on "today's roads", as the official website explains it. I've been involved with Bikeability as instructor since 2008, teaching about 400 children per year and managing courses for over 8000 children in total.


In the first place, Bikeability confirmed my own ideas on how to keep myself safe as a cyclist. Being from The Netherlands, I grew up in a society where you don't have to worry so much for your safety as a cyclist, as cycling-friendly road-lay outs and a mind boggling network of traffic-free routes keep cyclists protected all the time. As soon as I crossed borders into other countries, I had to learn to adapt to often hostile cycling conditions and I developed various skills and methods to keep myself safe. After years of cycling all over the world, such as Coast to Coast in the USA, Bikeability finally confirmed I was correct in using these methods. It also made me even more aware of hazards on the road. If it was only for this, I'd like to thank the team who developed Bikeability.

Bikeability is the National Standard for cycle training in Britain,originally developed by the CTC (now Cycling UK) in partnership with many national organisations and approved by the Department for Transport. It was introduced in 2004, with the Highway Code being revised in 2007 to fit the curriculum. Bikeability is now delivered on a large scale at primary schools in various regions of Britain, depending on whether the local authority is supporting the scheme. It consists of thee levels; Level 1 is the traffic-free "bike control"-element (the old "Cycling Proficiency"), Level 2 teaches to cycle on quiet to medium traffic intensity roads (for 9-12 year olds) and Level 3 enables people to cycle on busier roads (for anyone aged 12 or up).

I mostly work as Bikeability instructor in Devon, a very keen cycling county, every two years on the itinerary of the Tour of Britain (see picture with some of my own Bikeability trainees at a stage start). In Devon, over 7000 children per year complete a Bikeability course. The instructors co-operative Westcountry Cycle Training (of which I was a founding director) delivers about 25% of this bulk in the northern area of Devon County.

What Bikeability makes such a good scheme is that it takes many children on their bikes on the public road for the very first time. When taught well, it gradually introduces them to traffic, up to a level that they are confident enough to make on-road journeys independently themselves. As British children are told since "toddler-hood" that roads are dangerous, being out on the road is for many a big step. 

Good coaching is essential to move children away from the habit to jump on the pavement for any car they see. Children learn that they are traffic too and that they can sometimes take control of traffic situations, making drivers do what is essential for the rider's own safety. Simple tricks to make drivers slow down and to overtake wide are all part of the curriculum.

This is possibly the biggest strength of the Bikeability scheme; the safety of the cyclist is central. Misconceptions developed since the motorised 1950s that "cyclists should move out of the way for motorists" are completely abandoned, so Bikeability teaches to take as much road space as required to stay safe and confirms the cyclist's right to be on the road. In a way, it is a miracle Bikeability came around and that it is now officially adopted as the way of how you should cycle when being on the road!

The good thing is that the skills of Bikeability build up in difficulty throughout the course. By the time we expose children to some serious traffic, the children know exactly how to deal with its hazards and indeed, to take control over the situation. Drivers are often surprised by that and, most of the time, are able to adapt well to these situations with young knowledgeable cyclists on the road. The skills of Bikeability indeed work!

Or not? It still very much depends on where we teach whether the Bikeability cycling style gets fully accepted by motorists. I know schools in notorious "black spots" where roads are completely taken over by motorised traffic and where it is nearly impossible to teach, due to a large number of impatient drivers with egocentric "top gear" driving behaviours. It always blows my mind that even 12 children in yellow vests and two instructors in ditto orange can't make people think. It is in these situations we have to step out on the road as instructors to protect our trainees and hopefully, also to teach these silly drivers a lesson.


A great addition since 2012 has been the delivery of Bikeability Level 3 for children in secondary education. Many children love it to see us back after a year or two to get further trained for their day-to-day journeys. We help the teenagers to plan their routes and to navigate through busy intersections or shorter sections of main road for which there is no alternative. In North Devon, we are now at such a participation level that 20% of children who do Level 2, also do Level 3 with us. I always get a smile on my face if I see a former trainee cycling somewhere, doing everything right!

So, what do trainees and their parents think of Bikeability? According to a 2012 survey by Devon County Council 51.5% rated the quality of the course as "very high" and another 44.3% as "high". 80% of respondents rated the cycling ability and safety of children "high" or "very high" and 93% of parents say they will ride more as family now that their child has completed Bikeability. Another great outcome is that 46.4% cycles one day per week or more to school after completing the course, in comparison to only 10.3% before doing Bikeability. 

Another Devon County Council 2016 report concluded that accident rates with young cyclists have dropped, which is against the general trend of more cyclists being involved in accidents.

Although these reports definitely show the power of Bikeability, we must not get too excited by this result. In the same 2012 Devon County Council survey, it is also clear that only 8.5% commits to cycle four or five days per week to school after completing Bikeability and 53.7 % insists never to consider such a journey. 

In a similar survey, various schools declared that Bikeability won't influence levels of cycling to schools. Open comments as "speed is a problem on roads near our school", "area without safe routes to school" or "school on busy road, so few children cycle", "barriers; busy roads" clearly indicate that although Bikeability is the first important step to a more cycling orientated society, dedicated cycling infrastructure as proposed by the Times Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign, the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is needed too. To be able to cycle, you literally need two wheels! 

What about going for a traffic-calmed cycling holiday with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.


Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Dutch West Cape by bicycle

The Netherlands may not be a premium tourist destination for coastal explorations, but if you like cycling there is no better coastal ride then the Dutch West Cape in the Zeeland province. Even if you are not bothered by the golden beaches, sand dune reserves and amazing flood barriers on the way, you'll at least be impressed by the excellent cycling infrastructure and Omni-presence of cycling participation! Naturally, this route is featured in my guidebook Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise. It is also one of the best sections of the famous North Sea Cycle Route

The ride starts in nautical Vlissingen (also known as Flushing in English) which can easily be reached by train from central Netherlands (direct services from Amsterdam Central, Haarlem, The Hague HS and Rotterdam Central). Expect to pay about £ 20 per rider and bicycle for the two hour train ride. Immediately on arrival, you'll start riding on Vlissingen's seawall, taking in a pretty Dutch windmill on the way and great views over the shipping canal to Antwerp Harbour in Belgium


On the promenade, the Michiel de Ruyter statue looks proudly over the waves. This is Flushing's famous admiral, responsible for the 1667 Dutch raid on the Medway. The spirit of piracy is kept high in the former armoury Het Arsenaal, a pirate theme park with sea aquarium and viewing tower; a perfect start to your cycling holiday when cycling with children! The nearby Muzeeum displays the past of the Zeeland province more seriously. You can also find out here how cartographers came about to name New Zealand after this Dutch province.
   
Leave the Vlissingen attractions behind to take in the full Dutch sand dune reserve experience. The continuous coastal traffic-free cycle route is not only popular amongst leisure cyclists, but also to those who are travelling to the beach by bike. Large scale bike parking is available every couple of kilometres or so. The Dutch West Cape at Westkapelle will be in reach after an hour or pedalling. This small town is surrounded by the North Sea at three sides. With the sand dunes being washed away centuries ago, life wouldn't be possible here without the impressive man-made Westkapelle seawall.

During WWII this seawall was bombed by allied forces to literally drown the Nazi defences. On 3rd October 1944 Westkapelle town was destroyed by a wall of water rushing into the low lying area of Walcheren, followed by a mini D-day amphibious landing a month later. You can relive these historic events at the Liberty Bridge, placed over the cycle path, leading to a Sherman tank on the seawall. The Dike and War-museum opposite this memorial provides excellent additional displays, making a good break from the cycling.

The restored Westkapelle seawall offers excellent cycling conditions and great views over the North Sea, the nearby shipping canal and the Domburg beaches further north. Domburg is a small scale seaside resort, with the original village dating back to Roman times. Its historic bathing pavilion dates from 1837 and was for a while internationally fashionable. Today, the total number of bucket and spade brigades remains bearable, even during the summer holidays. Just a mile out of town, on the cycle path in the Mantelingen Nature Reserve, you can easily be on your own.

From here, you now enter the world of the Delta Project, The Netherlands' multi billion scheme to protect its south-western lowlands from flooding. Since the notorious 1953 floods (which drowned over 1800 people and left many more homeless) the Dutch have been building enormous dams across their estuaries for over half a century, dramatically reshaping a vulnerable coastline.

The mighty Oosterschelde barrier is the most spectacular of all; about 6 miles long, with three series of floodgates over a total length of 2 miles and two man-made construction islands on the way. This "eco"-dam allows the local seafood industry and special estuary wildlife to survive, as well as offering protection from rising sea levels during North Sea storms. The wide cycle path across the barrier only gets occasionally used by maintenance vehicles and is therefore perfect for cycling! This is where you can literally cycle the waves, or as a plaque on the dam proudly says "Here, above the tides; the moon, the wind and us".

Just across the Oosterschelde barrier, it is pleasant cycling to the lonely Koudekerke church tower. With panoramic views over the tamed Oosterschelde estuary, this tower tells the tale of the Dutch battle against the sea as no other. Originally, Koudekerke village could be found 4 km away from the estuary, but with the strong currents of the Oosterschelde eating away more and more land of Westenschouwen island, the village was gradually abandoned between 1583 and 1650. A newly built inland dyke behind the tower shows how locals expected the tower to disappear in the waves too, but up to today the lonely tower ("plompe toren") still stands.

You can climb the tower for free and also experience its local legend: One day, the wealthy fisherman of Westenschouwen captured a mermaid in their nets. Her husband (a King Neptune-type character) begged the fishermen to give his wife back, but they just laughed. He then threatened the fishermen to silt up their harbour, but the fishermen sailed their ships away from him, taking the mermaid with them. Then the mermaid's husband spoke his fatal words; I'll let your village drown and only the tower will survive!

Once you have taken in the views from the top of the lonely tower it is only a 15 minute bike ride to Burgh-Haamstede town. This is where you'll find the Pancake Windmill Restaurant "De Graanhalm" with a great display of bicycles (see picture). With 58 kilometres (36 miles) of relaxed traffic-calmed cycling from the start in Vlissingen you have well deserved a traditional Dutch pancake! Of course you can also cycle this route over multiple days. My Netherlands guidebook provides a full route description, high profile mapping and accommodation listings (both camping and Bed & Breakfasts) for this route!




Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.