Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Talk : Go Dutch - Designing Cycling into the City

Interesting talk by Matt Turner (@MattTurnerSheff) titled "Go Dutch - Designing Cycling into the City" and hosted by Nottingham cycling advocacy group Pedals. BFTF used notes from the event as a jumping off point for this blog post which combines Matt's comments with some other linkage.


Matt began by contrasting the perception of cycling in the UK as being for the "lycra brigade" whereas in the Netherlands, cycling was for everyone, young and old, fast or slow. As a result, the Dutch make more cycle journeys than the entire English speaking world put together!

Matt then explained a major factor in why this was the case by showing two schematics [from the Copenhagen Rangliste ranking of cycling supporting cities, here via Resiliance.org] that, essentially, described the challenge at hand as being to move from the image on the left to the image on the right.


Matt also ran a video (worth watching, only 90sec!) from Utrecht (where the bridge in the poster is located) which showcased the city's achievements in making cycling mainstream :

11,000 cyclists per day across the bridge shown in the poster above.
100,000 journeys (60%) per day to the city centre by bike.
37,000 cyclists per day (peak) on Utrecht's busiest cycle path.
33,000 cycle parking spaces will be available at the train station by 2020.
Safety through separate cycle lanes, roundabouts and cycle bridges/tunnels.


The cycle paths were busy because they were the easiest way to get around, and were used by all sections of the population, "dressed for the destination, not for the journey". Numerous subtle cues in urban road design work towards encouraging the car to slow down and towards making the journey easy and safe for the cyclist. An example below from here.
"A crossing with priority for cycling. It is very clear to drivers who has the right of way here. The continuous asphalt is the cycleway. The car lanes are in brick. There are road markings indicating the priority and signs and there is a speed bump just ahead of the crossing, also only on the car lanes. Since most of these drivers are residents of the area they also know that cycling has priority in this town."

Matt commented on how, in the UK, one-way systems were sometimes used to create rat runs to relieve pressure on arterial routes, whereas in the Netherlands one way systems were used for precisely the opposite reason, in order to make it easier for cyclists to access and use residential roads, but to make it more difficult (but not prevent) cars from doing so. An example below (see also the BicycleDutch blog)

Residential One Way System

Houten Map
Via Wikipedia

It was not always this way - back in the 1970's the Netherlands was prioritising car transport just the same as most other western countries, but a high number of children being killed on the roads. As this article by Renate Van Der See describes:
All that growing traffic took its toll. The number of traffic casualties rose to a peak of 3,300 deaths in 1971. More than 400 children were killed in traffic accidents that year. This staggering loss led to protests by different action groups, the most memorable of which was Stop de Kindermoord (“stop the child murder”)

This video by Bicycle Dutch, tells the story of how these protests resulted in a sea change in government policy, as does this one.

Kindermoord protest

In terms of costs, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett write in "Building the Cycling City" that :

“The Dutch cycle because their government spends an astonishing €30 ($35 US) per person per year on bike infrastructure – fifteen times the amount invested in nearby England.”
And resiliance.org state that :

"Yet this €30 per person is a very small fraction of what the Dutch – and other nations – spend on auto infrastructure. According to official figures from 2015, “The Dutch government spends a total of 15 billion euros on traffic and transport” each year – meaning the cycling infrastructure expense is a bit more than 3% of the government transport and traffic budget.

For this €30 per capita, the Dutch have been able to preserve the character of their central cities, keep carbon emissions lower than in neighboring countries, and enjoy some of the best health in the world due to an active population and cleaner air. Given the cost of health care alone, the €30 per capita spent by the Dutch government to promote cycling is an astonishing bargain."

In the Q&A following the talk, a few interesting points came up:

Milton Keynes, in the UK, has excellent cycling facilities, but they are not used. Why? No one knew!

On new build estates, habits form very quickly, so the Netherlands makes sure that local amenities such as schools, shops etc are in place right from the beginning, even if they have to be portakabins until the development in complete.

Matt commented that the design of some new developments in the UK was shockingly poor in comparsion, with cars sometimes being required to access shops some distance away and children's play areas being a single area remote from the housing, in contrast to the many play areas built into Dutch developments.

Rachel Aldreds and Sian Crosswellers paper "Investigating the rates and impacts of near misses and related incidents among UK cyclists" was mentioned as something worth reading (see also the Near Miss Project).

Barriers put along cycle paths to stop motorcyclists make cycling more awkward, and make it impossibly for those on mobility scooters etc to use the paths.

The answer to novice cyclists understandably fear of being run over by a car is not to give them a free cycle helmet. The answer is to remove or dramatically reduce the perceived danger by building good quality infrastructure.

Also, a good question to ask when faced with obstacles on cycle paths is "Would you design a road like that?"