Saturday, 2 July 2011

I never said there was only one type of effective cycle infrastructure

Many of my posts here have been promoting the need for segregated cycle tracks or paths in the UK to make cycling far more attractive to the average person. But perhaps this concentration on one type of infrastructure has produced a misleading impression of my views. For it is obvious, looking at the high-cycling cities and communities the world, that use of a variety of methods of providing for and prioritising the bike is what works: the "right solution in the right place" as Ashok Sinha, Chief Executive of LCC, said in this video. There are many streets on which segregated provision for bikes, or even line-separated lanes for bikes, are not necessary, or sensible.

I just say this because I have has a weird correspondence with a Paul, who lives in The Netherlands. He believes that the cycle infrastructure in The Netherlands is not the cause of their cycling culture, and, if I understand him right, not even in any way related to their high level of cycling. He says his point is demonstrated by the fact that there is much expensive cycle infrastructure in The Netherlands that is little-used, and many places where there is no infrastructure where there is a great deal of cycling. To try to prove this, he sent me a link to this video of a street in Amsterdam, a which he believes has no cycle infrastructure.

A Walk | Ride | Drive Sample from Amsterdamize on Vimeo.

Of course, the video does not prove his point. I proves the reverse, and demonstrates the truth of what I have been saying about the direct relationship between the provision of a high-quality cycle environment, and cycling levels.

Paul writes:
This street has been left as it was, apparently since about the 1980's (bollards went out of fashion and are no longer used). It has no cycle lane and no cycle path, and neither does the canal it crosses here. The intensive use by cyclists is not the result of providing them with anything extra, but of restricting car usage. The main restriction is the one-way system. Every car trip via this street is longer than its alternatives, so there is little incentive to use it [the car, I presume]. It is not however segregated.
Of course there would be no sense in segregating cycling in this street. It would not be "the right solution in the right place" But this is high-quality cycle infrastructure all right, of a type that is almost unknown in the UK. The whole context has to be taken into account, as Paul explains.

The making of cycle journeys more convenient and pleasant by giving cyclists high-priority routes which are different to those which are given to cars, through all the well-known traffic engineering means: partial road closures, one-way systems, junction priority, allowing only access traffic, cycle-only streets, etc., is a major strategy that must be used, particularly, in dense, small-scale, old urban locations like this, to get a shift from cars to bikes. Note how this street is one-way for cars but two-way for bikes.

In an area like this, clearly, high-capacity segregated cycle tracks on or next to roads are going to be less relevant than they are in suburban areas, in rural areas, in more modern, more spacious urban layouts, and in 19th century capital city boulevards. In an area like this the solutions will be mixed, with cyclists often sharing the roads with a level of slow, considerately-driven, essential motor traffic. But it is all cycle infrastructure, all part of accommodating and prioritising the bike. It is still "ALL ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT, STUPID!"as I said in my Team Green Britain Tosh post – and not about vague "cultural" factors. As the last Labour Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, said:
Cycling in Holland is not in the genes, it's in the facilities that are available.
I find it difficult to fathom why this  concept is such a problem for some people. Here, by contrast, is a typical video of a cycling journey in a UK city. Would all those people in the Amsterdam video be cycling if they had to do it in these conditions? If you think they would, I fear there is little more I can say to you.


  1. I know of Paul. He popped up on 'Cycling Dutch Style' last month, spouting such nonsense (claiming that Houten didn't have any cyclists to speak of because he couldn't see them on Google Earth and that only poor people in the Netherlands cycle, to name a few things) that it was very clear that 'Paul' is not Dutch by any means.

    If he is who we think he is, he is an Irish-born language coach, who has live in the Netherlands for a few years. He isn't Dutch, has no insight in Dutch culture, no interest in cycling and no credentials that makes him an expert on the matter. Quite the contrary.
    I have no idea why this man trolls on cycling blogs to tell people that the country where he chose to live isn't all that and a bag of chips. I can only conclude that there are many, many strange people in the world. As my mother used to say, "je hebt mensen, en je hebt fietsbellen" , which translates as "there are people, and there are bicyclebells (things that make a lot of noise)".

  2. Ah yes, this is something that is little understood. This is a complex matter. While it is true that nothing has changed in this particular street, there is a reason that it has such little car traffic: All the streets around it did change. Influencing the main flow of traffic, making changing this particular street unnecessary. This is illustrated in one of my videos.
    David Hembrow has a whole lot of posts explaining 'segreation without cycle paths'.
    So there IS a bigger plan that has to do with doing things in favour of the cyclist, even without it being directly visible in a street's design.

  3. The answer is clear, 'Paul', whoever he is, is a time-wasting irrelevance and to be ignored. There will always be those, who for various reasons will maintain that black is white; up is down; truth is lies and that lies are the new truth; and that cause and effect are reversed. The answer with those like 'Paul' is not to feed the troll, for those like him, it may be best just to moderate their posts and relegate them to their own thread where they can be ignored.

  4. Quite simply motor-vehicles [and mostly that means cars], by virtue of their often enormous potential power to dominate; great mass; potential for excessive and dangerous speed; the protection they afford; plus the anonymity they confer to the driver will always rise to the top of the hierarchy to dominate and often bully all other road users.
    That is, unless intelligent steps are taken to restore the balance successfully away from motorised bullies towards vulnerable road users. Unsurprisingly, those countries that have managed to rebalance the transport system against the space-hogging selfish hegemony of motorised traffic have reaped the numerous benefits. Cleaner air; healthier inhabitants; easy convenient transport; lower road casualties; quieter streets; vibrant egalitarian street culture; economic benefits and pleasant travelling experience – altogether more human.
    Whereas the rest of us have noisy; dangerous; aggression-tainted; bullying-prone; fume-filled; traffic-clogged; car-sick; unhealthy and absolutely horrid travelling experience – a living nightmare.

    It's obvious who has got this right and who hasn't.
    Boris is clearly no friend of cycling. We need politicians with vision and courage, but at the moment, I don't see any that have both and additionally that have any likelihood of changing the status-quo.

  5. I think maybe we are missing the point of what this Paul chap is trying to say (at least I hope so) given that I try to look at many blogs on London cycling, I often get the impression that many are calling for cycling segregation only. Now this as explained here is not true for this site, but we have to be careful when writing a blog to not give the wrong impression (just as a politician does).

    I personally would like to see cycling progress (and yes I commute everyday 22 miles by bike) in a realistic manner. Obviously there are not enough cyclist on the road yet to enable earth shattering expenditure - but if you don't provide the correct infrastructure then the numbers never will grow!

    It is a chicken and egg - politicians are not going to take that kind of financial / political risk (especially given the current financial climate). We have to remember that although we are committed cyclists there are many other out there with other priorities for how they would like to see the money spent and TfL, the Mayor, Local Authorities etc. have to keep as many of them as happy as possible.

    So where does this leave us as cyclists? We have to keep demanding improved facilities but also be aware of the various pulls on the resources, we have to make sure that we give our message clearly and not sound like all we are asking for is segregated cycling off the bat, there are not enough currently to achieve this. And to me, more importantly we have to persuade friends and work colleges to try commuting by bike or for fun at the weekend. The more of us cyclists there are, then the more we can get in terms of infrastructure.

    Please do not consider me a "traitor to the cause" I am just trying to be realistic in what we can achieve.

    As For Mayor Boris - I cannot comment on whether he is pro cycling or not - I would suggest he is, as I see him very regularly on his bike around London Bridge - I think the question is how high up the agenda he places cycling.

  6. Sorry, Vole O'Speed, I typed a whole lot more, but the internet ate it when I tried to post it (weird!). Ive registred with google account to post this.

    So.. Thumbs up to you, Vole O'Speed for exposing these cherry-picking, red herring decorated, false attributing straw man warriors.

    I totally agree with you, of course; if you want people to use bicycles to get from A to B, you have to give them the infrastructure to do so. And yes, infrastructure is more than separate cyclepaths; it's including the bicycle as a valid (and even preferred) mode of transportation instead of an afterthought or irritation.

    The next question therefore ought to be, "Why did the Dutch, back in the seventies, so readily agree to invest in bicycle infrastructure?"
    The Dutch have, after all, EXACTLY the same amount of cars per capita as the British, but when they introduced speed limits and speed bumps and gave priority to cyclists, you didn't hear the hatefilled 'war on motorists' rhetoric from Dutch drivers.

    Yes, there was the 'Stop de Kindermoord' action, but don't the British care about their children? Of course they do. Ask any parent why they drive their children to school instead of having them cycle and they will tell you that it is far to dangerous for the kids to cycle in traffic. They KNOW that cars kill children and they care.

    I think there are two factors that you must realise. First, back in the seventies, Dutch economy boomed. It was the most affluent decade of the century. There was money to spare to experiment or to invest in long-term projects like cycle infrastructure. It will be a lot harder to convince politicians and the public that public money must be invested. And you can't do these things half-hearted. It must be done well or not at all.Nobody is served by painting 'superhighways' on the road on which cars are allowed to park.

    The second factor is in the Dutch culture. We Dutch are little individualists who love to participate in collective actions. Google 'International Four Days Marches' or 'Elfstedentocht' to see what I mean.

    In politics, this individualistic group think that tends to long for consenses is called 'the polder modedl'. To quote wikipedia:
    "a unique aspect of the Netherlands, largely consisting of polders, land regained from the sea, which requires constant pumping and maintenance of the dykes. So ever since the Middle Ages, when this was started, different societies living in the same polder were forced to cooperate because without unanimous agreement on shared responsibility for maintenance of the dikes and pumping stations, the polders would have flooded and everyone would have suffered."

    Shared responsibility. It's deep in Dutch culture, and I think it's one of the key factors in why the Dutch invested in infrastructure for bicycles.

    So how could this help Brits who wish for good cycle infrastructure? Well, what makes the Brits tick? The British DO have a capacity for collectively 'doing one's bit' for the greater good (think of WWII), but apparently only when threatened from outside.

    So what makes the British tick? Patriotism? An appeal to history? Find out what it is and present your ideas about cycling infrastructure in the words that resonate in the British soul.

  7. "Paul" is clearly a fruitcake: I have just received this from him:

    "It is beyond bad manners to post personal data about third parties on your blog, or to allow others to do so. I also used my email to post comments on the Cycling Dutch Style blog, and evidently they have passed my name around. They seem to have googled the wrong person, so little harm has been done. However I suggest you keep my name out of any further discussion, unless you want to collect abusive mails and/or death threats from Dutch neo-facsists."

  8. Yes that's right, cycle infrastructure is not the cause of cycling culture in the Netherlands, and what's more there is no national cycling culture. Not in the sense that everyone is a regular cyclist: that is far from the truth.

    Central Amsterdam, including the surrounding 19th-century districts, has high rates of cycling. That is true, and often leads foreign visitors to generalise that image to the rest of the country. The Amsterdamize blog, where the video comes from, explicitly promotes that image.

    However central Amsterdam is not the place to look, for either segregated cycle infrastructure, or the priority measures listed by David. There are no "high-priority routes which are different to those which are given to cars". There are very few partial road closures to benefit cyclists, and the one-way system is not intended or designed, to provide cycle priority. There is no "junction priority for cyclists" - that is a bit of a joke in the Amsterdam context. Many streets are access only, but that is traffic management and not a specific measure to benefit cyclists. There are no "cycle-only streets" - central Amsterdam does not have room for that. There is a lot of traffic, and a chaotic road environment.

    However the negative factors do not deter cyclists. They cycle anyway, not because of the traffic and infrastructure policy, but despite it. They cycle not because of the city council and local politicians, but in spite of them.

    If infrastructure makes cycling, and the Netherlands is an example, then there should be a correlation between the level of infrastructural measures, and the level of cycling. However, most cycling advocates don't even try. They simply take it as revealed truth, that the Netherlands has caused high levels of cycling, by providing a high level of infrastructure. That would be a historical absurdity, because it would imply that no-one cycled before the 1960's, approximately. In reality far more people cycled in the Netherlands, when there was no cycle infrastructure to speak of. The whole historical perspective has been ignored, by cycling advocates who use the Netherlands as an example.

    So Lord Adonis got it wrong: cycling in the Netherlands is not in the facilities. It certainly has not been shown to be in the facilities, i.e. the required comparative studies have not been done. Many cycling advocates outside the Netherlands think that you can make people cycle, even if they don't want to, by providing cycle facilities. They falsely see that as the lesson from cycling policy in the Netherlands. That is perhaps why they are so upset (see above), when the Dutch role model is questioned.

  9. Just to be clear, this Paul doesn’t live in the Netherlands, and is not Irish (or Dutch, for that matter). He lives in Surrey and works in the City.

    So confusion avoided, I wonder whether Dutch/Irish Paul might spend his free time as a member of the Flat Earth Society, and his arguments seem upside down to me, but he does seem to have provided a useful opportunity to debate a key point about cycle promotion.

    The reason there have always been a lot of cyclists in the Netherlands is probably the same reason there used to be a lot of cycling in the UK. It is not the presence (or absence) of special cycling infrastructure which impacts cycling, but the absence (or presence) of special car infrastructure.

    We had roads long before we had the car, and those roads were metalled long before cars used them – John MacAdam of Tar MacAdam (Tarmac) fame was a 19th century engineer. Before cars really became a mass-market product in the 60s, we could cycle mainly in safety and comfort just about anywhere. Indeed, I used to cycle to a summer holiday job in the early 70s along a road which I would never contemplate cycling today.

    What changed was that cars started to take over, and government and planners responded to this by adapting the roads for cars. We must all know of country roads which have had their kinks taken out so that cars can travel them faster. Verges, or even in some cases kerbed pavements, were removed so that the roads could be made wider. Land was compulsory-purchased so that single carriageway roads could be turned into dual carriageways, and speed limits raised.

    Apart from deliberate adaptations, we also have “accidental” ones – quiet side streets which have become through routes because drivers reckoned they could rat-run them to avoid a traffic light or junction on the designated main route.

    All of this has made the decision to drive instead of cycle easier, or even inevitable – it is not only less effort, drier and more comfortable, it is safer and more anonymous.

    What is different about the Netherlands is that, before the rot had really set in, there was a mass movement (“Stop the child murder” – campaign against child road casualties) to oppose these developments. Copenhagen had something similar. So, road development was no longer addressed exclusively to cars, which is not to say that the car was not catered for – it was, and anyone who has driven on Dutch major routes will know how busy, fast and slightly stressful they can be, as well as marvel at those things like porous low-spray asphalt which the Dutch manage to find money for when the UK doesn’t.

    So David is right to correct the false impression (if indeed anyone reading his blog did not already know exactly what he meant) that segregation is the be-all and end-all of cycle infrastructure. Providing largely car-free environments is the key, however that is done.

    In the City of London for example, very few roads are wide enough to accommodate segregated cycle lanes, and most of those which are fall under TfL’s responsibility anyway. The solution therefore is to find routes through the City, parallel to the “distributor roads” where appropriate, which have only light traffic. In terms of tarmac on ground, nearly all of this is already there, and where it is already there, all it would take is three simple things to make the routes much more appealing: 20mph limit, cycle contraflow on one-way streets (largely a matter of developments in approved signage – you no longer need the flying motorcycle sign because you can put “Except Cycles” under a no-entry sign) and filtered permeability. All of these in engineering terms are easy and cheap – the last requires nothing more than a few bollards in the middle of a street so that motor traffic can come in, and can go out, eg on deliveries, but cannot go through. As through traffic on City local streets is technically (ie legally) prohibited, bit not yet physically prevented in most cases, it is not a major development.

  10. In a completely different part of my universe, the SW corner of Surrey, the solution to the A3 near Hindhead would indeed be to build a kerb-separated cycle track alongside the dual carriageway. The necessary land is already there, the bridges and underpasses to permit crossing the road already exists. I live in hope that one day someone might find the loose change from the £376m Hindhead Tunnel project to build it.

  11. If Paul says "There are no "cycle-only streets" - central Amsterdam does not have room for that" then I would like to know what planet this is on. There are other similar streets elsewhere in Amsterdam which we can find due to the wonder of Streetview.

  12. christhebull is right, I meant there are no 'cycle streets', which are left open for car access on condition the car gives way to cyclists. So far as I know that model is not used in central Amsterdam.

  13. No Paul M., 'Paul' is not right. 'Paul' is attacking straw men and muddying the water.

    Infrastructure is more than just roads, infrastructure include signage, streetlights, trafficlights, parking, policy and a thousand other things.
    Bicycle friendly infrastructure can take many shapes. It can be as simple as reigning in car infrastructure, such as speedlimits or speedbumps, or as convoluted and explicit as building interconnected cyclepaths.

    In order to encourage people to cycle instead of taking the car, you must make it attractive to do so. Making cycling routes more direct than car infrastructure so that you are at your destination quicker by bike is one thing. Making sure the cycling infrastructure is safe (no potholes, etc) is another. Making sure that a cyclist FEELS safe (well lit paths, separation from high speed cars, etc) is yet another.

    Infrastructure is one of those things, if it works you hardly notice it because things go smooth. It's only when it doesn't work when you notice it.

    So what does 'Paul' do if Vole O'Speed says that it's the bicyclefriendly infrastructure that makes the Dutch cycle? He denies this because... Amsterdam doesn't have 'cycle streets' which cars can access on condition that the car gives way to cyclists!!

    To claim that Amsterdam doesn't have cyclinginfrastructure because it doesn't have 'cycle streets' is like saying that the UK is a lawless anarchy because in Stoke-on-Trent the bobbies don't wear helmets.
    'Paul', let me spell it out for you: 'cycle streets' is not the end all and be all of cycle infrastructure. Wether Amsterdam has these 'cycle streets' or not isn't important. Amsterdam has cyclefriendly infrastructure if only because Amsterdam has a policy for discouraging cars.
    Just because you don't recognise it as infrastructure doesn't mean it isn't there.

    Besides, 'Paul', isn't it a bit weird that you at the one hand try to sell the point that Amsterdam doesn't have the infrastructure to explain the enormous amount of cyclists while at the same time you're trying to convince people at another blog that the Netherlands (Houten, which was named 'cycling city of the Netherlands') don't have that many cyclists at all (presumably the cyclists in all those videos by markenlei and David Hembrow are all actors)? You can't have it both ways.

  14. David Hembrow: "Amsterdam is the biggest city in the Netherlands but along with the many benefits this also brings problems. The city has some of the worst infrastructure for cyclists, causing more clashes than you get in other cities in the country."

  15. Paul, first you seemingly deliberately misunderstand David Arditti's point, and now you seem to being doing the same with mine.

    Yes, I wrote that Amsterdam has "some of the worst infrastructure". I made that comment in part as a joke aimed at Henry, posting as he did about life "in da 'hood" with all that crime (i.e. four actually quite minor incidents spread across many years). There is of course some truth in it - Amsterdam's infrastructure is indeed "bad" - but only relative to other places in the Netherlands.

    Note that I provided a link in that comment to a reference showing that Amsterdam has a "low" rate of cycling to school. Yes, in Amsterdam, "only" 53% of first year secondary school children cycle to school, vs. 89% for the country as a whole. 53% is of course a vastly higher figure than you find in Britain. It's also a somewhat higher figure than you find even for Denmark, which itself is well ahead of the UK.

    As a city to cycle through, Amsterdam is still leaps and bounds ahead of anything you'll find in Britain or elsewhere in the world. As a result, the cycling rate in Amsterdam, while not particularly high by Dutch standards, is still somewhat higher than you find anywhere else.

    You're not alone in missing my ill-judged "humour". I posted two other links later to try to calm people down after it all seemed to get a bit out of control, but to no avail.

    BTW, if you put together the Amsterdam and "whole of Netherlands" figures for cycling to school you can calculate that for the whole of the rest of the country outside Amsterdam there is a 93% cycling rate to school for that age group. This is quite incredible and unheard of elsewhere.

    It is possible because children, like adults, cycle on infrastructure which both keeps them safe and assures their parents happy that they will be safe.

  16. Central Amsterdam's cycling infrastructure is indeed better than in most European cities. However, many places in the Netherlands have better infrastructure, and the best is usually in new developments (outside city centres). Nevertheless, far more people cycle in central Amsterdam.

    That seems to indicate that the infrastructure is not the cause of the high cycling rate, and that cultural factors are more important. If that is indeed true, then the applicability of the 'Dutch model' for other countries in undermined. So there is no misunderstanding. This is about whether cycle infrastructure makes people cycle, and I am saying that (in general) it does not. David Hembrow says it does: that is what his blog is for.

  17. So explain these Dutch "cultural factors" to us Paul in detail, and explain why they do not exist in the UK. Explain the situation in diverse high-cycling cities such as Copenhagen, Helsinki, Geneva, and Münster to us in the same way. I think you are using a meaningless phrase to hide the fact you have an empty argument.

  18. The cultural factors are not Dutch. The point is that within the Netherlands there are local differences in cycling rates, which can not be explained by the quality of the local infrastructure, and in some cases show an inverse relationship. If good infrastructure makes people cycle, that should not be the case. The comments in the post on road rage in Holland indicate a few other factors - ethnicity and politics for instance. (In Germany, it seems to be accepted that right-wing people don't cycle, and that you can't make them cycle).

    You have already said, that you don't accept the argument that local differences in cycling rates, and inverse relationships between cycling rates and infrastructure provision, undermine the claimed causal relationship between cycle infrastructure and cycling rates. It is common among English-language cycling campaigners, to attribute high cycling rates in the Netherlands solely to infrastructure provision.
    Dutch market research companies hold a mass of data on attitudes, lifestyle and transport, so if you paid them they would tell you, for example, which political parties regular cyclists vote for. But if you rule that out as a factor in cycle use anyway, then there is little point in such research.

    I won't comment on cities which I have not seen. Perhaps it is true that in Copenhagen people buy and bike and cycle, as soon as the city council builds good cycle paths on their route to work/school. If so, then that is an argument for UK local authorities to do the same. But I doubt if it works that way.

  19. Yes. So in the end, Paul, your argument comes down to "I doubt if it works that way". You have no explanation for the facts of consistently high cycling take-up in all cities which have invested in high-quality cycle infrastructure across many different nationalities, cultures, religious and political situations, and no explanation for the low cycling rates in the UK.