Sharing bicycle knowledge

Almost 2 years ago in a LinkedIn group, members of the Dutch Cycling Embassy had a discussion about the then proposed “pre-start” at Bow Roundabout in London.  The question that was raised was: “Can you think of any examples of ‘pre-starts’ on Dutch roads where there are very high traffic volumes, or segregated tracks/signal crossings with two lanes of traffic on the roundabout. We could take a look on Google.”

Of course we have pre-starts in the Netherlands. Initially a group member came up with this example in Nijmegen.

Nijmegen Berg en dalseweg

Nijmegen Berg en dalseweg

A so called Advanced Stop Line, or bike box is used in combination with traffic lights regulating the crossing. While this is a crossing with exchanges in all directions, the question was raised why the bike box at Bow Roundabout would have the width of 2 lanes, when no right turn is allowed. For us, Dutch, it would have been an option to give the cyclists a prestart in front of the left turn cars, together with car traffic straight on.

But in a later observation we concluded that the amount of traffic that Transport for London wants to combine with cyclists is far beyond the limits we accept in the Netherlands. With the figures of car traffic at Bow Roundabout, cyclists have real separation in the Netherlands, like Keizer Karelplein in Nijmegen. Even at one of the most dangerous places for cyclists in the Netherlands, the Anne Frankplein, Utrecht, cyclists are physically separated from motor traffic. Another example, a bit more “Bow Roundabout-style” is the junction Schieplein in Rotterdam. Also at this point a clearly separated cyclepath is used, in combination of a free green phase in the traffic lights. And the recently converted 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht, featured in BicycleDutch blog makes clear how the Dutch separate people on bicycles from HGVs and other vehicles.

Sadly our comments didn’t hit the streets at Bow Roundabout. I don’t know exactly where the chain has broken, but it is worth to investigate how knowledge is shared, and why our advices wasn’t implemented.

Dutch knowledge sharing

Also in the Netherlands sharing knowledge is an important part of our job. During the training to civil engineer or policy advisor, only a few hours are spend to the special needs of bicycles and cycling. This means mistakes are easy made and the Dutch cyclist union still has a task at local level. Most cycling related knowledge is shared by the excellent site of Fietsberaad and during meetings. Last week we had our yearly cycling congress.

Almost 200 consultants, policy officers and scientists gathered in Helmond to share the latest findings about cycling in the Netherlands. All kind of topics (link in Dutch!) were discussed,  a brief description can be found below. Unfortunately most presentations were held in Dutch. They also contained a lot of pictures, you have to imagine the words we use.

In the morning a more scientific approach was presented why bicycles do not fall,  followed by diverse parallel sessions:

  • how the streetscape quality is improved with bicycle parking at train stations,
  • why pedestrians and people on bicycles are vital for economy of Amsterdam,
  • which obstacles we encounter with the super cycle routes (cooperation of Wim Salomons & Sjors van Duuren, Stadsregio Arnhem-Nijmegen)
  • and the importance of  maintenance of the bicycle networks.


After lunch we had a break when the Minister of Transport showed her support, with a labeled € 23 million for cycling of her budget for next year. Compared to the € 5.7 billion for the car network it sounds ridiculous small, but as I stated before, most work for cycling is done by local and provincial authorities.

And of course we had plenty of time to catch up with former colleagues and friends!

All the best from Helmond

All the best from Helmond

Utrechts “Fietsstraten”

Upon request: My own translation of the article underneath in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, November 16,2013.

Article Volkskrant November 16, 2013
Article Volkskrant November 16, 2013

The car is submissive in the cycle street

Utrecht invested 113 million in trails, bike bridges, tunnels and bicycle streets.

Utrecht – ” Cars are the guest” says the sign at the Utrecht Troelstralaan. It indicates that the road is a bicycle street. Students on rickety bikes, a young father with a son in the front seat and a blonde cyclist on her phone, they spread out on the new red asphalt. Some motorists drive gallant behind cyclists, other cracks along it.

” We have rolled out the red carpet for the bike” says Utrecht alderman for traffic Frits Lintmeijer (Green party, “GroenLinks”). The fifth cycle street of Utrecht has just opened. The left wing Utrecht executive Board wants to make it pleasant for cyclists and reduce car use, including better air quality. As much as 113 million Euros has been invested in this 4 years period for bike measures: improved bicycle paths, bicycle bridges, tunnels, bike parkings and also bicycle streets, which cost an average of 500 thousand euros each.

The most used bicycle street is the Prins Hendriklaan towards the university district Uithof. This is part of one of the busiest routes in the Netherlands , with almost 15 thousand cyclists a day. “It is fantastic cycling here, I hear regularly,” said Lintmeijer.

Utrecht had in 1996 the first bicycle street in the Netherlands, in the Burgemeester Reigerstraat. Invented by the then – Green Party alderman Hugo van der Steenhoven. That failed miserably, partly because city buses did not want to linger behind cyclists in this busy shopping street. But in recent years, the bicycle street is on the rise, from Zwolle to Oss, Haarlem and from Houten to The Hague and Utrecht.

The lesson from the nineties is that cyclists only can be “the hare” when the road is not too busy and has no main autoroute. To some motorists bicycle street evokes resistance. Sometimes neighbors complain about the cost. “Every innovation in traffic causes problems. And there are, of course, road users who don’t bother.” says Hugo van der Steenhoven, now director of the Cyclists Union. But the bicycle street has been a good solution to facilitate cyclists in a limited space and allow cars too.”

Van der Steenhoven sees most cities busy with attempts to encourage cycling and reduce car use. Also on this topic Utrecht is frontrunner. To cope with the European air quality requirements, Utrecht decided this month to impose an environmental zone for cars. Starting 2015, polluting diesel cars built in 2001 and older are banned from the center. The investment cost over 3 million include the enforcement of the ban.

Critics, as the VVD, speak of symbol politics. They find it too much investment to restrain this relatively small number of vehicles from the center. Inhabitants of Utrecht, excluding new area Leidse Rijn, own over 3400 dirty diesel cars and 1800 vans  that are not longer allowed in the city center in 2015, about 2 percent of the fleet.

According to Lintmeijer this is an important first step. “These environmental zone leads to 10 percent less nitrogen emissions in the city and 30 percent less soot. After the most polluting vehicles, more types can be excluded in the future.”

[after this article was published in Dutch, Lintmeijer disclaimed the figures as stated in the article. “I didn’t mention these figures. I think they quoted total effect of all air quality measurements influenceable by the city. #tech]


How many bicycles do the Dutch own?

IMG_20131027_140349As you might have noticed last month I didn’t have any updates of this blog. Busy at work with internal affairs I can’t write about and preparing lectures abroad took a lot of time. And at home I was busy with maintaining the bicycles we own. Renewing the mudguards and the chain of a traditional Gazelle bicycle is time-consuming, but when finished it is a pleasure to see everything running smooth. I am happy that not all the bicycles in my bike shed need that much attention. Which brings me to the point that the Dutch have so many bicycles.

As Dutch bicycle ambassadors we always show the following graph to show that the Dutch own more bicycles per capita than other people in the world. To be honest, I haven’t a clue about the source or the reliability of the presented data. Any suggestion for better data is appreciated.

Bicycle ownership per capita per country in Europe.

Bicycle ownership per capita per country in Europe.

Does this mean everybody owns a bicycle in the Netherlands? No, but we are pretty close at it. I excavated  some statistics at our national Office for Statistics and came to the following results:

Ownership of bicycles in the Netherlands to age, 2007.

Ownership of bicycles in the Netherlands to age, 2007.

Two things cached my eyes. The first thing is that the age between 12 and 15 has the highest rate of bicycle ownership in the Netherlands. This group is depending of a bicycle to go to secondary school. At the age of 16 youngsters are allowed to a licensed ride of a moped, at the age of 17,5 driving a car comes in reach. So it is understandable the younger group has the highest ownership. Another interesting fact is the group between 20 and 30. They have the lowest ownership of the traditional working class cohort.

It is interesting to find out if this is only a dip in the 2007 numbers, of some more information can be found. With the data an easy overview can be made.

Development of ownership of bicycles in Netherlands to age. 1985-2007

Development of ownership of bicycles in Netherlands to age. 1985-2007

This graph shows that over the years the group of 20-30 has almost the same ownership, but that the 30+group since the mid 80’s has grown, with the biggest relative growth in the 75+ group. But also the groups 60-65 and 65-75 show a remarkable growth during the years. Whatever the exact mechanism is behind this growth is not clear to me, it is likely about the policies to promote cycling to work and the tax benefits to buy a bicycle. I don’t have clear causal relationships, others might have a good explanation. The result counts to me, the growth shows that cycling in the Netherlands is more and more a matter of all ages. Something we have to be proud of. Note that in this data the newest trends of more cycling by young urban hipsters cannot be recognized, the series of data last until 2007.

But how about the 1,11? It means that some people might have more than one bicycle. With an easy sample I can prove this assumption. Last year I questioned my  Twitter followers how many bicycles and persons  belong to their households. The results show that my followers are not the average Dutch people. 52 Followers answered, they have average 2,33 bicycles  per captia, so more than double the Dutch average. The highest was a real collectioneur, with 2 persons and 14 bicycles ready to cycle. In that perspective the view in my bike shed is rather modest.

My bike shed contains 11,5 bicycles

My bike shed contains 11,5 bicycles for 4 people.