Fast Lanes, Perspective And A Sleeping Giant

01/09/2009 20:24 by Amsterdamize

Mikael in Amsterdam

Mikael in Amsterdam

No, I didn’t just convert to vehicular cycling, that would be stooooopid and turning back the clock 40 odd years.

Last week Mikael reported on Copenhagen’s plans to expand its network of bicycle lanes further outward to the suburbs, through so-called ‘Bicycle Super Highways‘, which is uhm, yeah, super duper, as it will invite and enable even more people to comfortably opt for their bicycle as a form of transportation.

I’m very fond of Copenhagen’s bicycle heaven, as you know, and I think their ambitions are only to be applauded and pretty much envied. Sure, Mikael is still fighting his Don Quichote-like but relatively effective battle with the institutionalized helmet zealots, who’s fear mongering has brainwashed even the moderate (but, according to Mikael, very compliant) Danes into thinking they should wear these strange and deceptive contraptions, even though they supposedly live in ‘the most bicycle friendly city in the world’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not nitpicking or picking a fight or anything, but rates-wise there are hundreds of Copenhagens in the Netherlands.

Anyway, I saw this bicycle infrastructure news, I figured it shouldn’t go unmentioned here as it relates to the above and my last remark.

Dutch move into the fast lane with ‘bicycle highways’

The plan is part of a government initiative to promote bicycle use, especially among those who commute to work everyday by car.

The Hague – Roughly EUR 25 million has been earmarked for the construction of more bicycle highways, announced the ministry of traffic and waterways Monday.

Bicycle highways are broad cycling paths without intersections which allow cyclists to quickly cover long distances. The ministry plans to double the number of such highways in the Netherlands over the cabinet period.

The plan is part of a government initiative to promote bicycle use, especially among those who commute to work everyday by car.

“Cycling is a practical, healthy and good for the environment,” deputy transport minister Tineke Huizinga wrote in a letter to the lower house of parliament.

At present, the Netherlands has five bicycle highways, including two connecting Amsterdam with Utrecht and Breda with Etten-Leur. There are currently plans for a bicycle highway connecting The Hague with Leiden and Arnhem with Nijmegen.

Free guarded bicycle parking garage

Free guarded bicycle parking garage

Municipalities and provinces are invited to submit plans to the ministry for more bicycle highways in their region.

In addition to bicycle highways, the government has planned other measures to increase cycle use.
By 2013, the ministry hopes 100,000 additional bicycle parking places will be added around train, tram and bus stations. At least 20 municipalities will co-operate with the ministry in removing discarded bicycles from bicycle stalls, which will free up existing spaces.

The various measures and projects are in close collaboration with established players in the cycling field including bicycle industry representatives and civil societies, said the traffic ministry in a press release.

Source: Radio Netherlands / Expatica

So, if you’ve been following Mikael, David Hembrow and this blog, you can see the Dutch and the Danes have a similarly serious approach to cycling and appropriated means to enable it. However, there are literally hundreds of towns and cities in the Netherlands that have comparable or higher cycling rates (such as Groningen – currently close to 60%, Utrecht – 35%, or a smaller town like Houten – 55%) than Copenhagen. Amsterdam is still trying to figure out what the real modal rate is, but this fine city has achieved something memorable, as more trips are by undertaken by bike than by car.

Daily Cycle Grind

In general, comparing Danish and Dutch cycling rates on a national or local basis is like comparing apples and oranges. Denmark has a far smaller population (5.4 million vs 16.5 million). Of course this alone doesn’t take anything away from CPH’s or Odense’s achievements, but it needs some perspective.

The real difference is scale, inter-connectivity, quality and safety. While CPH is planning to connect the rest of the outer-city, The Netherlands (twice the size of New Jersey) has approximately 29.000 km of bicycle infrastructure, connecting the entire country, from cities to rural areas, it doesn’t matter, anywhere you go, you’ll be able to navigate a highly indexed and maintained network of separated bicycle paths & routes (and it’s very likely you’ll find many paths that aren’t mapped out), all conveniently supported by clearly defined signage and most routes will provide you with the shortest distances from one point to the other (as compared to the vehicular ones). Ergo: urbanization, scale, density, but also sprawl have to be taken into consideration when you talk about these rates. And contrary to popular beliefs, the Netherlands has plenty of urban sprawl.

16.5 million people, 18+ million bikes and EVERYONE cycles, old and young. 37% of all Dutch people cycle daily, to work, school, the shops, etc. Amsterdam has the reputation, but is NOT the best example of a successful bicycle city in the Netherlands, there are many, many other cities that top its rates and quality of bicycle infrastructure. Speaking of rates, Copenhagen mostly advertises commuter cycle rates. Important, but not completely indicative of a truly bicycle-friendly city. Because other statistics show that about 20-30% of cyclists feel the need to wear a helmet (which is also promoted) and 50% of its citizens feels the infrastructure is not safe enough, also regarding letting their children ride to school. Comparing Amsterdam and Copenhagen (while acknowledging the differences in grid) based on just those aspects cycling is much safer and its infrastructure of significant higher quality.

To follow up on all of this, some more background info & updated news about the funding:

5 bicycle highways around Amsterdam and Deventer were put in place to see if these routes would indeed get people out of their cars and onto their bikes to commute to work. Apparently they worked. The norm distance for most people to decide to cycle to work is 7.5 km. The bicycle highways, completely segregated, well lit and comfortable (immaculate surface), stretched this distance to 15 km. In other words: the layout of these highways convinced 5% of car drivers on those routes to ditch their cars and cycle (longer distances) to work.

Daily Cycle Grind

With these results, the minister acted swiftly and budgeted an extra 70 million Euros for expansion of regional (and potentially nationally connected) bicycle highways.

One particular aspect Amsterdam and Dutch government bodies really suck at is their obvious and deeply rooted modesty (and/or ignorance & lack of perspective) when we talk international cycling promotion. Sure, policy wise and in terms of policy cooperation with other cities around the world they do quite a bit, but there is not one powerful, concerted effort dealing with cycling promotion (in all its facets). Copenhagen beats them to the punch in creating a tangible and very uplifting export product. That, and our national cycling institutions completely underestimate what’s going on worldwide.

It’s pretty pathetic that there are basically a few private citizens and basically one professional doing their work for them.

Finally there’s a moment in our history when we have something more exciting than cheese, tulips and wooden shoes to push…I mean excite people with…they should really, really, REALLY wake up and smell the coffee [or insert bicycle-acronym]. Come on, for crying out loud, even beer brewers did.

My overarching point? Mikael started this journey to a better cycling world by showing the means and the subsequent beauty of urban cycling and is one of the best advocates out there, but even he can sometimes get ahead of himself a bit. Bless his British-Danish heart. :)

Now, if only Dutch authorities and cycling organizations would really wake up and give BikeNL the proper push internationally…

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