zaterdag 21 december 2013

When 'Shared space' is not a bad thing

'Shared space' is a concept put forward by some infrastructure developers. The idea is that traffic signs, traffic lights and traffic regulating paint on the road are removed as much as possible and there is no separation of road and sidewalk. Instead of signs and restrictions, the road users themselves work together to regulate the flow of traffic.

Shared space is not popular with most cycling infrastructure enthusiasts. Cars remain intrusive and threatening, making the roads unpleasant for cyclists and even more so for pedestrians. Shared space proponents state that good shared space design invites car drivers to be more gracious and careful, but a minority of dickheads will always remain, and as a cyclist or pedestrian one always has to take the possibility in account that the next one will be one of those, and not one of the decent majority.

Still, I think there are some situations that are, at least, very similar to shared space, that are working quite well. One of these is in the center of my own city, 's-Hertogenbosch. Like many Dutch cities it has a large shopping center that has been almost completely pedestrianized. However, in 's-Hertogenbosch this pedestrianized area has been opened for cyclists as well. It's a shared space, without cars, and it seems to work. One cannot speed through it on one's bike during shopping hours, but I have never seen anyone trying to do so, either. A similar example, this time with cars, is found in several 'woonerven' (living streets). Some of these are just traditional streets with a sign, but others are very shared space-like in their appearance.

Why do these examples work, and 'normal' shared space not? I think it is because they do not try to treat all types of traffic equally. Rather, they are designed for pedestrians first, and car drivers and even cyclists are guests. Not without reason, pedestrians and cyclists are called 'weaker' traffic. If a street treats everyone equally, the result will be that the most powerful traffic elements will be boss. A working shared space design is one that turns the power base around: Give a lot to pedestrians, some to cyclists and just little to car drivers. Cars will still be bullies, but they will be bullying to get their fair share of the road rather than to deprive others of theirs.

An important aspect of this 'pedestrians first, cyclists second, cars merely allowed' design is to reduce the number of cars, by including elements of filtered permeability. Those roads should not be through routes by car, and not major through routes by bicycle.

Put pedestrians first, reduce the number of cars. That's how you can make shared space to work. Then again, if those are done without shared space, the result is great already. In the end, shared space is then just the icing on the cake.

Relevant link: David Hembrow on nearly car-free areas

donderdag 19 december 2013

What 'going Dutch' is NOT

On this blog I am trying to show something of Dutch infrastructure, of what it means to 'go Dutch' and what can achieved with it. But it is also important to know what is not going Dutch. If only because sometimes bad infrastructure can be as bad or worse as no infrastructure at all.

First, cycle paths along every road is not Dutch. The Dutch build cycle paths along all main roads with much traffic, but in other places other solutions prevail. That may for example be streets that are traffic-calmed, so that the speed difference between cars and bicycles is not too large, or streets where cars are allowed, but which are little used by them because they cannot function as through routes for cars, but can for bicycles.

Having said that 30 kmh everywhere definitely isn't Dutch. In Dutch infrastructure, roads are divided in arterial roads, distributor roads and residential roads. Residential roads are often 30 kmh, distributor roads only sometimes and arterial roads never. Roads that have higher maximum speeds (usually 50 kmh in cities) usually have some separate cycling infrastructure in the form of cycle paths (or at least cycle lanes). Perhaps even more important, 30 kmh is not the end of cycling infrastructure. Many of these roads have additional traffic calming measures to ensure that not just the official, but also the actual speed of motor vehicles is 30 kmh - or even lower. Also, their connections to the main network are often restricted to ensure that using these roads by cars is only useful for those who are in that area, and they cannot be used as through routes. Finally, if a road has a 30 kmh limit, but also a large amount of motor vehicle and/or bicycle traffic, separated bicycle infrastructure may still be called for.

More generally, the same recepy everywhere is not Dutch. Roads differ in their usage by car drivers, usage by bicyclists, available space, possible alternatives etcetera. Because of this, sometimes one solution is chosen, sometimes another.

And what is true in space, is true in time too. Dutch infrastructure is not constant in time. Infrastructure that was once exceptional becomes normal, infrastructure that was normal becomes outdated. One development that can be seen over a long time is a greater and greater separation between motor vehicles and bicycles. Cycle lanes became protected cycle lanes which were physically separated; protected cycle lanes became cycle tracks which were separated by space; and now protected cycle lanes become unravelled routes where cycleway and motor vehicle road actually form different routes between the same points and areas.

Another important point is that going Dutch is not something to be done on a single road. Dutch cycling does not get a road here, a route there, a path somewhere else. It is provided for on the full network. Cycling infrastructure does not only take you everywhere, if you want to take another route, in all likelihood cycling will be provided for there too. Cycling infrastructure on one road, or a single route, cannot really be 'Dutch style' - however good it may be.

Going from the general to the more specific, cycle lanes, and in particular unprotected cycle lanes are not Dutch. It's the most basal kind of infrastructure, and neither safe enough nor comfortable enough by current Dutch standards. Of course you can build cycle lanes and say you're going Dutch, but you'll be going Dutch 1980s style, not going Dutch 2010s style.

Another piece of infrastructure that is considered outdated infrastructure in the Netherlands is Advanced Stopping Lanes. The place where cyclists wait at Dutch junctions is not in front of motor vehicles, but at places those motor vehicles do not come at any time.

Related to that, early green for cyclists is not Dutch. The idea behind early green is to get cyclists onto the junctions, and preferably off it again, before other vehicles do. That's not good enough by Dutch standards. Dutch junctions either use simultaneous green phases for cyclists, or have cyclists cross at a different spot completely, with no motor vehicles crossing their path having green at the same time. Minimizing the amount of conflict at crossings is outdated - the Dutch prefer to eliminate it.

It's not Dutch to have a shared use pavement. Putting cyclists and pedestrians together is probably not as dangerous as putting motor vehicles and cyclists together, but it is as uncomfortable, and not really a solution to anything. Usually, a Dutch road will have both a cyclepath and a pavement, the pavement going along the cyclepath. Sometimes there is no pavement, and pedestrians need to use the cyclepath, but that is only done when there is very little pedestrian traffic anyway.

And finally, however much I myself and presumably most of my readers have their main attention there, Dutch infrastructure is not just about cycling. If one has to give a single word to describe it, safety comes before cycling. It is also not anti-car. Rather, it depends on the kind of car use: Using the car for short trips, especially to city centers, is indeed discouraged, but those who use the car for longer trips, and thus don't mind some trouble in the beginning and the end if that means the part in between is fast and comfortable, are well taken care of.

dinsdag 10 december 2013

What this blog is about

First, let me introduce myself. My name is André Engels, and I am a software professional living in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. The Netherlands: Cycleland, as this blog's name specifies. The country where all people cycle, and where they do it safely. Or rather, where more people cycle than anywhere else, and where they do so more safely than anywhere else. That's what this blog is about: Show you how in the Netherlands cycling is being made so practical, pleasant and safe, and how one might be able to use these principles elsewhere.

Before I start, a reader beware: I am not an expert on these matters. Most posts will be about the Dutch infrastructure, but I have not made any kind of study on that. I just write from what I come across myself and hear talking to others on the internet - many of them not experts either. Because of this it is likely that I make mistakes, interpreting things wrongly or leaving out important information. If you notice that, be happy to put corrections or additions in the comments. I won't bite.

Also, most people I am in contact with on this subject are either from the Netherlands or from the UK. Because of this, my "non-Netherlands" view is colored towards the English situation. So I might criticize a situation 'outside of the Netherlands' which in your country is as good, or maybe even better than we have. Don't feel insulted, and you're welcome to comment.

If the subject of this blog interests you, be sure to visit Bicycle Dutch of Mark Wagenbuur as well. He has some excellent videos of Dutch cycling with good commentaries. Another interesting blog is A View from the Cyclepath by David Hembrow, an Englishman now living in the Netherlands, who also gives tours of Assen and Groningen to those interested in seeing what has been done here for real.

Have a nice ride!