21 November 2010

104 Years of Separated Bicycle Infrastructure

Fantastic film about the history of Dutch bicycle infrastructure. These people will hate it like the plague, but that doesn't really matter, does it?


Edward Scoble said...

Try not to use 'These people' as a negative point.

'these people' are merely making do with what they have.

I would very much (and the general cyclists of the UK) would appreciate not being seen as a nuisance , thsnk you.

Anonymous said...

Mikael, since you seem to see yourself as a counter-weight to VC: if you have better advice on what to do if you happen to be one of the 99% of the world that doesn't live in the Netherlands or Denmark, please, don't hide your light under a bushel. Let the world know how cyclists should deal with three-lane roundabouts. Or high-speed slip roads joining the road in front of you. Or how to get across three lanes of traffic to do a right turn.

These are things I have to do most days, since that's the way the outskirts of my town were designed. If you want to be a utility cyclist here, you have to learn to negotiate them. And pictures of nice ladies in summer frocks don't really help.

Anonymous said...

"Right-turn" should be "left-turn" in the above comment, if you live where one drives on the right (most places, obviously).

shuichi said...

Hello I might have to read back your blogs which had been written a lot. But lemme say my thought now. I feel European countries like Netherlands there have been more bike lanes than Japan while I have watched the movie. But I think many many people ride bicycles safely in Japan. I don't think bike lanes are necessary at least immediately in Japan. We love bicycles and we can ride bicycles safely since I think cars should pay attention to walkers and cyclists carefully. Thanks. I will keep reading your blog.

Green Idea Factory said...


No. This is an extremely dangerous (way to talk about) history.

First of all, to compare the situation which "vehicular cyclists" deal with (and perhaps enable to some extent) with that in the Netherlands leaves out at least one alternative...

I love what Mark Wagenbuur does. Many videos on his You Tube Channel are also on the excellent A View From the Cycle Path (this a direct link to a post with another great Wagenbuur video), often accompanied by interesting comments.

The not-recent history of surface transport in the Netherlands is mostly new to me (and I appreciate this very much). The problem in the story starts with railways, which - relatively-speaking - introduce a kind of precursor to hypermobility to the country. Trains, like trams, increased the distances between destinations, making speed necessary to compete, and thus addictive. But until various decades in the first half of the 20th century this still kept cycling popular and/or dominant.

The fatal error came - as the video shows, but with a different take on it - when cities introduced a design style from the countryside. It seems that this was not seen as a fatal error by enough people at the time: Either there were three options in the cities (i.e. keep streets the way they are OR separation for cyclists OR keep the motorized vehicles out) or just the first two. The video does not make clear exactly who made the decision. Were people predicting the situation about 50 years later in the 1960's (my understanding is that this was the nadir of cycling in the NL as well as in Denmark)? If so, were their voices ignored? If there were not many voices - and so not three choices - it is fair to say that this was bad and wrong, but we must also appreciate everything which has been to fight back (very much including the new design elements in the video which I provide the link to in the Hembrow blog).

So, these days, when at its best cycling modal share is about 50% (as it is Groningen in the north of NL) and innermost parts of Amsterdam, Copenhagen etc.) is the glass half-full or half-empty? This beverage also contains collective public transport (nearly and chronically ignored in most cycle-cheerleading), but what if the split is half private automobiles and half bicycles? Should we be half-happy or half-sad? (re: cheerleading, notice how that story does not mention collective PT?) It depends on who is writing or showing the history, yes? Indeed, could the private automobile lobby show a video on their You Tube channel, boasting how they have managed to hold on to a huge modal share despite the traffic jams, parking costs, "green" and health issues?

Green Idea Factory said...


Cycling in the Netherlands is great - safer, etc. than here in Germany, where the separation model has been used often at the expensive of pedestrians - but I don't think it is accurate to say that the bicycle has "won" there (as someone told me recently). It is more truthful - and more objective - to say that the car has had a (very) conditional surrender (I am reminded also of something my father told me: During WWII - my father was in Slovakia and a child at the time - the German radio referred to everything post-Stalingrad as a "strategic withdrawal"). The bikes move faster than motor vehicles much of the time on separated paths in Dutch cities when the motorised lanes are congested, so actually these paths can more positively be called "mobility express lanes"! (not just "bicycle highways"). But at the same time there are still a very high number of people trapped in their cars, and they are not the only ones who are suffering. Noise and gas/particle emissions still exceed allowed limits in parts of the Netherlands (and Denmark, and of course in many other European countries), and this hurts everyone.

Looking back over 100 years it is perhaps easy to condemn a decision, or how it was made, or indeed if anyone cared, but allowing (especially private) motor vehicles (which kill on contact at only half of their design speed) inside cities was a mistake, and a very, very difficult one to correct.

This comment may also appear in my Blog where it will be updated if necessary.

l' homme au velo said...

As has been stated before many times we have a Shoddy Infrastructure in Dublin very much like the UK although luckily for us not the same amount of Cars,so a slight bit more Breathing space but not much.

As it has also been said that there is a need to Vehicle Cycle on a lot of occasions in order to survive. It is just not possible to adhere to the Segregated Cycle Lanes Religeousely without finding yourself going down a side Road at Junctions or being forced to come to a halt to wait at numerous Junction for Traffic to pass. If you go on the Cycle Lanes you have to keep out in the Traffic to avoid Doors opening and get out in the Road at a Junction in case you are hit by Traffic turning.

However this is very Tiring constantly watching out in case you get hit. So anytime you do come along a long Stretch of Road where you can get off it it is a Pleasure to Cycle on a Segregated Path. These are few and far between,like along the Stillorgan Road or Tallaght Road or on the Clontarf Cycleway.

I am constantly Advocating for Segregated Cycleways but in a lot of cases I get People opposed to this because they are afraid it will be just more of the same bad Infrastructure that is foisted on us again.

To not bother to do anything and just leave it as it is would be wrong so we have to keep Agitating for a better Infrastructure. Now is the best time to do it when we have a lot more Cyclists on the Roads Screaming for better Facilities.

The more Safer it is the more People will Cycle and not just the Vehicular Cyclists who are just accepting the Status Quo and given up on improving things.

It is however an Uphill struggle with any improvements being given Grudgingly by a Car Dependent City Council. Half of which are Pro Motorist and the other half of varying degrees of Support for Cycling.

Anonymous said...

Well... Nevertheless our lack of sympathy to the "sect", that's interesting to hear, that the most car-bike collisions occur on intersections, where cars "meet" bicycles. It explains vehicular cycling (VC) position clearly. And explains why separated cycling (SC) is in fact only a little more safe than VC. SC is much more convenient and, in centers of the cities, faster than VC for they are not congested. Besides, in cities which have enough space reserve in the street system, separation of bikeways is possible, but there are cities, where only VC is possible. What then? VC marketing should not obscure real conditions, occuring here and there. And in those places VC is only reasonable solution. And in those places even your lovely grandma has to obey traffic rules. All the rest is a matter of culture of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

Anonymous said...

Ed, Mikael is addressing Vehicular Cycling advocates. I.e. people who actively -and aggressively- oppose the Dutch or Danish model of infrastructure claiming that cycling in the traffic is the way forward.

Martin Ginkel said...

I am probably one of 'These People', but I have the feeling that you need some update on facts: It is objectivly not safer to ride on a separate bicycle infrastructure. It just feels safer, like it feels safer in a car (but it isn't) and like some people feel safer with a styrofoam bowl on their head (which still does not help).

It might well be that this 'feeling safer' brings more people to bikes, but at the same time it places them in danger (if they really trust in the fact that motorized drivers respect their safe bike lanes).

Most accidents happen on intersections and with the typical half separated infrastructure more serious accidents happen to cyclists (The typical turning truck). Not to mention the encounters with pedestrians that consider any paved surface up the curb as "theirs".

Even the german legislation has acknowledged that bike lanes don't help with safety and therefore allows to assign the 'mandatory bike lane' traffic sign only as an exception.

For more facts about the so-called 'Safety' on bike lanes you can read here:


Dothebart said...

I think your stance is a little indifferntiated. It also depends on whether a bike lane existing includes prohibition of cycling on the road or not.
There shure is a real advantage of having a bike lane giving you the possibility to cycle where cars can't go (They've got highways, why shouldn't bikes have them too?). But over here in Germany the reality is a little different.

Car roads are here, and bike lanes most of the time are "wrapped along them", or "cut of the pedestrian space". You most of the time have the problems that there are frequent entrances to supermarket parking lots, gas stations, smaller roads, etc. Each of these junctions means primarily one thing: You've got a straight lane next to a lane for cars turning right. This makes the risk of getting run over in such junctions 14 times higher then if you just ride on the road. If you have the space to give bike lanes a separate way, they are nice. 99% of those bike lanes around cologne aren't. Roads with bike lanes next to them also make it difficult for cars to avoid such accidents.

Many of the German pro-bike lane voices see the biking and the infrastructure for it as a requirement for leisure activities. While it might be that for many, its clearly not for me (most of the time ;-).

About me:
I like my life (14 times as dangerous!). My daily commute is 20 km back & forth. I most often ride a roadbike (as weather permits) I also own other bikes (and no car anymore for 10 years); and my experience on all of them is: bike lanes kill! I don't want them, and I don't use (most) of them. While I own an Airzound, I realy don't pretend to be a car.

-- dothebart

Brendan61 said...

It seems to me that the issue can be broken down into parts. First, engineering the various infrastructure parts for the speed and charecteristics of the traffic it is meant to handle, i.e cars and trucks, or "high energy" modes require a certain type of design where as cycling or "low energy" modes require something different. Where the modes intertwine requires another type. In the end it's just math. Secondly there is the problem of re-training the public at large to adapt to a new model for transportation modes. In the U.S. our car-centric culture has difficulty accepting bicycles as a legitimite mode of transport. Mikael has pointed it out in the past that part of our problem is branding and marketing. Maybe if we start talking about transportation modes as being high energy or low energy instead of cars and bicycles and the infrastructure as high speed and low speed instead of roads vs. bike paths, we might change the perceptions on both sides.

Peter said...

Another way to look at it -

For 104 years the automotive sect has been trying to relegate bicycles off of the original roads and onto secondary facilities. Luckily, in some places like the Netherlands these secondary facilities are probable as good or better, from the bicyclists' point of view, as the original main roads for getting around and going to common destinations.

In other places these secondary facilities are ghettos to keep the bicyclists out of the way. They give poor access to the shops and other destinations people travel to and are more dangerous than traveling on the roadways with the cars.

mikey2gorgeous said...

As with all difficult situations, the answer is often more complex. For the UK at the moment...
1. Segregated Infrastructure is vitally important in the prioritising of bikes and promotion to motorists to choose cycling instead. Current attitudes of motorists to bike verge on the fascist.
2. We have little room, money or will for SI - what can be done should but will take decades to even start to approach what the Europeans have.
3. VC is a given in the UK. We must rely on safety in numbers to bring about the needed change in driver attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Nice video. Is that the world's first laptop at 0:53?

David Hembrow said...

The video is rather out of context here. It originally appeared on my own blog back in June together with Mark's writing about the history and a couple of photos.

mikey2gorgeous: The excuses of "little room" and "not enough money" don't actually hold water. Yes, it will take decades, but first of all a start has to be made.

Green Idea Factory said...

David, there is some missing infrastructure in your link to the June appearance of this video.

bikeolounger said...

As an American reader who believes (sort-of) in VC, I will concede that a lot of VC proponents are too dogmatic for their own good, let alone the good of cycling as a component of the whole transportation picture.

However, while lack of room and funding are large hurdles, and make it necessary to ride as part of traffic instead of having the luxury of separate facilities, the larger hurdle (at least in my own view) is the opinions of the general public against spending the money and losing the pavement share to a mode they see as leeches (the whole "bikers don't pay road tax" red herring we've heard so many times...). They consider bikes to be merely toys or at best workout equipment for the rich (or wish-to-be rich), and best kept in a park (which they think should be paid for with private donations instead of tax dollars).

As others have opined, while I applaud having well-designed bicycle-specific infrastructure, the slapped-on painted lines that pass for such here in the US are more often more dangerous than riding on the roadways, yielding the result that VC (or some lessons from it) need to be employed for me to get from point a to point b by bike.

I don't have to be an acolyte of VC to use the more applicable of its principles.

David Hembrow said...

Todd, thanks for pointing out the broken link. I'll try again: Here is Mark's text about the video, giving some context. It's one of several posts about the history of cycling in the Netherlands.

Green Idea Factory said...

OK. I read about the video in "context" but I still don't know how the decision was made. Even with a better understanding I feel it still glosses over the hell of the - sure, relatively more controlled - private urban motor vehicle in Dutch (and other) cities.

NOT Zakkalicious NOT said...

It isn't a secret.
It's how a lot of smart and experienced people get around by bike. You are unwise to dismiss the "secret sect" as you seem to do.

If one can't handle such a simple thing as riding in the roadway one must be accommodated, too.

If I feel it's unsafe and slow, I avoid it, no problem.

Dissent is allowed even among cycling advocates, so don't be so dismissive or narrow-minded. These people know things that you don't. And vice-versa.

superkaos said...

I guess that you can say that I belong to that "sect" since when I ride my bicycle I try to avoid all sort of bike paths/lanes that fortunately don't abound in the city where I live.
However I don't hate that video, anymore that I would hate a video explaining why whites are the master race. It's just full of lies, so there really isn't much to rationally argue about. However it does say a lot about you, your political agenda and your dislike of those pesky facts. In other words, as someone else has already put it around here, it shows that you are full of it.