Saturday, 18 November 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 8 - All good things must come to an end

Well, all good things must come to an end and this week's post will be my final one from the Netherlands. It's an assortment of things which I thought were interesting, but probably not worth a post on their own.

OK, perhaps I could have made this into a post because I saw lots of roadworks, with much of it linked to new development. The interesting thing is that the Dutch seem to favour putting in the infrastructure before people have moved in rather than the UK approach which is often the other way around.

This housing development in south-east Amsterdam already has cycle track access which has probably be in a couple of years given the asphalt has faded a bit.

Some large motorway construction (widening of the A9) in south-east Amsterdam, but cycle access is maintained through the works. In fact, people cycling are well-protected with concrete barriers.

"Pay Attention" - a sign aimed at construction vehicle drivers turning right into the site access ahead. Compare with the UK which makes the vulnerable user responsible for looking out for traffic.

The scheme involves some heavy civil engineering and is another example of how the Dutch are building roads. That's right, in the land of the bicycle, there is a lot of motorway building going on.

In another part of the city, more housing is being built. The cycle track here is a series of precast concrete slabs laid as a temporary route. The tram line in the grass isn't a relic of a former industrial area it is already in place (connecting to the tram depot outside the city).

Where there isn't a cycle track, people cycling divert onto new residential streets while reconstruction works on the main road takes place.

On the outskirts of Driemond a junction and bridge is under reconstruction. Of course, there is a route through for people cycling.

The diversion includes a floating pontoon for people walking and cycling. Since we visited the works are complete, but the project has it's own Twitter feed!

View from the driver's seat

It's not cycling infrastructure, but here is a cheeky snap of a maintenance tractor with a multi-use cutting boom being used to deal with grass and the hedgerow. Mrs RH kept getting bugged to keep the camera ready because I am "that much" geek!

I can't remember where this is, but the road here dives under a railway line. Given how flat much of the Netherlands is, you'd think it would be full of level crossings. But no, this underpass designs out danger from road/ rail incursion and designs out delay to both modes. The usual cycle track is on the right which also dives under the railway, but only as much as required by a cycling headroom.

The "bridges" above are called "wildwissel" and are used to provide wildlife corridors over large roads. The lower one is Woeste Hoeve near Apeldoorn.

Interesting odds and ends

I thought that this map at Weesperplein Metro Station in Amsterdam was a mock-up of a proposed junction redevelopment scheme. It wasn't, it's a wayfinding map to get you from the station to the correct bus stop. It's also an example of a large city junction.

As you might expect, in a nation where so many journeys are made by cycle, the odd parking space is needed. This one at Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen in Amsterdam is rather large!

For cycling, it's the attention to detail I liked. Here, we have a two-way cycle track passing a retail park. the track is inset from the main road so that drivers turning in can stop before the enter the site because the cycle track has priority. The track then has little protected slip roads into and out of the site where it becomes an advisory lane within the retail park.

On the edge of Hengsdijk, we have a road on which through-traffic (including motorcycles) is banned, unless you have a right of access. You can of course cycle along here - in fact this is the cycle route as the parallel road doesn't have a cycle track and so cycling is prohibited.

Nothing to see here, just a timber fence. Well actually, it's a timber-clad crash barrier (or safety fence) along Provincialeweg on the edge of Amsterdam. Another recently upgraded route with a new cycle track surface and the crash barrier protecting drivers from ending up in a ditch to the left and giving high levels of protection to people cycling.

I didn't always grasp the full skill of the Dutch cycle destination signs, but getting lost didn't happen (well not too much anyway!)

The cycles
When in the Netherlands, ride a Dutch cycle! So we know that the cycling infrastructure is safe, comfortable and forgiving, but what about the bikes? I got to ride three different models.

Amsterdam saw me in charge of two cycles. First was a Batavus Personal which is essentially built like a tank and weighs as much. However, I loved riding this bike as it was really comfortable. An ideal city bike really which might be why Abellio use them for their Bike & Go rental scheme in the UK.

This piece of bakfiets (cargobike) clog lunacy from Black Bikes was a great way to transport #TheDoodle around the city. We had a choice of this or a conventional bakfiets; and it wasn't until she had picked this and we had got out of the shop before I realised what it was! It took about 10 minutes to get used to it, after which we rode around (with stops to look at stuff) for over 5 hours as we cycle-wandered around the city. She even managed a nap!

This is a Cortina Roots bike which I had in South Zeeland. For some reason it is marketed as a "ladies" bike which is daft because it was an absolute joy to use. The frame was nice and big for me and being lighter than the Batavus, it was easier to ride the longer rural journeys. I also had one with a child seat on the back for #TheDoodle. My next bike has to be Dutch!


So, I didn't actually go into the Rijksmuseum itself, but with #TheDoodle in the clogbike, we cycled through the middle of it. Oh yes.

The end (for now)
As I said at the start of this series, there was a health warning because the things I have written about have come through a tourist's eyes. I cannot possibly know the minutiae of Dutch highway engineering from a fortnight. However, the trip has been a revelation (and that's about as divine I get). 

As a designer, the genie escaped the bottle after seeing some of the best UK cycling infrastructure. After my trip to the Netherlands, the genie is half-way to the German border. On a magic bakfiets.

The other parts to this series are as follows;

Sunday, 12 November 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 7 - Cycling culture

It's often said that cycling is in the Dutch DNA, or it's part of the country's culture. OK, I haven't lived and worked there, so do I think this is true?

I'm going to stick my neck out and say yes, but I won't say why until the end of this post (so no cheating). As regulars know, I'm always taking photos of physical infrastructure and sometimes (at least in the UK), they don't always show people using it. That wasn't a problem in the Netherlands!

Away from the centre of Amsterdam, we have a logically arranged piece of highway where each mode has its own space. Parking is accommodated and acts as additional protection.

Another cycle track in Amsterdam. Again, logical space and protection from a loading bay. Some planters provide a little bit of a buffer between people walking and cycling.

A junction in Amsterdam where people are protected. The cycling is casual because the people don't feel under any pressure.

Sports clothing and helmets are the unusual sight here in the countryside near Amsterdam. The lane is only useful for drivers with business there and so very quiet.

A mobility scooter user on the cycle track because it is comfortable and safe. This is the off-slip from a motorway where people walking and cycling get their own green to cross.

Here in Terhole, another person using a mobility scooter on the road. There is no cycling infrastructure here, but he feels safe enough to carry a two-year old on his lap.

A cliché here in Hulst, but again, no cycling infrastructure. Something must be going on for this lady to feel safe.

Here in Kinderdijk, some of the poorest provision I saw. While this sort of advisory lane can be seen to help in some places, the volume of traffic is too high as tourists head to the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Despite the road layout, there are still plenty of people cycling and they don't fit the young fit male demographic.

Back in Amsterdam, people go about their business with their shopping bags hanging from their handlebars without a care in the world. Plenty of parking squeezed in, but the canal lanes are filtered from through traffic.

Within the city of Amsterdam, hire bikes are being used by people seeing the sights - here crossing a bridge which acts as a modal filter.

Cycling next to a main road in Amsterdam. As can be seen everywhere, the cycles are functional and sitting upright commands a view of what is going on. Ordinary clothes for an unhurried (and unharried) ride.

Protection in space and time with very clear direction to get through this intersection.

Vondelpark in Amsterdam with a main shared route. People relaxing or travelling, all in safety.

Cargocycles are a familiar city site because in a city reworked to enable cycling, they are a quick and efficient way to move children.

A view from the bridge in the previous photo. Nobody is particularly hurrying, what an absolutely lovely place to be.

This is the same bridge with some cycling taking place outside of rush hour. Again, nice and casual.

A slightly wider canal street in Amsterdam, but cycling is the main transport mode with one-way motor access.

When a city is made cycle-friendly, all sorts of adapted cycles appear. Here, a refrigerated Foodlogica trike replaces a small van.

At the end of the #53 Red Line on the Amsterdam Metro, Gaasperplas Station provides plenty of cycle parking with a cycle track connecting up the surrounding residential area.

Out on the coast at Zandvoort, the promenade is traditionally wide for walking, but there's also a stepped cycle track which allows others to enjoy the scenery. I wonder why this lady is looking so happy?

Harder work for this guy pulling a trailer as he leads his kids along the coast in perfect safety.

Even the roadies prefer the track to the road beyond the adjacent car park (the many food wagons might also tempt them).

A safe and wide space beyond the city of Amsterdam positively enables sociable cycling, even on a longer distance cycle track. What's the rush anyway.

Here in Harderwijk, this family are completely protected from traffic on the main road. If you wanted to get beyond the tangle of roads in the background, then there's an underpass for that.

I took this final photograph at about 6.30pm on a Sunday near Perkpolder in Zeeland. I can't quite find the right location as it has changed since Google Streetview last went through. From what I can piece together from Google, I think it's an old ferry terminal area which is being redeveloped. The early provision of this cycle track in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday evening still enables this chap to get about.

So, what's this Dutch culture which gets so many people cycling - are the people just bike mad? Well as you will have seen in other posts, there are some massive roads and there is plenty of parking, so cars are important to the Dutch!

The fact that I can just visit the Netherlands and cycle around in safety is the clue as I can assure you, there is no cultural pill or induction session, you just turn up and go. The infrastructure enables people to cycle. 

Protection is generally provided where it is required and elsewhere, traffic levels are reduced so people still feel safe. There are gaps and there are some poor layouts to be sure, but the good provision helps make them palatable and as I saw in several places, things are always being upgraded - the culture is in the planning and engineering, not the end user.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 6 - A Maastricht Treat

As you might have guessed by now, my adventures in the Netherlands over the summer have reinvigorated my engineer's eye and there is simply so much to write about.

I'm not sure how many parts this blog will end up having because I am enjoying the writing up almost as much as the visit! This week, I head to Maastricht in the far southeast corner of the Netherlands, an area which is essentially a peninsula of territory with Belgium on one side and Germany on the other.

We were actually in the city on a day trip to the St Peter's Fortress and caves which are to the south of the city, but we had some time to walk around the city - about 20 minutes by foot from the fort to the city centre. As you might expect, there are cycle tracks on the main roads such as this one on Sint Hubertuslaan.

This cycle track provides a transition between the neighbourhood near the fort (where there is no cycling infrastructure, just modal filters and a 20mph speed limit) and Prins Bisschopsinge which forms part of the N278 which is a large dual carriageway skirting south of the city itself.

The main road itself isn't particularly pleasant, but is has facilities for walking and cycling which provide regular green signals and no staggered crossings of the main road (above). As you might expect, the infrastructure simply allowed people to go about their business with the only hi-vis being workwear!

An interesting feature was the cycle track transitioning into a service road (below) which itself was only useful for accessing the dwellings along it. Being slightly lost trying to find the fort, I drove into the service road before realising I had to go the long way round to get out!

On the city side of the N279 we were back into a 20mph area which had advisory cycle lanes for a short distance but no centre line). There wasn't much motor traffic around and as usual, plenty of people were cycling (below).

We then walked into the edge of the city centre and the streets became narrower and the general approach was to have two-way cycling and one-way motor traffic (below).

However, the streets were going to get narrower still because parts of the city are so old. These places are heavily filtered and unless you had business there as a driver, you just wouldn't bother going there.

That's not to say there are no cars in the city, although in parts, they do detract from the charm such as here in Grote Looiersstraat (below), although they are reserved for permit holders rather than being a free for all.

The street below is nominally a pedestrian zone, but people are alowed to cycle through. The sub plate says "fietsen toegestaan brom-/ snorfietsen verboden" which roughly means cycling allowed but mopeds prohibited (thanks to Twitter people for the translation). Mopeds are generally allowed to use cycle tracks in the Netherlands and so this seems to be a method of prohibiting them, but allowing cycling.

However, there are even places where allowing cycles to use the street as a cut-through is not permitted and these are full pedestrian zones. They allow cycling out of hours and there is limited access for motors for deliveries. But during the day, these streets belong to pedestrians as is the case with Grote Staat. 

In terms of what we had seen travelling around, a ban on cycling was quite unusual, although these streets didn't really provide any movement function as people passing through would have been elsewhere. As in the UK, it doesn't deal with the issue of people who use cycles as mobility aids also being banned.

Maastricht is an interesting place which is full of history, but it has modernity rubbing shoulder to shoulder with its past such as Mosae Forum sitting on the edge of Markt (above). I wish we'd have had more time as we only scratched the surface. What was evident was how different uses for the streets were transitioned from one to another with pedestrian areas at one end and large regional road at the other - our walk that day showed us this very clearly.

I loved cycling in the Netherlands, but even though I didn't in Maastricht, I didn't miss it as the city is so walkable. I even think you'd miss out on some of the details on a cycle such as street lighting attached to buildings;

Or the witch of Hekenstraat (Witch Street);

Little ramp-cum give-way marking slabs on the cycle tracks;

And of course, little notches in the granite kerbs for added durability to a kerb line (did you expect anything less!)

The other parts to this series are as follows;