Monday, 10 July 2017

Trip to Netherlands: Rotterdam


Rotterdam is where we had been based for the whole of our Netherlands trip.

Rotterdam is interesting, in that like Southampton it is a port city, which was heavily bombed during the war and which has a large volume of commercial traffic. Also, unlike the other cities we had seen, Rotterdam was not early into the Dutch bicycle revolution so does not yet have the perfect infrastructure that we saw in Delft and Utrecht.

In Rotterdam there were still plenty of 4-6 lane highways.  But they mostly had accompanying 2 lane cycle lanes, usually on both sides.  Unlike Southampton, after the war they did not try to rebuild the centre of the city on the old grid, but started again, creating enormously wide boulevards that have space for traffic, bikes, public transport and people on foot.

Rotterdam City

The O bike experience

Our meeting at the Council was to be after lunch, so for the morning some of us decided to experience the local O Bikes. These are the modern generation of share bikes that are GPX enabled and oddonot need to be docked. You can pick one up wherever you find it an leave it in any legal bike parking spot. See the O Bike web site and the Rotterdam O Bike information.

O Bikes in Rotterdam

Parking O Bikes in Rotterdam
I’m not going to spend long on this - John Savage, councillor for Portswood, was also on the trip and here is his excellent blog on this topic.

Rotterdam has clearly not yet got the extreme cycle parking problems of Rotterdam, and although cycle infrastructure was good by UK standards, it was not perfect or fully connected.

Interesting Observations in Rotterdam 
Some things we saw on our ride:

  • Cargo bike deliveries  
DHL Delivery
  • Lots of expensive top-end cars charging - we wondered if being electric gets a privileged parking place, which might be a force for change?
  • The City Centre has enormously wide roads but there were plenty of places where 6 lane highways had been taken down to a tram route and a cycle road and one lane traffic in each direction. The traffic was dense but did not seem gridlocked.
  • There was a tunnel under the river. This had presumably been built for pedestrians some decades ago, but it would have been a long walk, and it has now been taken over almost entirely by cyclists, including the escalators.  Who says you can’t take a bike on an escalator?
Bikes on Escalator
Bike Tunnel

  • The Signage: I expect this was the same in the other Dutch cities, but this was the first time I had needed to navigate rather than be led by a local. At many important intersections there was a map of the network (see below).  This intersection (and map) would be numbered, and all the other numbered intersections were shown on the map.  Navigation then becomes remembering a set of numbers to cycle through and then following signs on the lamposts - e.g. the sign in the picture below shows us the route from 58 to 14 or to 17. (Note the finger signs the major cycle route signs
Map showing numbered intersections

Directions to adjacent numbered intersections (in green)
  • Mopeds and scooters on the cycle paths. This was true in all cities, but most noticeable in Rotterdam, and may be a symptom of the larger proportion of the population who have not grown up with the cycle culture.  We asked about this and were told it was a considerable problem: they go much faster than the bulk of the cycle traffic, they make a lot of noise and they smell. It is quite possible that laws may change in the future to classify even these low CC motorbikes in the same way as higher capacity motorbikes, and get them off the cycle tracks and onto the road with cars - and presumably into helmets

Rotterdam Council

We were hosted at Rotterdam City offices by John Akkerhis and a number of his colleagues from Transport, mobility and cycling.

One of the first things we had noticed was the stunning architecture of the building. An interesting observation was that the workers in the office part of the tower are required to be out by 1900, in order to make the place quiet and relaxed for the residential occupants. This deliberate “mixed zoning” ensures that areas are not crowded for one part of the day, but deserted for another part of the day. 

Rotterdam city has a policy to re-develop the city to make it a liveable, thriving and denser city, and this is accompanied by plans for health, mobility, accessibility etc. They call their plan the “City Lounge” and this presentation sums ups their aspirations

They are certainly not yet all the way there, and they pointed out that there was a push to make so much progress that they were past the point of no return so that future political changes would not be able to undo the progress that had been made.

Random Facts of Interest from Rotterdam Presentation

  • Modal share cycle use in Rotterdam is low for the NL at 23% for < 5km. There has been a growth of 60% in recent years and it is still growing at 10% p.a. - they want to be a bicycle city. They have built 600 km of cycle lanes in city - mostly in the last 10 years. This expenditure has mostly been subsidised by national air quality incentives.
  • They are working on green waves for bikes
    • Signposting which way to go at junctions
    • Faster lights for bikes when its raining
    • Intelligent systems to estimate how many cyclists in the queue at lights and to keep the lights green long enough to ensure they all cross
    • Indicators to tell you whether you are going the right speed to get a green at the next light
  • There is an issue in the south of the city where there has been significant recent growth in the population. Many of these are immigrants without a cycling culture and tending to worship cars as status symbols. Children get overweight, modal cycle use is much lower, women don't know how to ride, people can't maintain bikes. They are spending a lot of money on changing culture here...
  • They have been trying to work out where the cycle parking issues are. They paid €20M to build 5000 parking places at the station. They now need more and are looking for government help
  • At the main city centre parking spots they have pushchairs to borrow (so parents can take babies) and bike repair hubs. 
  • In residential areas where houses don't have parking for bikes the council offers to build bike lockers (huts) on streets in parking places and they subsidise citizens to make on street cycle stands. So, if the residents of a street ask for more bike parking to replace car parking places they do this.
  • They subsidise boats to be ferries across the river and cyclists only pay as pedestrians (around €1 per trip). In addition there are a couple of bridges and the tunnel. They don't expect people to detour too far to cross the river. (In Southampton it costs £7.50 for a day return on the one boat across the river, the alternative being a 5 mile detour).
  • All ships in Rotterdam and up-river plug in to shore electrical supplies to improve air quality. However this is not mandated for ships at Hook of Holland and docks adjacent to the sea (although our Ferry did plug-in on arrival at Hook of Holland.) 

Trip to Netherlands: Utrecht

We were hosted at the City Hall be Jan Bloemhevul and Mark Degnakamp, and for the morning by other members of the transport, mobility and cycling staff.

Background to Utrecht

Utrecht is a city of about 350,000 people and they compared themselves, maybe, to Sheffield in the UK.  They business is mostly service industry and high tech, and like Southampton, the Universities, Hospitals and medical research are the biggest employers. They have the biggest inland docks in the NL, and this historic area is still apparent.  In recent years there has been a massive expansion of the population, and a whole new area of the city has been created to the South, as well as a new science park to the west.

Utrecht is well known in Urban planning circles for its innovations in changing the way space is used and its move to being a "liveable city”, and its aspires to be a “World Class Bicycle City”. Around 43% of all journeys under 7.5km are made by bike, 17% of all journeys between 7.5km and 15km, around 50% cycle to work or school and there are 125,000 cycle journeys through the city centre every day which puts it right up there with the most successful. It also has 15% of journeys on public transport.

"Utrecht is growing at a rapid pace. It is a city where an increasing number of people wants to live and work. Additionally, it is a popular destination for day trippers and tourists. This is good news for the Utrecht economy, but with the growing bustle and increased activity we also have to make a greater effort to keep our city pleasant, orderly, clean and safe. In Utrecht, this is a joint effort of residents, entrepreneurs and organisations. The bicycle has been assigned a leading part, for if we make Utrecht a genuine world-class bicycle city, the health of our city and its region will benefit in all respects. 

On Our Way to Making Utrecht a world-class bicycle City

To become a world-class bicycle city, Utrecht should be safe for cyclists of any age. In a world-class bicycle city, the street scene is dominated by cyclists. In the development plans for the public area, the bicycle has pride of place and right of way – both literally and figuratively – wherever possible. To be a world-class bicycle city, however, it is essential that a firm basis is in place: an extensive network of comfortable bicycle paths and lanes as well as excellent bicycle parking facilities. We are doing our utmost to make this happen. We aim at using innovative methods to make cycling easier, safer and more fun."

Unfortunately I left my phone in my hotel so had no pictures this day, but I have borrowed some media from the Utrecht web site.

Utrecht; Cycling City of the Netherlands?

Interesting Lessons

The first and most enduring impression of Utrecht is the extent of the success of their  cycling policy. “Build it and they will come” could never have been shown to be more true! But there are some interesting side-effects of moving all those joints from cars to bikes.
  • They have a very real cycle parking problem,  They have recently spent €50M on 20,000 cycle parking places near to the station. (But if that seems a lot, they also had to spend €1B on space for 8,000 extra cars, so cycling infrastructure looks cheap!)
Mass Underground Bike Parking in the City Centre
  • There are bikes left everywhere. Sometimes so many that it becomes unsightly or even hazardous. In city centre spaces they have had to make it compulsory to use official bike parking spaces. Public bike parking is usually free, but in the underground purpose built stores they start charging after 24 hours and the cost ramps up.
Bikes are everywhere they can be

  • There are traffic jams for bikes, particularly at popular times, commuting times etc. Very often the density of transport in the bike lanes is much higher than on the wider roads - and it becomes to look like there is too much space allocated to cars and more should be allocated to bikes.
Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht 
  • New Buildings are now required to provide cycle parking for all the residents/users of that building 

In order to reduce motorised traffic the traffic designers take various measures to discourage cars and encourage cycling
  • Lanes on highways have been reduced form 2 or 3 in each direction to 1 in each direction.
  • The traffic light phases have been changed to longer red passes for cards and longer green phases for bikes
  • Speed limits on roads of 30 kph (20 mph) have been applied on all roads except major through roads. The roads have been redesigned to make 30kph likely - people ignore the speed limit if the road is too wide and easy. 
  • They have a policy of trying to keep flow going on the city streets, which can often be achieved by removing traffic lights. Where the streets are narrower and slower, it turns out that the flow is better without lights and pedestrians can cross more easily
The effect of this traffic evaporation from the centre is to displace some car traffic outwards on to the motorway ring roads, and of course, these are now suffering congestion.

They are working to improve the air quality in the city by reducing emissions.
  • Smart Logistics. They are working towards a zero emissions policy for all deliveries - by moving to electric and to cargo bike delivery
  • They are incrementally increasing the standard required of vehicles allowed in the city - so Euro 6 or LNG are on the way.
Last Mile Delivery by Cargo Bike

In the long run they envisage a city without private parking places. Instead the city will provide “mobility as a service” and sell citizens and visitors the full mobility package tailored to their needs. This will involve car sharing systems, bike sharing, and public transport, all available via a city smart card, and all intelligently planned for each individual.

BIKE! The amazing world of cyclists in Utrecht (tongue in cheek)

Bike Ride

After our presentation from the city we went for a ride with Jan and Mark.  A few interesting observations:
  • There were bridges over the rivers. One bridge was cycle only and had cost some €M's.  The road bridge had a two way cycle lane welded onto the side.
  • There was a lot of new and high quality infrastructure, but we also saw the "bad". On a route into the centre of the city through the outskirt shopping areas (could have been Shirley or Portswood in Southampton) a narrow cycle lane had been forced along the pavement.  It was too narrow for easy cycling yet it took a large amount of the pavements, leaving the pedestrians and shoppers squashed and jumping for cover as cyclists went shooting past at 20kph. This is not the scenario I would want to see. Pedestrians should come first. 
  • It was interesting to see intelligent signs that told you how you would need to alter speed to go across the next traffic light without stopping - so 150 m before the lights you were encouraged to go slower or faster, or keep the same speed.


There is an excellent website at with lots of information and figures, and pictures, some of which I have borrowed for this presentation. 

The CREATE Project funded by the European Commission under Horizon2020 is one of the first projects that addresses the task Tackling Urban Road Congestion.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Trip to Netherlands: Delft

We were in Delft by Shelley and Angela from Mobycon, who help design sustainable transport solutions. After kitting us out with hire bikes (actually they were owned by the train company and used for a "train and bike" mobility solution), we had coffee and then went for a ride round town to see things first hand 

Notable things we saw:

1. The parking at the station was for around 5000 bikes. Very spacious and technically supported so people could easily find the few spaces. Cycle Paths and signage right to the door.
Bike Parking at Delft Station

2. The bikes we got belong to the train company. Any registered NL citizen can hire a bike to extend their train journey very cheaply (free?). They were the type without handbrakes which took a little getting used to!
The Train Company Bikes

3. As we sat outside Mobycon building we could see the route to the station and one main road. There were nearly always more people visible on bikes than in cars.

4. In some places the number of bikes was a little scary - they take no prisoners and assume everyone is as confident as them.

5. The old city is completely traffic free (except those that can get through bollards).  It was a bit empty when we were there, but you could see that it would be a lively social centre when the market was in situ.

Market Square : Car friendly version
Market Square: People friendly now

6. We saw a “Home Zone” where cars are limited to 10 kph, there are no through roads, and parking (even for bikes) is at a premium.

Home Zone

7. We were shown an amazing roundabout. This was a fantastic example of changing the power dynamics of a city form cars to people. We were so impressed by this roundabout that we all cycled round it many times whooping like children! Here is the before and after picture:
Before and After

  • Tram and busses go straight through the centre and then the lights stop everyone else
  • Cars give way to pedestrians then to cycles that come in *both* directions (many more of them when we were there than in the video).
  • The road has been reduced from Dual Carriageway to one lane in each direction plus a separate lane for trams and busses.
  • But cars seemed to make fine progress

Video of the Roundabout in Action

This is how to make roundabouts safer for cycles

8. We saw an  area where they were removing an old six lane highway near the station and replacing it with human scale infrastructure prioritising pedestrians, bike users and public transport.
A six lane highway has been replaced by exposing the canals underneath and creating a green waterside walk

9. We saw the University where they have removed major access road over bridge and replaced it entirely with cycle *road* (and a very busy cycle road it was too). 

The TU Delft Campus as it was

TU Delft Campus now (cars can still get there, but they are guests and come round the back!)

10. We saw a number of these - a kind of bin on the front of a Segway! Apparently kindergarten teachers take the kids for rides in them. They love it!  

Kindergarten Transport

Thanks enormously to our Mobycon hosts for the tour they gave us and for the use of some of their pictures.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Cycle Infrastructure in the Netherlands. First Impressions

I am lucky enough to be representing Southampton Cycling Campaign on a trip to the Netherlands to review Cycle Infrastructure and culture. There are representatives from Southampton City Council, Clean Air Southampton, British Cycling, Sustrans, and the Southampton Cycling Campaign on the trip.

My group travelled to Hook of Holland by overnight Ferry, and the first stage of our journey was by bus and train from the Ferry Port to Delft. (interestingly, the ferry, on arrival in Holland, plugged into the mains, and turned off its generators)

I am going to post blogs on each day of the trip. Initially I will simply state what we saw. I'll finish up with a reflective and analytic post - how can this inform us in Southampton?

First impressions

Hook of Holland is similar to any small dockside city in the UK.  Most of the infrastructure is post war rebuild and access to the ferry terminal was through residential streets and past shopping areas.  However the authorities have managed to squeeze in proper cycle paths on all roads. Parking is **always** off road - at least set back from the cycle lane. 

Good signposting for bikes everywhere, and of course the was a cycle path right to the ferry terminal.
Cycle Lane out of Ferry Terminal

Roundabouts have cycle path crossings 5 - 10 m before roundabout entrance - and traffic gives way to bikes.

This Video from BicycleDutch on Youtube shows such roundabouts in action

At pinch points where there is not room for road and cycle path  (e.g. through a pedestrian island) the cycle path does not disappear but instead cars need to time their entry into the pinch point as they will have to go into cycle lane, and then they must give way to cycles.

Cycle lanes alongside long stretches of motorways were well used by folks wearing their work clothes including suits.

The only helmet or high viz I have seen so far was on a uk cyclist leaving the ferry. 

Time Out

I have not posted for some while (last post was in early February). I hd been making good recovery from a head/brain injury incurred when I was knocked of my bike (Oct 2015), but unexpectedly suffered setbacks in February.  Hopefully I am on the road to recovery and clarity of thought again now.