Category Archives: Netherlands

Compare and contrast a US Safer Route to School with the Netherlands

I have just seen this post: Bike Lane SUCCESS! A Safer Route to Middle School | One woman. Many bicycles.

Go and read it, then come back and watch this 5 year old video of cycling to school in the Netherlands by David Hembrow

Note that it was -2 degrees Celsius when this video was recorded.

So which would you prefer your child to use as a “Safer route to School”?

David has written a long and detailed post critiquing rubbish design such as the “sharrows” praised in the first link which is well worth reading: A view from the cycle path: Ontario Traffic Manual “Bicycle Facilities” draft edition. How not to design for cycling.


Excluding views of cycling campaigners

After being asked by the County Council I recently suggested some items for the Leicestershire Cycle Liaison meeting agenda. I suggested 5 items:

  • parts of the TfL February Board meeting briefing paper (PDF) [focused on the need for segregation and the benefits of segregation]
  • a report from someone involved in transport strategy for new housing
  • plans of junctions that have been updated or are being designed now to review for cycle safety
  • a presentation from the Council on what requirements for cycling provision are included in all design briefs
  • an update on the Council’s policy on 20mph limits/zones given the changing national picture.

I fully recognise that I am pushing hard at Leicestershire County Council whose understanding of cycling provision is limited to education, signposting and shared use pavements.

However, I was disappointed to get this reaction from a Cycling Campaigner:

I have found in the past, that talking about highly charged issues, like you have sent for comments, can really only be done, to have any meaning, with a keen cyclist. do you fall into this category do you happily cycle at 28 to 33 kms per hour.If you do then it can be meaningful as anybody can cycle slower and fall in with the existing infrastructure, its the keen cyclist that has the problem.

So by this persons definition I am not a “keen cyclist” as I do not ride between 28 and 33kms per hour (that is 17.5 to 20.6mph) and because I am not a “keen cyclist” I should be happy with the existing infrastructure as I am not one of these “keen cyclists” who has the problem.

I was almost lost for words and it took sometime for my blood pressure to subside enough for a reasonably civil reply.

I campaign for cycling infrastructure to the latest Dutch standards because I am concerned about a variety of crises we face as a country:

  • deaths on the roads
  • obesity
  • congestion
  • air pollution
  • health costs
  • peak oil
  • CO2 emissions

While walking and use of public transport can also help with some of these crises nothing is more effective at tackling them all than switching lots and lots of journeys to ordinary people riding bikes. Not only that but switching people to riding bikes also happens to be great for the economy with shops, employers, home owners, health service, road maintenance, emergency services all benefiting.

I do not want to be associated with an attitude that defines only fast sports cyclists as “keen cyclists” and which does not consider the huge numbers of people who would like ride a bike but feel it is too dangerous.

So I am not a “keen cyclist” despite riding nearly every day and 3,500 to 5,500 miles a year! Moreover, my focus in Cycle Campaigning is not on “keen cyclists” by this definition (although my experience of cycling in the Netherlands shows that even “keen cyclists” benefit greatly from Dutch quality infrastructure.

[Update] I have now had a gracious response to my response from the person concerned confessing that they were being selfish.


What Leicester City Council and Sainsbury’s could have done (2)

In my previous post What Leicester City Council and Sainsbury’s could have done (1) I took a minimalist approach to providing a safe infrastructure for the Melton Road junction with Troon Way/Watermead Way at the site of the new Sainsbury’s. Now I want to take a little more radical approach.

Political Support

Both Sainsburys and Leicester City Council make bold claims for their political support for the environment and for carbon reduction.

Sainsbury’s on the environment

Let us imagine the sort of design that would fit with a Supermarket chain that claims the following:

Respect for our environment

At Sainsbury’s, respecting the environment is about doing the right thing. We aim to be the UK’s greenest grocer, which is great for our business but even better for the environment.

Making a positive difference to our community

For us, retailing is about more than quality products and great service. It’s also about supporting and helping the communities where we work, and being a good neighbour. We aim for our stores to be at the heart of the communities they serve

Further more, let us imagine they wish to build a flagship store that is their most environmentally efficient:

Sainsbury’s new supermarket in Leicester is one of two ‘Triple Zero’ stores the retailer has just opened. It is Sainsbury’s most environmentally friendly store to date and uses the very latest technologies available to complement its industry-leading standard specification.

Neil Sachdev, Sainsbury’s Property Director, said: “We aim to be the UK’s Greenest Grocer and achieve our 20×20 target to reduce our operational carbon emissions by 30 per cent absolute. To do this we’re now building and running highly sustainable, low carbon stores.

Such a store would of course take into account the environmental impact of it’s customers travelling to and from the site, sadly though all their public messages about the environment ignore transport, it is the elephant in the supermarket.

Of course if you want to build a very environment friendly superstore it helps to do it in an environment friendly city, so let us consider Leicester City.

Leicester City on the Environment

Leicester makes bold claims:

Setting sensible targets

So with a Supermarket chain and City both committed to a sustainable and low carbon environment, to the local community and to healthy and active travel, what might they do for transport at a site with 1,000’s of homes within a couple of miles, a site at a major junction where there is a lot of congestion and which is at the junction of key routes into and around the city.

  • They would presumably have targets for the percentage of staff walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work. They would do all they could to encourage this to reduce congestion, reduce car parking needs and increase the health, wealth and productivity of their staff.
  • They would presumably have targets for the percentage of customers walking, cycling or using public transport to get to and from their store. They would prioritise access to the store for these customers recognising that by doing so they benefit the local community by reducing congestion, pollution and health care costs.
  • They would presumably recognise how key the junction next to the store was for access into and around the city. They would note that it is the most direct route into the city for the communities of Thurmaston and Syston (and beyond). They would note that alternative cycling and walking routes into the city are far less direct and are through unlit parkland that is on the flood plain and thus inaccessible at night and when flooded. They would note that the crossing of the river Soar from the junction is one of the few that does not flood (the next nearest to the North is the A46 which is 3 miles away, to the south it is Loughborough Road 1.4 miles away) and so is important for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • They would note how close schools were to the site and the safety issues that come from having an attractive supermarket across a busy road from schools.

Noting all these things creating safe, attractive and convenient walking, cycling and public transport routes to, from and past the Supermarket would be of the highest priority.

Designing the transport links

The roads by this site are all very busy. For example the Melton Road is a dual carriageway that has 5 lanes heading south into this junction. Troon Way has 4 lanes heading east into the junction. There are frequent tailbacks on all 4 arms of the junction.

The London Cycling Campaign has helpfully adopted a simple formula for when cyclists should be provided with high quality protected space. If speeds exceed 20mph (based on 85th percentile actual speeds not the speed limit) or 2,000 PCUs per day (passenger car units, a weighted measure see this pdf for more detail. Here is a bit more detail. The London Cycling Campaign claim this is similar to Dutch requirements although it seems to me that theirs are more finely grained and consistently applied which no British standard relating to safe cycling infrastructure has been. See the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain for some analysis of Dutch standards.

However, every road at this junction way exceeds both the 20mph speed limit and the 2,000 pcu per day measure. The suggestion from a City Council officer I met at the safety audit that cyclists heading out of the city should ride on the dual carriage way shows a worrying lack of interest or understanding of safety for people on bikes.

So, idiot engineers from the City Council aside, it is clear that this junction should have fully protected cycle infrastructure on every arm. Consider the map

If Sainsbury’s and Leicester City were serious about their environmental policies then they would be looking at making the following cycle journeys safe and convenient:

  1. North/South along Melton Road A607 to provide good access in and out of Leicester (especially for the Golden Mile) for people in Thurmaston/Syston (and the villages beyond). Also to the Rushey Mead Secondary school on the Melton Road.
  2. East/West along Watermead Way/Troon Way A563. This is a critical east/west connection for cyclists, especially at night and in winter when many will not want or be able to cross the river Soar in Watermead Park. It provides critical connections between work places, hospitals and residential areas
  3. North/South to East/West due to the strategic crossing of the Soar and the direct route of the Melton Road there are many routes that will turn at this junction. For example from Syston to Glenfield Hospital is from North to West. Syston to the General Hospital is North to East.
  4. Local Routes to Sainsbury’s. The closest homes are behind the store in Thurmaston and across Troon Way. However, access from Melton Road (North and South) as well as Watermead Way (Birstall is from 1 mile away) will also be popular.
  5. In the summer connections into Watermead Park and the Sustrans route along the River Soar would probably be popular for people who are less confident cyclists.

With roads as busy as these I believe that grade based segregation is the best solution. Toucan crossings are slow and inconvenient. In the UK these are never very responsive to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists due to the focus on maximising motorised traffic flows. Nor do they provide attractive options that encourage school children to cycle (especially they do not encourage parents to allow their children to cycle to school).

However, the UK also has a very poor history when it comes to the design of grade separated segregation. We build subways that feel dangerous and which flood. We build bridges that are eyesores as well as narrow with long detours on the steep ramps. There are examples close to Sainsbury’s and they are frequently ignored by pedestrians and cyclists like this:

The Dutch do things differently and the best recent example is the Hovenring at Eindhoven that I rode over this summer. (although Mark also mentions a somewhat similar roundabout in Norway).

Note how the Dutch solution is attractive (no more than that, beautiful)!


Not only is it beautiful it also feels very safe. The ramps are gentle and wide, for the most part with grass banks rather than railings. The roundabout gives you a choice of directions so you can avoid other people to feel safe. There is great visibility from all directions and the road which also makes you feel safer.

There are other practical advantages to the Hovenring, installation was quick as large segments were simply lifted into place. Cyclists and pedestrians never have to wait and never delay motorised vehicles. Maintenance is easy as the Hovenring is wide enough and strong enough for normal maintenance vehicles to drive on it.

Imagine how Sainsbury’s could have used this in their publicity and as a sign of where their most environmentally friendly store was. What a great gateway into the City the Council could have made this.

Things would have been done very differently. Instead of all the roads rising upto the junction it would have been lowered by a couple of meters, this would have provided the material for the ramps. It would have made the slopes easy for cyclists and pedestrians. One exit ramp could have curved gently down to the store canopy (where no doubt Sainsbury’s would have thought of providing more than 19 Sheffield stands for bike parking). One ramp could lead to a new cycle bridge alongside Watermead way where currently cyclists have to ride with no protection on a very busy road with a 50mph speed limit.

With imagination and a commitment to their public policies Sainsbury’s and Leicester City Council could have produced something to be proud of, something that would have gone a long way to transform the way that people get around Leicester and to/from this store. With that imagination they would both have gained huge visibility just as Eindhoven is currently reaping the benefits of being see the world over as a leading city for cycling.




Travelling with bikes

We have spent 1 1/2 days travelling home from Alkmaar in the Netherlands to Leicester in the UK.

Yesterday we left the campsite just after noon Dutch time and arrived at a Travelodge near the Dartford Thames Crossing at 10:30pm UK time. The start worked particularly well. We had a full afternoon and evening out on Thursday so didn’t start packing anything until after breakfast on Friday. We were off the pitch before noon and then had time for a shower before leaving the site (much nicer to start a long journey not feeling all sweaty).

Today we left the travelodge just after 9 and got home around noon.

With a folding camper (a Dandy Designer) there is very little storage inside the folded camper and the our fridge (gas/mains or 12V) takes a big chunk of space in the car boot. We see many others with similar configurations and for the most part they have their bikes on the car roof or sometimes on top of the camper (usually laying flat).

As there were only 3 of us my much preferred option is to remove all the seats we don’t need from the car (with the Berlingo Multispace this is very easy and needed as they don’t fold flat into the floor). We can then fit 3 bikes and the fridge into the car (along with a fair bit of other stuff such as duvets, pillows, 24 bottles of wine, tools). The rest of the clothes I put in a folding Thule roofbox on top of the Dandy camper.

This has big advantages:

  • much better aerodynamics (we averaged 40mpg and that was with only one short day trip when we were not towing). The roofbox is still a lot lower than our car so has much less effect when on the trailer.
  • better security. Yes they could steal our dirty washing on the way home if they untied the roofbox or cut it with a sharp tool. But the bikes are worth a lot more than our holiday clothes!
  • better in the rain. The bikes stay dry 🙂
  • less damage. The bikes get wrapped in rugs and there is no rubbing or scraping or wind damage
  • height barriers have only the normal restrictions for the roof of the car. Having seen someone drive under a building with bikes on we don’t want to risk the same (we once nearly forgot and nearly tried to drive through a car park height barrier with bikes on.

In the past with a 6 berth, twin axle caravan I could just about fit 5 bikes into it, again a pretty good option (although a bit of pain at overnight stops in motorway services).

The next best option is to put the bikes on the roof of the camper, we did that a couple of years ago with 6 bikes to France because with 6 people in the car there was only room in the car for us, the fridge and a little stuff. Since then we have had the suspension on the Dandy upgraded and I do have plans for a Mark II version one day.

Meantime since getting home I have at last started work on a new lighting board for the Dandy. Some of the lights are persistently unreliable so I am creating an LED lighting board that will be quick to fit (I don’t want to drill the frame at the moment so this will hang on top). I am also going to fit some boards to the bottom of the roof box which will make it quicker and easier to fit.


Last day riding in the Netherlands this holiday

So sad, today was our last full day in the Netherlands, in the morning we pack up to head back to cycling carnage in the UK.

It also rained all morning but by mid afternoon it had cleared up and we went for a beautiful ride.

You can see a map of the route here on Strava.

As with every ride in the Netherlands this holiday there was not a single dangerous or scary moment.

I got caught a bit as piggy in the middle between a son wanting to rush onto the next place where we might buy him food and a wife who wanted to enjoy the scenery 🙂

The ride to Camperduin included some lovely off road bits with some amazing sand mountains to see at Schoorl. Then we stopped for a drink at the cafe on top of the dunes at Camperduin, so windy the froth was being blown off the drinks as the staff brought them to the tables (despite the glass screens).

The next bit is wonderful, a scenic ride through the sand dunes. A real delight even with the hills and a very strong headwind. We passed one family with 3 children between the parents bikes (Mum with the younger two and Dad with the older one) working their way up the first long climb. There were lots of bikes all the way along with people of all ages riding them.

We then had an early evening meal at Bergen aan Zee with a sea view which was lovely before a ride back to the campsite on which you pass some really great home designs.

I did 23.3 miles which was probably a mile or two further than the others as I commuted between them 🙂

A great ride to finish the holiday.

Note looking forward to UK roads at all!



Some normal sights in the Netherlands

I’m sorry but I’m not much of a photographer so you’ll have to make do with word pictures.

We have now been in the Netherlands for 10 days. Here are just a few of the normal sights around here that you won’t normally (if ever, for most of us) see in the UK

1: An elderly couple out for a ride together. She is on a mobility scooter and he is on an electric assist bike.

2: A mum with a cargobike riding alongside a young child (maybe about 5 years old) who is riding their own bike along the normal cycle infrastructure (at this point a painted lane on the road). When I caught up with them they were stopped at a red traffic light and clearly having a conversation about what that meant and when they would be able to continue.

3: Parents with two children on a normal bike (one in a seat behind the handlebars, the other a seat on the backrack).

4: Teenage girls riding out of town on their own in the late evening.

5: Groups of young people riding about town together, using the safe infrastructure not the pavement or the road.

6: A group of 4 Scouts in uniform on a fully loaded tour

7: Tandems with couples of all ages in normal clothes

8: Couples in full lycra on nice road bikes riding together heading in or out of town

9: People getting off their bike, parking it and taking a walking stick from the basket in order to be able to walk away.

10: Crowds of bikes parked outside every restaurant, cafe, pub, shop in an ordinary town not just a University city.

11. Cash machines at banks that most of the people use them one handed while holding their bike in the other hand

12. People of all ages giving people of all ages rides on their back racks (or sometimes their front racks)

13. Dogs in front baskets, dogs in rear baskets, dogs on leads alongside bikes

14. A gentleman riding home with a huge brass band instrument on his front rack

15: A mum with two maybe 10 year olds in the front of her cargobike (seen halfway between two towns)

16: Bike traffic jams at traffic lights despite it not being rush hour, not being a city and not being a narrow lane.


What we should not copy from the Netherlands

Our family is united in the opinion that it is a bad idea to allow scooters to use cycle tracks.

They are so much faster than bikes that they are quite intimidating.

So please UK do not allow anyone to think this is a good idea, the Dutch have got this one wrong and we can do better.


Naysayers defeated by the Dutch again!

Naysayers defeated by the Dutch again!

Today we moved from Bladel to Alkmaar, due to congestion around Amsterdam we arrived a little later than we expected. Anyway, once the folding camper was setup I headed into town to buy some food.

The campsite staff had given me a little map to show where the town centre was but in fact I didn’t need it. The advice to turn left at the campsite entrance (we had arrived from the right) was enough. That took me straight onto a segregated cycle track and from there on it was both clearly signposted and full cycle infrastructure.

Once at the town centre I was able to get some cash and arrive at the little supermarket in the centre just as it was closing.

So I decided to scout around and see if I could find somewhere open and at the same time put the Dutch cycle infrasrtructure to the test.

Blindly riding around a town you have never visited in search of a food shop that is open when the first one you visited told you that there would be no others open seems a good way to test the cycle infratructure.

Surely this time I would make a bad choice somewhere and end up where there was no safe cycle infrastructure!

So I continued down the almost completely pedestrianised shopping street until I met a busy looking inner ring road by a canal. That had an excellent segregated cycle track, I continued along that, went over a huge lifting bridge on a segregated track and ended up on a quiet road which had a clear sign saying bicyles had priority. I saw a bus with a queue behind waiting patiently behind a very slow cyclist. I passed two teenagers riding side by side. Cars only overtook when the other direction was clear and gave lots of space.

I came to another big road, crossed it with priority (a car stopped for me) and then headed back towards the town through some out of town shopping units, still on a segregated cycle track. I then spotted a Lidl and crossed at a bike specific crossing into the carpark where there were plenty of bike racks right by the shopping trolleys. It was open! So we have been able to eat and will be able to eat tomorrow 🙂

I then continued around the edge of the town centre until I reached my original route in, then I came back to the campsite.

In total 5.6 miles and I didn’t find a single junction or section of road where cycles were not fully catered for. I felt totally safe the whole time despite not having much idea where I was. I navigated by looking for busy areas where there might be semi out of town shops like the Lidl I found and I got back by using my Garmin GPS showing my track so I could make a rough circle and reconnect with my route into the town.

The cycle infrastructure varied. Sometimes there was no road (just a cycle track), sometimes it was a cycle track separated from the road, sometimes it was a painted lane, sometimes a quiet road with special markings, sometimes a semi pedestrianised road.

Whatever the infrastructure was along the roads every junction still had proper provision for cyclists whether it was priority over side roads, special lanes or segregated tracks around roundabouts or specific traffic light phases.

I have ridden in what have variously been described as the best UK towns and cities (Cambridge, Oxford, Stevenage, Milton Keynes). None of these even come close to this essentially randomly chosen Dutch town.

Everywhere in the UK needs to have a complete rethink and get their road designers to the Neterlands on bikes for as long as it takes for them to understand what they need to do.



A new understanding of Dutch Bike Bells

For a quite a while I have been a fan of the Widek Ding Dong Bell that I have bought from David and Judy Hembrows Dutch Bike Bits website.

David is a friend and a very thorough person so I am grateful that he took the time to test lots of bike bells to be able to sell us the loudest.

It works really well. I find with pedestrians in the UK I need to ring it while I am some way away from them or they jump out of their skins.

However, it has one flaw for the UK. It tends to ring by itself when you hit bumps. British cycle tracks are full of bumps and holes that are big enough to make my bell ring which I find irritating.

So I was wondering how the Dutch put up with this and why David does not mention it in his thorough testing.

After a few days of riding with the bell in the Netherlands my conclusion is that the reason nobody here reports this problem is that they don’t experience it. I am approaching 100 miles riding in the Netherlands and the bell has not rung by itself once.

So in addition to the white trouser infrastructure test we can add another.

If a Widek Ding Dong Bell rings by itself while cycling on your infrastructure then it is not up to Dutch standards.



Riding into Eindhoven

[Pictures to be added later due to very slow campsite wifi]

Today was a longer ride (34.8 miles for me, 34 for Jane and Stephen as I took a detour on the way home for some food shopping). For them both, it was their longest ride ever on a solo bike.

We went from the campsite near Bladel to the centre of Eindhoven (via the Hovenring). We had one stop on the way there (at a cafe at the Park and Ride just past the Hovenring).

We parked our bikes in a huge underground bike park, it was free, it was right in the centre of the city and it had moving ramp escalators to get you and your bike up and down. See this video of it (not mine)..

As we enjoyed lunch Stephen, 15, said that it had been an awesome ride. Later, Jane commented that it had taken a while for her to gain confidence that the cycle tracks wouldn’t suddenly run out and that she wouldn’t find a barrier at the bottom of any slope or round the next corner because that is what you expect in the UK.

I wrote about planning cycling with children the other day. Today I accidentally found another two routes through Veldhoven and so have been through there four different ways and still not found anywhere without cycling infrastructure and haven’t found anywhere scary. That still startles me. It took me many trips when cycling every day to feel confident that I had found the safest routes into Leicester from Syston for family use.

It is completely incredible for me as a British cyclist to cycle as a family into a city centre without a map, without planning at all, without local knowledge and  without a single scary moment. In fact without any dangerous incidents or any fears for our son. Not just that but nobody even got a little bit stressed. In fact we had time to chat about the architecture and sights.

Without having actually ridden into a city like this it is hard to imagine it being possible. We still find getting into Leicester stressful after living there 3 years. I still can’t describe the route to someone so that they will be able to find it themselves (try describing getting from Abbey Park to the Clock Tower in Leicester by bike, it is only about a mile).

So we had a nice lunch, we had a walk around the city and in the Cathedral (quite dark but I liked the open layout compared to many British Cathedrals with their various screens) then another coffee. We also looked around a lovely cookshop and a 3 story bike shop (so many practical bikes made by companies like Giant that they just don’t sell in the UK).

The ride home was also completely uneventful, just a lovely ride on a beautiful day with my family – what could be better?


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