Cycling is much more dangerous than we think
Maurice Veltrop is commercial employee at Strukton subsidiary Van Rens Mobility.
He knows all about cycle paths. For example, that they're not safe. In his blog, he explains why. And what Van Rens Mobiliteit is going to do about it.
Choose a volunteer, place him blindfolded on a motorway, take off the blindfold and voila: the test subject immediately knows that he's standing on a motorway. Because all over the Netherlands, motorways look the same: solid lines between the lanes, big blue signs with the place names in white, small green highway location markers. The same applies to provincial roads, residential roads, drives and roads in built-up areas. Recognisability is important because it means the road user immediately knows what rules apply to that road.
The situation is very different for cycle paths. We have them in all shapes and sizes: different coloured surfaces, with markings on the edge and without, with a middle line and without, etc. And while roads have a sign which warns you of a dangerous junction ahead, that's not the case on a cycle path. Add all the many different types of bike - city bikes, racing bikes, e-bikes - each with their own speed and it's immediately clear: cycle paths are not safe.
"In 2015, 11,000 cyclists were seriously injured in a unilateral accident. That means 30 avoidable accidents every day"
30 avoidable accidents every day
It's not surprising that there are so many bike accidents every year. In 2015, 11,000 cyclists were seriously injured in a unilateral accident. That means: no motor vehicle involved in the accident. It might be cyclists hitting the verge because they can't see where the road and verge meet, cyclists grazing against other cyclists or even colliding with them when overtaking. Cyclists going in the wrong direction are another cause of accidents. All these accidents are avoidable. 11,000 a year, so 30 a day. These numbers hide a lot of suffering, not just personal but also financial. It costs society over 2.2 billion euros a year, according to calculations by SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research.
A huge problem that's relatively easy to solve: by adding essential recognisability features to cycle paths. At Van Rens Mobiliteit, part of Strukton Civiel, we've decided to do something about this social problem. We want to make the Dutch cycle network sustainably safe.
We started our project in Haaren, in North Brabant. At the end of 2016, we set up a test section there - a straight cycle path - with reflective roadside markings. In the middle of the cycle path, there's a green strip to create more space for fast cyclists to overtake. Last spring, we asked people for their reactions: 75 percent of the respondents liked the cycle path and felt safer. 15 percent had doubts about the effectiveness and 10 percent didn't think it was useful. Although we don't know whether fewer accidents have occurred on this test section, the numerous positive reactions we have received support our fight for safe cycle paths.
Past the mushroom
We are now planning several test sections in other places in the Netherlands. Together with the government and knowledge institutes, we will explore how we can optimise safety on cycle paths. For example, in partnership with the SWOV, we will be doing a safety survey of cycle paths in the city of Amsterdam. Elsewhere in the Randstad conurbation, between Utrecht and Amersfoort, we are working on a perception survey with the province of Utrecht and a traffic psychologist. We will be studying how a cyclist feels on the route and how recognisable the route markings are. Take the good old ANWB mushrooms, for example, which can't be read by someone whizzing by on his e-bike. Recognisability is important: the clearer the route and safety instructions, the more the cyclist can focus on fellow road users.
Cycle path 2.0
In mid-September, the design for the Utrecht-Amersfoort section will be ready. Soon after that, we should hopefully be able to roll out the improved cycle path. Incidentally, we're not just focusing on safety and experience. We also want to make the cycle path as attractive as possible, so that more people will use it. Because alongside that cycle path is the A28, where there are endless traffic jams every working day. Research has shown that these traffic jams disappear if 500 motorists leave their car at home and cycle to work. A cycle path 2.0 can therefore resolve many problems.
"We have 35,000 kilometres of cycle paths in the Netherlands. In five or ten years' time, I think that they'll be more sustainable and safer"
We're still currently involved in studies, test sections and test processes. These are not going unnoticed: CROW is keeping an eye on what we're doing. CROW is a non-profit knowledge partner for (decentralised) government, contractors and engineering consultancies. It's also the organisation which establishes the national standards for road designs. In other words: as soon as we and our partners have worked out how we can make cycle paths as safe as possible, CROW can adopt that approach as a standard with which all road authorities in the Netherlands must comply.
We have 35,000 kilometres of cycle paths in the Netherlands. It's my view that each of those kilometres will be much more sustainable and safer in five or ten years' time. Our volunteer will then be able to remove their blindfold on any cycle path in the Netherlands and say: yes, this is definitely a cycle path.