Groningen, Thursday, lunchtime

Not dissimilar to Oxford in demographics, student population, prosperity, ancient buildings and streetplans, public transport provision and big intercity roads, but with 60% of journeys being made on bicycles. There’s more about the city on A View From The Cycle Path


9 responses to “Groningen, Thursday, lunchtime

  1. You are cherry-picking. This was taken at the point, where the main east-west and north-south cycle routes through the historic centre cross. It’s on the second main square of Groningen (Vismarkt). Here is the shop in the video:,6.563599&spn=0.001115,0.003565&t=h&z=19&vpsrc=6&iwloc=lyrftr:h,16460379662713385200,53.217113,6.563526&layer=c&cbll=53.217031,6.563599&panoid=FP3BUTi8I-iqf4XLtTrvNA&cbp=12,331.96,,0,0

    The historic centre of Groningen looks like this, but the rest does not. The ‘60% cycling rate’ is fiction. However, if you go to Groningen determined to see a city of cyclists, then selective observation will confirm your expectations.

    • Technically, you are correct in calling 60% “fiction”, but the claim I see repeated (and I am trying to track it down to a good source) is 57%. And necessarily, if we see more than 57% bikes in this video, we should see a smaller fraction somewhere else.

      It compares rather well with a video of my ride to work (I use a better route now):

    • Indeed, the suburbs of Groningen do not look like this — cobbled squares and streets that are almost impossible to drive on except to make deliveries. Cobbled squares and difficult-to-drive-on streets is exactly what the centre of Oxford looks like… but with a tenth the number of bicycles.

      The reason this cobbled square in Groningen has ten times as many bicycles as the equivalent spaces in Oxford is that the rest of Groningen has infinitely more attractive bicycle infrastructure than the rest of Oxford.

  2. amcabike – the point is – you can’t find a place in Oxford which has that many people on bicycles. I understand that we here in UK might be glorifying NL (or at least it might look like this from a Dutch person’s perspective) but we do so to encourage change in our country. If you feel that NL isn’t doing enough for cycling (as you have implied in the response to the CEoNL) perhaps you should write to your representative in NL?

  3. The change which UK campaigners seek to encourage is the construction of segregated cycle infrastructure. They have convinced themselves that this will generate mass cycling, and assume (incorrectly) that that was also the case in The Netherlands.

    There is a lot of politics here which is not out in the open, so let be more more explicit. This video was presumably taken on the recent UK cycle activists tour in the northern Netherlands. Presumably it was David Hembrow who took the group here. Hembrow is a supporter of a Dutch planning model, which you can indeed see in operation in Groningen and Assen. It combines high-quality cycle infrastructure with low-density suburbanisation and dispersal of employment. The policy leads to less cycling, increasing car use, pollution, and CO2 emissions, and you can clearly see that in Groningen too – unless of course you don’t want to.

    Many UK cycling campaigners are evidently sympathetic to this planning model, which does indeed include excellent cycling infrastructure. Local authorities in the Netherlands also do their best to promote it as ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ and so on, both internally and outside the country. British local authorities are not averse to that type of self-promotion either, and there is indeed a potential to apply the planning model in the UK. The best that can be said, is that it would not cut cycling in the UK – because that is down to a core of diehards anyway. But it won’t alter modal split either. You don’t get people to cycle, by adopting polices which on balance encourage car use, even if they include some cycling facilities.

    So it is not a question of whether cyclists in the Netherlands ought to lobby for better infrastructure. The infrastructure is not the problem, at least not in itself. Besides, there is a recognised cycling lobby already, which is apparently wedded to the ‘sprawl + cycle paths’ model.

    • Yes, the claim about Dutch planning policy is one that “Paul” has made frequently in the comments on this blog and others. But the Dutch planning policy is clearly independent of the Dutch cycling policy: you do not only have high quality cycling provision in new suburbs, it is to be found throughout cities, villages, and between them, retrofitted to roads and neighbourhoods that pre-date the policy.

      The claim is largely irrelevant because British planning policy is also entirely independent of cycling policy. In the past we’ve also built suburban sprawl, but our suburban sprawl is even more car dependent than the Dutch sprawl. The last government’s policies limited new sprawl to some extent, but under the current government planning policy has changed and construction is more likely to recommence. A lot of us in the liveable cities blogosphere have been opposing that policy change, and it would take some very interesting logic to interpret that opposition to sprawl as inconsistent with favouring quality cycling infrastructure. There is no reason for the two policies to be linked, any more than cycling policy has to be linked to drugs policy, or immigration policy, or any of the other policy areas in which the British and Dutch currently differ.

      And it’s irrelevant because most British campaigning is focussed on fixing the roads and streets that we already have — big fast traffic corridors that damage our existing cities and neighbourhoods — because those roads and streets will always be where the majority of people live and work.

  4. I don’t follow your logic, or rather, I don’t know if your logic follows. The reason to favor dedicated infrastructure for cycling is that it has worked at least in Northern Europe, and nothing else has worked anywhere else. There are surely other factors (high gas prices, e.g.) but those factors are present in other places without an accompanying high bike share. Your criticism of Hembrow seems counterfactual; bicycling share in the Netherlands has been growing in the last few 2-3 decades, not shrinking, and it exceeds anything else in the rest of the wealthy world.

    Car-use in the US (where I live) has its own dead-weight disincentives, which vary from place to place, so it is possible that we could increase bike share beyond the hard core without also taking measures to impede car use. Where cycling-with-infrastructure might succeed is in those places where the car-disincentives are already pretty high and people tolerate them merely because they have “no choice”. As an example of this, Boston-Cambridge-Somerville here in Massachusetts; well denser than Groningen, larger, high student and professional population, and traffic jams and parking problems are unpredictably frequent. I’m one of the hard core, if I am traveling alone into Cambridge or Somerville, I almost always ride my bike. When I talk to other people about this, the overwhelming complaint is “no safe place to ride”.

    One example of how segregated infrastructure might help can be seen at the Cambridge Alewife transit stop. A local rails-to-trails bike path terminates there. A few years ago a safe(r) bicycle parking facility was added with 300 spaces, adding more than 9% to the total parking capacity at the station. There’s now about 500 bicycle spaces total (more than 15% of the total car+bike capacity) and in good weekday weather they tend to run full (the less-visible bicycle cage tends to run less than full). See here:

    For that station the bicycle ride share exceeds 10%, which is a huge fraction for the US. It is almost entirely the result of segregated cycling facilities (the rails-to-trails path) and provision for parking (even the unprotected parking is at least out of the weather).

  5. Joe Dunckley writes that

    “..the Dutch planning policy is clearly independent of the Dutch cycling policy”

    It is not, and you and find good examples in Groningen. On the cycle route project map you can see that planned cycle paths are mainly radial, and extend to the edge of the built-up area and beyond. All these paths are in fact serving new housing and suburbanized villages, at 10-20 km from the city centre.

    The planned cycle path to the new suburb at Meerstad is typical of what’s wrong: the development is noted for its low density and distance from the city centre, and for most people it would be too far to cycle. (Take a look at their flash panorama artists impression). So you get an excellent cycle path to your new housing, but you need a car to live there. The path has no other purpose than to serve the development: there are existing cycle routes, in what is at present farmland. Fortunately, both projects are on hold due to the crisis.

    Policy in Groningen massively favors road transport: the 8-lane southern ring motorway alone will cost €650 million. In comparison, the two-year cycle budget for 2009-2010 was €4.7 million. Half of that is for one cycle path along a rail line: it ends in open fields, since there is apparently no money to extend it.

    Joe also says that in the Netherlands…

    “…you do not only have high quality cycling provision in new suburbs, it is to be found throughout cities, villages, and between them

    That is not true in general, and not just in Groningen. Provision of cycle infrastructure within residential areas, is almost always related to the age of the development. It is the post-1990 housing which has the best cycle paths. The reason is simply that retro-fitting is much more expensive.

    That applies to cycle infrastructure between villages, radial routes into cities, and urban cycle routes between parts of larger cities. It is most likely to be associated with new development: again isolated retro-fitting is more expensive. Improvements to radial cycle routes into cities are often part of road-widening projects.

    Cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands can not be de-linked from the ‘ordered-sprawl’ policies which are the norm here. Of course UK (or American) cycling activists can tell themselves, that they are not going to fall into that trap. But I can’t see any of them telling a local council “we don’t want your wide segregated cycle path, because it leads to a new greenfield development” or “we don’t want your new cycle bridge, because it is part of a wider motorway bridge”. They don’t say that about new cycle bridges here either.

    It is clear that people are irritated by this type of criticism, and that shows in Joe Dunckley’s reaction. I am after all questioning his motives. I explained earlier, that the only possible way to increase cycling is truly draconian measures against car use, petrol at € 50 / litre, that sort of thing. Most, if not all, cycling activists in English-speaking countries are opposed to that strategy. Ultimately this is a political choice: cycling activists are afraid of being cast as ‘loony-left statists’. Probably most are genuine anti-statists, who think draconian measures are too high a price for mass cycling. They would rather drive in a free society, than cycle in a totalitarian one. It would be useful if that sort of value preferences were out in the open.

    • “Cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands can not be de-linked from the ‘ordered-sprawl’ policies which are the norm here. Of course UK (or American) cycling activists can tell themselves, that they are not going to fall into that trap.”

      We INVENTED that trap, only on a cheap-fuel-automotive-scale. What you describe as a terrible thing in Groningen (and it does sound like a misallocation of resources) would be a glorious improvement here in the US.

      That said, I still think the US focus should still be on those places where infrastructure is most likely to work. Atlanta and Houston are not places I can imagine make attractive to bicycle commuters.

      I think most of us take it for granted that totalitarian societies are extremely undesirable and not part of an acceptable outcome. Should I assume that you think such a thing is within the range of acceptable tradeoffs? As you say, it would be useful if our value preferences were out in the open. You’re a little hard to read, what with an internet presence that is only a month or so old.

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