Nice fast (cycle routes)

The bike is getting more attention than ever. Cycling infrastructure is no longer a local matter; even the national government sees the potential in (electrically assisted) bicycles to get people out of their cars. Especially for people who are tired of the (traffic jam on the) highway, the idea of 'the bicycle highway' has emerged for a number of years. 

One specific route between two urban cores is now often designated for this purpose. That is not entirely unjustified; there are certainly routes where many long cycling movements come together. But regardless of the distance we cycle, we are failing the cyclist if we focus too much on a single type of cyclist (commuter), on one aspect of enjoyable cycling (speed) and on one specific cycling route. 

Mapping long cycling movements

In the Utrecht region, we mapped the commuter movements by collecting data from the Endomondo exercise app. Of course, only a small proportion of cycling commuters record their movement with this particular app. However, in the context of the 'bicycle highways' this is an interesting part. People mainly record their activity with an exercise app when they take a longer bike ride. In addition, within the Endomondo exercise app, the user must indicate whether the bicycle ride was for 'transport' or 'sports/recreational' purpose. It is therefore possible to separate bicycle rides from long-distance commuters and map their behaviour. In the Province of Utrecht, we looked at 92,000 'transport' cycling activities, of approximately 9,300 cyclists who used Endomondo. In any case, it is clear from the departure times of these activities that this mainly concerns commuter traffic:

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In winter, a significant proportion of long-distance commuters visibly prefer another mode of transport. How far and fast do these commuters cycle? 

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Mainly between 3 and 15 kilometres, with the center of gravity around 10 kilometres. The speed was often between 16 and 22 kilometers per hour, it is best to continue cycling. It is impossible to determine to what extent these cyclists were electrically assisted, but perhaps also not the most relevant. It concerns commuter traffic, often over long distances, that cycle well. Through  (https://we.tl/t-UvDNE3cE4q)  A document is available in which we have conducted various additional studies into the characteristics and representativeness of these Endomondo users.

Where did these activities take place? We also mapped out the use of space of the routes traveled. By means of specific settings in the aggregation of the data, it is prevented that a single individual has too great an influence on the image of use, so a fairly representative image can be created:

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The most used routes mainly run in radial direction from the city, towards surrounding centres. Every surrounding core has one or a few most used routes to Utrecht. But the use is also diffuse and scattered, moving in all directions, frequently used routes split up and reunite elsewhere. The long-distance commuter therefore uses the entire network of bicycle paths in the full width.  

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But the increasing popularity of cycling is not only due to commuting, the number of cyclists has also been increasing visibly for years. Especially on weekends and weekday evenings, the roads are busy with cyclists. In urban areas, approximately 10% of the inhabitants practice cycling. In Amsterdam, this share doubled in 10 years (Sports Monitor Amsterdam 2017). On average, cyclists used their racing bicycle 90 times a year, with which they cycled an average of more than 3000 kilometers per year (Cycling Sports Monitor 2014). 

We do our long bike rides short if we only see them as functional or 'utilitarian'. The demand for cycle paths on which cycling can be done quickly, undisturbed and safely is also increasing from a sporting group. But to what extent is their importance spatially different? We were also able to map the space use of a large group of cyclists with Endomondo data for this group of cyclists. Approximately 8600 cyclists produced data from 93,000 sporting cycling activities. When do they mainly cycle?

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During the week, activity is tightly wedged into the light hours after work. From the transition from winter time to summer time, activity increases rapidly. At the weekend, the sporty cyclists set out early, between 9 and 10 a.m. most of them are already on their bikes.  What were the most cycled routes in this group?:

track landscapes racefietsen data fietsroutes heatmap utrecht.p

Because activities are on average considerably longer than 'transport' bicycle rides, the region is much more extensive with 'use intensity'. However, when we look directly around Utrecht, great similarities can be seen with the image of the use of bicycle commuter traffic. We have placed circles in the places that were passed most often during the commute. Without exception, these are also the most passed routes of cycling traffic. There is a logic in that. Now that the commuter is able to move over increasingly longer distances by (electric) bicycle, relatively speaking, there is also more and more movement out of the city, to surrounding centres. And although cyclists do not want to go directly to the surrounding centers, the road to the landscape often initially lies in the same direction.    

Good news? Certainly! This means that the interests of attractive routes also often lie in the same directions and routes. In any case, you can ask yourself how different the interests of recreational/sports vs. utilitarian/commuter cyclists. The  The intended 'undisturbed' of fast cycle routes is just as much an attractive feature for sporty and recreational cyclists.  And the uses are actually even more versatile than that; an increasing number of elderly people can (continue to) cycle longer with electrical support, both recreationally and utilitarian. For (groups of) cycling students, schools that are further away are within cycling reach, more and more runners are running on bicycle paths and inline skaters are rolling free where there are really good exercise paths (Lint Leidsche Rijn).

And vice versa, don't commuters also want to enjoy a beautiful, green environment? Commuters also cycle more intensively on the Vecht between Utrecht and Breukelen than the much more direct Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. A commuter also seems to want to cycle a little longer if the environment of the route is nicer.  So: make the routes not only fast, but also beautiful, safe and walkable. Create beautiful flower verges, avenues, views and resting points along it. Think of them as wide, uninterrupted 'parkways' for all moving people and not just as bicycle (highway) roads. 

This argues in favor of an approach in which we focus on the variety of 'cycling' routes between urban centers and look for opportunities for improvement across the board.  With such a view, many opportunities for better routes become visible. Some examples?:

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·         The main cycle route to Nieuwegein mainly goes through Nieuwegein, also because there are no alternatives. Routes along the beautiful Amsterdam Rhine Canal are unfortunately incomplete and of poor quality (1).

·         Between Utrecht and Maarssen, the routes along (both sides!) of the Vecht and the east side of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal are a more attractive alternative to the Amsterdamsestraatweg-Westzijde Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal express cycle route. However, the bicycle route on the southwest side of the Vecht is very bad (2), and there is no branch on the east side of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal.  

·         Between Utrecht and Hilversum there are  three different cycling routes possible. By upgrading the Dokter Welfferpad to a cycle path (3), a much greener alternative is created on the route along the railway and highway.

·         A bicycle highway through Bilthoven is envisaged between Amersfoort and Utrecht. Improvements in this section are certainly not unnecessary, but the historic 'Wegh der Wegen' is also heavily used by cyclists (towards the Tankweg). Here a number of really major bottlenecks can be removed, lighting and safety can be improved, the asphalt renewed and the environmental quality an upgrade.

·         The cycle path along the N225 between Zeist and Veenendaal is regarded as a potential fast cycle route. But, the Oude Arnhemse Bovenweg is almost just as direct and more beautiful in terms of environment. And it is precisely here that the cycle path is much too narrow and sometimes of poor quality.  

·         The Kromme Rijn is potentially the fastest and most beautiful bicycle route between Utrecht city center and the Uithof, only a few hundred meters of bicycle path are missing.

·         The Oude Rijn already forms a fast cycle route between Utrecht and Woerden, but the quality of the path is also poor to the east of Harmelen. Further north, parallel to the railway, an even more direct connection to Leidsche Rijn and Utrecht can be created, which is also directly connected to 'het Lint'.

A bicycle highway is a nice tangible and nameable 'thing'. It is tempting to focus on a few specific 'highway' sections and invest the greatest resources in them. However, the cyclist and all other moving people benefit more from a  exercise network  that all (potentially) busy stretches are frictionless, finely meshed, wide, smooth, safe, well lit, direct and green.  This also provides a wide range of options for different routes that are fast, beautiful and pleasant. This broader view can be more beneficial for anyone who wants to move in a healthy way.