Sunday 12 May 2024

Go Dutch 2024 - Part 3: Football And Fietsers

Ostensibly, my trips to the Netherlands are meant to be holidays, but of course, it's impossible to switch off completely and besides, travelling is about finding out about how other people live isn't it?

Over the last few years the trips have included little detours to things for me to geek out on, but there has to be balance and for my son who was with me for this trip, he wanted to go and see some football in Eindhoven. Unfortunately for him PSV Eindhoven weren't playing at home for our visit and so we booked tickets to go and see the slightly smaller and lower division FC Eindhoven.

A wide street with a red one-way cycle track with a grass verge left and a road beyond and a footway to the right in front of shops. It's dusk.

I'm not especially a sports fan, but fair's fair and the agreement was that we would of course cycle there, and so we did from our hotel in the city centre to the Jan Louwers Stadion in the south of the south of the city, a distance of 4km or about 20 minutes relaxed cycling. The trip was easy and made on cycleways such as Stratumsedijk (above) which is a multimodal corridor sporting a central two-way bus road.

A large protected cross roads with an orbital cycle track and parallel pedestrian and cycle crossings.

Of course, the junctions we cycled through were fully protected such as the junction of Stratumsedijk with Elzentlaan (above) and even at dusk, we felt safe and protected from drivers.

A street with a red one-way cycle track with a grass verge left and a road beyond and a footway to the right. Over on the left, there are some tall spires with large balls on them as a piece of sculpture, several metres high.

As we approached the large park and recreation complex in which the stadium sits, we still had protected space which allowed us to enjoy the sunset on Antoon Coolenlaan (above), although some local roadworks did make access down to the stadium a little awkward. However, there were so many people walking and cycling at this point, the odd car driving into the site was treated very much as a guest.

A narrow greyish road with a central red brick paving effect asphalt strip in the centre.

As the light faded and as my phone camera quality got worse, I managed to snap the cycle street style treatment on Charles Roelslaan as we approached the stadium (above).

Cycle parking hoops full of bicycles with a glimpse of a football stadium beyond.

Because I had checked out our the destination before travelling, I knew that there was cycle parking right outside the 4,200 seater stadium (above) and we arrived about half-an-hour before kick-off which meant there was plenty of space. When we left to head back into the city after the match, it was all taken up with lots of people just using their wheel locks leaving their cycles where they could.

The view across a flood lit football pitch with stands around it.

The stadium does have a very small car park, but the wider complex has very little car parking generally which means most people travelling to a match will walk, cycle and use buses. In the event, FC Eindhoven were beaten 3-0 by northern club SC Cambuur in a match with plenty of controversy. 

The most amusing thing of for me was even though I know very little Dutch (about as much as I do football), it was very clear the home crowd was full of football experts shouting at their team and the referee. Like their drivers, the Dutch really aren't that different from the British!

The return cycle was a little quicker and we parked up at a city sports bar and ended up seeing the highlights of the match we had just seen!

Friday 3 May 2024

Go Dutch 2024 - Part 2: The Double Floating Bus Stop

I like collecting traffic engineering curiosities and the Netherlands can always be relied on for providing them; so after refuelling near the Hovenring, we headed into the edge of Veldhoven to tick something else off my list. 

It had been a long day of travelling by train and cycle, but we pushed on and cycled just five minutes into the edge of the town that essentially merges into Eindhoven in search of a curious double floating bus stop.

A street with a pair of bus stops right opposite each other with passenger areas floated with one way red cycle tracks on both sides. The road between the passenger areas is one vehicle wide.

It didn't take long to find it on Blaarthemseweg (above) and yes, it was an odd thing to see, but what made it odder was that it was on a street which really had too much traffic and where cycling was only "protected" by painted lanes. 

The location was on a much longer distributor style which runs parallel to a main through route, both of which run to the town centre. The route the bus stops are on is residential, quite suburban and although traffic calmed, it felt more like a British rat-run that a quiet Dutch street.

A street with a pair of bus stops right opposite each other with passenger areas floated with one way red cycle tracks on both sides. The road between the passenger areas is one vehicle wide. This photo is taken from one of the passenger islands.

The bus route using the street is the number 14 between the centres of Eindhoven and Veldhoven which runs every 30 minutes in each direction and give that none of the other stops are floating, it seems really odd to do so here. So why? If it was for safety then maybe all of the other bus stops would have been treated, but for two buses an hour the risk of conflict with cycle traffic is practically non-existent.

A view across the feature at an angle with a grey taxi passing through the middle.

Well I think it performs two functions, but before I get to those, I think we have some clues to help guide us. The double bus stop is outside Zeelsterhof Primary School which you can see in the photograph above and also a block of apartments on the other side of the street which appears to be a sheltered and supported living complex for older people - two demographics which might use the bus.

The first function is traffic calming. If we forget the buses completely, the layout is give-and-take single lane working and as there is no indication on who has priority, drivers have to negotiate with each other. The lane is narrow and there is a speed hump. Although not formally marked (at least with any tactile indicators), the speed hump provides a flat surface for crossing the road.

A view from the road looking though the feature which is a long speed hump, an island each side and a cycle track each way on the outside.

It's worth having a look at the layout in 2008 (above) because the layout was still give and take, but the central area was one long speed hump which helps me conclude that this was traffic calming by the school foremost, with the bus layout coming later (it looks very new in 2016), although there was still a bus route here in 2008. 

An engineering plan of the layout.

The cycle bypasses are consistent with traffic calming elsewhere in the area because those cycling can continue in safety and don't have to get into having to interact with drivers in situations where drivers will try and assert priority. I found the design layout in my 1998 copy of "Recommendations for Traffic Provisions in Built-up Areas" a Dutch design manual that has lots of interesting things in it.

Maybe there was an upgrade of the bus stop facilities along the route and the designer took the opportunity to reuse the extant piece of traffic calming to provide a pair of stops to serve the school and the apartments and in doing so retained the bypasses for cycling because that's the standard approach from a traffic calming point of view. 

A street with a pair of bus stops right opposite each other with passenger areas floated with one way red cycle tracks on both sides. The road between the passenger areas is one vehicle wide. There is a man cycling away from us.

Of course, I hadn't realised or thought about all of this until I sat down to write this post, but you can't help be impressed at the subtle creativity of Dutch engineers, although in fairness, the whole thing could be rendered obsolete if the area is ever redesigned at the network level with bus gates that stop driving through, but retain bus access. Maybe that will be the next iteration that allows the clutter to be taken away.

Oh and one other thing, given a similar context, there is absolutely no reason why we could not provide a layout like this in the UK. I'll leave you with a clip of drivers using this piece of curious Dutch traffic engineering.

Monday 8 April 2024

Go Dutch 2024 - Part 1: The Hovenring

My latest trip to the Netherlands took me to Eindhoven and so I simply had to go and have a look at the Hovenring, an often celebrated piece of cycling infrastructure.

The trip to the Hovenring was on the first day of a tour with my son which had started with a ferry landing at Hoek van Holland (the town square shown below), and taking our cycles on the Rotterdam Metro (after 9am on a weekday).

A large black bicycle with red pannier bags in a town square surrounded by buildings.

My plan had been to get the metro to Schiedam Centraal, the main station in Schiedam which is still overground before the line dives underground. We would then cycle to Rotterdam Centraal and then pick up the Intercity to Eindhoven. However, I also had an alternative idea to go to 's-Hertogenbosch and then to cycle the 40km south to Eindhoven and that's just what we did as we were able to pick up the Sprinter train from Schiedam Centraal.

A pair of open yellow doors on a train with a bicycle logo in blue. It is a level loading floor with a little extending platform between the carriage and the platform.

I think this was the best option as Sprinter trains have level boarding (above, complete with the extending gap filler to the platform) as opposed to the steps of the Intercity and my perception was that cycle space is tighter in the Intercity. 

Two bicycles, one with big red panniers in a cycle parking area on a train marked with a floor logo and folding seats behind.

I think it was the right decision and there was plenty of space for our cycles on the Sprinter (above) and the configuration was such that one could wheel in one door and wheel out of the next to save having to juggle the cycles round (mine is heavy and was loaded up for the trip). I would say that Dutch national railways is similar to the UK in that a cycles are tolerated rather than embraced in numbers and having to pay €7.50 per cycle for a day ticket helps with the discouragement. 

Indoor cycle parking for a large group of yellow and blue bicycles.

Unlike the UK, the Dutch railways make it very easy to cycle from destination stations using their integrated OV-fiets cycles which are usually quite plentifully supplied at stations across the country such as Tilburg (above). Apparently one can get access to these with a UK bank account, but I've not explored the option as it is meant to be awkward, and probably less helpful when carrying two panniers' worth of luggage.

I'll pick up on the cycle from 's-Hertogenbosch to Eindhoven another time, but as we got to the edge of Eindhoven after being battered by a headwind most of the afternoon (the Dutch hill), we thought that we may as well push on to see the Hovenring to leave a bit more time for our next day's adventure. 

A red two way cycle track with little S shaped centre line markings in white paint.

We picked up the city's oddly named "Slowlane" cycle route which took us past the airport and we followed the "S" centre line markings (above) into the Grasrijk district on the very west of Eindhoven.

A wide road with a red two way cycle track and footway to the left crossing a signal controlled crossroads junction.

The Hovenring eventually swung into view as we crossed Meerhovendreef (above). I had seen plenty of photos, but what was coming up was essentially a circular bridge some 72 metres in diameter and which is suspended over a traffic junction via a single pylon with cables down to the deck and some supports underneath (below).

A two way red cycle track with a wide road to the right separated by a verge ramps up to a cable stayed bridge with a single central pylon reaching for the sky.

As we got closer, it became apparent that although not horredously steep, the ramps up to the Hovenring are less favourable than the shallower slope that drivers have to deal with going underneath. I think this really does show that the Hovenring is motoring infrastucture which takes walking, wheeling and cycling out of the picture at (just below original) ground level.

The view of a large multilane crossroads with the foundation and a single pylon in the centre with cables holding a circular bridge below.

Being up above the large and really busy junction feels much safer than it would be crossing multiple traffic lanes (above), but the project was built to improve the flow of traffic and to accommodate housing development in the area. I think this is slightly glossed over in calling the Hovenring a cycling roundabout, but in the (ahem) round, there is no denying that this is an iconic landmark which does improve safety for people as well as simplifying the junction for drivers.

Part of a circular red two way cycle track bridge with white parapets and cables running off to the left from the inner parapet.

Up above the traffic, we can see the Hovenring is part of the Slowlane and in common with what we had cycled so far, it was wide enough for two-way cycling and there was the odd person walking over which is perfectly fine. 

The Hoventing provides plenty of local connectivity on the edge of Eidhoven such as the new housing (above) and into the adjacent town of Veldhoven.

Part of a circular red two way cycle track bridge with white parapets and cables running off to the right from the inner parapet.

So there, you have it, an amazing piece of engineering which is now fully part of the local cycling (and walking and wheeling network) in this developing part of Eindhoven.

A two way cycle track and footway to the right crossing a right turn for traffic coming from the left which is controlled by traffic signals.

We used a different ramp to leave - northeast on Noord Brabantlaan because after hours in the saddle and with faces full of headwinds, we spotted something else of interest (above). 

A red two way cycle track and footway to the left ending at two banks of cycle parking.

Our pre-midday snack in 's-Hertogenbosch had long since evaporated and the call of fast food was irresistable, but it turns out that the restaurant had its very own 60 metre walking, wheeling and cycling spur from the main network, with the latter ending in a dedicated cycle parking area (above). 

A two way cycle track and footway to the right crossing a right turn for traffic coming from the left which is controlled by traffic signals.

This spur crossed a left turn slip road from the main road, or to be more accurate, it was the left turn slip that crosses the spur because the traffic signals here are set up to priorise the spur with traffic getting demand-led access. It's always the details in the Netherlands! 

I shall leave you with a video of The Hovenring.

Saturday 16 March 2024

The Non-story of 20mph Enforcement In London

A few weeks ago, Times consumer affairs correspondent Andrew Ellson authored an article on 20mph speed enforcement in which he took some umbrage at how London's Metropolitan Police deals with enforcing that particular speed limit.

A 20mph zone sign

I'll come to what he wrote in a minute, but this comes at a time when we've had all sorts of nonsense from people decrying any measure to rein in the impact of decades of traffic growth and indeed, enforcement action taken against those behaving dangerously.

I am a supporter of 20mph as the default speed limit. This doesn't come from a political position, it is a consequence of the science which underlies part of the sustainable safety (also called safe systems) approach to highway engineering. In short, the human body can withstand certain forces in terms of being hit by a vehicle or for the occupants of a vehicle, and the relationship between driver speed and the energy of an impact is non-linear. 

20mph (30kph) is the sweet spot for where people both inside and outside of vehicles are much more likely to walk away from a crash and so from a sustainable safety point of view, places where mixed modes operate will benefit from this speed limit. I wrote more about this back in 2020. Let us also be very clear here, 20mph is a limit and not a target, because in some situations it is fully appropriate for people to drive well below the limit because of what is going on around them.

I think that in some respects UK driving culture has got us to a point where some people think about the speed limit as a bit of a guideline and with well-publicised police enforcement approaches, many people realise they are very unlikely to be taken to task for being a little over the limit and in the event they do get caught, some people get very noisily upset and that's grabbed by some to stoke their silly little culture war and presumably it must also help sell newspapers or drive traffic to news websites.

So back to Ellson's piece. While he did mention police forces across the UK, I am going to stick with the Metropolitan police as he seems most upset with them.  The headline to his piece (that he won't have written) leans into the government's current culture war on anyone not driving with "Record fines for 20mph speeding despite PM’s pledge to scrap zones" and in the piece after talking about 20mph, Ellson states:

"The Met alone has issued 595,000 of the fines — the equivalent of one ticket for every four cars registered in London — amid a crackdown on speeding initiated by Sadiq Khan as mayor."

In June 2023, there were 2,608,538 cars registered in London and with Ellson's figure of 595k fines, that's a ratio of 4.38. Now according to the data provided to me by the Met around 20mph enforcement, there were 243,110 offences detected by camera and 2,637 Traffic Offence Reports (TORs) - i.e. detected by a police officer in 2023. That's a total of 245,747 which is a ratio of 10.6. In fairness, the data I have is all offences and not just cars, but it doesn't appear to be the 1 in 4 as suggested in the article.

Ellson then took to Twitter to talk more about this and we find out that just maybe, he was feeling a little sore about the subject and so I obviously couldn't resist a dig. His answer was interesting and I did ask to see his data, but reply there came none.

Me quote tweeting Ellson and him responding.

The 10% +2mph here refers to a commonly held belief by some drivers that they are fine to drive at that speed before they run the risk of enforcement. For 20mph, this is taken as 24mph is fine, enforcement will be from 25mph and greater. Except that's completely wrong because the Met confirmed its 20mph approach in November 2021 as follows;

"The Met threshold for enforcement of 20mph roads and issuing a speeding ticket is 10% + 2 mph. Enforcement from 24 mph and Prosecution from 35 mph."

So if they catch you driving 24mph to 34mph (officer or camera) you are more likely to be dealt with through the fixed penalty process or a speed awareness course, and from and including 35mph, that's probably you off to court.

Ellson's tweet is even more interesting because he is talking about between 21mph and 25mph. He didn't confirm if that was an inclusive figure, but anyone caught speeding at 24mph and 25mph will be subject to enforcement. But let's have a look a the actual data which shows that in 2023 from a speed camera perspective, not a single person was subject to enforcement in London for 21mph to 23mph inclusive which is in line with the 10% +2mph which starts at 24mph. 

For enforcement by an officer for 21mph to 23mph, one person was subject to enforcement and that was dealt with by a speed awareness course. There were no enforcements by an officer at 24mph and there were just four at 25mph (1 case ongoing, 2 for potential prosecution and 1 dealt with by a speed awareness course). Back with the cameras, there were 80,267 enforcement detections at 24mph and 56,764 at 25mph.

Ellson is being a bit naughty quoting the range of 21mph to 25mph because that's taking in 21, 22 and 23mph which objectively is not being enforced against, but it's good framing when you want to create criticism even though we still talking about a 20mph limit and it feeds the social media set-piece of unverifiable stories about old ladies being done for driving at 22mph in a 20mph limit.

But let us put this into perspective with the Met's total 20mph enforcement figure of 245,747. About 42% of camera detections ended up with a speed awareness course and about 13% when detected by an officer, but as officer detections are about 1% of the total, you've got to be quite "unlucky". About 17% of camera detections led to people paying their fines (and taking 3 points), less than 4% going for prosecution, about 29% remain ongoing cases and about 9% led to no further action.

In terms of mileage driven in London, in 2022, there were 19.1 billion miles driven. I don't have a breakdown of how many were on 20mph streets, but that's one 20mph enforcement detection for every 78,000 miles driven in London each year and I'd say we've actually got some good compliance out there which makes Ellson's whole story rather disproportionate in the grand scheme of things. And besides, physics and biomechanics don't care.

I've provided the Met data below, feel free to challenge by maths as I don't always get it right!

Saturday 10 February 2024

Taking The Rough With The Smooth

The asphalt fairies have been out round my way and it gave me an opportunity to have a look at what they were up to a few nights ago.

The road in question is a 50mph trunk road which cuts through the community of my corner of London, and as such, it carries lots of motor traffic. It's built on good old London Clay which means it's susceptible to long term movement from getting saturated and drying out annually and for this road, a couple of sections had been on the move making the road surface a bit of a rollercoaster twisting lorries as they went over the defects.

The maintenance response was to relay the kerb lines to the correct levels and then resurface to suit and it is the resurfacing that caught my ear - yes I do mean "ear". Let's have a quick video and you'll see what I mean.

You might need to listen to this clip a couple of times to get your ear in, but the change in noise level between the new surface to the right and the old surface to the left is noticeable. Some of you might even be able to pick up the little thump as the vehicles go across the tie-in point between the two.

So what's happening here? For the answer to that, we need to take a closer look, courtesy of my creaking knees.

Above is a photograph of the old surface (taken where it has been ended in a side road - I wasn't going to bend down on a high speed road!) The black and white squares on the top of the reference card are 10mm so you can get a idea of the size of the pink and black stones that cover the surface which I'll come back to in a minute.

The surface itself is called "hot rolled asphalt" (HRA) and it is a mix of a bitumen binder, stone, sand and fillers (such as limestone dust). It is laid by machine and when properly compacted, forms a dense matrix which is very durable and waterproof. As a result, it has a long design life and in the scale of things is reasonable cost effective. Quite good for a trunk road carrying lots of lorries.

The problem with HRA however, is it isn't that great at attaining skidding resistance unless one chooses a variant which has a high proportion of high quality stone to leave a "rough" surface, but that puts the cost up. Instead, we add "pre-coated chippings" (PCC). PCCs are the pink and black stones you can see in the photograph above and come with a thin coating of bitumen to help them stick when they are laid. The pink stones are granite and the black are probably basalt - two very hard stones and as they are quite expensive, they are used sparingly on top rather than in the mix itself.

HRA surfaces are usually laid by machine with the PCCs added while the surface is still hot and prior to being compacted by roller (but not too much otherwise PCCs will be pushed right in). This leaves all the PCCs sticking up a little bit above the general surface leaving a rough texture. The PCCs sticking up creates a "positive macrotexture". The stones are also rough when you look at them at the microscopic level which gives us a "microtexture" which is also part of the grip story.

The action of tyres over an HRA surface is such that the stones grab and deform bits of the tyre in contact as they roll over the surface and the noise comes from the rubber "pinging" back as the stones lose grip as the tyre rotates. It's all happening very quickly, constantly and at a small scale, but all of the little pings add up to generate the noise we can hear in the video and of course, frictional forces are gradually wearing the tyres out. Asphalts generally absorb some noise from tyres, but the type explained above is fairly impervious and so much of the noise is reflected up.

PCC laying machines "chippers" were almost becoming museum pieces a few years back as there was a trend to use surfacing that didn't require them because they are often awkward to use because they are wider than the section of surface being laid, which usually led to road closures. Have a close look at this video to see the chips falling out of a chipper from a grooved roller fed by the hopper.

From a maintenance point of view, getting a chipper in for smallish scale work isn't economically viable and hand-laying PCCs isn't a great option for a high speed road from a quality perspective which is probably why for the bit of work I'm talking about, a different choice was made.

The new surface (above) is quite different to the HRA. In this case we are dealing with what is generally termed as "asphalt concrete" (AC) which is comprised of higher quality stone with fewer fillers and more stones of a similar size to give an "open" texture, but which still has bitumen to bind the mix. Whereas HRA provides grip with the PCCs sticking up, AC provides this by having lots of voids in the surface otherwise known as "negative texture" and of course the stones we see on the surface have a rough microtexture.

From a noise perspective, the voids in the AC are much better at absorbing the noise from tyre action than the reflective nature of HRA and so they are often favoured where there are residential areas as a result. The new surface here is probably a "thin surface course system" (TSCS) which is a more advanced type of AC where the bitumen binder has been modified using polymers to provide greater strength and durability, because basic AC is generally less durable than an HRA equivalent and which is an important consideration for areas with high traffic flow and lorry movements.

If we wanted to get even better at reducing noise, we could go for a porous asphalt which has more voids, but we need to take care that water entering the pores can drain away. This can be properly integrated with drainage design to provide a surface that throws up very little spray and even surfaces which will drain to engineered lower layers and sub-drainage systems.

So there you have it. A little bit of maintenance works can send us down the start of an asphalt rabbit hole which is a whole branch of engineering in its own right. It's a pity that the same amount of care wasn't applied to the uneven and cracked footway I was walking along.