The homepage of an organization that apparently considers cycle lanes and tracks to be ‘irrelevant.’
Last week, on the website Cyclechat, a contributor by name of Tommi posted a large list of academic papers that showed – or purported to show – that the construction of cycling infrastructure either increases cyclists’ safety, or encourages greater numbers of cyclists.
I do not intend to investigate the claims of these papers in detail here – that would be quite an exhaustive task. (What I think it is uncontroversial to say, however, is that there is a burgeoning amount of literature out there of this kind, that suggests cycling infrastructure can increase cycling levels – and may be necessary to achieve truly significant increases in cycling – and also that it can increase cyclists’ safety.) My purpose here is to examine the extraordinary claims of one Cyclechat contributor, made in response to Tommi’s posts.
After a bizarre initial post that accused Tommi of ‘trolling’ – apparently for simply having the temerity to present opinions that differed from his own – we had this contribution from MartinC –
The OP [Tommi] makes a fundamental assumption that all cycling facilities are the same – as all as well designed, executed, regulated and maintained as each other world wide. This assumption is clearly false – the most superficial comparison of, say the UK and the Netherlands will show this. Therefore the conclusion that any cycling infrastructure of any standard anywhere must be good is totally specious. Also, I’m not aware of anyhere in the world where there is total segregation of cyclists.
Since all of this must have been obvious to the poster the natural conclusion is that the post is just to generate a useless argument.
Tommi was not making the claim that ‘any cycling infrastructure of any standard anywhere must be good’, or indeed arguing for ‘total segregation’ – but he had the good grace to ignore this mistaken criticism, and responded
Yes, some infrastructure designs can be bad, but Denmark and Netherlands have been improving the designs for years. How about we concentrate at the current designs rather than be obsessed with the ones that were already on the way becoming obsolete ten years ago when certain studies were published?
The contributor ‘Red Light’ then makes an appearance. After a couple of posts quibbling about the accuracy of Tommi’s reporting of the academic papers, he then addresses this point of Tommi’s, about concentrating on Dutch ‘current designs’, rather than outdated, perhaps poorly designed, infrastructure. In a comment apparently designed to imply that the Dutch no longer consider cycling infrastructure – tracks and paths – to be important, Red Light says –
How about we use the Dutch Cycle Balance audit methodology to assess provision. Quick ruffle through for cycle facilities…..ah here they are……cycle parking. No mention of anything else. Probably because the person that oversees it says “How many cycle paths or lanes a town has in not important.”
Red Light is referring to the Fietsbalans, a document produced by the Fietsersbond, the Dutch Cyclists Union. It is an audit methodology used to assess the quality of conditions for cycling in Dutch municipalities.
On reading this claim, I was immediately quite sceptical. Could the Dutch really not be assessing the quality of their cycle paths? Does their ‘provision’ not even include bicycle tracks and paths? Perhaps the overseer of the Fietsbalans might claim that the number of cycle paths or lanes in a town is unimportant – because the audit is a neutral examination of the quality of the cycling experience – but would the only ‘facilities’ the Fietsbalans examines be… cycle parking?
Another Cyclechat contributor, Richard Mann, seemed as unconvinced by Red Light’s comment as I was, and wrote –
I found an English language description of the Bicycle Balance. Seems to be measuring all sorts of stuff that are properties of cycle facilities (smoothness, lack of obstruction etc), and the proportion of short trips (try achieving that with vehicular cycling), and the proportion dissatisfied with road safety (ditto). So it doesn’t measure the km of paths directly, but I’d doubt a road-based approach would score very highly at all.
In other words, the Fietsbalans does seem to measure the quality of cycle facilities, including paths and tracks.
But Red Light was having none of this, and quickly set Richard straight.
I’ve spoken to Frank and asked him why it doesn’t include cycle lanes and tracks in the audit. His answer was they are irrelevant.
So there it is. Red Light has spoken to the overseer of the Fietsbalans (Frank Borgman, its project manager), who has told him that cycle lanes and tracks are not considered in the audit – and, indeed, that they are ‘irrelevant’.
Red Light is apparently referring to this conversation because Frank Borgman is the author of that ‘English language description’ of the Fietsbalans that Richard Mann discovered. Originally written for inclusion as a chapter in an English book, edited by Rodney Tolley –Sustainable Transport: Planning for Walking and Cycling in Urban Environments, it is entitled ‘The Cycle Balance: benchmarking local cycling conditions’. You can read it here, on the Fietsersbond website.
The trouble is, I’m not sure that Red Light has actually read what Borgman wrote in this piece, because, in the introduction, we find this passage –
As a result of the high bicycle-use, Dutch government, private organisations and companies invest a lot of time and money in support of cycling. There are for example over 20 000 km of bicycle lane and bicycle path along Dutch roads and the capacity of bicycle parking facilities at railway stations alone is almost 300 000. Strangely enough the effectiveness and efficiency of all these efforts have never been assessed. In order to fill this void the Fietsersbond developed the Cycle Balance (Fietsbalans). [my emphasis]
Hmm. So, in Borgman’s own words, the Fietsbalans does indeed asssess the ‘effectiveness and efficiency’ of ’20 000 km bicycle lane and bicycle path’. More than that, it seems the Fietsbalans was explicitly developed by the Fietsersbond for the purpose of assessing paths and tracks, as well as cycling parking.
Did Red Light notice that Borgman’s words, in this Fietsersbond article, directly contradict his reporting of Borgman’s opinion, and his own description of the Fietsbalans?
I must admit, I hadn’t.
So instead of pointing this out, and after consulting a Dutch acquaintance about whether Borgman would genuinely believe what Red Light attributed to him (response – he wouldn’t be in his job if he thought that), I decided to press Red Light about whether the Fietsbalans genuinely didn’t include tracks and paths within its audit. I thought it ‘rather odd‘ that Frank Borgman would hold such an opinion,
because the Bicycle Balance audit is an evaluation of all Dutch cycle facilities – the network of paths, tracks, lanes, and so on, as well as bicycle parking.
In response, Red Light stuck firmly to his guns
No, its an audit of Dutch cycling provision which is not the same as facilities. The only facilities in there are cycle parking. [my emphasis]
As it happens, Frank Borgman is currently away on leave. It will be interesting to get his opinions on his return. There are two possibilities. Either he has lost his mind, or Red Light has entirely misrepresented his opinion. Which is more likely?
I note, finally, that the claim that the only facilities considered in the ‘Dutch Cycle Balance’ are ‘cycle parking’ – that all other facilities for cyclists are ignored – has quite a rich history. You can find the claim being made here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, in virtually identical format. Where did it originate? And, indeed, how, and why?
It’s a claim that can’t even pass a basic smell test.
A screenshot of the Fietsbalans homepage. An interesting illustrative photo choice, given that the Fietsbalans ‘doesn’t include cycle lanes and tracks’, and considers them ‘irrelevant.’