The Netherlands is the cycling country of the world. The Dutch have nothing to complain about when it comes to the construction and maintenance of bike paths. The rest of the world is also working on this. But how do cyclists experience their route? This is one of the main cornerstones of the Smart Cycling Futures research program. Researcher George Liu: “In my research I try to make a connection between the experience of cycling and new forms of infrastructure such as bicycle highways.”

His research is part of the so-called living lab in Eindhoven. The municipality, educational institutions and companies work together in this lab in order to find solutions for cycling problems. Innovation is also being worked on in this manner in Zwolle, Amsterdam and Utrecht. “In the south, we are mainly looking at ways to encourage the use of bicycle highways, for example by making signposting clearer both in apps and on roadside signs,” Hugo van de Steenhoven, coordinator of the living labs, explains. A bicycle highway is a specially designed bicycle path for a specific location. It is often separate from a road or footpath. “This largely plays a role in the actual experience of cyclists. It is important that they are easily able to understand a bicycle route and don’t have to search for it.”

He adds: “In addition, we are also looking at good intersections for bicycle highways between municipalities as well as for bicycle paths located inside of municipalities, for example in city centers. Infrastructure in rural areas is very different from that in urban areas. “For instance, many more roads converge in the city, which can lead to conflict situations and troublespots.” This is exactly what researcher Liu is responding to. “A better design of bicycle highways can avoid these kinds of troublespots and infrastructure is then much clearer for users.” Consistency is important here. “This might depend, for example, on the color of the asphalt or a certain type of signposting,” Liu explains. “The main goal is to make it as easy and safe as possible for people to get to their destination.”

Would you like to know more about the Smart Cycling Futures research? Then read this article: ‘The age-old bike is the transport means of the future’

European differences

This explicitly concerns the Netherlands. The situation is very different in other European countries, according to the researcher. “Basically, all countries have the same objective, namely the construction of good and safe bicycle paths,” says Liu. “But there are variables that differ per country. Which makes the quality of the bike paths different in all these countries.” For example, green waves can be configured for cyclists so that they no longer have to stop at traffic lights. Possible changes in the physical environment of a bicycle highway can also contribute to the experience of cyclists. For instance, by letting the bicycle highway run through a park instead of alongside a railway.

In Germany, a great deal of work is currently being done on a bicycle highway of about one hundred kilometers in length. This should connect various cities in the Ruhr area. “The concept is all about longer distances, but in some cases this is not how the road will eventually be used”, says Liu. “People often just use a small part of the bicycle highway to get to work, for example. The cycling culture in Germany is different from that of the Netherlands in his opinion. “Germans often cycle with a helmet. This is partly because their cycling behaviour is adapted to bicycle lanes on the road instead of a separate bicycle path. They also use road bikes more often as opposed to city and the traditional ‘omafiets‘.”

Sharing bike paths

The E-bike is being used more frequently in the Netherlands too. Many cities have had safe cycle paths here for years. These now need to be adapted to new developments like the electric bicycle. People want to avoid traffic jams and live healthier lives. Two reasons for seeking new and, above all, more sustainable means of transport rather than the car. These all need to use the bike paths. Increasingly more road users are using bike paths, from cargo bikes for children to Birò’s and electric scooters. “There are already many safe bike paths in the Netherlands, but there is still much more room for improvement here as well. Especially when it comes to the actual experience,” says Liu. This could be colored asphalt or nature in the surrounding area.

From technique to design

He points out that the bicycle highways were developed and built mainly from the point of view of engineers. “Consideration has been given to traffic technique, such as safety, traffic flow and costs. At the same time, the actual experience is also very important to cyclists.” In his opinion, people should be more motivated to hop on a two-wheeler.

Liu intends to concentrate on this during the follow-up to his research. “In that study, people can choose between three different routes from the center of Eindhoven to the north of the city,” he says. One of them runs alongside a motorway, another mainly through residential areas and one through nature. “I want to investigate why people choose a certain route. This data can be used in order to ensure that bicycle highways meet the needs of their users. In addition, policymakers will be able to capitalize on this when building new bicycle highways.”

Shifting the focus

Cycling is currentlly a hot topic worldwide, according to Liu. At present, he is in the US to discuss the construction and maintenance of good bicycle paths with various stakeholders. “Cities in the US are changing. Policymakers find it very interesting how cities in European countries such as Germany, Norway and Sweden are designed. Cyclists there are getting more and more space,” he explains. The researcher also notes that bicycle paths in Spain and France are being made more accessible and safer. “We need to shift the focus on bike paths from technology to design. Then the actual experience of cyclists will become more important and even more people from all over the world will get on their bikes”.

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