Going for a swim

Sports and I are not a great match, to put it very mildly. And it has been like that all my life. To give but one small example: I was always picked last for any team during the sports hour in school. But there are exceptions, I do like swimming. So, to stay in shape, I try to swim once a week. My prefered pool is 5.1 kilometres away in the next town. Of course I go there on my bicycle. Cycling, as you have gathered by following this blog, is not even considered to be a sport in the Netherlands, at least, not the type of cycling to get from A to B. So yes, to get to a sports facility I hop on my bike.

Even in the dark, well designed cycle paths are very convenient and safe.

I filmed the return ride in the dark. As you can see on the map, the route is pretty straight forward, long straight streets. It is also a very safe route, even in the dark, and even with only limited cycle provisions.

The route from Vught to the centre of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. (Note: north is to the right.)

The visible cycle provisions only make up 2 kilometres of the 5.1 kilometre route, so not even half of the route. This makes clear that the critisism that the Dutch would have an “extreme approach of total separation“* is not based on reality. On the other hand it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to mix with heavy traffic the other 3.1 kilometres when you ride your bicycle! Let’s look at this route in detail. The entire break down is as follows:

With cycle provisions

  • Protected cycle path 1.5 km
  • On street cycle lane 0.5 km

Without cycle provisons

  • 30 km/h (18mph) zones 2.7 km
  • 50 km/h (31mph) street 0.4 km (of which 0.2 km on a ‘suggested cycle lane’)

As you can see, most of the time the route goes through 30km/h (18mph) zones. These are traffic calmed residential areas (in both Vught and ’s-Hertogenbosch) and a traffic calmed high street in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Some of the 30km/h zones are actually service streets right next to the through streets. In those cases the central through street has a 50km/h (31mph) speed limit. These 30km/h zones are not used by through motor traffic, but only by motor traffic that has to be in the area or that specific street. So even though there is no visible cycling infra, these areas have been made more pleasant and safe for people cycling and for people using the streets in another manner: like by living there or by going there for shopping. (Because this ride was filmed outside shopping hours, that street is completely deserted.)

The part of the route that is used by faster through traffic is precisely the part that has protected separated cycling infrastructure. So even though there “can’t be cycle paths everywhere“*, when you are on your bicycle in the Netherlands, you usually still do not have to engage in heavy traffic for most of your entire ride.

In the video you can see a level rail road crossing with a passing train. I never encountered a train passing at a level rail road crossing before, so that is something entirely new in my videos.

The entire ride from the pool back home in real-time. Make sure ‘annotations’ are on, to see more info.
The first three minutes of the video are the darkest part, it gets better after that!

For reasons of privacy I do not really cycle home, but to City Hall of ’s-Hertogenbosch, which is about 200 metres from where I live. I think you’ll agree that is close enough!

Cycling over 10 kilometres round trip to go for a 1 kilometre swim is perhaps like doing sports twice to some. It may be the other extreme of going to a gym by car, and even worse: getting from your parked car to the gym using an escalator. As is the case for many visitors of the San Diego gym in the picture below. And that is not just behaviour in the US, a recent survey by Livingstreets in the UK revealed that 4 in 10 people in the UK use a form of motorised transport to get to the gym, even when that gym is less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away. I think I prefer the Dutch situation: I need to work out a lot less because of the cycling to and from my work-out location! (And let’s not forget the cycling all the other days of the week.)

Culture shock: 24 HOUR FITNESS,  a Gym in San Diego CA with escalators to get from the car park to the gym entrance…

* Quotes like these can be heard in circles of UK cycle activists.

17 thoughts on “Going for a swim

  1. Nice post. They key is not “segregating cyclists away from roads”, but “segregating fast-moving motor traffic away from cyclists”. The latter can be done in many ways, as your video shows.

  2. Excellent post! I especially love it because we get to see ancient bike infra like bike boxes! and how as soon as there is space, cyclists are given cycle tracks! What a concept!

    A couple interesting observations:

    1) you did not “take the lane” when it got narrow as many would advise you to if you were cycling in the US. The motorists seem to overtake you with little room in between but perhaps that is more comfortable than the pressure of cycling with a car immediately behind you. Here our solution would be to plaster sharrows down the middle of the lane, regardless of their effect or of the speed motorists go and expect cyclists to take that dang lane!

    2) it took you just as long to cover 5k with bike infra as it does for me to cover 5k by bike in my neighborhood of LA without bike infra– about 18minutes. Often I’ll cycle somewhat fast then come to full stops at red lights (waiting sometimes as long as 1min30sec for light to change) whereas you seem to go more leisurely but with fewer stops. I wish more people would think about how much time we waste at poorly designed intersections, waiting for lights to change.

    (Also, not related to article but rather to elaborate on my second observation: my mother started cycling to work but the other day she drove because it was raining. She told me it took just as long to drive as it did to cycle because of traffic and entering/exiting the work parking lot. Here in Los Angeles many perceive cycling as being much slower but the effective speed is often comparable to driving for local trips when you consider time it takes to park and time wasted as cars pile up for entire blocks waiting at red lights)

    1. That bike box is no longer desired in the Netherlands, and they are mostly soon to be replaced, this bike box here in Vught is likely to be replaced within 5 years. It is not as effective nor safe as a protected intersection, or where cyclist left turn volumes are high or space too little to provide segregated signal stages otherwise, simultaneous green. Also I image billions of dollars could be saved each year if LA goes Dutch, and I mean truly Dutch. Because the US is not yet a metric country like the rest of the world is, I can use imperial for certain measures. Cycle tracks are required on the main roads. On the smaller one lane per direction distributors (wait a minute, LA does not have any of those yet), provide a cycle track where you can, but if there is not enough space (IE, cars cannot be made to go in just one direction, speed limits cannot be lowered and parking has been removed and there is still too little space), then a cycle lane is OK, but only if the speed limit is 30 mph or less and the cycle lanes, as much as possible, turn into cycle tracks at major intersections with traffic lights or roundabouts (wait a minute, LA does not have those efficiency machines either). And the cycle lane must be continued at intersections with minor side roads and driveways. Protected intersections must be provided at major intersections or an intersection with traffic lights or where bypassing the intersection so that at least one flow of cyclists would not have to stop on red, like a T-junction, or a protected roundabout with a cycle track with the right of way over motor traffic. Single lane roundabouts work best with this priority arrangement. Roundabouts are preferable.

      Collector roads with bus stop bypasses and suggestion lanes (look back to Mark*s video and you will see them early on) 25 mph zones and no stop signs are the best design for those, and 20 mph zones with brick paving when possible, with raised intersections and no priority, yield to traffic from right, is the best design for those local roads.

      This is just the infrastructure part. Making cycling journeys shorter and non-stop is the next bit, done with filtered permeability, sending motor traffic to limited arterials and freeways, grade separating cyclists from very large intersections or large roads, and adding roundabouts, and re-timing traffic lights will do that well.

      And there are a bunch of things that help further. Land use, the little details at the minor side street, the exact timing of intersections with turn arrows, etc, could make LA at 25%-55% cycling use, or possibly higher if it is done right.

  3. Dear Bicycle Dutch,

    Here in Washington, D.C., as a bicyclist, I feel equal to any other vehicle, which is to say, I feel like I have the right to go where any other vehicle goes, as long as I follow the proper “rules of the road”.

    I have noticed feeling a little feeling in myself of too much separation, even “apartheid”, if I might say so, with your “Dutch” complete separation of cycle lanes from motorized traffic.

    On the other hand, I know that bicyclists and their bicycles do not feel comfortable on fast “highways” (+30 kph?). Still, I like to go around my city traffic circle (such as Washington Circle, Pennsylvania Avenue & 23rd St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037 (not sure of Zip Code) WITH the cars. I wear my rear view mirror, my helmet, and I’ll be damned if any stupid motorist is going to try and take my right away to freely move about my city in a law-abiding manner!

    Your thoughts?

    Thanks so much,


    1. I’m struggling to find a proper argument in your comment.
      – You feel like you have a right to do something, good for you. In the Netherlands, on some roads, you simply do not have that right (just as motorists don’t have the right to drive on cycles tracks).
      – You feel uneasy about the “‘Dutch’ complete separation”; you’ll be happy to learn that there is no such thing as complete separation (watch the video) – only separation where appropriate.
      – You like doing certain things, not unlike people who like to put on a helmet and jump off a cliff. In the Netherlands, public roads are not the right place to get your thrills. If you did, you certainly wouldn’t be law-abiding.

      If I may ask, what exactly do you find offensive about, for example, a 4m wide bi-directional cycle path next to but separated from a 8m wide bi-directional road?

      1. Dear Bicycle Dutch,

        I think you take me wrong; Perhaps something is “lost in translation”.

        You imply I like to get thrills competing with the car traffic as if I were jumping off a cliff. That is not it at all. I am most definitely NOT a thrill-seeker.

        What I am is a person who doesn’t like feeling like a “2nd-class citizen”, less than a car-dweller in my city, and so wish to take my law-abiding right and right-of-way to move about my city on my vehicle without out being intimidated or stopped unsafely.

        Anyway, I am interested in transportation ideas. Transportation allows us to carry on commerce and thinking new ideas, improving the human species.

        I appreciate your work very much and your illustration of transportation in the Netherlands.

        David Pearce,
        Washington, D.C.

        1. For the record: I’m not Mark Wagenbuur (the one you call ‘Bicycledutch’), I’m just another internet commenter like you.

          You repeated your ‘argument’ instead of answering my question, which is a shame because I am sincerely struggling to understand your point of view.

          How does getting infrastructure specifically designed for your needs make you “2nd class”? If there is a ‘2nd class’, wouldn’t it be the people in cars who are stuck taking the long way, while cyclists get the direct routes?

        2. When one cycles on the dutch infrastructure, there’s nothing to make you feel second class: you’re can go anywhere (the only roads prohibited are train rails and 100 kmph highways) while feeling safe, usually without detours (or as many detours as a car would get).
          You have your own infrastructure (sometimes, as shown in the video), which makes you feel king of that road. And that road is a network that will lead you all about town. Between towns there might be small issues, but only nitpickers will worry about those few occurrences. I have cycled almost all of NL, and found only small detours necessary. Unless you count detours because of waterways – but cars have the same issue there.
          Usually you feel free on your bike, and the world belong to you and the sunshine (or moonshine).
          That is the general transportation idea of biking in NL. Does that answer your question, or did I miss anything in translation about the 2nd class?

    2. Dear David,

      It is simply not true when you write “I have the right to go where any other vehicle goes.” Many of the largest and most expensive roads, such as Highway 395, have bicycles banned from them.

      Not that I would want to ride on such a road. Scary!

      Proper Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure for Washington D.C. would cost a tiny fraction of what was spent on car infrastructure such as Highway 395. It seems to me that this is the true discrimination. We deserve equal spending.

  4. Outdoor escalators. Now I’ve seen everything! And at an exercise club, no less. Wow. Anyway, thank you, my Dutch friend. Hearing you say (for, truly, I do think of your voice, reading your words to me) that you were picked last for school games did make me cringe, and I’m already 53 years old… It IS sick what kids will do to one another in the schoolyard–perhaps with wisdom or resignation, I can say now, well, it’s for the good of our species, etc., etc. But at the time, it cuts like a knife, and I remember it to this day. (!) …. Actually the most galling thing about being picked last is that you didn’t HAVE to be picked. The SECOND to last was picked. The horrible thing was hearing the other team captain say, “You can have Pearce”. Not even picked. Just the last. …. Thank god for the revenge of the nerds….! I’m happier now, building my own Randonneur.

  5. Love the escalators! I’m visualizing people taking escalators and then hopping on a stair-climbing machine.

    But how about valet parking? There’s ritzy gym near me in a suburban part of the San Francisco Bay Area that has offers it.

  6. I cycle for my swim a few days a week now in Santa Barbara! I was inspired by your post to record the infrastructure this morning. I’ll make a post soon!
    No lifts or escalators at the entrance of my gym. 🙂
    (I stopped swimming when I was living in the Netherlands because none of the facilities I found had private warm showers. Most people rinsed publicly, then dried, then went home and showered again. Too much wet/dry/wet/dry for me.)

    1. Haha yes we have very different standards when it comes to privacy and public nudity! I don’t think I know any Dutch swimming pool with private showers. Looking forward to your post!

      1. I imagine someone will start to make a corrolation between your comment Mark and prostitution in the Netherlands. People come from around to world for the toleration of marijuana, legal prostitution, but restricted, not that I need service, and LGTBQ.

  7. Plenty of disabled people can use escalators but not stairs – it’s not all about wheelchairs. They’d be a minority of the gym’s users though. Thanks for an informative post, interesting to see how a cycling-friendly system works in practice.

  8. Yes, I could see a small lift for disabled people to use the gym (or a swimming pool), but disabled people (who can’t walk easily) couldn’t use an escalator either.

    Jim Moore, do Australians have to wear helmets on stationary bicycles? 😉

  9. The saying in Adelaide is “people drive to the gym to ride stationary bikes”.

    If it’s any consolation, in the Australian lexicon you are a “good sport”. That means you’re a fair dinkum bloke.

    Of course you ride to the Town Hall. You’re the Mayor of den Bosch aren’t you? You should at least have the title of Ambassador of Cycling.

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