The Vught chapter of the Cyclists’ Union* organised a 20 kilometre cycle tour through the town of Vught to test and rate the quality of road surfaces of the (cycling) infrastructure.
“If people are to cycle more you need good surfaces” says spokesperson Reijnoud de Haan. Many accidents with cyclists in the Netherlands are single vehicle incidents. It is believed that bad road surfaces are the cause of many of those accidents that could be prevented with better surfaces. “That is why we organise these tours. Volunteers are asked to rate stretches of road and the results will be presented to the town council, to the alderman for traffic to be precise, so the town can hopefully make use of our findings.”
That the town is very interested in the findings became already clear from the start and end of the tour: town hall. But more than that: the alderman for public space (including traffic), Wilbert Seuren, cycled along for most of the 20km route until he had to apologise to attend other matters. Two other representatives of the town did cycle along for the entire route. Marco Cruijssen, who is a senior policy maker for traffic told me there are a lot of contacts between the municipality and the Cyclists’ Union. “We respect each other’s views and we discuss many topics. We do not always agree and both parties can be very stubborn when we feel we have a point to fight for, but in the end the town and its people benefit from this interaction.” Jacques Dikmans, who is in charge of the management of public space has to see the policies become reality in the streets. When I asked him why Vught seems to choose for tiled cycle paths more than asphalt he said: “There is always the problem of the power lines, the telecommunications lines, the sewerage and the gas pipes in the streets under these surfaces. It is much easier and cheaper to remove some tiles if you need to do maintenance. So these companies just don’t want asphalt over their cables and pipes.”
This seems to be a common problem for especially smaller municipalities. The much larger nearby city of ’s-Hertogenbosch does replace most tiled surfaces with asphalt and forces the companies to coordinate their maintenance activities with the road building policies of the city.
The 20 kilometre test route in Vught.
On the test day 38 different stretches of road were rated by 10 persons. A distinction was made between three types of surface: tiles, bricks and asphalt. A fourth type, concrete, can only be found on cycle tracks along national roads and the municipality has only very little influence on the maintenance of those roads.
The average of the 10 people rating was calculated and gives a less subjective view. But there were subjective differences in the rating. Some people rated everything much higher than others. This has to do with the lower quality level that some of the test-cyclists were used to in their own home town, but also with personal views. This became apparent in the discussion afterwards as well, not everybody values wide and smooth asphalt as something to aspire to. Too wide and too smooth could encourage ‘bad’ behaviour like speeding and cycling with too many people side by side. But that is not the official view of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union. This organisation does strive for cycle paths that are just as smooth as the roads for motor traffic. The stretches of road were rated on a scale from 1 to 10 and the bottom rating was 4.1 (well below ‘satisfactory’ which would be 6) for a stretch of cycle track where the tiles had shifted apart over time, leaving big and dangerous gaps between the tiles, in which your wheel could get caught. The top rating of no less than 9.8 was given to a brand new cycle track with a smooth asphalt surface leading from Vught to ’s-Hertogenbosch. The average of all 38 stretches of road was 6.39 which is satisfactory, but the route was planned to include most of the less optimal infrastructure. So it is not so strange that the rating is on the lower side; most of the best streets were skipped.
Jan Willem Hommes is one of the active volunteers of the local Cyclists’ Union branch and he had brought something to make his ratings more objective: empty bottles. Whenever they rattled in his panniers Jan Willem knew he couldn’t give a mark over 6. “When the bottles start rattling that means the quality of the surface is just not good enough!” he said with a smile.
The results have been handed to the alderman now and the Vught Cyclists’ Union chapter hopes the report will lead to an earlier than scheduled maintenance of the worst scoring stretches of road. They would also like to see the following adaptations in the town’s road policies:
- a separate budget for replacing the tiled surface of cycle tracks to asphalt
- quick and adequate responses to small problems like uprooted areas and potholes
- giving streets the status of main cycle route so they can be constructed accordingly
- getting expert advice on constructing permeable asphalt surfaces over gas pipes.
With three town officials (among whom the alderman) riding along this day, you can expect the town to do something with the results. Such a heavy delegation showing up on an event organised by a relatively small local branch of the Cyclists’ Union is a testament of how seriously the Cyclists’ Union is taken in the Netherlands by planners and decision makers.
Video of the test ride. In this still Reijnoud de Haan of the Cyclists’ Union is explaining the program while alderman Seuren is multi-tasking in the background.
* the Vught chapter is a sub-chapter of the ’s-Hertogenbosch chapter of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond). The Vught chapter has about 75 members of whom only a handful are active members.