All about cycling in the Netherlands
Amsterdam will finally be able to send (light) mopeds or scooters from the city’s overcrowded cycle paths to the carriageway. The Minister of Transport sent a letter to the House of Representatives this week, in which she writes: “Amsterdam has convinced me it has done everything in its power to find possibilities to create space on the cycle path in order to keep the historic city centre accessible. I also conclude that Amsterdam has exhausted all means to enforce the law. I will […] change the regulations in such a way that municipalities get the possibility to make it compulsory for moped riders to wear a helmet. In this way I seek to create space for local tailor-made solutions. On behalf of the government I will not impose a nationwide helmet compulsion, but I offer municipalities the option to locally do this. It is expected that the relocation of light mopeds to the carriageway (combined with mandatory helmet regulations) will create sufficient space on the cycle paths to accommodate the growing numbers of cyclists.”
What is this all about?
As I have written before there is a real problem, especially in Amsterdam, with the exploding numbers of light mopeds speeding on the cycle paths. Since 2007 the number of light mopeds increased with 275%. In 2007 there were 8,000 light mopeds in Amsterdam, in 2013 there were 30,000. In all of the Netherlands in the first 4 months of 2014 almost 13,000 new light mopeds were sold, a 14% increase compared to last year. When Amsterdam measured the speeds in 2012 it became clear that 81% of the moped riders go faster than the speed limit of 25km/h. This was 77% in 2012. This evidently leads to problems. There were 15 road deaths in Amsterdam last year and in 4 of these deaths there was some involvement of a light moped, wrote Volkskrant yesterday. A disproportional high percentage when you look at the model share of mopeds.
Early 2013 the minister still held the opinion that enforcing the speed limit was up to the municipalities and ‘all would be fine’. That is why Amsterdam did everything it could to enforce that speed limit. In his letter to the Minister the mayor of Amsterdam writes: “In 2013 4,000 of the 16,000 available traffic management police hours were dedicated to trying to enforce the speed limit for light moped riders. In 2012 50% of all moped riders was stopped one or more times. In 2013 this percentage had increased to 56%. In 2012 3,600 tickets were issued for speeding and red light violations to moped riders. In 2013 238 licenses were revoked.”
If people want to use a motorised vehicle at higher speeds they should do that on the carriageway says Amsterdam. On the cycle paths they endanger people cycling. This cannot be tolerated “because the bicycle is the most important means of transport to keep the city and the city centre with its narrow streets accessible and attractive also for other modes of transport. […] A third of all journeys is by bicycle and in the city centre that is almost half. In the past 20 years cycling increased with 40% and we expect another 10% growth by the year 2020. The light mopeds on the cycle path create accessibility problems for people cycling and thus for Amsterdam” writes the mayor. “On top of that they are annoying and even if they do not speed their exhaust fumes are a concern.”
That is why the mayor concludes: “Amsterdam sees a structural solution to the aforementioned problems: the relocation of the light moped to the carriageway. This creates space for the growth of cycling in the city centre. It also reduces the nuisance for people cycling.”
The Cyclists’ Union, Environmental organisations and the Lung Foundation supported Amsterdam whole heartedly. “This way we return the cycle path to people cycling, who are also less directly exposed to pollution. The cycle path becomes again what it was meant to be: a safe and clean space for all people cycling. People often tell us – especially the elderly and parents – that they no longer dare to cycle,” said Hugo van der Steenhoven, director of the Cyclists’ Union. The Cyclists’ Union had started a campaign “Return the cycle path to people cycling” for which they asked me if I could create a supporting video. Which I gladly did.
My video clearly shows just how bad the situation with light mopeds is in Amsterdam.
Most people and organisations reacted in a very positive way to this news. But a spokesperson of two organisations representing moped sellers called the measure: “Life threatening symbolism” and “no structural solution to the problems on the cycle paths whatsoever” they called on the members of the House of Representatives to vote against the Minister’s proposal.
It is expected that the measure in Amsterdam will be in place from the summer of 2015. Light moped riders will then have to ride with a helmet on the carriageway. But will safety really increase? Yes, that is to be expected, because there is a precedent. When the heavier type of mopeds was sent to the carriageway in 1999 there was a decrease of 15% in casualties on the cycle paths. This was investigated by SWOV, the foundation for scientific research regarding road safety in the Netherlands. Amsterdam asked SWOV also for advice with regard to the present plans and in their (English summary of their) “Educated Guess” SWOV writes “The measure SOR [light moped to the carriageway] with compulsory helmet use results in an estimated reduction of 261 casualties. This is 38% fewer compared to the situation in 2012 when the number of casualties amounted to 689.”
So this measure will increase not only perceived safety but also real safety. And it will make using a light moped less attractive and cycling more attractive. That is a very good measure in my book, which was the reason why I supported the campaign with great pleasure. Of course there is still more work to do. This should eventually lead to striking the difference between light and heavy mopeds completely. The measure now only works for Amsterdam and should be expanded. There are numerous bollards, narrow paths and dangerous kerbs which should also be addressed. But this measure is one step in the right direction that must also be taken. Cycling in the Netherlands is not perfect, but this will make it a bit better yet again.