All about cycling in the Netherlands
Even on the opening day of the F59 Fast Cycle Route there was protest. The village council of Geffen stopped the party, literally, at a zebra crossing with a school crossing patrol. After a small delay the festive cycle tour could continue and the opening festivities of the fast cycle route from ʼs-Hertogenbosch to Oss went ahead as planned.
The aldermen of Oss and ʼs-Hertogenbosch and a representative of the province of Brabant cycled from town hall in Oss to the municipal border with ʼs-Hertogenbosch, where they placed the last of the F59 markings. They were accompanied by about 20 people and the men of the Dutch Bicycle Band (Fietsorkest) who took care of the music as they did in Utrecht recently. To get to that place, the party had to go through Geffen, where the village council had opposed to the route from being built in their village centre, because they felt fast cycling would not be appropriate in a village centre. The village council only wanted to discuss a detour around the village and they “distanced” themselves from the F59 cycle route when that was not considered a viable option. As a result, the fast cycle route is now interrupted for about 900 metres.
The local newspaper is also very negative. They published an article in which they say the route is so bad, that for many the F in F59 stands for “Flop”. The paper came to this conclusion after it called on its readers to report their views on the new cycle route. “We received dozens of reactions, they were almost unanimously very negative. According to our readers the crossings have bad sight lines and it is unclear who has the right of way. People don’t see the need of the route and especially the confusion about the course of the route, due to the missing part in Geffen, is criticised.” On the internet the response was even worse. Many of the reactions make clear, however, that the authors cannot even have seen what they are writing about. What they state as facts is simply untrue. What may play a role, is that many things changed, even on the last day before the opening. Some people comment on a situation that hadn’t been finished yet. Most of the markings on the street were only placed one day before the opening. I had filmed and described the route one month before the opening and I couldn’t be at the opening festivities, but all this commotion was more than enough reason to cycle the route yet again, one day after the opening, to make a report and to see how “bad” the final route really is.
After seeing the entire route again, and considering how the press generally reports on these “fast cycle routes”, I get the feeling people simply misunderstand the concept of these fast cycle routes. The Dutch name of “Fietssnelweg” turns out to be a very bad choice. It has the Dutch equivalent of “freeway” in it. That means people want to see overpasses and underpasses: anything but level crossings. Even though you have to give way only 4 times in the 20 kilometers of this route, people therefore write “nowhere in the route you have priority”, which is simply untrue. There are many crossings where you do have priority when you cycle. The new cycle streets, where cars are guest, are also heavily criticised. The concept of cycle streets has become better known in the cities, but it is still very new in the country side. The same concerns people voiced years ago in the cities are now repeated in the villages. That it is logical to give people cycling more space when they outnumber cars is apparently hard to explain and hard to sell to people. But why would you cling to a strip next to an empty carriage way, that has also become too narrow due to the recently increased volumes of cycling? Having observed the new cycle streets in action again, to film them, makes me even more convinced that they work. The drivers I saw all went completely to the other lane when overtaking. Most people cycled in the street and really in the middle of their lane (very unusual for Dutch cyclists who are conditioned to stay to the side as much as possible). Only a few people still cycled on the former cycleways next to the Waterleidingstraat, where they were kept as non-mandatory cycleways.
We should also not forget that the negative response is a collection of reactions on the internet and to a newspaper. A few dozen in an area where tens of thousands of people live. I would like to see a real user experience investigation. I think that would look rather different. Simply because the facts and suppositions, on which many of the current negative reactions are based, are wrong.
The most unclear part of the route in Geffen, where the F59 takes an unexpected 90 degree turn, will be taken care of this very week. When I visited the route last Friday the municipality of Oss had put up signs that from the 19th of September the intersection would be closed for works for one week. Looking on the internet to find what was going to be done revealed this: “The intersection will be reconstructed to make a more logical and more recognisable transition to the fast cycle route F59”.
One of the reasons for the village council to oppose the red asphalt of the cycle route so vehemently, is that they want to retain the village character with the cobble stones on the village square. A report on their website about the future of the village tells a different story. Residents complain that the village square lacks life. “After town hall was closed” (because the village now belongs to the municipality of Oss) “the village square has become little more than a parking lot”. The villagers themselves would like to change their village centre to make that more like a ‘place’. I wonder how much more time it will take, before the village council finally understands that when you design for the bicycle you improve the living environment for people. Allowing the F59 cycle route to become more visible in their village centre would bring the desired life to it. Even in the Netherlands that still isn’t clear to everyone.
If you just look at what the F59 is today, you see a very fine connection for people who want to cycle safe and fast from one point on the route to another. Time will tell how many people that will be, but I have the feeling it will be many more than some expect.
My video report of the just opened F59 Cycle Route