How could we make bicycle highways work?
26:17.53 minutes. The 10 km running world record time. Run in 2005 in Brussels by Kenenisa Bekele. Circumstances were optimal: the right temperature, the right track and of course Bekele. The best runner out of billions of people. Exceptional and amazing accomplishment.
The record already holds for more than 15 years. The average speed was 22,8 km/h. Everyone who ran a 10 km knows how fast that is.
Now, I take my bike and drive for 10 kilometers. It’s easy to reach speeds above 23 km/h. So only with my muscle power and with this ‘tool’ I can be faster than the fastest man on earth. That’s the power of technology!
Pros and cons
The good thing about cycling is that we can exercise and still get pretty fast from A to B. So why are we waiting for the train or standing in a traffic jam?
Every type of transport has its pro and cons. With public transport I don’t need to buy an expensive vehicle in advance, I don’t need a license and don’t need to pay attention on the way. On the other side, public transport isn’t quite A to B. When I want to go to my work, I first need to walk to bus stop, wait, slowly go to the train station, wait, go by train (mostly no seats), wait, go by bus, walk. Finally, at work.
When driving I just step outside, right into my car. Going directly from A to B. Well directly… There are mostly accidents, some delays or just heavy traffic. My car system indicates that my average speed is only around 60 km/h, though 90% per cent I’m driving on a highway! Besides driving is slower than we think, it isn’t very environment friendly of course.
So, why aren’t we all commute to work by bike? Yes, a bicycle is ideal for short distances, but it also has its downsides. Driving a bike (especially in the winter) you have to deal with weather conditions. So there cold, wind and rain. Especially when the distances get longer you end up sweaty and wet at the office.
For short distances one doesn’t need a fancy bike, just one that rides smoothly. The advantage of non-fancy bikes is that you don’t need to worry that its get stolen. What you need, beside the bike, are good and safe bicycle roads. In the Netherlands where I live bicycles roads are excellent. Also in a lot of other European countries this is well organized. Bike is king of the short distance!
Basically above 10 km people tend to use other options. The average distance to work in the Netherlands is 22,6 KM. The question is, can we broaden the distance, so that the pro’s for bicycle still counts? Let’s take two other range of distances “10–20 km” and “20–30 km” and discover what’s possible.
On the 10 to 20 km distance the story isn’t so easy. To get people to ride a bike for this distance, people need a good bike. It needs to be comfortable, there must be enough shifts, a carrier for some stuff and so on. Also, to not get all sweaty when you arrive at work we need some assistance. Current day e-bikes are ideally for this.
With electric assistance even someone in its seventies can pass Bekele. However, e-bikes are not for just old people anymore. For commuting, e-bikes are practical. Driving to work you use more assistance and when you drive home you may use less assistance and exercise more.
Things that employers can do to promote cycling is to provide safe and dry bike storage. They also may provide things like showers or a change room. Probably this is still not enough to get the majority of people to drive a bike to work.
A bicycle highway in every town
Let’s take my home place Zaanstad. Most people who live in Zaanstad work in Amsterdam. Most won’t have very far to work, just between 5 and 15 km. However, to get to Amsterdam by bike, everyone needs to take the ferry to cross the Noordzee channel.
When you go by car you have the option to take three tunnels, the train has also a tunnel. OK, in the tunnels there are a lot of time traffics jams and the train doesn’t bring people close to their work. But for cyclist there are no tunnels at all. It seems strange that a lot of money is spent on roads for cars and trains, but a lot less for bicycles. More cycling leads to less traffic, less air pollution, less energy usage and less overweight. Shouldn’t we make the investments on par with other types of transport?
In the summer the ferry is nonetheless very popular among commuters. Every 20 minutes there is a crossing. Every crossing there are about 250 cyclists in the summer. However, the waiting and the crossing self takes around 20 minutes of the commuters time. As this is only about 300 hundred meters, this would take only 2 minutes by bike in a tunnel. Actually in summer the ferry is very crowded. This maybe a small percentage compare to people that go by car or train, but there is a clear need already.
Zaanstad has its own river (De Zaan) and a train track going in parallel all across the city. Most neighborhoods are either on one of the sides of the railway track. The good thing is that there is already a bicycle road all along this track going all the way to the ferry.
When cyclists on the above road were our customers, how could we bring a better experience when driving to work? The first thing is that they want to go work as fast as possible. Just as with car we use a highway, the bicycle also deserves a highway. This means a straight and barrier free way. One thing that really can slow the cyclist down is wind, so we may want to avoid that as much as possible.
Specs for a bicycle highway:
1) Good road surface
2) Bicycle way must be wide enough so one can overtake another
3) Barrier free
A good example of such a bike highway is the Rijnwaalpad between Arnhem and Nijmegen in the east of the Netherlands. We might take things just one step further. Not only a safe barrier free road, but comfortable as well, so we may make sure that road is
1) Wind free
2) Rain free
3) Less cold
Consider the above aspects. Is this the 12,6 km bicycle road from one part of my city to Amsterdam already a good bicycle highway? Yes, partly. The road is wide enough (could be a little wider), good road surface (mostly) and is barrier free (also mostly). This is an excellent starting point for a real bicycle highway.
To make the bicycle road really on a ‘highway’ level, we make sure that everywhere the same surface is used, optimized for speed. There are currently three main barriers for cyclist to overcome: a village with small bicycle road, a multilane road crossing and the channel. For commuters to Amsterdam especially the last one is the main barrier. Solution can be a tunnel or a bridge like in earlier plans.
From solaroad to solaroof (A side note)
The bicycle road in Zaanstad made some news, as there was an experiment to embed solar panels in the road. The so-called Solaroad. This wasn’t a great success, but a very interesting experiment to use public space for energy generation. Can we use this road again for new experiments?
To protect the surface from weather conditions, we could cover the whole track with a roof. The advantage is that we now can put the solar panels on top of this roof. What additional advantages does such a roof on top of a bicycle road have, besides keep the cyclist dry?
First advantage is that we can use normal solar panels just as we have on our own roof. The average size of a solar panel is around 65 inches by 39 inches (165m x 99 cm). Say the road is 4 meters wide, this is around 4 panels. Then for the track of 12,6 km:
12600 meters / 1,65 meters = 7637 panels
There can be 4 panels placed side by side:
7637 panels × 4 = 30454 panels
How many households would this provide with energy? My house (same latitude) has 6 panels of 250 watt peak power. This provides half of the needed energy during the year. Today most panels have around 300 watt peak power.
30454 × 300 watt = 9,1 million watt peak power
That will say that around 2500 households can be provided with energy only by this bicycle road.
Because 4 meters is not wide enough, we can make two stories above each other. On the side we could make panels (maybe solar as well). The panels either make keep the wind out or let if always blow in the direction the cyclist are riding. So for example the top floor wind is blowing to the south and the first floor to the north.
People will use the highway to get comfortable to work all within the hour with a little exercise.
Check here for part 2