How could we make bicycle highways work?
Part 2 (Go here to part 1)
Every type of transportation has its own infrastructure. Boats go over the seas, channels and rivers, planes have airports and air, trains have railway tracks and most other vehicles have roads. These divisions are sometimes natural like water, sky and land and sometimes technical (railway track vs roads).
When the division is natural, there are no conflicts. An airplane doesn’t cross boats in the sky. For other types we have special crossings, railroad crossings, pedestrian crossings and so on. We try to separate the types as much as possible. Pedestrians on the sidewalk, cyclist on the bicycle road and cars on the highway. A clear separation makes traffic safer. A highway is totally separated from other traffic. It has insertion lane and exits, tunnels, fencing. Although highway have a higher top speed they are the safest roads.
Because of this separation, different kinds of transportation needs can be met. The sidewalk for short distances, bicycle road for mid range and cars for longer range. Every type fulfills a certain type of need and allow a certain type of speed.
Complex traffic rules and problems arise mostly around the mixture of transport types. This can be crossing, like crossing a railway road. Another example are bicycles and cars on the same road. Also, a lot of problems occur because cars, motorbikes and trucks share the same road (at sometimes different speeds).
When looking at vehicles that are excellent for a 20 to 30 kilometer range there we find a strange situation. Let’s takes mopeds. This class of vehicles is allowed a top speed of 45 km/h vehicles. This makes them too fast and therefore unsuitable and dangerous for bicycle roads. Everyone knows the dangerous stunts pizza courier make on their mopeds. OK, this also has sometime to do with the age of the drivers, as well of delivery time. Still, If they had a separate road on their own, things would be a lot safer and easier for all road users.
A couple of years ago traffic rules were changed for mopeds in the Netherlands (EU) that they could not ride on the bicycle road anymore, but on the normal road. This solution however is far from ideal. In the built-up area cars are allowed to drive 50 km/h. This doesn’t go well together with a class of vehicles with a maximum speed of 45 km/h. Not alone does it leads to dangerous situations and irritations, it also leads to less usage of this class of vehicles. In Amsterdam (mostly because bicycle roads are to narrow) recently even Scooters with a max of 25 km/h need use car roads.
It’s a shame that such vehicles can’t be optimally used, because they are a perfect fit for the distances of most commuters. Instead, we travel alone with a 2000 kilo vehicle with most seats empty while standing in traffic jams.
The vehicle class for 20 tot 30 kilometers range, make less space on the road and parking. They are faster than bicycles, but still are a lot environmental friendlier and cheaper than cars. Maybe mopeds are loud and dangerous, but there are new type of vehicles in this class like:
These new vehicles are quiet and environment firendly. What can be done to promote this kind of vehicle class for short commute?
One of the first things that needs to be done is to make them fast enough to use roads in the built-up area. This means a top speed of 50 km/h or a little higher like 55 km/h. It would be even better (and safer) to separate them. Create specific infrastructure. When giving them special lanes they are separated from other traffic. This means that higher top speed (like with highways) leads to safer situations, but also to shorter commute times. When one really looks to the average speed of cars (traffic lights, traffic jams and so on) this is not so different to this type of vehicles.
Infrastructure for these type of vehicles can takes less space and will be cheaper to build than car roads. There could be some tax initiates to build better infrastructure, good parking spots, subventions. So it has the right
Of course, it’s not only about infrastructure and laws, it’s just as much about the vehicles themselves. What is their image, price and practicality?
E-Mopeds and speed-pedelecs (though not in same amount as E-Scooters and E-bikes up to 25 km/h) are become increasingly popular. Both vehicles are quiet and fast. The E-Mopeds allow you to get there in non sweaty way, while speed-pedelecs allow you to go fast and exercise as well. There are now a lot of options for speed-pedelecs from 1500 Euros until 15000 euro. In normal cases a good e-moped or speed-pedelecs have prices between regular bikes (up to 2000 euro) and small cars of 10.000 euro.
There are some qualities that cars have that E-Mopeds and Speed-pedelecs lack. In a car one sits dry, warm and comfortable. There are also easier to put your luggage and have some multi-media system built-in. For these kinds of scenarios velomobiles or pods as they are now called can be a solution.
The first electric battery velomobiles was the Sinclair C5 introduced in 1985. Though there was initially hype about the velomobile at the end it flopped, because of poor reviews and limited range (around 30 km).
Like VR in the early nighties got into oblivion, but remain alive by enthusiast, the same counts for velomobiles. They got regular updates, but no company brought big advancements. Today there are many advancements in light constructions and battery that new innovations are coming. First thing is that Grant Sinclair (Young nephew of Clive Sinclair of the original velomobile) invented the Iris eTrike that will come next quarter to the market for 4200 pounds. Compared to the original it has one extra wheel for stability, it has 50 miles ranges with changeable batteries.
Already some years on the market is the Elf (around 9000 dollar) with comes with more space (they even have two seaters). They also have a 100 watt solar panel on the roof. It has a range between 35–70 kilometer per charge. A similar velomobile in Europe (also around 9000 and similar range), but than with more stabile four-wheels is the Pedilio . Velometro from Canada says it offers a 100 km range, but this is still in pilot phase. The Velometro is not for sale, but will have only sharing options.
Those options are still quit expensive, but a Norwegian startup plans to slash the 9000 price in half and offer a 60 km range for around 5000 euro. Dissappointing is that it offers as a speed pedelec, but only up to 25 km/h.
So the pods are not there yet, but when the price is right (5000 euro or less), the speed is enough (above 50 km/h) and the range is at least 120 km (2/3 days commuting) there may be a new revival.
Beyond 30 km
For E-Mopeds and Speed-pedelecs a top speed of 50 km/h would be enough. For faster commuting, one should move up to an electric motorbike. The four-wheeled pods however offer also changes into other scenario. Because the velo is dry and warm, one can ride it whole year and with luggage capacity is usable in more situation than two-wheeler. Especially with good multimedia functionality or easily plugin a mobile phone. Because the pod design it good even usefull in more scenario’s.
Pods are very close to the road, this is an advancement when charging while driving. The pods may even drive in autonomous trains to higher speeds (say 100 km) on the specific highways. Because pods are much smaller than cars the highway can be smaller with more capacity this counts especially when they are in ‘train’ mode. It still has the advancements of privacy and not to go to a trainstation. The train mode can also be used to have family travel for example in two pods.
Still too slow? Maybe the pod can ride inside a hyperloop. Especially because of the size the tube or tunnel can be of a much smaller size. This scenario is especially for commuting between cities. For other scenarios it maybe also helpful if car sharing would become more popular, so that outside commuting one can use a car.
Maybe needless to say is that when go beyond 30 km, the best thing is to travel without moving. Current days technologies like Slack or MS Teams can let you work remote from home office. I doesn’t matter if your work is on the other side of the world. No infrastructure project needed. For all other things, let’s be more creative than build just another extra lane on the motorway.