Winter Cycling Congress 2015: Five Lessons from Leeuwarden

Attendees of #WCC15 listen as members of the local Fietsersbond explain Leeuwarden's "Park and bike" lot.
Attendees of #WCC15 listen as members of the local Fietsersbond explain Leeuwarden’s “Park and bike” lot. All photos by author.

On Tuesday, 10 February 2015, bicycling advocates from around the world gathered in Leeuwarden, NL to discuss best practices for winter cycling. Topics ranged from best practices in maintenance to just having fun on a bike in winter conditions. Though the Inland Empire doesn’t often get much “winter”, it was still a very educational and informative time for an advocate from the Southland. Of course, a few of our friends up the hills actually do also get something that resembles winter, so some of this stuff is actually even more useful to them.

Design for winter maintenance

Winter is typically the time of year when many areas see the worst weather and that which would most seriously impact cyclists. The anticipated maintenance provider should be part of the planning team from the beginning to ensure that they are able to maintain what is being built.  If the normal sweepers won’t fit on a protected bike lane, for example, then perhaps it is time to invest in a smaller one that will. Snow clearance is the natural obvious topic, but the methods are not always uniform, it really depends on local conditions.

Light it up
The "UFO bridge" in Zoetermeer provides a unique lighting experience to users.
This bridge in Zoetermeer provides a unique lighting experience to users.

Many times, paths, especially those outside of urban areas, lack any sort of lighting whatsoever. As a result, they are not socially safe places for people to be and as the days get shorter, people will avoid them. Providing lighting along key routes is a good way to keep people pedaling all year round, especially in places that have no winter weather challenges.

Communication

The other glue that holds the entire puzzle together is communication. Let people know what to expect, when to expect it, and where to expect it. Let people know whom they should contact when those expectations are not met. Also critical is making sure that internal communication is also outstanding. (This is one issue with designating meandering “linear parks” as bikeways. If the Streets/Public Works department is not responsible for maintaining them but the Parks department is unwilling or unable to, it causes problems for all.)

“A to Bism”
Dutch bikeways are designated as either functional/transportation (red) or recreational (green). This sign has directions to various destinations around Utrecht.
Dutch bikeways are designated as either functional/transportation (red) or recreational (green). This sign has directions to various destinations around Utrecht.

When biking is easy, convenient, and safe, people will bike. That was the message of “A to Bism” that Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize shared with the group on Day Two. This should be obvious and intuitive, but continues to be a novel idea on the planning stage and with dire consequences. When bikeways are built that are first and foremost aesthetically pleasing and recreation-focused, people will only use them when it is leisurely to do so. If people are going to use them at other times, there has to be a clear benefit for doing so.

Data counts

Last but not least comes the accountability. Data is a critically important piece of the puzzle of bicycle usage really all year, but especially in winter. Robust data collection is really what ties everything together. Identifying how many people choose alternative routes during or after a storm, for example, can help prioritize clearance efforts in those areas. Collecting feedback from the users is also important as they often have areas of concern that the agency in charge might not be aware of or rate as highly with their own internal methodologies.

These five elements are essential to the success of any winter biking plan. Whether “winter” means six straight months of snow or nothing below 60 degrees, the basic elements remain the same. Making biking easy, keeping infrastructure maintained and lighted, collecting data, and communicating what’s going on is the key to keep people pedaling all year long. These should tide everyone over until next year’s Winter Cycling Congress, which is set to occur in the Twin Cities.

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