Looking back at the Bicycle Innovation Lab

The bicycle is convenient, healthy, and environmentally friendly and plays a primary role in the region of Amsterdam. Due to the developments of bicycles - such as an increase in e-bikes and speed cameras - speed differences between cyclists and crowded bicycle paths are increasing. At the beginning of this year, the Municipality of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Transport Region announced a contest where people could submit ideas for more safety on the bicycle paths. Together with the winner and two jury members, we look back at the innovation lab and look forward to the next steps.

The jury consisted of five bicycle experts. Otto van Boggelen, program manager at CROW-fietsberaad, thought it was a great experience to be part of the jury. “It was challenging choosing a winner because there were many good ideas. We had to assess whether an idea would be feasible and positively impact the city and bicycle safety. In the end, we chose the idea that we think best suits what Amsterdam needs.” Esther van Garderen, general director at the Fietsersbond, was also a jury member for the Bicycle Innovation Lab. She describes that during the assessment of the admissions, the jury noticed that the solution for many ideas was found with the cyclists, while cyclists themselves often are not the cause of safety problems. “The question was aimed at different speeds on the cycle path, but safety problems actually arise from more than just speed differences. Cyclists often have too little space in Amsterdam. For example, because of parked cars. That's where it gets dangerous. By seeking the solution with the most vulnerable cyclists, the cause of the problem is not tackled.” Otto agrees. “That looks like the world turned upside down. The starting point should be that road users adapt to the weakest and faster cyclists adapt to the slower ones.”

The winning idea

The winner was therefore quickly chosen during the jury deliberations. Wichert van Engelen's winning idea had a broader approach: the solution was not only found on the bicycle paths, but across the entire road width. Wichert indicates that he came up with the idea 30 – 20 – 10 based on his own experiences. As a citizen of Amsterdam, he can be seen there every day on his bicycle. “I've seen a lot in traffic. Despite many good developments, space for car traffic is growing at the expense of space for cyclists. I noticed that frequently relatively small and local safety promotion measures are taken. These only solve a small part of the problem. Besides, the different measures can lead to confusion among drivers. For example, think of speed bumps, bicycle streets or different maximum speeds in different areas. These can lead to dangerous situations. Differences in speed of road users combined with the weight of a vehicle are often the cause of serious accidents. If two pedestrians collide, then there is no problem. When a scooter collides with a cyclist, it can cause serious injury, and when a car hits a cyclist, it can be fatal. My idea developed years ago. In short, I plead for a maximum speed in the entire city, regardless of the vehicle. When I saw the Bicycle Innovation Lab pass by, I wrote this idea down on paper.”

Wichert's idea is to introduce this rule throughout the city: drive at a maximum speed of 10 km/h on the sidewalk, 20 km/h on bicycle paths and 30 km/h on the road. A faster cyclist must therefore choose to cycle on the road or reduce his speed. Anyone who moves at walking pace with a scooter is allowed on the sidewalk. Otto explains: “We think this idea fits best with Amsterdam's vision of the future. The appealing element of this idea is to go back to basics. The ingredients of this idea are generally not new, but its simple nature makes this idea attractive. The innovative part is that the speed limits apply to all vehicles, without exceptions. In the past, the Municipality of Amsterdam has decided, for example, to move scooters to the roadway. In response, the market responded with different vehicles that were allowed to ride on the bicycle paths that, just like the scooters, caused dangerous situations. These regulations did not solve the problem.” The jury members think 30 – 20 – 10 is easy to explain, implement and understand. Moreover, the idea fits in with the policy that the Municipality of Amsterdam has in mind for the city.

Process of the innovation lab

Wichert states that he found the first selection, i.e., to reach the top-10 and pitch the idea to the jury, the most tensive. “When the first interim scores were published, my idea was in 10th place in the public vote. Although I don't have a large network, I tried harder to get votes through social media. In the second interim scores I was ranked in third place.” Of the public votes, the five best submissions were selected. An official guidance group also chose five ideas. These ten submissions together were pitched to the jury. Otto indicates that there were several good ideas among them. “It was nice to watch the presentations. Some of the presentations were very creative. One idea was more detailed and thought out than the other. One of the ideas that I gave high scores was an idea where an IT solution was offered in which cyclists are tempted to use an app. Relevant data is collected with this and, for example, traffic lights can be influenced by the data. Although we have to be careful with collecting data, this can certainly contribute to improving policy.” Esther also likes that many solutions were found in data. “Smart mobility is increasingly used. Municipalities will also use it more and more in the future. At the moment, however, it is a risk to collect a lot of data and follow people. It is not the intention of governments to be seen as a data factory.”

Esther indicates that choice has nevertheless been given to the more analogous ideas. The entries that appealed to her the most were the ideas that put people in the first place. “I really liked the idea of ​​the kids and superheroes. We have already tried something similar, but this design makes it more fun. It is also important to view traffic from children's point of view. They really have a different view on traffic. By making policy that allows for the most vulnerable, everyone will be protected. Another idea that I really liked is the idea that ended in third place. The creator proposes to announce cycle paths with a sign showing a cyclist instead of a bicycle. Again, this is a simple idea, but it can make a huge difference by showing a person rather than just the vehicle. This fits in with the Environmental Vision of Amsterdam, called 'A human metropolis'. People should always be at the center of mobility.”


After the award ceremony, Wichert read the jury report. He thought there were a lot of good ideas. “My idea is a fundamental approach that gives direction to policy. The essence of my idea is to prevent the cause of problems instead of solving problems afterwards. Many of the other ideas can be used to reinforce mine.” We ask Wichert about the next steps. “There are several options. On the one hand, it is possible to see how much support there is for this idea city-wide. On the other hand, it is possible to look at how a pilot can be designed in a smaller part of the city. At first, I will present my idea to employees of the Municipality of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Transport Region. During a brainstorming session we will examine the possibilities. My role in the process will likely be to convince people of my idea, for I like pitching and communicating. It will be challenging to change behavior, but with consistency and comprehensibility that should be possible. For example, people in the Netherlands drive on the right and in general, people do not run a red light. My idea lends itself to consistency and understandability, so behavior change should be feasible. Together with the Municipality of Amsterdam and the Transport Region, we will further develop the next steps.”

The jury members are looking forward to seeing what the collaboration will bring. Esther wants Wichert to keep thinking with a fresh mind and not worry about negative comments on social media. Otto also has some advice: “Try to follow the path that the municipality is currently pursuing – that is, moving from 50 km/h to a maximum of 30 km/h in built-up areas. In addition, the idea is to tackle the speed limits on a large scale and citywide, but it can be useful to start small to see what works well and what does not. The most important thing is to communicate with road users. They need to know what's expected of them.” Finally, Otto notes that he works for a knowledge center for various governments. Knowledge of this project can be shared with other authorities. This corresponds to Wichert's ambition: “I would prefer to apply these measures in a larger region. Perhaps that will happen in the future.”


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