donderdag 25 april 2013

Welcome to Lilliput Country: how social geography make the Dutch cycle

What did we learn so far about the cycling breeding grounds?
1- They have to be flat
2- The climate should be mild

So, after you've climatized your country and moved all mountains, one has to put the country into a shrinking machine to make it truly ideal for cycling.

As a result of the shrinking, all distances become within lilliput range of a lilliput vehicle: the bicycle. Upon shrinking, absolute speed is less important, because everything is nearby anyway. Also, everything gets pushed towards eachother: after shrinking, the density of things becomes higher. E.g., population density.

Can some escape from the Dutch shrinking machine?
Madurodam, The Hague. The puppet population density (puppets/km2) in Madurodam is extremely high. 
David Hembrow has made an interesting mistake in comparing population densities between countries. He's comparing apples with oranges. This might be simply a mistake, or it's because he's a lobbyist. Or because he might have a slightly distorted British isolationist's view on the UK (maybe something for a separate post later).

These apples and oranges are interesting to analyse assuming David is a lobbyist, because in that case he pulled a nice, typical lobbyist trick, making you think that the UK and The Netherlands are not that different in population density. Well, they are quite different. Look at the table yourself.

Population density (persons/km2) according to Wikipedia
United Kingdom 256 The Netherlands 448
consisting of consisting of
Zuid Holland 1265
Noord Holland 1018
Utrecht 898
Limburg 521
Noord Brabant 502
England 407 Gelderland 405
Overijssel 342
Flevoland 281
Groningen 250
Zeeland 213
Friesland 194
Drente 185
Wales 148
Northern Ireland 131
Scotland 68

But what does David say?  'The population density of the countries England and The Netherlands is almost the same.' This is true, these densities are not that different. So, The Netherlands and England are practically the same 'countries'?! Well, they're not of course, because the first is a souvereign state and the second is not. Smart use of semantics. England is a constituting country, not an independent state, effectively similar to a Dutch 'provincie'. Sorry, British, please don't get angry now. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland being (former) kingdoms is no argument, Friesland was once a kingdom too.

Next, he does compare at the right level, but then he picks his data seemingly after careful selection to make his point: the province Drente is compared to the 'country' Wales, which indeed, do have approximately the same population density as well. In conclusion, David thinks that England is a souvereign state and Wales a province? Don't try to explain that to the Welsh...

As a scientist I decided to provide you with the full data set and then you can make up your own mind. I think that a comparison between UK and NL would be fair: NL population density wins with 175%. Also, England against Zuid/Noord Holland or Utrecht would also be fair: all are the economical engine of the state. The Randstad provinces win with 221-311%. So, The Netherlands are still the most densely populated state in the western world, apart from some city-states like Monaco. No doubt about it.

 Population density in The Netherlands 2001. One can clearly see the Randstad (red), the Brabant agglomerations (orange) and the Gelderland agglomerations (yellow) as a continuous very densely populated areas. Dark blue: above540/km2, medium 240-540/km2, light: below 240km2.

Why is this population density of The Netherlands as a state so important? Well, it was the result of some lilliput features, wasn't it? These features are unique for especially De Randstad in The Netherlands, but also e.g., Das Ruhrgebiet in Germany (population density 1117/km2, comparable to Holland). Instead of a single big city surrounded by wide areas of farmland (like in France), it's an entire chain of cities, towns and villages all connected to eachother with some farmland inbetween.

So, the Randstad is not a metropole, because there's quite some green in between, which will turn out to be essential for cycling. If population density in the area would have grown to become a true metropole, cycling would not have been so popular. Actually, this is something David Hembrow also noticed. Hembrow's graphs clearly show a negative impact of population density inside cities and cycling when comparing internationally....but he doesn't bring the story to completion.

London's growth has actually passed through the very same stage of interconnected villages and towns as the current Randstad, before it became a true metropole. Becoming a metropole killed all cycling possibilites in London (which weren't that many, because London has quite some hills too).

Below, I'll explain why not having a metropole is important for cycling, and how The Dutch actually decided not to develop a true metropole.

No Metropole in Lilliput Country

Typical population densities of Metropoles e.g., London (5206/km2), Paris (21423/km2), New York (10.606/km2) are much higher than anywhere in The Netherlands (e.g., Amsterdam 3645/km2, Rotterdam 2850/km2). Only The Hague competes (6117/km2) and still, cycling in The Hague is much more popular than in London (longer distances and hills) or in South Limburg (even higher hills). This is because The Hague is simply much smaller than London: less than 100km2 (10x10km).

In true metropoles, subways, trams, buses and walking are completely taking over the role of the bicycle. Distances between one side of the metropole and the other are much too long to cover with a bicycle: London has a surface of 1577km2, Amsterdam is only 219km2(=11x20km). Amsterdam can be cycled through from one end to the other in an hour or so. London would take you half a day or more. That's why the British invented the Underground... But also in some other aspects, it simply works differently in a metropole.

So, if you dare, you arrive at the London Underground with your bike to go further by subway and then where the f@#$ do you park your bike?

Take it with you into the Underground??? That will make you friends...

Plenty of space to dump your bike in front of a train station in a slightly less densely populated area than a metropole...Delft CS. I'll come back to the role of the Dutch trains in cycling in a later post..

The A-bike, a desparate attempt of a Brit, Sir Clive Sinclair, to fix the problem of cycling in combination with the Underground. The A-bike is an ultra light weight folding bike that can be carried into the Underground. Technically brilliant, but unfortunately, the tiny wheels are neck-breaking, the ultra light weight (6kg) is still too heavy to carry really easily and the ultra lightweight is not robust enough for daily use. I've got it in my boat, just in case. Never used it.

Intermezzo - Lillyput Insanity - They want to have it all.

Fact is that The Netherlands went through ~150 years of economical decline of its cities in the 18th  century. In that period, the economical power went back to the country side. By the mid 19th century, city growth picked up again, but they remained much smaller than in surrounding countries.

One of the slightly distorted views of the Dutch on their own country is that they still think The Netherlands should play the same leading role in the world like they did in their Golden Age, the 17th century. 'VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) mentality', 'Guiding Country' etc etc pop up every now and then on TV and news papers. Hilarious. In an attempt to manage expectations to a bit more realistic level, a politician once said 'We should start looking at ourselves as the largest of small countries(!) instead of trying to claim a leading role.' Well, that's at least a start.

What does that have to do with cycling? Well, the concequence of our 'VOC Guiding Mentality' is that we want to cram all features a country could possibly have onto  a very small surface. As a side effect, everything gets within cycling distance and there are no wastelands in between.

 Industrial wastelands: a true cycling killer. Not exactly inviting to cycle through, especially not for women at night. Almost non-existent in The Netherlands, because we'd like to use every square cm of our country. Also, no wastelands means shorter distances.

The Danes at least made a choice (and a good one from historical point of view): farming and Lego, which symbolizes for me all high-end smart Danish design products. Since the mid 19th century, the Dutch just started to do it all. People, farming, industry (mainly high end nowadays), services, nature, trade and logistics (Rotterdam is with 430 million metric tons annually the largest harbor in Europe, making no. 2, Antwerp (180 million), look like a lilliput harbor). All these activities are fighting for a bit of space on our 37354 km2 (less than 200x200km). Anyway, many rich people means many jobs and many activities.

You don't believe me? I'll give one example, farming, because it requires so much space, it historically pressed back the cities already since the 18th century and because it has a nice side effect: it catalyzes cycling.

On 16Million inhabitants, the Dutch have about 12 million pigs, 95 million chicken and 'only' 4 million cows. Whereas the Danes surpass us in number of pigs per inhabitant, they do not in cattle density...

Cattle density in Europe.
International transports through the EU of pigs ready for slaughter. The blue arrow from The Netherlands into Germany seems to yell 'EAT! EAT! EAT! you fat German!'; it's quite insane if you start thinking about it.

Whether you eat Italian Parma ham or German brat wurst, it's well possible the pig was raised in The Netherlands and only the butchering was done locally. With the same likelyhood, much industrial food in Europe contains eggs or chicken that have gone through the same logistical process.

I think I don't have to elaborate on the Dutch world famous milk and cheese industry. It's not just folklore, but most of all, it's pretty big business, with FrieslandCampina the 2nd largest milke producing cooperation world wide and the 4th milk producing company in Europe.

So what, the Dutch are good with cattle? Well, so we are with potatoes and tomatoes (and anything else in green houses). Also, everybody knows about Dutch flowers.

The reason for our insane industrial approach towards farming has its basis in the 18th century, continued in the 19th century to fight endemic famines, and got its final push after WWII due to the 'famine winter' of 1944: Never famine anymore...

This strong economical power of farming actually keeps the Dutch cities and villages separated from each other, preventing them to grow further towards a metropole. Some examples of economically important agricultural regions that protect cycling in the RBG region by preventing cities from becoming a real metropole:
  1. Het Groene Hart, the 'empty' centre of the Randstad (see figure 2 of this post) is recreational farmland.  The choice for het Groene Hart is a deliberate decision of the Dutch government and its planologists from WWII until 2011 to keep the Randstad a nice green place to be.
  2. Het Westland, 'The Glass City', with all its green houses can be seen in the figure 2 between The Hague and Rotterdam. It produces Dutch tomatoes (famous in Germany) and paprika. Small, but a strong economical power.
  3. De Bollenstreek This is where all the world famous Dutch bulb flowers are coming from. It's a densely populated area of villages and towns (not even visible in figure 2 as farmland) south west of Amsterdam. Aalsmeer, very much in the Randstad, is the beating heart of world wide flower trade, right next to Schiphol. Buying flowers and fly away is not just done by tourists, it's big agricultural business.
  4. The economically also very important Dutch pig agro-industry is mainly located in the slightly less densely populated Brabant region (orange cross in 3rd figure) and prevents here the growth of cities.
All these areas are more or less protected by governmental decisions in favor of agriculture. Right or wrong, the nice side effect of all that farming is that middle class likes to cycle through the country side in the weekend, thinking that this agri-industrial sector is 'nature'. At least, they like it until the pig slurry gets out...would that explain why cycling in the Brabant is a bit less intense?

So, competition between cities and farming on a small surface has delivered a patch work of cities, towns, villages and countryside in The Netherlands, which favors cycling.

Enough about Dutch farming for now. Let's return to our lilliput towns and villages.

Lilliyput towns and villages with lilliput distances inbetween
So actually, our cities, towns and villages aren't very big, roughly between 100 and 200 000 inhabitants or even smaller (apart from the top 5, with Eindhoven 5th), but there are plenty of them on a small surface. This medium size is ideal for middle class decision makers' cycling. Not too big, but big enough and old (narrow streets) enough to cause serious trouble for cars to get in. Big enough also to provide a nice set of shops, restaurants and other entertainment for its inhabitants and the regions around. Big enough and close enough to each other to make The Netherlands the most densely populated country in the western world.

What a difference with the UK, where entire top 20 is larger than Eindhoven. Or Germany, where the entire top 30 is larger than Eindhoven. But the overall population density of these coutnries is still lower...that's due to the horrific emptiness and long distances inbetween those big cities. These distances will kill all attempts to promote relaxed cycling from one city to the other. In the US, this effect is even worse and distances are far beyond a lilliput transportation vehicle like cycling. No cycling distances inside their metropoles nor in between them. Cycling will never become anything serious in the US: too many mountains, extreme climates, too many metropoles and only emptiness inbetween.

The most interesting social geographic thing for cycling in The Netherlands is now to come. In The Netherlands, over 75% of the cycling movements is within 5km. 95% is within 10km. So, somewhere between 5 and 10km, cycling stops to be convenient and people simply switch to cars or public transport. Probably, recreational cycling distances can be a bit longer, let's say 15km.

Verplaatsingen per fiets naar afstand, 2007
Dutch cycling movements categorized by distance. CBS 2007.

Now all these Lilliput Dutch towns and cities have satellite villages around them within 7.5 km from the city center. That's an irresistable 15-20min relaxed cycling on flat terrain! So, one can live quietly in a satellite-village and then bike to town to go out shopping, drink a coffee afterwards, visit musea, go for dinner, movies, theatre, party all night and cycle back home in 20min. Also, many recreational/agricultural zones are just a few kilometers further away, holding further city growth. That's how the Dutch middle class decision makers like it!

But it's even not just a single medium size city with some satellites, it's an entire chain of medium size cities and satellite villages in the RBG region, all within 10km from eachother. This Dutch social geographic structure is true cycling paradise!

Maybe one can find a similar structure in a region in your own country, but is it really as inviting to start cycling? Is it as flat, are the distances really that short? Is it really an economically decisive region for the country that can impose cycling at least onto itself but preferably also onto other regions? The Netherlands have these short distances throughout the country, not just in the RBG-region.

Just look at this table as an example that illustrates the Dutch patchwork of cities, satellite villages and country side in its landscape. The patch work model still enables cycling for the 4th largest city of The Netherlands: Utrecht, but not as good as for the smaller cycling student city Leiden. Arnhem is an example in between.

Town/City Satellite village  at Km   Recreational country side at Km  
Leiden Leiderdorp 3   Kagerplassen 5 Lakes
120 000 Oegstgeest 4   Groene Hart 5 Agricultural zone
  Zoeterwoude Rijndijk 4   Panbos 8 Dunes
  Warmond 5   Beach at Katwijk 11 Sea
  Zoeterwoude 5    
  Voorschoten 6    
  Valkenburg 6    
  Rijnsburg 7    
  Wassenaar 9        
Arnhem Elden 4   Uiterwaarden Rijn 5 Agricultural
150 000 Rozendaal 5   Veluwe 5 Forests
  Oosterbeek 5   Lathum 12 Lakes
  Velp 6    
  Westervoort 7        
Utrecht De Bilt 5.6   Maarsseveense plassen 9 Lakes
322 000 Maarssen 7.6   Tienhoven (Loosdrechtse plassen) 13 Lakes
  Bunnik 8   Lekdijk 14 Agricultural river landscape
  Nieuwegein 9   Lage vuursche 15 Forests
  Houten 10        

The Dutch patch work model. Cities with satellite villages, industrial zones and agricultural zones. This is textbook social geography. What makes it interesting is the Dutch Lilliput version of it: it all fits within 5-7.5 km for most Dutch cities. Note that the satellite villages are actually even better positioned for the ideal range of a bicycle than cities.

The effect of this social geographic patchwork on cycling

First of all, if you still don't believe me on the hills, then check out the graph below. Even Dutch don't cycle anymore if there are hills: cycling use drops to less than 4x per week (and less than 11% of all movements within 7.5km,, open the excel file and scroll to the bottom. Around the Vaalsserberg it even drops to 3-4% in the community of Vaals) in the hills of South Limburg (bottom right). I think this is the main conclusion one can draw from the graph.

For now, there is only one other interesting difference: student cities pop up as areas of intense cycling, as explained previously. Other differences are in the details and some of those are weird Dutch quirky things that will be discussed later, but are mostly irrelevant for other countries. Also, some other important effects balance out, so these are invisible on the map.

The total number of cycling movements per person per week. Less than 4 (light): South Limburg: hills. More than 8 (dark): student cities Leiden/Oegstgeest, Ede-Wageningen, Houten/Utrecht, Groningen. Other differences are quirky Dutch things to be discussed later.

In conclusion, it appears that detailed differences in population density are not that important for the Dutch situation. Cycling in the RBG area, het Groene Hart, in Amsterdam or the outskirts of Drente and Groningen, it doesn't really matter. Everybody cycles 4-8 times a week. The reason is that those short distances (within 10km) are applicable almost everywhere. The fine patch work of cities and towns with satellite-villages and country side exists throughout the country and works for city people and country men alike. One can just flip their start and finish points: a country man goes shopping down town as easily as city people go cycling to 'enjoy nature'.

So, here comes the conclusion on how social geography supports Dutch cycling:
The Dutch cycle because the distances are short. As these distances are so short, the overall population density of the entire country is very high, but not so dense that it has become a metropole....are you still with me?

As compared to other countries, The Netherlands went through a shrinking machine, starting in the 18th century, which is still actively maintained. The resulting Lilliput country makes cycling actually something usefull that can compete with cars, mopeds and public transport.

So, we cycle in The Netherlands from (macroscopic) social geography perspective because:
  • Short distances by a fine patchwork of cities and towns with satellite villages and countryside within 10km distance everywhere.
  • No metropoles
  • No endless stretches of emptiness
  • No wastelands
Next post on how two companies, NS and AH, took advantage of these short distances and boosted cycling. This next post will further illustrate my point on short distances on a more microscopic level.

zondag 21 april 2013

Ook een dame kan haar pootje lichten

Speciaal voor mOnique, die graag leest wat er door je heen gaat als je een lekke band hebt.
Speciaal voor L@r3nz, die graag over velomobiel onderwerpen leest.

Inmiddels heb ik 2255km gereden met Magic Bullet en sinds eergisteren ben ik 3 lekke banden verder.
1x uitgescheurd ventiel doordat de binnenband niet goed gecentreerd was (linksvoor)
2x een versleten Durano (rechtsvoor)

Vrijdag was ik eindelijk eens op tijd naar huis en trapte ik vlotjes door het Twentse land. Bijna weekend. Het betere weer had ook de boeren wakker gemaakt. Ik mocht weereens hobbel-de-hops door een stuk modder en drek heen rijden, achtergelaten door een trekker of zo. Allemaal geen probleem, hoort erbij, maar dit keer was het pech.

Eenmaal uit de drek, bleef Magic maar door hobbelen. Foute boel daar rechtsvoor. Aan de kant gezet en  jawel, rechterband helemaal plat. Om mijn eerste gedachten speciaal voor mOnique samen te vatten had ik een verwijzing willen maken naar Quezzzt's samenvatting van vloekafkortingen behorend bij de gamer-generatie, maar hij heeft die post schielijk ingetrokken. Jammer. Maar goed: F#$%! en uiteraard goed oud-Hollands k.. en GVD. Eerst naar huis bellen om te melden dat het eten wel weer uit kon. Nog voor ik had opgehangen begon het te regenen en kon ik wederom putten uit Quezzzt's lijstje.

Gauw mijn regenjack (altijd klaar in de bak) aantrekken en aan de slag. Alle benodigde spulletjes klaar gelegd in de, inmiddels stromende, regen. Nog even het instapgat afsluiten om het zitje droog te houden. Mijn favoriete bandenwissel truc tevoorschijn gehaald: een Boer'n yoghurt bus met daarin mijn reservebinnenbanden. Binnenband eruit, busje onder de Mango geplaatst bij de draagarm. Zo kan het wiel vrij draaien en ik begin er weer lol in te krijgen, in de wetenschap dat ik de band vlotjes kan wisselen. Ik ben immers goed voorbereid.

Band eraf. Marathon Supreme uitvouwen, binnenband erin. Talkpoeder heeft geen zin, het regent te hard. He, pomp vergeten te pakken. Omdat ik nog de vuile was van mijn werk mee had, begint het nu toch wel een rommeltje in de bak te worden. De 4-puntsriem helpt daar ook niet bij. Het regent zo hard dat alsnog alles nat gaat geworden, helaas.

Die Supreme is niet echt handig om de 19mm velg heen te krijgen en zo zit ik toch nog even te prutsen. Ook krijg ik hem niet echt lekker gecentreerd, jammer dan, ik wil naar huis. Oppompen, zooi opruimen, inmiddels is alles drijfnat, jas uit (meteen zelf drijfnat en koud!), instappen, naar huis bellen en wegwezen. Ik heb er ruim een kwartier over de wissel gedaan. Ik moet nog even flink doortrappen om warm en droog te worden. Maar als het even later op houdt met regenen, is dat vlot gebeurd. Kleine ergernis is dat de Supreme me niet zo snel thuis brengt, maar het weekend kan beginnen!

Vanmiddag gekeken wat er aan de hand was. Na 1981km (ik had hem al eens vervangen) is de rechter Durano alweer versleten. Dat is sneller dan mijn geplande wisselpunt van 2500-3000km. De binnenband is ook niets meer waard. Naast een lek op het loopvlak, 2 snakebites (4 gaten dus) omdat ik er onwetend mee ben doorgereden door de prut. In eerste instantie geprobeerd te plakken, maar het bleek een heilloze zaak, de grootste snakebites kreeg ik niet dicht.

Dit betekent dat de Durano's niet duurzaam genoeg zijn (wat is dat toch met die Schwalbe namen, Durano's zijn niet durable, Supremes zijn niet surpeme...) voor mij. Ik wil elk halfjaar, 2500-3000km, banden wisselen, niet elk kwartaal...De beslissing is snel genomen, ik zal met Greenguards rondom gaan rijden. Volgende week meteen bestellen bij Sinnerbikes.

Magic Bullet kan haar pootje lichten.
Haar linkerwiel kan zo vrij draaien bij de bandenwissel.

Yoghurt potje met reserve biba's eronder. Speciaal voor de foto onder het linkerwiel gezet.

Bandje wisselen is nu zo gepiept. Quest-rijders eat your heart out!
Pomp, opgevouwen Supreme als thuiskomertje, busje talkpoeder, biba en plakspulletjes op een plastic zak.

De snakebite die ik niet meer dicht kreeg.

Van boven naar beneden: een versleten Durano (linksvoor) buitenkant, de nieuwe Durano, de versleten Durano (rechtsvoor) as-kant. Aan de as-kant komt het canvas er al door na 1981km met 1x per rit 1 scherpe bocht om heel langzaam de uitrit uit te komen...waarbij de band dus wat langs de wielkast schuurt.

Boven: nieuwe Durano. Onder versleten Durano, het loopvlak na 1981km.

woensdag 17 april 2013

Homeopathie: het werkt niet, maar het helpt wel

Titel citaat van oud-minister van Volksgezondheid Els Borst

This time a post in Dutch, because this is a very Dutch issue. In short, homeopathic producers are soon not allowed anymore to put the indication of the product on their label. I think this is a rightful decision, but the situation is more subtle than just that. A lobbyist action is started to save these products and below I make a short analysis of the issue.

A short note on the choice of language. I'm a bit struggling with posting in Dutch or English. I see that with every English post, my public becomes more international (highly appreciated!), but also that I'm loosing quite a few Dutch/Belgian velomobilists. Feed back on this is more than welcome. For now, I'm happy with a mix of both languages, maybe choosing isn't necessary at all. I'll just pick the language that fits the issue best.

Goed, over op het Nederlands dus.

Gistermorgen werd ik wakker met een mooi lobby-verhaal op de wekkerradio. Een handtekeningen-aktie: 'binnenkort verbiedt de overheid in Nederland om op de verpakking van homeopathische middelen aan te geven waar je het voor kan gebruiken'. Dit is een doodsteek voor deze produkten, en het is dus logisch dat de homeopathische industrie hiertegen in aktie komt.

Mooi om hun verhaal even te analyseren. Uiteindelijk ben ik farmaceutisch onderzoeker, dus dit is dicht bij mijn bed. En, om even een hele dunne link met velomobileren te maken, misschien smeer je wel arnica of zoiets als je spierpijn hebt. Het is volkomen waar wat de homeopathische lobbyisten zeggen, indicaties voor gebruik op de verpakking wordt binnenkort verboden door de overheid. Een goede lobbyist liegt niet. Maar, en hier komt de ware lobbyist te voorschijn, ze 'vergeten' er even bij te zeggen dat de overheid ze hiertoe dwingt omdat de homeopathische industrie 10 (tien) jaar lang heeft verzuimd danwel niet in staat is geweest om de werkzaamheid van deze middelen aan te tonen.

De regels zijn heel simpel. Als je zegt dat je produkt ergens voor werkt, dan moet je dat ook hebben aangetoond. Met deze maatregel worden de eisen voor homeopathische produkten eindelijk gelijk getrokken met die van alle andere produkten (niet alleen farmaceutische). Terechte maatregel dus. Of?

Er spelen een paar factoren een rol waarom het de homeopaten niet gelukt is om indicaties voor gebruik op de verpakking te houden:
1- Om werkzaamheid te kunnen aantonen, zijn klinische studies nodig. Die zijn ongelofelijk duur, enkele miljoenen euro's per produkt, en die kosten kunnen niet gedragen worden door een produkt dat voor een paar euro over de toonbank gaat. Het volume (in euro's) van de markt is simpelweg niet groot genoeg. De bedrijven zijn dus niet in staat om deze studies te doen en gaan mogelijk kapot aan deze nieuwe regels.
2- In de wetenschappelijke literatuur is uitgebreid aangetoond dat het homeopathische principe onjuist is (dit is wat anders dan dat alle homeopathische produkten niet werken, hier is nog weleens verwarring over, maar er zijn genoeg homeopathische produkten die wetenschappelijk gezien wellicht wel zouden kunnen werken, alleen dit is nooit aangetoond). Uit een hele berg wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar homeopathische produkten is maar een handvol produkten tevoorschijn gekomen, bijv calendula-zalf, die (wellicht) wel werken. Deze produkten mogen gewoon op hun label zetten waar het voor dient. Voor alle andere geldt dat het niet echt bemoedigend is om een paar miljoen uit te geven om nog maar weereens aan te tonen dat je eigen produkt NIET werkt...

Dikke pech dus voor de homeopaten en hun klandizie, maar een hoop mensen met een wetenschappelijke instelling juichen deze maatregelen van harte toe. Toch is het allemaal iets subtieler.

Een voorbeeld. Mijn goeie ouwe vader was huisarts. Toen hij de praktijk van zijn voorganger overnam was daar een patient (m/v) met een valiumverslaving. Zijn voorganger had de patient op valium gezet tegen slapeloosheid en dat was helemaal uit de hand gelopen. Zowel patient als de nieuwe arts waren daar niet helemaal gelukkig mee. In die tijd kon je nog een beetje aankloten met medicijnverpakkingen en pa kreeg een lumineus idee. Hij gaf de patient steeds lagere doseringen valium en presenteerde de nieuwe tabletten als een fantastisch nieuw produkt, slaapmiddel zonder bijwerkingen, waar hij langzaam de dosering van liet 'toenemen'. Uiteindelijk heeft de patient de rest van het leven prima geslapen op placebo tabletjes, zonder enige werkzame stof.

Pa was best een beetje wetenschapper. Maar aan het eind van zijn carriere gaf mijn vader toch aan dat hij homeopatisch arts zou zijn geworden, als hij alles over zou kunnnen doen! Het waarom voor deze keuze is subtiel samengevat in het citaat van Els Borst in de titel. Homeopathie verbieden sluit een hele serie goedkope en effectieve behandelingen uit, terwijl ze niet eens bijwerkingen hebben. Zonder homeopathie worden mensen nodeloos gemedicaliseerd. Dat is geen goede zaak, voor de patient niet en niet vanuit het oogpunt van de kosten in de gezondheidszorg, die toch al de pan uit rijzen.

Homeopathie is een religie, en daarom helpt het. Hoe sterk dit effect kan zijn, blijkt uit pijnbestrijdingsproeven, waarin je een flink deel van de mensen met ernstige pijn kan laten geloven dat ze hun pijn bestrijden door zichzelf morfine toe te dienen, terwijl ze in werkelijkheid niets toedienen. Post-operatieve toediening van opiaten (morfine-achtigen) is dan ook aan het afnemen en vaak wordt een dag na operatie al overgegaan op paracetamol. Op dezelfde manier kunnen mensen met acupunctuur operaties ondergaan. De theorie achter acupunctuur is feitelijke onzin, maar diezelfde theorie helpt ze mooi wel om in een bepaalde trance te komen. Ik zou het niet durven, maar ik zie wel de schoonheid van het concept. Tot slot, stapels medicijnen stranden op dit placebo-effect, omdat ze niet aantoonbaar beter zijn.

Hoe belangrijk religie voor mensen is, werd aangegeven in een interessant interview in NRC-Handelsblad met Frans de Waal, de beroemde 'chimpansee'-onderzoeker. Het interview zelf was niet perfect, maar goed, De Waal heeft in zijn onderzoek aan kunnen tonen dat chimpansees vrij uitgebreide rituelen hebben die erg belangrijk zijn voor de groep. 'De wetenschappelijke houding is als een jas die wij mensen naar believen aan en uit kunnen doen' aldus De Waal 'de behoefte aan religie en rituelen zit diep ingebakken in het gedrag van alle primaten, dus ook mensen.' Hij vond dat wetenschap ruimte moest blijven bieden aan religie.

Hoe ik het ook eens ben met De Waal's conclusies uit zijn onderzoek en met mijn vader voor zijn praktische oplossing, uiteindelijk vind ik het persoonlijk belangrijker dat mensen op de juiste manier voorgelicht dienen te worden en dat de overheid dit beschermt. Daarna mag ieder zijn keuze maken voor welk geloof dan ook en kan men homeopathische middelen op eigen kosten kopen - of niet. Ik doe dus niet mee aan de aktie.

Wat is homeopathie? Voordat je meedoet aan de aktie van de homeopaten, raad ik aan dit wiki-stuk helemaal te lezen, inclusief de kritiek op homeopathie.

maandag 15 april 2013

The breeding grounds of Dutch cycling (1): physical geography

Physical geography is one of the most decisive factors determining the success of cycling as day-to-day transportation:

1- The breeding ground has to be flat
2- The terrain should have no slopes
3- Did I mention already that there should be no hills?

4- The climate should be acceptable to get outside 7/7 days of the week, 12/12 months of the year.

These climate and terrain factors are hardly important for recreational cycling, in which hills, a snowpack, -30 or +30oC can actually add to the fun. However, a 4 months snowpack and -30oC effectively prevents most from cycling. Let alone, bringing their 4 years old kid to school on the back of a bike, a very Dutch habit (as shown on my protective mother pictures in my previous blog). Also, it's suddenly not funny at all if your 70 years  old neighbour has to go uphill in the burning sun with her groceries.

This last example is based on a real echo from the past that I've seen in France. My parents 70 years old neighbour is very poor and cannot afford a car. She was using a shaky French 60ies bike to get her groceries from a village 6 km away. Only 6km? Nice cycling distance? could hardly call it cycling according to modern standards. It was some kind of a fast way of walking. Down hill and on the flat parts it went OK, but on her return home, she had to push her bike with groceries onto a steep hill, ~100m higher. It was a heartbreaking sight, eventhough it hardly mattered to her because she'd done it like that most of her life. Her 20 years old daughter couldn't bike uphill either, cycling with any kind of baggage through hills is true sports. Nowadays, my mother is taking the old lady to the shops by car. Now, nobody cycles there anymore to do shopping...

Then an important question for a later post: would cycling infrastructure have changed the decision of this old lady to get onto her bike yes or no? I think not. Although cycling was an incredibly bad way of transportation for her, walking would have been much worse. Personally, I think it wasn't very safe to modern standards, but this is what happens if people have no other choice.

Cycling was a great improvement over walking in the early 20th century in such area's, but it was very quickly abandoned as soon as one could afford any kind of motorized transport. Thinking that one can get back the bike as day-to-day transport in such geographical areas is highly romantic, but lacks any feeling for realism. Unless one pushes the people back into deep poverty leaving them no other choice. Or unless there is breakthrough technology. E.g. electrically assisted bikes with a much higher range than an electric moped. Until then, a Dutch-type cycling infrastructure in such areas would be a complete waste of money, serving no more than a few recreational hobbyists. Let alone that the costs for such infrastructure would be inevitably much higher in mountainous areas than on flatlands.

Would you be willing to spend your tax money on getting a Dutch-type cycling infrastructure with separated cycling paths here?

This separated cycling path in the middle of nowhere (province Groningen) costs hardly anything extra.

Then why should the climate be acceptable 24/7? This could be disputed, but if one wants to change habits, people should be exposed intensively to the new idea, not just every now and then. Check out theories on advertisement strategies. This climate effect is also reported by Kevin Champagne. His blog is great,, but I suspect cycling in Canada will stay mainly recreational. Kevin himself is exceptionally eccentric, using not just a regular bike, but a velomobile through snow and -30oC to get to work. However, even this guy keeps his car ready, just in case...

In conclusion, we should not confuse our own love for cycling with the much more practical transportation needs of the masses. Cycling by the masses has to be easy and relaxed, not a heavy exercise. Terrain and climate should facilitate that.

The Netherlands do comply mostly to these rules, and especially in the Randstad with its connected tentacles into Brabant and Gelderland, the RBG region.

Climate - The Dutch compared to some other countries

I'll be short on The Dutch climate. It's very mild.
Lowest average temperature is 0.2oC, highest average is 22.8oC. Ideal for cycling. Rainfall is never more than 83mm per month. We always complain about the weather, but in practise it doesn't rain that much.

Weergemiddelden voor De Bilt (1981-2010), extremen voor Nederland (1901-2010)
hoogste maximum (°C)17,220,425,632,235,638,437,138,635,230,121,117,838,6
gemiddeld maximum (°C)5,66,410,014,018,020,422,822,619,114,69,66,114,1
gemiddelde temperatuur (°C)3,13,36,29,213,115,617,917,514,510,76,73,710,1
gemiddeld minimum (°C)0,30,22,34,17,810,512,812,39,96,93,61,06,0
laagste minimum (°C)-27,4-26,8-20,7-9,4-5,4-1,20,71,3-3,7-8,5-14,4-22,3-27,4
neerslag (mm)69,955,866,842,361,965,681,172,978,182,879,875,8832,5
Note that the extremes have been measured only once in a 110 years.

In the western world, the list is pretty short of countries with comparably ideal climate:
1- UK, even milder
2- Belgium, practically the same, only the Ardennes region is a slightly more extreme land climate
3- Denmark, practically the same, but a bit colder

Then there is a whole list of European countries with more complex climate zones or a more land climate: Southern Scandinavia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Tchech Rep., Slovakia, Hungary, Baltics etc.

Any country south of France is simply too hot to do relaxed cycling during a significant part of the year. Nothern Scandinavia is too cold.

Nicely flat, those Spanish meseta's. But the climate is a real hell, turning it into noman's land. I still think there should be humans to have cyclists. And they should not spontaneously incinerate if they step onto a bike.

In North America, the situation is even worse in general, and only the west coast has a mild climate. But St Andreas Fault makes it too mountanous for a large part.

San Francisco. Great climate for cycling, California is the 10th economical power in the world, so it could put serious weight to the table for cycling. But euh, did anybody photoshop this picture? No, it's real.

Terrain - The Dutch compared to some other countries

Elevation map of The Netherlands. One can clearly see De Randstad (Ring-city) in the centre-west as a series of orange flocks. The southern tentacle in Brabant is visible as smaller flocks on the rim between yellow and green in SE-NW direction. Only Eindhoven is a bit into the yellow. The Gelderland tentacle is a bit more difficult to see, but remains south of the big yellow blob in the centre east (the Veluwe).  Completely at the bottom, south east, at the point where 3 countries (Netherlands, Belgium and Germany) meet, the Vaalser Berg in South Limburg.  Wall map of De 12 provicien.

On the terrain aspect, one can make easily an ill comparison between The Netherlands and Denmark on elevation. The highest point in The Netherlands is 323m , The Vaalserberg in South Limburg The highest point in Denmark is Mollehoj 171m

So, Denmark is more suitable for cycling than The Netherlands! Of course it's not. As indicated in my previous post, everything in The Netherlands is determined by the Randstad and the two tentacles on it forming the RBG region (previous post). The Vaalserberg is in the most southern part of the Netherlands, far far away from this region. So, we should leave this 323m out of the equation. I wouldn't be surprised if one can find actually a lot of cycling infrastructure on the Vaalserberg - that's called cultural pressure (from the RBG region).

Cycling to the highest point near Yding on Jylland, Denmark. Beautiful outlook over an endless series of seemingly friendly hills, but the legs hurt too much to make it comfortable. Denmark has no high mountains, but isn't flat at all.

This is relaxed cycling for the masses. Somewhere in Noord Holland.

In the RBG region, The Netherlands does hold its reputation of the flattest of countries almost perfectly. Only the Utrechtse Heuvelrug puts a hill inbetween Utrecht and Amersfoort, De Amersfoortse Berg, an irritating 44m high. Railways and highways just flow around it. Only cyclists from Utrecht to Amersfoort have to climb it. It did prevent me from cycling weekly the track Utrecht - Amersfoort, amongst with some other aspects. Yes, I was lazy, but I also had free public transport.
The same hills of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug endanger the track from Utrecht to Arnhem, with a staggering 69m high Amerongse berg. But this time, all traffic can flow around it. Arnhem itself is located at the foot of The Posbank (up to a bit over 100m), on the banks of the river Rhine. Also this time, all RBG traffic flows along it, together with the river. Only inside Arnhem city there are some steep hills, making Arnhem the exception in the RBG region. For the rest, it's anywhere between -4 and 20m.

An important geographical aspect is in the Dutch river delta. Whereas other countries have steep, fast flowing rivers, the rivers in The Netherlands are near the end of their journey and form a slowly flowing delta with only little differences in height. As most cities in the RBG region are located near such rivers, and are connected with eachother by these rivers, these is only little difference in height between them. Water always takes the easiest route here.

This has brought me to a bit of social geography. It's no coincidence at all that these cities  are connected like this: the Dutch cargo still goes for a large part over the water instead of over land and does so already since the middle ages. Consequently, most major RBG town centres have emerged on river banks. It's even in their very names:
  • Amsterdam - dam over the river Amstel - still a large cargo harbor
  • Rotterdam - dam over the river Rotte - the largest cargo harbor in the western world
  • Utrecht - Rhenum Trajectum  - latin for passage through the river Rhine
  • Amersfoort - 'Voorde', passage, through the river 'Aam', Eem nowadays
  • Leiden - Not exactly clear, but it has to do something with water, maybe the river Leyte
  • Delft - 'Gedolven' waterloop, digged(!) canal.
  • Nijmegen - New plains (for market trading), no water mentioned, but it is a flat area near rivers.
  • Breda - Brede Aa, a wide stretch of water, or completely different, 'land between two waters'.
This should be enough to make my point. Thank you Wikipedia.

So, it's not just that the most important areas in The Netherlands are in the flattest part, they are also connected with each other through the flattest tracks possible: the arms of a slowly streaming river delta. How different from any other western country. Denmark and the UK might have their cities at riverbanks and coastal lines like the Dutch, but on the landside, they are isolated from eachother by hills and mountains. They both have a completely different geography as compared to the Dutch.

File:Uk topo en.jpg
The UK isn't exactly flat...but one can identify a few flat regions.

Cambridgeshire within England

E.g., Cambridgeshire. Indeed, it almost looks like The Netherlands. 806,700 people are living there. That's already 1.3% of the UK population. Will they turn the entire UK into cycling paradise?

Germany (Ruhrgebiet) has most of their cities more upstream of rivers. Those rivers are floating faster through steeper and higher hills and mountains and one has to go uphill inevitably. Pretty much the same for most parts of Nothern America, Spain, Portugal, France and Austria, not to mention Switzerland, Italy, Greece, former Yugoslavia and so on. I'll tackle the Nothern Americas with their social geography, but in short, their climates and landscapes are too complex to achieve any popular cycling as universally as in The Netherlands.

Ruhr gebiet in Germany. Ideal for cycling from social geographical perspective: a strong economical power, so potentially a lot of lobbyists - but too many hills, so bicycles are not popular. Andrees Handatlas, 1914.

What's left over are just bit and pieces of terrain that are only a minor fraction of these countries, suitable for day-to-day cycling. On these pieces, like Camebridgeshire, one could achieve something in theory, but never with the power of the Dutch RBG region that holds the power for 80% in the country. Inevitably, it will be a small lobby in Camebridge and they do have trouble keeping their cycling infrastructure - for obvious reasons

I'm sorry again, but physical geography dictates that most of the other countries will have to move more than a single mountain to achieve anything near Dutch cycling popularity. My recommendation: simply wait for break-through technology.

A note afterwards.
If you still don't believe me on the hills, then check out this. Even Dutch don't cycle if there are hills: cycling drops dramatically for all communities in the hills of South Limburg (bottom right).

Also, I didn't address wind in this post in the climate part. On flat terrain, like The Netherlands, it can be quite windy, which makes cycling difficult, as David Hembrow states. But so it can in mountanous areas. Ask the French about their Mistral and Sirocco, or experience the Fohn in Switzerland and Austria. Go to the Rocky Mountains and name a helicopter after the Chinook. These winds are so strong and disturbing that they even got a name. Also in not so famous areas with not so famous mountains, they have a not so famous but still very strong winds, e.g. La Bize in the Jura, France & Switzerland. Very annoying, also for me. Dutch winds don't have a name. Direction and strength is enough.

Then there is an essential difference between wind and hills that David Hembrow overlooked. The wind is there or isn't. That hill will never move. Also, houses and trees can give effective shelter against wind, but not against hills. Winds up to 5Bft aren't any serious issue and those above 6Bft are not very abundant, even not in The Netherlands.