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Choreography of cyclist behavior

Studying the interaction between intersection design and cyclists' behavior and experience

The behavior of cyclists and specifically Amsterdam cyclists, is a recurring theme in the public debate. In many of these discussions, the majority of cyclists are deemed to display a strongly anarchic attitude. Although everyone can provide anecdotal evidence to confirm this allegation, there is precious little structural insight into the actual behavior of Amsterdam's cyclists.

In collaboration with the City of Amsterdam ten junctions were selected which seemed to show most clearly this discrepancy between design and behavior and which were practically suited as a focus for our research. Each junction was allocated to a group of three first-year sociology students from the University of Amsterdam. In the spring of 2014, during one hour, the students shot video material, which was then given an extensive quantitative analysis, focusing on the various routes cyclists took to cross the junction (with the use of Copenhagenize Consulting's Desire Lines tool).

In addition, we looked at the correlation between design and behavior, identifying three categories of cyclists, the same grouping that was used in the Copenhagen research:

  • Conformists: cyclists who stick to all the formal rules and designed routes;
  • Momentumists: cyclists who follow their own route and adapt certain formal rules to suit their own ends, without causing any dangerous situations (e.g. turning right through a red sign);
  • Recklists: cyclists who recklessly ignore the rules, for instance crossing the road through a red light, and thereby cause conflict with other road users.

 Finally, in addition to the research into the actual behaviour of cyclists, the students conducted interviews in the week after the video recordings to gain insight into the experiences and emotions of cyclists at these junctions.

At all junctions, except at the Elandsgracht, a full quantitative and qualitative analysis has been carried out. Although it was relatively early in the season and most footage was shot just after the busiest peak period, these nine junctions processed a total of more than 18,500 cyclists in one hour. What is immediately striking is the high percentage of conformists. Although the research was carried out during the morning rush hour and predominantly major junctions were researched, this is still a radically different picture from what's often suggested in the public debate, such as a recent article in the Amsterdam daily newspaper Het Parool about 'the Amsterdam cycling rogues'. Of the remaining twelve percent the majority are momentumists who negotiate the junctions choosing informal routes – shortcuts – without creating conflicts with other road users. Only 5 percent of cyclists were classified as reckless; they go through red lights and weave between driving cars and trams, causing potential conflicts with other road users. The nine hours of video footage also did not show a single incident of verbal or physical conflict between road users. This data then refutes the claim that Amsterdam cyclists are a bunch of road rogues on the loose. It's important to bear in mind that the cyclists were recorded during morning rush hour at relatively major, busy junctions.

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