All is not perfect in the land of bicycles, tulips, cheese and more bicycles. In the middle of hyper bicycle friendly Netherlands sits Houten which was actually planned and built as the ideal bicycling town. Amongst probably many other honors Houten was as recently as 2008 awarded the prize of Best Bicycling City. In Houten auto traffic is directed all the way around the city on a ring road with limited access to the interior city. Bicyclists, on the other hand, enjoy a network of wide bike paths throughout the town.
Meanwhile “Kids Lodge” after school daycare center in Houten has introduced a novel concept: They bought ten old golf carts to ferry the kids from their elementary schools to the daycare. Behind the golf carts they’re towing trailers, also loaded with kids. Their explanation: It takes too long to drive the kids all the way around the city in buses so instead they ride directly through the city on the bike paths with their golf cart trains. Why not use special bikes such as the KDV Workcycles sells to dozens of other daycare centers in the Netherlands? “We’d rather cycle but that’s not possible with so many kids. Too dangerous.” Dangerous? We’ve hundreds of KDV’s in daily service throughout the country and have yet to hear of even a blister or pinched finger. Too many kids? The KDV carries eight kids, about as many as each golf cart plus trailer rig. Maybe “We got a great deal on the decommissioned golf carts. ” and “We’re too lazy to pedal.” are more likely explanations?
Kids being silly in a KDV in Delft, NL. Photo by me.
Now, in all fairness, I suppose the golf cart trains are at least more eco friendly than driving the kids around in buses but c’mon folks… you’re in Houten of all places! Houten is a whopping 4km from edge to edge and Kids Lodge is approximately in the middle of it. You can’t ride a flat loop of a couple kilometers to pick up the kids?
What’s ruffling some feathers though is that they’re driving these golf cart kiddy trains on the bike paths. Not surprisingly the Fietsersbond (Dutch cyclists’ union) isn’t happy with Kids Lodge’s creativity. See this article in the Algemene Dagblad for the story in Dutch. Perhaps you’re thinking that it’s strange that these motorized vehicles much bigger than bikes would even be allowed on the bike paths. But actually Dutch “fietspaden” (bike paths and lanes) are not exclusively for the use of bicyclists. Also allowed are vehicles legally classified as “snorfietsen” (in principle slow, motor-assisted bicycles limited to 25km/hr), as well as several types of small vehicles for disabled and elderly people. At least that was the original intention when the laws were created. It seems that nobody could imagine that anybody but an old lady would wan to ride a moped without a helmet and be able to ride and park it anywhere.
Recently this loophole in the law has been exploited, primarily by the scooter manufacturers who make supposed reduced speed models that are registered as “snorfietsen” and may be ridden without helmets on the bike paths. They’re called “snorscooters” Unlike the snorfietsen the laws are based on these are much bigger and have no (even vestigial) pedals. In fact, aside from a little, blue registration plate they’re indistinguishable from the normal, fast scooters that are driven on the roads. Once in the hands of their new (mostly young) owner the speed limiter is quickly removed and the motor often hot-rodded to increase the maximum speed to several times the legal limit. The police, apparently preoccupied with evicting squatters and harassing various ethnic groups, don’t enforce either the speed limits on the bike paths or the specifications of scooters. As a result snorscooters have exploded in popularity and generic, franchise-looking scooter stores are popping up throughout the city.
At least in Amsterdam these “snorscooters” have come to be almost unanimously hated by bicyclists… so much so that it’s drowned out the occasional badmouthing of bohemian/yuppie/self-righteous/name your stereotype bakfiets moms. Not only are scooters noisy and polluting (most still have two-stroke engines), many of their riders behave amazingly badly. Practically every cyclist will complain about the incessant horn tooting and close calls of scooter riders weaving their way through bicycle traffic. Many, including myself, have numerous stories of actually getting cut off, screamed at or bumped off the road by scooter riders. I’ve actually had this happen while riding my baby and toddler to the daycare center.
Recent research by the Fietsersbond demonstrated that 94% of the snorfietsen on Amsterdam bike paths are exceeding the 25km/hr speed limit. Amazingly the AVERAGE speed of snorfietsen on the bike paths was 37km/hr, 50% higher than the legal speed limit. Snorscooters with their little, blue plates were measured at almost 60km/hr. Now that’s a little strange for a vehicle governed to 25km/hr in a city with no hills. My own seat of the pants feeling is that it doesn’t seem far from what I see daily.
There are so many complaints that a debate is currently raging about what vehicles should be allowed to ride on the bike paths here. The cyclist’s collective perspective is clear: Kill the “snorfiets” category or at least redefine it so that it’s really only for motorized vehicles that can’t go faster than 25km/hr. I heartily agree. I doubt many cyclists have an issue with elderly folks in their electric scootmobiles or the few tiny “Canta” cars that putt-putt and park wherever their owners wish to point them. Scooter riders, though, must put helmets on and go back to the road where they belong!
And if Kids Lodge insists upon transporting kids with their ridiculous golf car trains, please have them at least do so on the roads so that they slow some motorists down instead of making a farce of the bicycle lanes.