Glow-In-The-Dark Bike Paths?

<Please note: the below post is submitted as part of the sarcasm theme for posts for today and thus has more than a douse of such>

More than a year ago, I went on record questioning some unintended consequences of expensive bicycle facilities. I singled out some Minneapolis treatments. While the $1.6 M per mile for the Greenway still pales relative to the amounts devoted to auto infrastructure, it appears as if the “tolerable” bar for the costs of lavish cycling-ped facilities is rising.

The city of London is now considering a proposed £175m ($274M) pedestrian-only bridge over the River Thames. Earlier this month I read about the new glow-in-the-dark bike path in the Netherlands that opened in mid-November outside the small town of Nuenen. I happened to be in the Netherlands last week on a new assignment. As a form of homage, I waited until Thanksgiving Day to visit. I waited for darkness to unfold (in the Netherlands in November, this is shortly after lunch). I ate my Indonesian take out dinner by myself and thought of the first great harvest in North America shared by many. I aimed to board the train to Einhoven (the closest train station to the path’s location), but was prevented from doing such, with a bike in hand, until rush hour ended at 6pm (even though I paid a €6 extra charge to carry the bike on the train).

An hour later I made it to Eindhoven amidst the mist. I followed the signs to Nuenen. I eagerly asked around for the bike path that glows in the dark. Many looked at me in that confused manner—you know the one: “we are Dutch, bike paths are not that big of a deal.” It was dark. There were random farm-houses sprinkled throughout the countryside. There was the smell of farm. There were remnants of the city lights and roadways in the distance. I steered toward the electrical towers, thinking there might be a connection between the path and available right-of-way. Or even better, perhaps the solar nature of the path is used as a source of power generation; the nearby towers would aid in this convenience of electricity transfer (a different rumor floating around).


Your clearly evident, ever so vibrant, glow-in-the-dark bike path.

I finally stumbled upon the magical Roosegaarde. I rode the 600 m from start to finish. The illuminated embedded stars were fun to be guided by, though they reportedly had diminished brightness at this time owing to the overcast day (is it ever really sunny in the Netherlands?). But here’s where I got tripped up. All bikes in the Netherlands are strictly required to have a front light for nighttime riding; mine was sensor generated upon movement. Thus, my own bike light prevented me from seeing the path in all its glory; rumor has it that the lights are semi-dynamic. It was hard to know because of the strong illumination that preceded me. I presume I am not alone, suggesting the path’s splendor resides with pedestrians and lovers holding hands like the video shows.

A transport professional informed me it cost €700,000; this converts to roughly €1,166 per meter (~$1.5M per mile), of which cost of the right of way is negligent. Is this one worth it? As best I can tell in the dark or via satellite maps, it failed the test as a critical connector. It didn’t really connect anything. It’s a more of an environmental art project in the middle of some farm fields. A brochure I found after the fact tells us that Van Gogh was stimulated by the landscape for his painting Starry Nights (thus the name of the bike path). I was also told it was part of a larger almost €20M infrastructure project that probably leverages the Van Gogh Cycle Route in the desire for the region to have more in public art. If you consider the artistic impetus for the project, matters of price efficiency quickly become more judgmental and irrelevant. The propaganda tells us, “never was there such an inspiring cycle path; it’s like celestial stars in the South of France.” I say, “what a unique tourist attraction that is built in the middle of no-where that aims to leverage a strong cycling culture.”

Kevin Krizek

About Kevin Krizek

Kevin J. Krizek is Transport Professor, Programs of Environmental Design and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He was a 2013 fellow of the Leopold Leadership Program and received a 2013 U.S.-Italy Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Bologna (Italy). He is currently a visiting professor of "Cycling in Changing Urban Regions" in the School of Management Science at Radboud University in the Netherlands. Kevin blogs at Vehicle for a Small Planet and can be found @KevinJKrizek . Prior to moving to Colorado, he lived in Minneapolis and St. Paul and was an Associate Professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.