Monday 9 November 2009

Is it too late to start providing for cyclists ? Are the Dutch "too far ahead" ?

Note that the video starts by quoting many of the myths that have built up around cycling in the Netherlands. Many Dutch people believe the same myths about this country as do foreigners and it's important to try to learn the correct lessons when trying to emulate Dutch success.

Twenty years ago (1990) this video was produced by the Dutch Ministry of Transport and Public Works to show what cycling was like then in the Netherlands, and how the potential for the bicycle could be further developed.

Just seventeen years elapsed between 1973 when a campaign about child safety lead to protests and cycling infrastructure getting heavy investment in the Netherlands and 1990 when this film was made.

I'm regularly given the excuse that the Dutch are so far ahead because they started sooner, so there's no chance to "catch up". I've heard this excuse used for at least twenty years - enough time for infrastructure as seen in the video to already have been built.

It's never too late to stop making excuses and to start working on proper infrastructure which is convenient, pleasant and safe for cyclists.

There are many excuses used for low investment in cycling and low cycling rates in other countries. I'm working through them one by one.


Joost Bonsen said...

Great find! Since the Plan is from 1990 and they state specific goals for 2010, I'm curious if you know to what extent these have been either achieved or even surpassed? And is there a current Plan looking forward a similar two decades? And, historically, a plan from ~1970? Thanks.


ibikelondon said...

David, it's astonishing to think this video (and 1990!) were 20 years ago - there are so many basic key reccomendations in that video which even now we are stuggling to have adopted in "non-cycling cities" It does fill me with enthusiasm though - I am quite certain that any city could be a cycling city if the political will was there to build the infrastructure. Great clip, thanks for sharing!

PS I love the part where the guy puhes his friend over the back of a bridge and then runs to jump onto the pannier rack side-saddle - it was never a skill I was able to pinnacle!

Michael said...

Great video, David, As you imply, they were so far ahead even then that its kind of depressing.

And yet, any progress with bikes is enjoyable and satisfying so one presses on.

Any bike on any road with the sun shining, wind in the hair is a joy.

Mike Rubbi

David Hembrow said...

Joost: I think it's fair to say that the things they say they'll do in this video have all been done. Whether the aim of "a reduction in car use" has actually been met for the country as a whole is not certain. However it's certainly been met within many cities. Public transport integration with the bike has definitely increased.

The language of the video is actually quite strange. They fall into a lot of stereotypes about the country, such as that it's flat and that it's compact - even though average journey lengths here don't work out all that much different than anywhere else.

Many things flash by unexplained in the video, such as the public bicycle tool box, traffic lights which help cyclists, Underpasses which increase convenience for cyclists.

Mark: Yes, 20 years ago. The Dutch have been at it a long time... but it's not too late to start.

I also think any city could be a "cycling city" with the right infrastructure. It's simply a matter of making cycling pleasant, convenient and safe.

David Hembrow said...

Michael: I don't mean to imply that at all. Rather, the video shows that just 15 years into the big push for cycling which started in the 1970s, huge strides had already been made. 15 years is not very long. Any city, anywhere in the world, could commit to doing something similar.

Taliesin said...


Just found your blog from and like it. I'm looking at your excuses for not cycling or providing for cycling finding it interesting.

ONe of the excuses that I've had put to me that has given me any pause for thought is that the parallel to road paths are more dangerous than riding on the road because of the issue around traffic at junctions. This link gives a summary of research showing that cycle paths are around 3X more dangerous than the road, even on the continent.

I'm not convinced, but like I said, it does give pause for thought and I can't find any refutation using Google. (Looks like NL is moving on from this issue with the underpasses you've also written about).

David Hembrow said...

Taliesin, the "research" you pointed at is simply a collection of articles which appear to say that cycle paths are dangerous, largely quoted out of context.

Real research was done over here, to work out what junction designs work well. The ideas about what would not work well were published so that these problems were known about and in order to prevent them being implemented again. Unfortunately, the UK and US have a large element of people who like to argue against safe and attractive cycle provision by quoting those reports. This is what you are being presented with.

These days you won't find those unsafe junction designs as conflict has been designed out. You don't need an underpass to avoid conflict. That can also be done on level junctions, and there are many examples here.

Cyclists in the Netherlands are the safest in the world.

Neil said...

It's true that many in the UK are dubious of separate cycle provision, but I would suggest that the majority are concerned because of the very low standard that most facilities are implemented. I don't think there would be many who would not want a full dutch style cycle network (though many that would doubt it could be achieved from where we are now).

For instance no cycle lane in UK would have priority when crossing a side road. That is a fundamental objection to any provision parallel to the road. i..e it's not just the position, it's the interaction with other traffic lanes.

David Hembrow said...

Neil: I spent enough of my life cycling in the UK that I know exactly what you're talking about. I almost never used off road provision in the UK as it would inevitably put me in the wrong place, reduce my speed, have lower priority at crossings etc.

Cycle provision without the junctions taken care of simply isn't good enough. It is not quality cycle provision, and it won't lead to significant increases in cycling.

Britain's decline in cycling is quite extraordinary. It's been pretty much a continuous decline since the 1950s, and cycling continues to decline in the UK ("it appears that the general trend in
medium urban areas over the period since 2005 (and indeed since 2002) was either for cycling levels (in terms of average distance cycled per person) to have been broadly stable, or perhaps, if
average number of cycle trip stages are examined, to have slightly declined." (page 17 of the CDT report)). Page 11 of the same document reveals that just 35% of British men and 21% of women have ridden a bicycle in the last year. By comparison, 93% of the Dutch population have ridden one in the last week.

It will take a lot to reverse this decline in Britain. Platitudes from politicians, low levels of funding, badly designed infrastructure built on the cheap, and well-meaning campaigners saying "honest, it's really great, and it's really safe too" just won't cut it. The British population has spoken with its actions. To the majority, cycling looks like an extreme sport, an irrelevance, and they're simply not interested.

To get these people to cycle it needs to be an attractive proposition.

Unknown said...

It's definitely not too late to start. If anything, the fact we're behind could help a little. The Dutch (and the Germans) have been there and done that... We don't have to spend all that time and money figuring it out. We just have to copy!

My girlfriend's Dutch and, after living here a few years, moved back over to The Netherlands and was immediately back on a bike. Here... Not so much. Or, in fact, nearly never. She was too scared. The roads were in too bad condition, the drivers weren't aware of you, there wasn't anywhere safe to bike (this comment especially included the jobsworth-designed sad excuses for bike lanes here!).
However, she did note that the roads here are much wider than most of them around towns in the Netherlands - She's up in Groningen at the minute and from another blog entry I read, I'm sure you know what some of the roads there are like.
So, we've got wider roads and they're in need of repair... Perhaps do something clever? Near my house, the main road into town is rather wide and for much of it has the three-lane arrangement used for people turning off. The thing is, that road has two states; Queue or fine. The third lane isn't needed. If there's a queue, someone lets you through, if it's fine, you're not holding anyone up! Why not take it down to two and have a decent, seperate bike path? Just one example there.
As for bike paths never getting priority over side streets, it's not true (entirely). I have a 15 or so mile commute to work and at 3 points (of, admittedly, about 50 or 60 side streets I pass) the cycle lane has right of way.
I've only ever seen one car realise this though...

Neil said...

"at 3 points ... the cycle lane has right of way"

but is that a lane parallel to the road. i.e. not part of the normal carriageway? That's was what I was meaning, although I may not have made that clear. It would be good (but surprising) to hear it had been done right somewhere.