Monday 8 February 2010

Inter-city bicycle superhighways for long distance commuters

This map shows the locations of existing and proposed "fietssnelwegen" in the Netherlands. These are long distance cycle paths which have priority at junctions and which are provided to make long distance commutes practical. They are somewhat greater in scope than what are referred to as "cycling superhighways" in other places.

These are often publicised as a part of the "fietsfilevrij" campaign which emphasises that a long bicycle commute means avoiding traffic jams on the roads.

Cycling policy in the Netherlands has gone a lot further than just providing routes within cities. Many people also make regular longer journeys.

Up in the top right corner there's a vertical green line between A and G. This represents my 30 km long commuting route between Assen and Groningen. I assume that the line is still green as the work is not finished on the route, however it is still very very good. I pointed out before that I find this route to be a lot more efficient than the roads in the UK ever were.

We rode a part of the 50 km long Amsterdam to Utrecht fietssnelweg as part of the Oliebollentocht a few weeks back. You can see just that section of the video which shows the fietssnelweg by clicking here.

Long distance cycle journeys are more popular in the Netherlands than other countries due to conditions which encourage cyclists and make those journeys ever easier. 34% of all journeys up to 7.5 km are by bicycle in the Netherlands, 15% of those between 7.5 km and 15 km and 2% of those over 15 km in length. 2% isn't a huge proportion, but it's a larger one than bicycles are used for even for the shortest of journeys in many countries.


Maarten said...

Hi David,

Please take that map with the appropriate number of grains of salt. The direct connection between Almere and Amsterdam (over the water) is drawn here as 'kansrijk', but I'd say that it falls in the category of 'luchtfietsen' (dreaming, but please ask your colleagues at the ligfietsgarage about the finesses of the word). I don't think that that connection will be made within the next decade or two.

ben said...

David Hembrow, Just wanted to say that your blog inspires me to keep riding and how to explain bicycle safety to other people. Over here in the states, there are a lot of John Forrester followers. While John Forrester makes good points on how to ride safely, he doesn't give any points on how to build better cycling infrastructure (he seems adamently against it). Your points on subjective safety is the missing link in improving cycling in our cities and towns.

David Hembrow said...

Hi Maarten, are you sure that the route between Almere and Amsterdam is ever supposed to be as straight as that ? Building such a bridge really would be an achievement - it's 10 km over the water there (so "luchtfietsen" or "air cycling" in more ways than one). All the lines shown on that map are straight. That's simply how they're drawn. My route from Assen to Groningen has a couple of bends in it, and I'd expect others to as well.

The route from Assen to Groningen is currently shown only as a likely "superhighway". Currently it is merely a "fietsroute+", but that is itself quite exceptional compared with what's on offer elsewhere.

I've ridden between Amsterdam and Almere several times, though not for a few years. When I rode it, the route was pretty decent as I recall, though not quite what you'd expect of a fietssnelweg.

Wilfred Ketelaar said...

Looks like there will be a similar road between Zuidhorn (near where I live) and Groningen (the Z and G in the top of the map). This is good news, I think. The path is now wide enough for 2 bicyles next to each other. But if I want to overtake (especialy with a velomobile) this is not possible. I've read something in plans that they would be widening the cyclepath (as part of the 'superhighway'), but I'm not sure when (could take a while I think).

freewheeler said...

I agree with Ben. Most people are not going to take up 'vehicular cycling' in countries like the USA, Britain or Australia because the transport infrastructure favours car travel and regards cycling as an inferior way of getting around. Telling people to wear helmets and dress up in yellow jerkins is no way to get them cycling, nor is telling them that cycling is statistically safe. Cycling on roads packed with motor vehicles, most of them driven by people who never cycle, is too unpleasant an experience for the vast majority.

The Netherlands shows how it is possible to get people cycling by providing a safe, segregated, high quality environment where cycling is both convenient and safe.

Where I live in London it is just six miles to the centre of town, a journey which takes me around an hour on a bicycle, on roads which are jammed with motor vehicles and where the cycling infrastructure is either non-existent or inconvenient and very unsatisfactory. Only a small minority of hardcore cyclists are prepared to put up with conditions like this. David's blog valuably shows us that there is an alternative, with a proven record of success.

Kevin Love said...

Quebec has got its "Route Verte" bicycle network; 4,000 km in place across the province.

I've used it, and it is very good, but parts of it are not up to Dutch standards.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin, The Netherlands also has a 4500 km network of recreational cycleroutes called the Landelijke Fietsroutes. That network is perhaps analogous to "La Route Verte". However, this post is not about recreational routes.

The fietssnelwegen are for long distance commuters. They don't take such scenic routes as the LF routes do, but they will be direct and efficient to use. The idea is to make cycling more competitive with driving over longer distances for regular journeys.

Mark W. said...

They are not all unreal. The D to O (Den Bosch to Oss) green line in the lower center is very real. Both cities are quite far in the planning proces.

Maarten said...

The routes are not all unrealistic. I'm quite certain that the Amsterdam to Almere route is suggested as a long bridge. This is a dream, and will likely remain so.

That doesn't mean that the Amsterdam-Almere route will not improve. A new cycling bridge over the Amsterdam Rijn Kanaal has recently been opened, and there are more partial improvements. Bu the one the mean here is the bridge.

J.. said...

Well, not all real ones are really real either. If I may direct your attention to the blue line just below The Hague. That's the route between De Lier and Pijnacker, traversing Delft. It's indicated as an existing route. Let me take you on a little tour:

They put in a new bicycle path on the north side of the "Woudse weg", between De Lier and Den Hoorn. It's very nice. It's not very wide (about 3 meters), but still, very nice. but as we enter Den Hoorn, things start to come apart at the seams:,4.322328&spn=0,359.935713&z=14&layer=c&cbll=51.997828,4.322526&panoid=LA_m87P6YWExETtguaIBJw&cbp=12,41,,0,4.28
You can see the path (on the left) is pretty narrow, and for some reason it crosses the main road onto the old path on the right (which has been poorly maintained and is narrower still). But, OK, there's traffic lights, it's a 30km zone, no biggie.

But 300m up the road we encounter this little gem of traffic engineering:,4.328441&spn=0,359.935713&z=14&layer=c&cbll=51.999142,4.328294&panoid=IcbrzoRiOev3vmpuruJ6KA&cbp=12,86.48,,0,5
The eastbound cycle lane simply ceases to exist beyond the traffic lights and the westbound one (on the left) miraculously comes into existence 20m before the crossing. Take a closer look:,4.328773&spn=0,359.935713&z=14&layer=c&cbll=51.999299,4.329025&panoid=_R8nxzekiI8N2u-Vnc5mWg&cbp=12,86.48,,0,5
This is a part of the official "fietssnelweg", yet there's no facilities whatsoever, no lane, no path, no nothing. And I can tell you that the googlecar was there on a quiet day. Weekday mornings this place is a mess, with buses, trucks, trailers, everything. And it's not like you can stick to the right side of the road. Where that big truck is in the photograph is where you're expected to cross oncoming traffic and make a left turn. But wait, there's more:,4.331974&spn=0,359.967856&z=15&layer=c&cbll=51.999749,4.331836&panoid=ejJqIEXxNfH1xF2fBN7T7g&cbp=12,55.29,,0,5
200m up the road we come to this nice bicycle bridge (it's visible on the previous photo), built for the Fietssnelweg, and although it's nice and safe, I would point to the fact that I'm crossing the same road for the third time in a 1000m stretch. That's absurd. Plus, it irritates the hell out of motorists, something I can do without.

As we cycle into Delft on our "fietssnelweg", we encounter conditions like these:,4.335351&spn=0,359.967856&z=15&layer=c&cbll=51.997849,4.335604&panoid=sf_lUS0J35Po5X41J3id7g&cbp=12,74.17,,0,5

and this:,4.352088&spn=0,359.967856&z=15&layer=c&cbll=52.001298,4.351935&panoid=SY7IDfR69DsmP9gFYS-xjQ&cbp=12,58.42,,0,5

Not bad, but hardly worthy of the Fietssnelweg moniker.

And how's this for subjective safety:,4.36059&spn=0,359.967856&z=15&layer=c&cbll=52.0056,4.360448&panoid=lxGAWY1gXqyRCuEGv2Em3Q&cbp=12,50.23,,0,5
The red car subtely parked in the middle of the cycle path is a nice touch. Again, this is a very busy route with lots of high speed traffic.

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, and most of this route is at least acceptable as a run of the mill bicycle path, but to call this a bicycle highway is pure hubris. If this is the standard we're aspiring to, than it's no wonder the people from Copenhagen have no trouble calling themselves "Bicycle Capital of the World". At least they've got the attitude right.

Kevin Love said...

Myself and many other people in Quebec used (and are using) La Route Verte for commuting every day.

Outside of Quebec, in the English-language media, Route Verte gets a large share of tourism adverts.And that's OK; there are far worse things to do for recreation.

But for the people of Quebec, it is a commuter and transportation facility that provides a fast, direct cycle route through and between major cities and towns.

David Hembrow said...

J.. I understand entirely why you complain. What you show is less good than should be expected in the Netherlands and certainly not up to the standard for a fietssnelweg.

However, you're being selective and showing the worst parts of a route many km in length. Do have you any idea how good your examples of bad things look through the eyes of people elsewhere ? There are few places that I ever visited in the UK which had infrastructure of that standard, and none which had cycling on the level which you see in even those views.

As for Copenhagen... Don't expect them to be doing better, except at the marketing. They've not achieved the cycling targets that they set for themselves, and despite the bluster they most certainly do not have anything like the highest cycling rate in the world.

You can see why Copenhagen still struggles in photos and videos from the city. e.g. this one. Have you ever seen a cycle path end like this in NL ? How exactly do you make a left turn ? Where are the lights to give priority to cyclists ?

Neil said...

"How exactly do you make a left turn?" - as explained in the text alongside the video.

"A cyclist planning to turn left will cross the intersection, staying to the right, then turn and line up with the traffic on the crossing street, "

David Hembrow said...

Neil: It was a rhetorical question... But it's hardly the essence of efficiency, is it ? Nor safety. The merging of straight on cyclists with right turning drivers is quite astonishingly bad.

J.. said...


Please note that making a left turn means riding more or less in a straight line while the road curves to the right. As the cycle lane ends (right side) you look over your shoulder to see if there's a gap between cars and you steer your bike in there, preferably with two or three cyclists at a time. Make shure you occupy the full width of the car lane and move along with traffic until you reach the bend. Now keep to the left side of the lane, in the middle of the road and stick your hand out to indicate you want to turn left. Wait for someone travelling in the opposite direction to let you pass (or demand passage by turning left in front of them and prey they hit the brakes). That's the way I've done it since I was twelve.

This is a busy route for school kids, I've had to cross this road every schoolday for six years. I've seen a kid on a moped get his handlebars stuck between the sides of a dumptruck and a bus making that tight turn. It's not very safe.

J.. said...


I would have to disagree with you. I didn't just cherrypick. A "fietssnelweg" should be mostly great with maybe some mediocre parts. I understand the difficulty in trying to fit a big bikepath into existing urban infrastructure, but they managed it for the car (which needs a lot more space). The intended goal (commuting) requires continuity. Would you send your kids off on a route that's 99% great and has one extremely deadly, rediculously dangerous crossing? Neither would I.
The route between De Lier and Pijnacker is 70% decent, 20% poor, 5% crap and 5% fabulous. That's not even an exeptionally good average for a normal cycle route, let alone a route touted as something extraordinary.
I could point to the good 5% (Ezelsveldlaan, for instance), but that's a mute point if that good bit doesn't connect to anything decent. I know for a fact that there are better, more pleasant routes between these two villages (albeit slightly longer).

My larger point is that this sort of grandstanding is symptomatic of a lack of true commitment. I don't want politicians to give me a token gesture, take that pig, put some lipstick on it and call it a fietssnelweg. I want actual infrastructure, and I feel that's not being taken seriously.

Which brings me to my comment about Copenhagen. I've read your thoughts on Copenhagen, and though I agree that maybe things aren't as good as they seem, they do seem to be serious about cycling. They're experimenting with different facilities (green waves etc) and they're spending real money. Looking at the amount allocated for cycling in the total transportation budget of the Netherlands, I can't help but doubt all the lofty retoric coming from The Hague.

David Hembrow said...

J.. I do agree with you that a fietssnelweg should be extremely good. And yes, do complain if things are not up to the standard that you expect. However, do you realize how lucky you are ? Do you realize how much you are exaggerating. I have yet to find any place in this country for cyclists which could truly be called "extremely deadly, rediculously dangerous" by comparison with anything that you'd see in the UK. I had this sort of thing on my cycle commuting routes in Britain. Even this. Nothing at all out of the ordinary for Britain. There is simply no reason why a cyclist finds themselves in a situation like that in the Netherlands. It's not perfect here, but there is nowhere better.

As for Copenhagen / Denmark, you've been taken in by the hype. Please read a bit more. They're spending less than here. There is considerably less cycling than here. People's satisfaction with the cycle facilities that they have is lower than here, and the rate for children cycling has dropped precipitously. Cycle paths are generally narrower and less well separated from the road. This is all unfortunate, but it's also true. Did you look at the film I pointed at previously ? The one where I was asking how you'd make a left turn ? This is a typical Copenhagen junction. This is a group riding velomobiles in the city on a terrible cycle path. I have never seen anything anywhere in the Netherlands to compare with either of these. A "green wave" is not exactly the greatest of infrastructure when cyclists are sharing the same traffic lights as shown in that link, and can't even go straight on or turn left in safety. NL has far better examples of traffic lights making life easier for cyclists, such as this one.

J.. said...

The "extremely deadly" comment was related to my argument about continuity, not the state of the Pijnacker-De Lier route. A fietsnelweg will work only if it is of a continuously high quality.

And you might be right about the Danes. I've seen a lot of variance in the numbers about mode share, but it's possible they're bluffing as well.

I'm acutely aware of how lucky I am to live in the Netherlands as opposed to other places in the world, but are you aware of how lucky you are to live in Assen, as opposed to other places in the Netherlands?

Anonymous said...

Hello David

Can I make a request for an article about the knooppunt system. I did make a brief search but it didn't show up as having been covered already. It seems to me to be a very Dutch system.

Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

Maarten said...

The trouble with the cycle route near the football stadium in The Hague is known, and ridiculous. Building works cause a small landslide under the motor way, and while that was repaired by dumping a lot of sand in the cyclists' tunnel, the contractor and municipality battled it out who should foot the bill.

This blocked the cycle route. A lot has been learned from this failure. The route will be good eventually, but it is not right now.

David Hembrow said...

J..: About the Danes ´bluffing´: There are basically two sets of figures. The ones that the officials from the country use use and those that Copenhagenize uses. I believe the former.

And ´are you aware of how lucky you are to live in Assen´: Of course. It is a great place to live. We moved here for a reason.

Mark: Actually, the knooppuntennetwerk was originally a Belgian idea, and in the south of the Netherlands the maps take you from one country to the other. It is very nice for recreational cycling. I will cover it at some time - perhaps when our local network is complete (it is being done slowly around the country, province by province).

Maarten: So it seems that the less than good stuff pointed out by J.. is a temporary issue. Though if it is to do with lawyers arguing over contracts, ´temporary´ could still take a while.

J.. said...


I guess there's more than two mode share figures around. The numbers I found in some Fietsberaad documents were more positive for Copenhagen than the numbers you used in your criticism of the Danes. I've no idea what's what.

I also found a list of Dutch cities with mode share numbers. The mode share for Groningen and Amsterdam was somewhat lower than the much quoted data.

It seems to stem from the use of different criteria when measuring these statistics.

David Hembrow said...

J..: There are many ways to calculate these things, and no two places ever do so in precisely the same way, nor do they every have precisely the same things to measure. It is extremely difficult to compare.

However, until a few years back everyone was quite happily quoting their figures for cycling as a percentage of all journeys. However, Copenhagen changed from this to quoting their figures for commuters instead. This caused an instant jump from around 20% to over 30% in their headline figures.

It is relatively easy to get a higher rate for commuters. You change the demographic group of interest from "everyone" to a subgroup excluding children, parents looking after children, retired people, many disabled people, family groups riding together. i.e. you no longer have to concern yourself with the people who it is more difficult to convince that cycling is safe. That is why Copenhagen could suddenly claim to have had such a growth in their cycling figures. I think it a little deceptive.

So, anyway. Copenhagen no longer produces a figure for "all journeys", so we have to guess it. I made a rough calculation that the true figure is about 22% and published it in the post about Copenhagen.

Many people responded to that post, including the head of the bicycle programme from the city. You might think that if I were making an incorrect assessment, such people might have pointed this out. However, no-one challenged that figure. As Copenhagen has still not published a true figure for "all journeys" of their own, my calculation is as accurate a figure as you will find. I suspect they will not officially produce a figure as it is simply too embarrassing to admit to having lead the world astray for several years.

Dutch documents about the Netherlands always refer to percentages of all journeys, and never to commuting only figures. The rate of cycling for the entire country is 27% of all journeys. That is a figure for this country which is higher than Copenhagen, the best city in Denmark, on its own. This 27% rate for the entire country sets a base-line average for each province.

Groningen is an interesting example because it is the name of both a province and a city. Sometimes figures are quoted for the province, instead of the city. If the cycling rate in Provincie Groningen outside the city is normal (i.e. 27%), then you expect a cycling rate for the entire province to be around (27*2+60)/3 = 38%, which is close to the figure sometimes quoted as being for "Groningen" without telling whether it is the province or the city which is being referred to.

You will occasionally see documents which compare the headline figure of commuters only from Copenhagen as if it were comparable with the figure for all journeys in the entire province of Groningen. Even Fietsberaad documents sometimes seem to do this. However, you get those comparable figures only when you compare things which are not remotely the same.

Now the only reason why that article about Copenhagen was to try to set the record straight after Mikael one day produced a list of "cycling cities" which is pure fiction. I asked him many times in private email, and then on messages on his blog, to justify those figures, which seem designed simply to put Copenhagen at the top of a list. He has never provided any justification. In contrast, you will find that everything I have written either has a reference for the figure or you will see how I worked it out.

Frankly, it is time the Dutch actually realised what they have and started promoting it. This country is not perfect, but it remains a very long way of any other in cycling policy.

Josef Janning said...

I second Mark Garret's plea for a knooppunt-arcticle. It's primarily for recreational riding so it's a different issue than the superhighway topic.
I've used the system and it's great. Works very well almost everywhere.

On the super highways: Keep reporting on this development -- we need best practices to inform people elsewhere. In the north of Germany we have a pretty good network of cross country bikeways which are commuter friendly (since most follow the main roads) but still far to many sidewalks made into obligatory bikeways by simply putting up the respective sign.