Thursday 30 June 2011

How wide is a Dutch cycle path?

Surprisingly Dutch law doesn’t state how wide a bicycle path should be. But even though there aren’t any legal requirements there are some very strong recommendations.

One of these recommendations is the design manual “Tekenen voor de fiets” which in Dutch is a pun and means both “Designing for the bicycle” and “Committing to the bicycle” thus making clear that cities and towns following this manual make a deliberate pro bicycle choice and commit to take cyclists’ safety seriously in their municipalities.

Each municipality follows its own rules. At the border between two municipalities this cycle path doubles in width because of that.
Cycle paths

The manual mentioned above states that a one way separated (protected) cycle path should not be narrower than 2 meters (6.5Ft).

This was calculated as follows. Under Dutch law the maximum width of a bicycle is 75 centimetres (roughly 30 inches). But a cyclist can never ride in a completely straight line. Cyclists will always move sideways slightly. The distance they move from their straight line depends on skill, speed, age, experience and the weather but is set to be 25 centimetres (about 10 inches). That would equal an absolute minimal width of 100 centimetres (about 3 feet or 40 inches). But there are more factors that need to be taken into account. There is what is called the ‘shy-factor’ that indicates needed space around obstacles (pot holes, debris, bollards) but even the shadow of the kerb is a factor. Also important; the Dutch feel that cyclists should be able to ride two abreast. Not only because cycling is a social activity but especially because that means a parent is then able to ride next to his/her child. To top it all off, it must be possible for other cyclists to overtake these two riders. All this leads to that minimum of 2 meters. But when a cycle path sees over 150 bikes per hour, that minimal width goes up to 250 centimetres or 8.2Ft. For rural bicycle paths the manual advises to have an additional space between the cycle path and the road-way of 50 centimetres (20 inches) that has to be free of obstacles (like road signs or trees).

Cycle lanes

Just like cycle paths there is also no law for the width of cycle lanes. It is believed they can be a bit narrower than paths because if necessary it is possible to swerve out of the way of obstacles into the road-way.

That is why another recommendation, the “Handbook Road design” (for rural roads) gives a minimal with of 125cm (almost 50 inches). The Cyclists’ union feels that should have been at least 150cm (almost 60 inches) and such lanes should never be next to parked vehicles. Most cities follow the Cyclists’ Union or go further. The cities of Utrecht and ’s-Hertogenbosch both state a minimum of 2 meters (6.5Ft) for their (new) cycle lanes in their own road policies.

Let’s see what all this means in reality.

So the recommendations are actually followed very well. Why is that?

Because cycling is so normal in the Netherlands and almost everybody is at one time a cyclist, the public pressure to create good cycling infrastructure is enormous. The authorities in charge of the roads and streets feel obligated to stick to the recommendations. But there is another reason: liability.

The Dutch Civil Code states that authorities in charge of roads and streets carry a large responsibility for the state of their roads and cycle paths. Article 6:174 states that they have to compensate damages a road user suffers because of a poor state of a road.

Even though this means that a cyclist would have to prove that a road was in such a poor state that his or her damage is a direct result of it, it is still a strong incentive to keep the roads in a perfect state of maintenance. And while you are doing maintenance it is easy to keep the design of the roads up to the latest standards as well.


kfg said...

Cyclists riding two abreast should be banned . . . everyplace cars are required to be tandems.

Edward said...

Another great post from what I'm starting to think is a parallel universe. Come to Australia where painted bike lanes can be so narrow that even the painted bike stencil is too wide for them.

Don said...


What drugs are you on man??

kfg said...


Coffee and fixed gear.

Jan-Albert said...

David, the "Tekenen voor de fiets" is quite old already. The newer publication is "Ontwerpwijzer fietsverkeer" (nr. 230)

Mark W. said...

@Jan-Albert, I know it is old, that is why I called it 'one of the guides' the pun was nice enough to mention. As I understood the newer guide is just a revised version. But the contents of all of these guides remain quite mysterious as they are all rather expensive and almost none of the content is freely available. Some municipalities do publish their own version based on these guides and then you find out what must have been in the originals.

Maarten said...

@Mark: All local divisions of the Fietsersbond have access to the 'Ontwerpwijzer'. You can probably just ask.

J.. said...

Ahhhh, fixed gear...

That stuff'll kill ya.

Alex Taylor said...

This makes me want to make a YouTube video response, measuring the widths of some of the local bike lanes. Particularly the one by the side of the A1 between Newark and Long Bennington. It's two-way, and if two cyclists meet, one has to go on the grass to get past. And the path has markings that tell you give way to the access to a derelict-looking electricity substation.

Karl McCracken (twitter: @KarlOnSea) said...

There's a similar set of documents in the UK. They even take account of the width of the bike + wobble factor of around 25cm. Unfortunately, the need to ensure smooth flow of "traffic" trumps any such design guidelines, so for our engineers & planners they end up as things you could think about when you go home from doing proper work.

As a result, it's almost as if we're proud of how poorly we can do cycle infrastructure. In a way, this is very strange - if Whitehall took its usual approach to rules, regulations and laws that come from Europe, we'd have gold-plated cycle routes that would really show how it should be done.

kfg said...

J - "That stuff'll kill ya."

Yeah, tell me about it. But it isn't really that that worries me. I mean, once yer dead yer dead, right?

No, it's what it does to your brain before it takes you out that gives me the heebie jeebies late at night.

Although I've never been able to acquire any of my own I'm also not prone to turn down a shot at Messerschmitt if offered. Especially the newer KR200 stuff; more kick than the old 175 and with smoother delivery as well.

There's a certain amount of bodily trauma from using, but it isn't usually fatal. If you do it in public though, you will make a spectacle of yourself.

Maybe I should just consider it velocar training.

Rob said...

I think I have found the narrowest lane in the Netherlands: video. It's probably not wider than 60cm or so (it's a bit too busy to go out with a tape measure).

Mark W. said...

@Rob, nobody needs to use this strange lane. It is not officially a cycle lane by the way as it lacks the bicycle symbol. One of my videos shows the perfect cycle path right next to this (if you look to the far right you can see the strange red bit on the street).

jrg said...

the odd lane looks more like a safety channel - "don't cycle or drive here, you will get hit by someone opening the door of their parked car."

Daniel Sparing said...

Here is a very narrow bike path, along the Amstel. Beautiful, though.

David Hembrow said...

Daniel, I think you're talking about something else altogether. That's surely a recreational path - part of that other network of little paths through scenic places, not always with such good surfaces.

You never have to use these paths. Generally they take detours to go through pretty areas, and they're not counted as amongst the 29000 km of real cycle paths in the country.

Brendan said...

How wide are the pedestrian paths along the 2.5m one-way bike paths, or along the 4m-5m two way paths?

David Hembrow said...

Brendan: Where I've measured them, pedestrian paths are usually two metres wide.

USbike said...

It's simply appalling that when you go onto the English wikipedia site for segregated cycling facilities, there's not a single Dutch cycle path on the page. All you get is a picture of a painted lane from Utrecht (and probably among the lower quality ones in that city). There's a picture showing a cycle track in Denmark, but whoever put it there could not have chosen a worst picture. Danish infrastructure is not up to par with Dutch ones, but that picture by no means represents how they typically look in Copenhagen. If that's what non-experienced people get to see on a such a page, no wonder they will never want to campaign for segregated facilities. The English page for that is a bit biased and I wouldn't be surprised if this was done by those who oppose such infrastructure.

Finn K said...

This is a great post! It's very useful to know a good standard for path width.

In my city we are starting to build cycle infrastructure... and obviously with little Dutch influence. We have 2-way "separated bike lanes" on only one side of the street - where there's room for a 2m path on either side. The path might be 3m wide at best?
You are 100% protected riding through intersections, however turning on and off is stupidly confusing. No corner islands or simultaneous green phasing.
And the streets are littered with unnecessary symbols and signs.

Why is it like this? Because A: the population is afraid of losing parking, and B: the city openly respects stupid roadway design regulations that make markings/signage more complicated and less safe.