Unfortunately, campaigning under a banner of "Go Dutch" got off to a bad start in the UK as no sooner did a campaign for Dutch infrastructure start than the main campaign group supposedly behind it immediately lowered their target from something akin to what the Dutch have to something else altogether. This turned "Dutch" into nothing more than a slogan.
Councils have also started to describe any proposal as "Dutch".
Now the same thing has happened courtesy of commercial interests who have a natural desire to maximize their profits. They are also treating "Dutch" as a slogan and seemingly any new infrastructure proposed now is described as being "Dutch" even if it is far removed from real Dutch infrastructure.
Campaigners need to be careful about what they're being fed as these companies don't necessarily have a desire to improve things for cyclists. But campaigners also need to get their own houses in order and make sure they are asking for something truly Dutch. If you're not campaigning for or building something which will result in Dutch conditions for cycling then don't use the word "Dutch" to describe what you are doing.
A "Dutch" Turbo-Roundabout for Britain
Turbo roundabouts are a junction design which is intended to deal with large numbers of motorised vehicles. They are not a cycling intervention and have in fact been criticised by cyclists in the Netherlands due to the danger that they pose to cyclists.
I first heard of turbo-roundabouts being proposed for the UK as a cycling intervention due to two bloggers having picked up the term more than a year ago. It prompted a warning from me to them that it was a bad idea. Since then it came come up again in April as a "walking and cycling officer" in Bedford made an absurd proposal for a turbo roundabout without any cycle-paths at all as a cycling facility. He quite rightly came in for criticism about this.
Now I read that the Dutch based company Royal HaskoningDHV (friendly modern slogan: "Enhancing Society Together") has jumped into the fray. They also propose "Dutch" Turbo Roundabouts for the UK, this time with cycle-paths, and this is their illustration of what they propose:
|Royal Haskoning's idea of a "Dutch" roundabout for the UK|
The most startling thing about this design is that while it looks superficially similar to how a theoretical Dutch Turbo-Roundabout might look, it doesn't so closely resemble infrastructure which you find built in the Netherlands.
There are a few detail differences, such as that crossings for cyclists have an unnecessary wiggle. However, more importantly from the point of view of cyclists is that in most cases, people riding bikes in the Netherlands can expect to be kept well away from Turbo Roundabouts. They are not normally crossed as frequently by cyclists as might be the expectation of people who see this image.
A cyclist travelling North-South across this example has to cross four lanes of traffic as well as negotiate the wiggle in between the two separate streams. A cyclist travelling West-East has to cross three lanes, again with a wiggle. Crossing more than one lane at a time, particularly of traffic which is leaving the roundabout at different speeds, is what causes Turbo Roundabouts to be unsafe for cyclists and this is a large part of what has caused complaints by cyclists in the Netherlands. This was known to be a problem so long ago as 2008.
But there's no need for me to write about this only in an abstract sense, let's have some examples of how real turbo-roundabouts look in the Netherlands and how cyclists interact with them...
Real Dutch Turbo-Roundabouts
Here are the first five examples of real-life turbo roundabouts in the Netherlands that I found on Google Maps. On each example the routes for bicycles are shown in red. If there is no red, cycles don't enter this area:
|A real turbo roundabout in the Netherlands. No cycle-paths here because while it's in a city, this is a junction between large roads with no bikes in the vicinity.|
|Real turbo roundabout in the Netherlands. No cycle-paths because cycle-routes are elsewhere in this area.|
|Real turbo roundabout in the Netherlands where a major road intersects a residential area with probably quite high cycle-usage. Cycle-routes completely avoid it, using two extra bridges over the water as well as a tunnel under the road. No crossing on the level.|
|A real turbo roundabout in the Netherlands in a rural area with probably lower cycle traffic. Cyclists crossing West-East have a tunnel, those going North-South have to cross the road on the level in a similar way to that pictured in the example image above.|
|A real turbo roundabout in the Netherlands in a rural area. Cyclists travelling West-East again have a tunnel. Those going North-South cross the road on the level at a considerably greater distance from the roundabout than is shown in the Royal HasoningDHV image|
A pattern emerges...
Note first of all that three of the five real turbo roundabouts shown above have no interaction at all between cyclists trying to cross the road near the roundabout. Either these turbo-roundabouts are located some distance away from cycle-routes or an elaborate and completely separate route has been provided for cyclists so that there is no interaction on or near the roundabout.
Two out of five real turbo roundabouts featured above do have a crossing for cyclists on the level with motor vehicles. In both of these examples, the Google Maps imagery shows cyclists crossing two lanes on the road towards the roundabout, where visibility for drivers is best, and just one on the exit lane from the roundabout, where visibility for drivers is less good and where there is a greater danger. Also of course where cyclists cross they do so in a straight line with no wiggle to negotiate in-between the two sides of the road.
|Fifth example above. Two lanes on approach on the western|
side shown from Google Maps imagery have been changed to
one lane, a change in road level and sign to warn drivers.
However even that is not the end of the story. The Streetview imagery for the last example shows that though two lanes are shown as having to be crossed at once on the aerial photograph, this junction was actually modified later on so that cyclists had just a single lane of traffic to cross. This removed the danger of a double crossing at this point and improved safety for cyclists. The problems due to interactions with cyclists at junctions like this are quite well known in the Netherlands and remedial action has been taken in many locations to reduce the danger of crossing more than one lane at a time (this is true of urban as well as rural locations).
What we really have in the Netherlands
In most cases in the Netherlands, cyclists are either nowhere near the turbo-roundabout because the road and cycle-path networks are specifically designed to keep them apart or bridges and tunnels are built to allow cyclists to carry on their journeys at some distance from the roundabout. This leads to a generally high quality experience for cyclists. It is rare that one has to cross at a difficult junction and because of the unravelling of bicycle routes from driving routes it is common that cycling journeys can be made over quite long distances without having to stop at all.
Roundabouts which are on cycling routes are overwhelmingly not of the turbo design. They are generally of a smaller scale and usually used by fewer motor vehicles than a turbo-roundabout is designed to deal with.
What's being proposed for the UK?
Look back to the proposal for the UK and you'll see that they are suggesting that one roundabout could have four crossings, something which I've not yet seen with my own eyes on a turbo roundabout in the Netherlands. They also show crossings of double exit lanes which I've also not personally seen but I do know that this existed because it was the dangerous situation so caused which resulted in complaints about the safety of a turbo roundabout in Eindhoven more than a year ago.
What's more, the proposal says nothing about where this roundabout might be built. In the Dutch examples these roundabouts are not generally to be found in areas of heavy cycling. Normally they are positioned either out of town or in areas where few cyclists ride. Where turbo roundabouts are required closer to population hubs effort is taken to keep cyclists away from these roundabouts.
The proposal for the UK does not match what is normally built in the Netherlands. How can you "Go Dutch" by doing something inferior to normal Dutch practice ?
What's being built here in Assen ? (2014 update)
|This is actually one of two turbo|
roundabouts being constructed as part
of an expanded motorway/main road
junction. N33 Rijkswaterstaat. The
works are being completed well ahead
of schedule and under-budget.
Turbo-roundabouts are not facilities for cyclists and in the Netherlands they are not built as facilities for cyclists.
What's going on with Royal HaskoningDHV
A Dutch based company must surely include staff who are aware of the problems caused for cyclists both due to turbo roundabouts and crossing more than one lane. However, this company is proposing a combination of both of these things as an answer to calls by British cyclists to "Go Dutch". This is disappointing to see. While this may be proposed by Royal HaskoningDHV for the UK, I don't think the same company would propose such a design in the Netherlands.
|One of Royal Haskoning DHV's own photos which they|
currently use to advertise their services. Cycle-paths were
not part of the plan so they were not built. This is not a
cycling company, it's an engineering company
Actually, we shouldn't really be surprised by any of this. Royal HaskoningDHV describes itself as a "project management, engineering and consultancy service provider". The company does not exist to encourage cycling - their other interests include such diverse things as aviation and mining, oil terminals and naval bases. That this company has Dutch roots is almost entirely irrelevant so far as their ability or desire to build cycling infrastructure elsewhere is concerned. They will build anything you want them to build.
Royal HaskoningDHV has offices in 35 different countries. They are one of several large international engineering companies which compete for contracts across the world. None of these companies seeks to lead by taking a moral position, that's not how contracts are won. Rather, the work comes almost entirely to those who present the best price for doing the required job to whatever local standards happen to apply.
I have no reason to think that Royal HaskoningDHV are anything other than a very good engineering company, and I've no complaint about that. That's what they should be. However, we have to be very careful about attempts by any companies to assimilate campaigning issues as their own in order to make sales. Campaigners should not expect leadership in cycling from an organisation like this and must be skeptical about proposals like this, whichever nation that company is based in. A positive change can come only if campaigners convince politicians to ask for standards to be changed so that future road and cycle-path designs are improved and so that the local standards which engineering companies are required to work to are good enough to make sure that those companies can only build appropriate infrastructure. Change should not be expected to come about due to commercial interests of companies.
Dutch traffic experts and associated companies currently see turbo-roundabouts as a good export opportunity. Royal HaskoningDHV are simply following this trend. They're currently talking this idea up as having something to do with "Dutch" cycling because this might help them to win a contract in the UK at the moment, not because turbo-roundabouts have ever had anything to do with cycling.
The Dutch Cycling Embassy
The Dutch Cycling Embassy style themselves as "the world's cycling experts". When the organisation was first proposed I was very enthusiastic. Many genuine experts from the Fietsberaad and other organisations were involved with the Embassy and it appeared that this would help with spreading information to other nations about how the Dutch had made cycling so safe, convenient and commonplace. A number of bloggers including myself were contacted by them and various ideas were mooted at that time about somehow helping to represent the new organisation. I helped with some of the initial publicity by travelling to meetings at my own expense and writing positive articles on this blog about them. However, those articles are no longer on my blog. I deleted them several months ago when I realised that this had become very much a one-way relationship. The organisation might still want people like me to blindly offer support but it appeared that their aims had diverged quite widely from my own.
I now feel disappointed with what the Dutch Cycling Embassy has become. In my opinion, they are now overly commercial.
Marketing of Turbo Roundabouts as "Dutch" and therefore a good thing for cycling is not the only example I've seen recently of promotion of the wrong things as "Dutch".
|Riding in a bus-lane in the Netherlands|
Only necessary because the cycle-path
had been dug up. Buses were kept out.
This is one example of good cycling
conditions being maintained during
Shared Space is another example of something which is frequently promoted as "Dutch" but which makes up another of what is an increasingly long list of things which are not really good examples of design for cycling.
In the recent past I've watched as the "Dutch" ideas of campaigners were hijacked and misunderstood first by the London Cycling Campaign and then by Transport for London. Now it would appear that these hopes and dreams of real change have been hijacked once again by... commercial interests of Dutch firms.
The function of embassies has always been to promote commercial interests and I suppose I was naive to expect that this embassy should operate in any other way. The Cycling Embassy of Denmark, which the Dutch copied, is itself a commercially driven enterprise and it has successfully promoted Danish companies around the world. I actually have no argument with this happening on behalf of either the Dutch or the Danes. They are not charities and tax payers of both nations can rightly expect to get something back for their investment. However, I think there needs to be clarity about what these organisations are.
Both embassies have been quite successful at painting a picture of themselves as something other than commercially driven, but as campaigners we should be wary about any organisation which gives out hospitality and advice on behalf of a nation's taxpayers and the companies who they are in partnership with. When engineers or politicians accept this hospitality they are being sold a commercial message.
Branding is not enough
To get people in other countries to cycle is not about branding cycling or infrastructure as "Dutch", it's about providing the same opportunities to cycle as the Dutch have, The best chance for this to happen is to provide infrastructure which enables mass cycling just as effectively as real Dutch infrastructure.
Marketing and hype, commercial interests and simple misunderstandings have combined to form a confusing fog over what Dutch cycling infrastructure is and what it achieves. Campaigners need to be clear about what they want and not blindly accept things that are marketed as "Dutch". This, of course, was the theme of my blog post two months ago in which I listed some of the other examples.
There is a risk of countries moving from having infrastructure which is unattractive for cycling to having fake "Dutch" infrastructure which is almost equally unattractive to cycling, and the benefits of this will overwhelmingly be seen in the bank accounts of the companies who installed it.
If Britain, or any other nation, is truly to "Go Dutch" they can only do so with knowledge of what works in the Netherlands, how it works, and how to design it. To result in worthwhile change, standards need to be set very very high. Whatever infrastructure results from this needs (eventually) to be ubiquitous. It must aim to help everyone on every journey. If inspiration comes mainly from allowing commercial enterprises to propose what they think will be easy to sell, which probably means a few individually large, impressive and profitable headline projects, then it is likely that the result will be that of remaining "40 years behind" so far as cycling is concerned.
We have offered our own Study Tours for roughly eight times as long as the Dutch Cycling Embassy has been in existence and twice as long as the Danish Embassy has been established. We really are completely independent. Our tours wouldn't even be in this country if there was a better place to do them - we would have moved to that other place instead.
We provide a considerable amount of information freely readable on this blog but that it's enough on its own. It is only by seeing and experiencing that the real learning takes place. On our tours we show you both good and bad examples of infrastructure and we try to explain why they are good or bad. These tours are genuine bicycle tours on which participants use the infrastructure which we are demonstrating because it is the experience that counts, not how much time has been spent looking at slides.
We aim to give impartial advice. Why not take advantage of our years of experience ?
There's a handy online map of all known turbo roundabouts on which you can find Google Maps photography of each. Note that you have to look only at those with purple flags if you want to see "true" turbo roundabouts and not hybrids of some kind or another.
Occasionally people ask us why we charge "so much" for our study tours. I ask in return what they think their time is worth and what they think ours is worth. This is something we have done for many years as a passion, not for commercial gain. Initially we ran the tours at a loss in order to make them available to as many people as possible. It cost us many thousands of euros to do this but we found that even then we could not make it attractive to British politicians. We now have to run the study tours at a profit because otherwise we could not afford to run them at all. However once we take out our meagre expenses, it is rare that the tours leave us with anything even close to minimum wage for our time. Still too expensive?
We don't receive any funding at all from government. Actually it works in quite the opposite way - we pay taxes to the government, some of which they use to subsidize the tours and presentations offered by the Dutch Cycling Embassy.
We receive a lot of unsolicited email from companies trying to sell something, including items from Dutch engineering and design companies who think we'll provide free advertising to them by hyping large projects they've been involved in. These big projects get quite enough hype elsewhere and I'm not going to add to it. The most important thing about Dutch infrastructure is its ubiquity - but I guess that doesn't have the same potential for quick and easy profit.