In the case of this unfortunate incident, some residents have been calling for changes in order to improve the safety of their children. When the Dutch TV programme HvNL (Heart of the Netherlands) reported on the incident they included comments from a local politician who wants change as well from a local councillor who saw no problem. During the short time that they were on site, the film crew caught a collision which could have resulted in a serious injury:
|Where the collision occurred and where the film-crew saw|
another collision during a short visit. Making such a
manoeuvre across traffic is difficult and error prone.
View on Google Maps
There is a common thread running through many stories about traffic accidents in the Netherlands. Where injuries occur, it is often the case that they take place where the infrastructure is sub-standard. This location definitely has substandard infrastructure.
It's easy to see where the opportunity for the crash came from. This road carries a lot of relatively high speed motorized through traffic as well as a lot of cyclists. Many of the cyclists are children going to school and they have to make a difficult to judge manoeuvre, crossing parallel traffic while checking both behind and in front, as part of their daily journey.
Cycle-lanes are not really infrastructure at all, they're just paint. This road is decorated by particularly narrow on-road painted cycle-lanes and does not have the physical infrastructure which could protect cyclists from the danger of motor vehicles.
|Further along the same road in Oostrum. Narrow|
cycle-lanes encourage cyclists to ride in the gutter
and drivers to overtake. This is bad infrastructure.
Narrow cycle-lanes like the one involved in the incident in Oostrum don't work very well anywhere. These encourage cyclists to ride in the gutter and they encourage drivers to expect cyclists to be in the gutter. Cycle-lanes of this design encourage close passing and risk-taking by drivers. They're often associated with drivers overtaking cyclists and almost immediately turning across their path. All cycle-lanes, regardless of width, make it difficult for a cyclist to safely turn across other traffic. Junctions need more thought than is apparent on this road.
|Advanced stop lines (bike boxes) are often associated with|
on-road cycle-lanes, including here in Oostrum. ASLs make
drivers frustrated behind cyclists and make them anxious
to overtake. What's more, these cycle-lanes even encourage
cyclists to ride in "the door zone" next to cars in parking bays
at the same time as encouraging drivers to overtake those
cyclists within a pinch point. This is poor infrastructure which
causes many conflicts. At least cyclists don't have to deal
with drivers turning right at the junction. Just because you
can find an example of something like this in NL
that doesn't mean it is good and should be copied.
In a location where many children cycle to school this lack of well designed infrastructure encourages dangerous behaviour by those children and puts them in danger. But it's not only at this point - the road looks much the same for a stretch of about 1.5 km, well into the next town, Venray, and for most of the distance, including where the collision took place, the speed limit is relatively high at 50 km/h
The local councillor interviewed by the TV crew doesn't see the problem. He gave a response on camera in which he said that there were good sight lines and everyone should be able to see what everyone else is doing and behave accordingly. British readers may find parallels with Boris Johnson's widely criticised comment that cycling in London is "OK if you keep your wits about you".
|Elsewhere in Oostrum, Google's camera spots people|
"voting with their feet" and continuing on the pedestrian
path rather than switching to riding on the road. There
are no cycle-paths within Oostrum.
Unfortunately, the councillor has slipped into a common mode of thinking amongst people from all countries. It is imagined that given enough advice, people won't make mistakes. This is a fallacy. People will always make mistakes. This almost defines us as being human. Not only will no amount of training prevent either child cyclists or adult drivers from making mistakes, but law changes or punishment for mistakes will also not remove the possibility of mistakes occurring.
Readers from overseas who sometimes over-estimate the effects of "strict liability laws" in the Netherlands should note that this law doesn't prevent mistakes from being made in locations like this where the infrastructure is inadequate to the task of keeping people safe. The Dutch drive no more perfectly than do people of other nations, and while Dutch children receive limited traffic training in school, it's quite obvious from watching groups of children cycle that this doesn't have anything like the beneficial effect on behaviour that training advocates imagine.
Just because someone is Dutch and lived through campaigning forty years ago about childhood freedom and safety, that does not mean they will automatically understand about these issues. Some people simply can't see things from the point of view of others. Cycling is almost too common in the Netherlands. People take it for granted and don't realise that the high cycling modal share of this country is due to infrastructure and not culture.
|The raised table in the centre of Oostrum is a more modern|
feature. This probably does help to reduce speeds in the
centre, but the direct road to Venray has been overlooked
What makes Dutch roads and cycle-paths safe is not training or strict liability but Sustainable Safety (Duurzaam Veilig). Sustainable Safety is a policy of reducing the opportunity for mistakes to become injuries by reducing the consequences of making such mistakes. Roads should be self-explanatory and forgiving (read an article which explains more).
The passing of time
Stationsweg is the road to Venray's railway station, so has probably always been quite busy. However, it hasn't always been like this. At some point, probably in the 1980s, adding cycle-lanes to this road perhaps seemed to make sense. However, the world didn't stop then. Both Oostrum and Venray have experienced growth in the last thirty years. There are many new homes, many more people. Car ownership in the Netherlands has grown and the use of cars has also grown with it.
Not all infrastructure in this country has been updated to current standards. Stationsweg in Oostrum is just one of many examples of roads which lag a long way behind the standards of 2013. The principles of Sustainable Safety have yet to make a dent here. There's some catching up to do.
Change is needed
Residents of Oostrum are absolutely right to demand changes which will improve the safety of themselves and their children. The safety of the next generation is the best thing any of us we can possibly campaign for.
In my view there are several obvious ways in which safety could be improved at the point of the accident:
- Diverting motorized traffic using this road to other routes would remove much of the danger from cars, regardless of other measures.
- Lower speed limits would make it easier to judge the speeds of cars and reduce the severity of injury.
- A raised table and narrowing of the motor lane to a single vehicle width could reduce the speed of cars at the point of crossing.
- A 90 degree crossing would make it easier for cyclists to see cars coming from both directions.
- A central reservation for crossing would remove the need for cyclists to see in both directions at once.
- A parallel cycle-path along much of the road would provide more distance between motorized vehicles and cyclists.
(note that the list includes mutually exclusive suggestions)
in the 1970s, the Stop de Kindermoord (Stop Child Murder) protests gained mass support. Other local actions such as dramatic protests in De Pijp in Amsterdam also played a part in changing the way people thought about safety on the streets. This country began to transform itself 40 years ago. and that happened because there was popular support for change. While not everyone was in agreement at all times, the entire population was behind the idea of children being safe and infrastructure across the country was transformed as a result.
Unfortunately, keeping up momentum is not easy. Because such a long time has passed, people have forgotten how important this was. The safety of children is no longer an explosive campaigning issue. The situation in the Netherlands isn't bad overall. Dutch children are still rated by UNICEF as having the best well-being in the world, but this is a sign of past success and did not come about due to current policy. The adults who led the change in the 1970s and the experts who designed the improved infrastructure have largely retired. There are signs that their good ideas are to some extent being forgotten. The children of the early 1970s, for whom the actions were taken, are now middle aged and even their own children are grown up. Younger activists are largely unaware and unappreciative of what was achieved and how unique and significant this was. Even Dutch people often fall into the easy trap of believing that they cycle because it's in their culture. We've found that people are quite shocked if shown pictures of what their streets used to look like because they don't remember the problems that designing towns solely around motor vehicles used to cause.
This is a dangerous time for the Netherlands because some of what made this country great is being forgotten. It should be no surprise that Dutch children are being taken to school by car more often these days.
|Cyclists approaching Oostrum from the west are kept safe by|
cycle-paths on both sides of the main road. Riding from here
through the village at a quiet time could easily lead to a
Compared with villages in other countries, it's possible to approach Oostrum on surprisingly good quality cycle-paths. The village largely has relatively low speed limits and contains both a raised table in the centre and on-road cycle-lanes leading to the west. Not all of this is bad, and of course it could appear to be an example of relatively good practice. It would be easy to overlook the problems cause by the use of on-road cycle lanes on a busy road, especially if these were not witnessed first hand because of the time of day when they were observed.
We find it is not at all uncommon that people take photos of substandard infrastructure that they've found in the Netherlands and try to have similar ideas adopted after they return to their own country. Not only does older infrastructure not necessarily make itself obvious if you're from a country which is less advanced with regard to cycling but people also sometimes view what looks more familiar as more achievable, even though the cost difference is often not large, and doing something twice in order to fix a mistake is always more expensive than doing it properly in the first place.
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If Oostrum were local to us, we might visit to point out problems to be avoided. However there's no need to make a special trip. There are bad examples of infrastructure closer to home which already feature on our study tours, where we explain the problems caused. We also, of course, feature examples of very good infrastructure and encourage people to learn from these about what really works to encourage cycling. Our tours allow you to save yourself from misunderstandings and wasted effort.
The Netherlands has the difficult job of being in front and not having any other country to copy from. In other countries the job is much easier and there's no time to waste. You're already decades behind what the Dutch have achieved and the Netherlands still stands as very easily the best example to try to emulate.
Note that in most cases, Dutch children make relatively uneventful journeys to school. This is what makes cycling to school so popular in the Netherlands. However we have to be wary because there has been a small decline in recent years.