|There is no "good enough". Everything|
could be better. Works on cycle-paths
are common in the Netherlands because
standards are improving. Dutch cycling
infrastructure is a moving target.
Let's not even consider the absurdity of looking towards places which have achieved even less than Denmark and Germany, be they vocal cities in the UK or USA or elsewhere. What works for a minority cycling modal share and what works in a limited area with a demographic bubble are not necessarily what works for true majority cycling over an entire nation.
|In the past, Assen had cycle-lanes in the|
middle of the road. They're gone now.
Not a good idea. Don't copy this. The
traffic lights that they're waiting for
do not even exist any more. This street
is now much more pleasant.
Unfortunately there sometimes seems to be a lack of "quality control" when people are inspired by what they see in other places, including what they see in the Netherlands. Not everything "Dutch" is equally good. This isn't helped by the Dutch themselves occasionally forgetting about why they cycle and placing far too much emphasis on things which are less important or by their giving a lot of press to new ideas which are unproven or in some cases simply daft.
What's Dutch and should be ignored ?
|I'm more impressed by traffic lights like|
this one where cyclists never wait more
than 8 seconds for a green light and
where you don't have to stop at all.
|Does the current situation in winter|
look especially problematic ?
|Simple, old-fashioned and "not invented|
here", but what Dutch roads need are
"Cat's Eyes" like British roads have had
for 80 years. Read about the inventor.
Due to being in the centre of roads,
they're not dangerous to cyclists on the
road. Note that smaller versions can
be used on cycle-paths without
causing danger to cyclists.
|After this is commonplace perhaps it's|
time to ask for big bridges and tunnels
I have received email from Dutch architects and "creative engineers" asking for me to advertise for them by writing posts about their latest projects on this blog and I've been invited to events and other such things. However I am not interested in astro-turfing for such companies and you should be wary of reading articles which are the result of marketing campaigns. Until something has been finished, proven to work and has a long record of being cost-effective, it's not ready to be copied elsewhere.
Campaigners need to be wary of all of this. Publicity is not our aim. Cycling is our aim. Exceptional pieces of infrastructure can only ever make up a small percentage of the total and if given too much emphasis they distract attention from the important point that it is the very high standard of the infrastructure which goes everywhere and which everyone uses every-day for all their journeys which creates a high level of subjective safety and attracts people to cycling. Fancy bridges, tunnels or claims for the "longest" cycle-paths or whatever are nice to see and occasionally convenient to use, but they're icing on the cake, not the cake itself. I've occasionally covered exceptional pieces of infrastructure on this blog, but with warnings.
|Students surveying Haren's "Shared|
Space" and counting how often car
drivers don't give way to bikes
|Turbo Roundabout. Can we really|
expect children or adults in disability
scooters to cross safely here ?
While Turbo Roundabouts are bad news for cyclists, the design of other Dutch roundabouts is exceptional. However people trying to copy this from other countries must copy the entire thing. I've seen several examples of engineers from other countries trying to pick some aspects of Dutch roundabout design but miss out others. It's common for people to focus on the geometry. i.e. they see the difference in exit radii and the size of the island in the centre but miss out the cycle-paths. So far as cyclists are concerned, the cycle-paths are the fundamental reason why Dutch roundabout design works well. Miss them out and you do not have a "Dutch" roundabout.
What's Dutch and often misunderstood ?
|Wide cycle-path next to a 30 km/h road|
This is necessary to preserve subjective
safety and direct cycle-routes
Residential areas and villages should have speeds no higher than 30 km/h / 20 mph on their streets. However, even where there is such a low speed limit it is often necessary still to have separate cycling infrastructure, and low speed limits certainly don't remove the need for separate cycling infrastructure in other places.
Achieving safety requires removing cars or building separate infrastructure for bikes and of course junction design is important too.
It is worthwhile to campaign for lower default speed limits but lower speed limits should be viewed as just one of a number of tools to civilize the streets and their contribution should not be over-emphasized. The same goes for Strict Liability, the importance of which is often much over-stated in other countries and which is often misrepresented as meaning that drivers are taken to be responsible for all crashes which occur between bikes and cars. In fact, strict liability was introduced after the Netherlands already had an extensive cycling network and it is this network which makes cycling popular, pleasant and safe. Separating cyclists from motor vehicles as much as possible, building a dense network of cycling routes and making cycling routes shorter and more convenient than driving routes are all more important than either lower speed limits or strict liability. Separating bikes from cars has a much greater effect on subjective and actual safety than does changing the laws which apply to drivers.
|A simple bollard prevents this bridge|
from being used by drivers. However,
bollards should not be over-used. They
can be dangerous.
In the Netherlands it is quite normal that drivers find themselves having to take a detour in order that residential areas can be pleasant places to live. Cycling routes can pass through residential areas, but...
|An old street converted into a Woonerf|
in Assen. They were also built as new
developments in the 1970s and 1980s.
While woonerven provide for access by any means of transport, they should not be through routes by motor vehicle. What's more, they should also not be through routes by bicycle. Woonerven are not cycling facilities, they are intended to be pleasant places to live. This is not enhanced by having nose to tail commuters heading through these streets either in cars or on bikes.
If someone suggests that a woonerf should be a through route for bicycles, look out. Not only have they fundamentally misunderstood the concept of a woonerf, but they're probably proposing to send cyclists "around the houses" rather than provide the direct routes that cyclists need.
|Older residential street recently|
transformed to better accommodate
resident's cars. Note also the one way
sign, excluding cyclists. This civilizes
residential streets in older areas
New-build residential areas provide ample car parking so that ownership of cars doesn't cause problems for other residents. Many shops offer free parking. The city that we live in, Assen, has the cheapest car parking in the Netherlands. What's more, the roads are well maintained and well sign-posted. They're a pleasure to drive on.
That driving can be very convenient for some purposes, and that people like to own cars does not stop those same people from cycling if cycling is an attractive option. But for this effect to become reality, cycling must be a very attractive option people for people from all walks of life. There is nothing unique about the Dutch people which makes them ride bikes - they find it useful to do so because it has been made into an easy choice to make and that comes because the environment encourages cycling. The Dutch have successfully harnessed the enormous pent up enthusiasm for cycling that exists everywhere. The desirability of cycling results in people using their bikes even though commutes by car are subsidized by the Dutch government.
The first pedestrianized street in the world was built in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and there are now many pedestrianized zones across the country. However, unlike pedestrianized zones elsewhere which ban cycling these are usually easy to access by bicycle. However, note that these are generally not main bicycle routes. A main route through a shopping street could cause conflict. Similarly, shared use pedestrian/bicycle paths are not built because they also cause conflict. For the same reason, bus lanes are not combined with bicycle lanes.
Other things to be wary of
|On holidays from the UK we got the|
impression that there were a lot of
wind turbines here. Not really. For
that you do need to go to Germany.
Note that Dutch commentators speaking about the Netherlands are equally unlikely to understand differences between their country and others unless they have lived for many years in other countries and spent the time to study those differences while they were there. The significance of the everyday and mundane things which are taken for granted by cyclists in the Netherlands can easily be forgotten. Dutch commentators are as likely as those from elsewhere to place an over-emphasis on the new and spectacular, particularly if this shows their country in a positive light. Also note that most Dutch people have no real understanding of the problems facing cyclists in other countries because they have not experienced them. After he read comments about "dooring" in youtube comments, I had to explain carefully to one Dutch bicycle blogger what this meant because despite cycling since he was a child he had never experienced it himself. There can also be problems with language, and that's not just restricted to bloggers. Even the Fietsberaad sometimes publishes documents in English which don't mean the same as their Dutch equivalents.
|Original London "Superhighway"|
illustration with miniature
cyclist. The result of compromise
before negotiation. Remember
past hype and promises made but
not always kept. Celebrate actual
results, not announcements in
press releases. Cycle lanes
similar to this can be found in
the Netherlands, but they're not
good here either.
Cycle-chic style pictures and videos of peak time cycling (I made them myself way back in the days before youtube had HD) look nice but do not really teach us anything. When emphasis is on the young and pretty then the impression is given that they are the cycling demographic we should aim for. When wider demographics are featured they tell you nothing about why it is that older or younger people cycle or about how often they are seen doing so. Videos of masses of people cycling are of no real use without an explanation of why. The result is often to simply reinforce the irrational beliefs about Dutch cycling that many people already hold, and this can be read in the comments.
|Junctions commonly known as the|
"Copenhagen left" design were tried in
NL 30 years ago but are no longer built
Not all things proposed as "Dutch" in other countries are actually Dutch at all. Two stage turns are a good example of an inferior design which has been linked with fatalities in Copenhagen, yet has been proposed as examples of "Dutch" design in the UK.
These were built up to about 30 years ago in the Netherlands, but I've not seen one of these for more than ten years. A reader sent the location of the junction in the photo on the right. There's a reason why they went away.
While junctions like this might have been "Dutch" in the past, it seems a bit unfair to still blame the Dutch for them now when almost all have been replaced.
What's the harm in doing something else ? What's the harm with making a slow start ?
The problem with following the wrong path is that time is wasted while this happens. The suggestion that campaigners should work towards something other than what the Dutch have has been made since at least the 1970s. Surely forty years of trying things that don't actually work for furthering cycling is enough. It's time to stop falling behind and catch up as quickly as possible.
The Netherlands is ahead in cycling mainly because other countries have never really been in the race. It's much easier to make an excuse about the Dutch being 20 / 30 / 40 years ahead and therefore difficult to catch up with than it is to make genuine political and financial commitments which will last for decades, but that is what is required in order to make a proper start at catching up. No more broken promises.
|Groningen still has some "advanced|
stop lines" (bike boxes). It doesn't look
very different from the London photo,
but this isn't the best infrastructure in
Groningen. ASLs are not a good idea
either here or anywhere else. Don't
copy this, there are better examples.
Not all of the best ideas in all fields come from the Netherlands. Not all Dutch ideas are good. Not all Dutch people know why they cycle. Not all Dutch people how lucky they are to be able to cycle as they do, and of course not all the infrastructure in the Netherlands is perfect, or was built recently to current standards. In short, the Netherlands is far from perfect.
However, if you're interested in improving cycling in your own country this is still the most successful nation by a considerable margin and therefore is also the single best place to look for inspiration. But when looking here you need to seek out the best examples. Don't aim low because by doing so you guarantee not to achieve a high cycling modal share.
comprehensive network which is of high overall quality. The remaining examples of lesser infrastructure have typically survived where they are because in these locations they cause relatively few problems. However, infrastructure is constantly being upgraded all across the country. This inferior infrastructure is under threat even where it works. If you refer to such infrastructure to form your standards, you run the risk of setting the standard for your best infrastructure to be equivalent to what has already been removed in the Netherlands. What was shown not to work well enough here will be installed in places where it won't work well in your own country and having set a low standard you will be doomed always to achieve a lower cycling modal share than the Netherlands until the standard can be changed once again. If it's already taken forty years to set a standard, you need to get it right.
There is no need to learn from the past mistakes of the Netherlands by repeating them. You can leapfrog over them and copy what really works. Use the best examples. Ignore less good examples.
The worst thing for campaigners to do is to hamper their own efforts by not setting a high enough standard for themselves and for the community that they live in. If you were planning a mission to the moon, would you go to NASA for advice, or would you prefer to take notice of what the Ugandan space programme had achieved on the grounds that it looks more affordable than NASA ?
Our next open study tour is in August. This is the eighth year in which we have run these tours.
We take just three days to demonstrate and explain how cycling works in the Netherlands. Take advantage of our decades of experience of living, working and cycling in both the UK and the Netherlands.
The "How far ahead" widget began counting from "40 years" on March 4th and will continue to count upwards until adequate action is taken in London. To keep up pressure on London you can embed it on your own blog or web page by adding the following line of HTML: