Wednesday 9 April 2014

Is that a shared use path ? Do Dutch cycle paths cause conflict with pedestrians ?

One of the most common misconceptions about the Netherlands is that where cycle-paths through the countryside which don't have an obvious path for pedestrians alongside, they are mistaken for "shared use paths". Actually, the Netherlands doesn't build shared use paths and the cycle-path network makes for fewer conflicts with pedestrians, not more. Read on for an explanation:

Urban areas
Anywhere that walking is commonplace, the Netherlands builds specific infrastructure for pedestrians. You'll find this alongside cycling infrastructure through most urban areas, and the walking infrastructure is generally wide and of good quality.

Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians is avoided because both cyclists and pedestrians have high quality infrastructure of their own.

At this location next to a school, there is both a four metre wide cycle-path and a 2.5 m wide walking path. An appreciable number of pedestrians are anticipated in this location. Cars cannot be driven parallel with these paths.
There are also very obvious walking paths separate from cycle-facilities in the city centre. Motor vehicles are allowed to access this area only for loading and unloading at set times.
Though it's not heavily used by foot, this secondary quality cycle path (3.2 m wide) connecting suburbs to the city has a 2.5 m walking path alongside it. The road alongside has a 50 km/h (30 mph) speed limit.
Rural areas
In rural areas where distances are longer, for instance between villages or on routes connecting villages to cities, you wouldn't expect to see a separate walking path. This is because few people would choose to make journeys of several kilometres in length by walking. It simply takes too long for practical journeys.
But the cycle-path along which this racing cyclist is riding in the countryside has no separate pedestrian facility. The sign shows this to be a cycle-path shared with low speed mopeds (this is normal between towns but they're banned in towns), not a shared use cycle/pedestrian path. The road alongside has an 80 km/h (50 mph) speed limit.
On small rural roads in the Netherlands there may be neither separate cycling infrastructure nor separate walking infrastructure. But in these areas it can usually be expected that traffic levels are very low. Driving routes are unravelled from cycling routes in the countryside as well as in towns.
In a recreational area, unsurfaced paths like this may be used by both cyclists and pedestrians. However, most people cycle to events like this. Such paths are not used as through routes by bike and there's no motor vehicle access except for maintenance.
A comparison with the UK
In other countries, the situation is actually very similar with regard to pedestrian paths. It is normal that they exist in urban locations but that they may not exist in rural locations. For example, these two pictures are from the UK:

Just as in the Netherlands, Britain provides a pedestrian path in an urban area. There are no real cycling facilities alongside this 30 mph (50 km/h) road. In this example it is permitted to ride a bicycle on the pavement (sidewalk) but that is not convenient for cycling and promotes conflict between pedestrians and cyclists. Grotere kaart weergeven

Just as in the Netherlands, Britain does not provide a pedestrian path in a rural area where there will be few pedestrians. Unlike the Netherlands, Britain does not provide a path for cyclists either even though the speed limit on this road is 60 mph (100 km/h) Grotere kaart weergeven

Even many of the small country roads in the UK which cyclists and pedestrians both seek out to avoid the heavier traffic still have 60 mph (100 km/h ) speed limits.

It's the same idea, but a different implementation
The idea with regard to pedestrians is the same in both countries. Pedestrians are provided for only where there are expected to be appreciable numbers of pedestrians.

Special textured paving is used to
indicate safe routes for blind pedestrians
While decisions about whether to built pedestrian infrastructure are similar in the UK and the Netherlands, cyclists are catered for far more favourably in the Netherlands than in the UK. This pays dividends for pedestrians as well. People who like to walk long distances are better provided for in the Netherlands than in the UK because instead of walking on roads with high speed traffic, they may use cycle-paths between towns to make their journeys by foot. This is far safer than walking on the road.

Cycle paths in the Netherlands are required by law to be
accessible by people with wheelchairs and adapted bikes
Within town where there will be an appreciable number of both cyclists and pedestrians, both parties are better off in the Netherlands than they are in the UK because cyclists and pedestrians are each provided with their own separate infrastructure and conflicts between them are minimised.

These benefits are not only for the able-bodied but also for people with disabilities, though of course in the Netherlands many people with disabilities choose to cycle because that option is so much more attractive given safe conditions.

More information
See also how nearly car free town centres have improved conditions for pedestrians and how pedestrianized shopping centres in the Netherlands permit cycling, but are not through routes by bike.

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