Wednesday 2 December 2009

The world's first cycling superhighway. Seven kilometres with right of way

This video has explanatory captions which can only be read on a computer and not on a mobile device. If you view the video only with a mobile device then you won't understand what is special about this cycle-path.

While other places talk about the possibility of "cycling superhighways", they already exist here in the Netherlands. This route was the model of a "fietssnelweg" or "cycling highway" in the Netherlands. It provides a direct route for cyclists over a town to town distance, and has increased the use of bikes on a popular commuting route.

Mark puts it as follows: "This cycle route in the South of the Netherlands was created in 2003/2004 as a model route for a fast and safe cycle route between cities and towns. The example route goes from the city of Breda to the town of Etten-Leur. It is over 7 kilometers (about 4.5 miles) long with the right of way for cyclists on every junction but one, where traffic lights were placed. The entire route is at least 3.5 meters wide and surfaced with smooth asphalt. The provincial government financed this so-called cycle highway for 80%, the rest was paid for by the city of Breda. Costs were about half a million euros per kilometer. This project was to be an example of how well designed cycle infrastructure can increase cycle use between towns and cities.

In 2009 the city of Breda stated the route is a succes. After an investigation showed 1,300 cyclists use the route every day.
To emphasize the special status of this cycle highway three shelters were placed along side of it. Finally an observation tower (18m or about 60 ft tall) near a motorway and the highspeed railway Amsterdam-Paris draws extra attention to this route."

Also, the Fietsberaad have an article about this route.

Just to prove that we're not hiding anything in the edits, Mark also has a sped up video showing the entire route.

Some places think that merely putting a bit of blue paint on narrow on road cycle lanes constitutes a superhighway for bikes. If you want to see how to do it properly, you need to look to the Netherlands for inspiration.

November 2013 update due to explain why this special.
Very nearly every village and every town in the Netherlands are connected together by rural cycle-paths. They are not all called "superhighways". In fact, none of them are. This particular path was given the title of "Fietssnelweg" because it met particular criteria. The surface is very smooth, the path is very wide and this width is maintained for the entire length. Interruptions are very few and very well designed. They mostly favour cyclists. To compare it with a bumpy and narrow shared use path in Ireland is to miss the point.

The 7 km length of this path is not all you get. At both ends this path links to the a network which covers the entire nation, all built to an exceptional standard by comparison with other countries. It is possible to travel hundreds of kilometres in almost any direction without interacting in a significant way with motor vehicles.

Most rural cycle-paths in the Netherlands without spectacular names are also built to a very good quality. For instance, see what our local "Fietsroute+" paths look like.


Peter said...

excellent! thanks for posting!

i'm curious about the trees along the route. though it may be obvious to others -- why were they planted? what types of trees were chosen and why? and why 4 meters apart?

Brian Jones said...

This is wonderful! There are so many places I can think of that could be connected in this way in the UK. One route that comes to mind in particular would be Cambridge to Bedford (48km). You've already got bike roads extending from each city and several bridleways, footpaths, and unpaved roads that could be converted into bicycle roads. We just need the political will and budget to follow!

And looking at Google maps it could be extended to (in a very wide ring all the way around London) Milton Keynes, Bicester, Oxford, Didcot, Reading, Guildford, Crawley, Tonbridge, Maidstone, Faversham, Queensborough, (bike ferry to) Southend-on-Sea, Chelmsford, Saffron Waldon, and then back to Cambridge.

Thank you so much for all the hard work you do on this blog.

David Hembrow said...

Brian: You've got it. You do one thing, and then keep on doing it to other places as well, and before you know it you've a network which goes everywhere.

That's what has happened here. my commute uses a variety of cycle paths built for different reasons, including to a village. It all adds up to a continuous cycle path with priority almost all the way.

Peter: I don't know why the trees, nor why that distance apart. However, I suspect the general idea is simply to make the route look more pleasant. A better looking route will be used by more people. It's a function of social safety.

A little while ago I saw a complaint on a Dutch site for reporting cycle path problems which was specifically about a missing tree ruining the aesthetics...

Theo Z said...

Peter: I presume they are oaks, they still have leaves (that's why).
If you riding along the, straight, road it also dimmes the head lamps of the cars coming towards you.

Mark W. said...

About the trees: I think they are oaks, every 8 meters (26ft). Yes they were placed for aesthetic reasons. And also to compensate for those trees that were lost to building this highway. It is also very traditional in the Netherlands to have trees along a route. Makes the road complete in our view. And I would say they break the wind too. Those are my own thoughts.

Apart from that, separate sources say they were planted to create a "recognisable continuous design" for this route. A lot of thought was put into this, also about how the roots of the growing trees would not damage the asphalt later on. This level of attention also goes for the lighting. Along some of this route street lights were already in place. But these were all replaced by the exact same masts placed at the exact same distance along the entire path. To create continuity.

I feel it is details like this that turn a cycle path into a cycle route.

SteveL said...

The Lac d'Annecy bike path has right of way down the west side of the lake. And it has a view of the Alps!

Son of Shaft said...

My parents live just around the corner from the start of the path in Etten-Leur and I went to primary and secondary school in Breda. During primary years I rode with my parents in the car to their work and then walked to school just a couple of minutes away from their shop. They did it this way so we could have lunch together at noon. At that time in the 80's there was a underground parking and ground level parking right in front of my parents store, Just a bit to the right at 1:10 in the 1st video. Nowadays it's opened up again and part of the old harbour. There used to be car parking at the marketsquare in Breda, now it's car free. Other shopping streets in the centre were already pedestrians only.
I biked to secondary school so I rode part of that route almost daily. In the 2nd video the part from the beginning till 2:20 already existed but was plain grey instead of orange/red. The parallel road for cars was 80kph with a cenre line. Most pleople used to speed there, 100kph wasn't uncommon. Now it's 60kph with no centre line and raised crossings. I think people still speed there just not as fast as before.
From 2:20 - 4:57 it used to be a brickroad not even half the current width. And the grass overgrowing on both sides didnt help either.On the left/car side there used to be big trees with roots pushing up the bricks making it very uncomfortable to ride. The new trees are planted there because there used to be trees before and people asked for them back with the new path.
4:57 - end There used to be tiled paths on both sides of the road each abbout half as wide as the current 2-way path. Way more comfortable than the brick road but not as comfy as the asphalt path. It could have been upgraded mid 90's. But from what I remember the Breda government didn't want to pay. While Etten-Leur kept on asking. The asphalt path was on Etten-Leur ground and the brick path and the rest was on Breda ground. Seeing that the province paid the most part for the current upgrades it looks like Breda cheapened out agaign.

Frits B said...

The trees are there to stress the separation of the two tracks, to provide a visual barrier. As David says, their presence improves the feeling of social safety since drivers will keep their distance from immovable objects. It's a choice between trees and armco; trees look better and are more subtle.

Velouria said...

That is great and I hope we see similar things in other counties soon; would love to experience something like that.

Anneke said...

Trees also provide shade, in hot summers (not that all summers are hot though).

Kevin Love said...

There's a lovely cycle path in Toronto that runs between the monolithic remains of a cancelled car expressway. Good luck to any car that goes out of control and hits one of these. See:

Also, there is a traditional French joke.

Q: Why are trees planted on both sides of the road in France?

A: So that the Germans can march in the shade.

Frits B said...

Kevin Love: Historically, trees were planted along roads in order to signal "Here be Road", as roads were mostly just tracks. It doesn't work in woodland, of course, but look at any open country (the hills of Toscana!) and you'll understand why. Planting trees on both sides also helped to prevent road users from using ever more land of adjacent landowners when the tracks became too muddy or too rutted. Nowadays this primary function is obsolete but as we now drive along roads with much higher speeds than we were conceived for, trees help us judge distances and break the monotony of a straight road. And as a road designer once told me, they do a good job as visual barriers to separate traffic flows.
On the other hand trees are a hazard to speeding drivers on narrow roads but that's rather up to the drivers.

David Hembrow said...

Frits: One of the things which surprised us about the Netherlands was the lack of metal barriers beside roads. Britain has mile upon mile of armco barrier along the sides of roads to protect drivers from themselves in the event of crashes. Trees are removed from the sides of roads in order to install these barriers.

These barriers only very rarely serve cyclists. In fact, it's quite common to find them on the wrong side of cycle paths so that they provide something for crashing cars to squash cyclists against.

On the other hand, here in the Netherlands, when they are installed at all they generally protect both parties.

Anyway, I can't argue with the Dutch approach at the side of roads. The roads here are the world's safest, after all.

Daniel Sparing said...

New York Times now brings up the fietssnelweg az a Danish idea from 2009. Pff.

David Hembrow said...

Spag: The Danes are masters at getting publicity for their efforts. I find it quite sad that many English speaking news sources go no further than Danish press releases and the reality distortion zone of the Copenhagenize blog. However, the people actually doing the work there are a bit more rigorous. Perhaps even a bit embarrassed about what is going on. If you read the actual published data from Copenhagen you get closer to the truth.

Ray said...

Superhighway seems to be a misnomer.
Highway is fine.
I would not care to go at speeds above 12-15mph on this path with at-grade crossings etc., but mostly the opposing traffic bothers me.

While I like the path from what I have seen and I'd probably find it very useful, the Superhighway name implies separation from vehicles going in opposite directions, high and minimum speeds, few or no intersections or traffic control signals and minimal entry and exit points and longer distance travel (only 7km?) and limited access (no peds).

The plant debris within the path left by maintenance crews is a bit disconcerting.

Thank you for posting this, it is refreshing to see decently designed bicycling facilities at all.

Daniel Sparing said...


you are expecting a scaled version of automobile highway standards. you are right, this we don't get.

i think, the purpose of the cycling highway, however, is rather to offer a bike route with lower travel times and higher comfort than conventional infrastructure (but not necessarily exessive speeds). this is possible by:
- direct, straight roads, no detours,
- priority (both legal and supported by good design) at intersections, as slowing down and speeding up again does not only take time but makes it less convenient to ride.

I don't think people need to ride faster on a cycling highway than any other road, but they might enjoy less stops and detours. This is the improvement.

your recommendations are important for motorways because of safety considerations, but not per se the goal. I don't think such safety measures are always necessary for cycling speeds. That said, there are all examples in NL for grade separated cycle paths, one-way separation, etc.

p.s. here is a 28 km long highway with no intersections or signals and very minimal entry or exit points :)

David Hembrow said...

Ray: The path as shown is actually fine for most uses. I've another example of a fietssnelweg for you, the one which goes from Amsterdam to Utrecht, a length of 50 km. There's a video. Some of us in this group were travelling at over 60 km/h.

Ray said...

I don't doubt that the path is fine for cycling uses, but calling it a superhighway misleading, indicating more than what's delivered.

I still admire it. Compared to the facilities I am familiar with, it is a tremendous improvement.

For now, without such infrastructure here (USA) I'm more concerned about improving driver (motorist and cyclist) behavior than building the proper infrastructure. Even with the same infrastructure, legal and cultural changes are required.

Thank you for your responses, spag and David H.

David Hembrow said...

Ray, it's just language. What you're seeing is 7 km out of the total of 29000 km of separated cycling provision which criss-crosses this country - the existence of which is responsible for 93% of the Dutch population cycling at least once a week.

These longer distance paths are called fietssnelwegen, which means little more than "bicycle fast route". I translated it into "superhighway" because this is the term being used by places such as London and Copenhagen for their proposed routes of somewhat less scope. The real hyperbole is to be seen elsewhere than here.