Monday 21 June 2010

The attitude towards cycling infrastructure varies with its quality.

This is a guest post written by Mark Wagenbuur:

The attitude towards separate cycle infrastructure varies as much as the quality of it. In Germany some cyclists feel ‘pushed off the road’ by their separate ‘on-sidewalk’ mandatory cycle paths. In English speaking countries some cyclists are also reluctant to give up their ‘right to use the roads’, a feeling which is enhanced by a strong ‘them versus us’ culture.
There is a very different attitude in the Netherlands. The conflict of interests is just not there. First of all because the Dutch don’t think in terms of drivers versus cyclists (everybody can be both) but also because they feel each type of traffic has the infrastructure it needs and deserves. And many Dutch think ‘it has always been this way’.
Early 20th century cyclist on a cycle way separated from the road by a hedge.
It is impossible to single out one reason to explain this. There are complex cultural, political, financial and historical reasons that all contributed to today’s attitude. But it is interesting to focus on one of the historic reasons.

When mass cycling became common in the Netherlands from the 1890s the cyclists had to deal with roads that were totally inadequate for cycling. Most roads were not paved at all. The state highways had been constructed for horses and carriages and they had been neglected because of cuts in maintenance in favour of what was considered more modern rail transport. In order to make cycling possible at all new roads for cyclists were necessary. And they were indeed built. At first next to the highways, but then an interesting problem arose. Since the cycle paths were so much better than the roads they were soon invaded by horsemen and carriages. This lead to protests and eventually in 1905 to a new Road Law that was very specific in the protection of cycle paths. It forbade non-cyclists to use them. And it also gave the cycle paths the legal status of ‘road’, to be used by cyclists only.
Separate cycle path in Breukelen in 1955
It was only after this law was in force that cars became common. They too were forbidden to use the cycle roads. But it was hard to enforce with the smooth cycle ways that were so much more comfortable for those early cars too, directly next to the poor roads. So the pragmatic Dutch simply created a division. A hedge or a line of trees between the road and the cycle way and the matter was settled. By the 1920s it had been laid down in National Law that the construction of these separate cycle paths was mandatory on roads with more than 500 cyclists passing per day. When the cyclists’ union looked back in the 1930s to three decades of practise, they were very satisfied that this solution had also improved overall road safety. Implementation in cities was interrupted by WWII but from the early 1950s the separated cycle paths became more common in city streets too.
Much has changed since the early 20th century. Motorised traffic now has its own good roads, and there was a decline in cycling that was overcome again, but that ground attitude has always remained. It were not the cyclists who were sent off the roads. It was motorised traffic that was sent off the cycle paths for the benefit of all. This basic attitude has been such a long tradition that it is incorporated in the way of building and thinking about roads. No driver will ‘invade’ a cycle path, not even now, not even if he can.
Please note that this is not a safe roundabout design. The basic design has been shown to be seven times more dangerous than the preferred Dutch design, and multiple motor lanes shown leading into the roundabout will further degrade safety leading to similar situations as have prompted protests in the Netherlands.
Modern infrastructure planning in the Netherlands always includes cycle paths
What has been a growing tradition in the Netherlands for over a hundred years can be adopted by other countries too. On highways and through streets with a high volume of motorised traffic at increased speed you need smooth, wide, clear and well maintained cycle paths separated from that motorised traffic to improve overall traffic safety. In city streets with moderate traffic volumes and low speed differences you can create complete streets which are fit to be used by all types of traffic including cyclists and pedestrians.


Frits B said...

Excellent article, deserving to be widely read.

(Mark obviously is not familiar with the handy shortcut in Maartensdijk, just North of Utrecht, where lots of drivers use a stretch of cycle path to get from one road to another. No angels, just human :-)).

Adrian said...

I'm a keen follower of this blog, but I find it hard to see how the approach it advocates can be used in existing cities where space is at a premium. Separate cycleways of a Dutch standard would require much of the current road space to be given over to bikes - a nice idea but a political impossibility given the strength of the motoring lobby, which is close enough to 100% of voters.

This blog provides an excellent view of a cycling world to aspire to, but it doesn't provide a route to get there that takes into account the political realities of motoring-dominated societies.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Mark. Thank you.

Severin said...

To touch on what Adrian said, I agree that space is very limited in other cities... like Los Angeles! To get the Dutch model of cycle paths, many streets would need to be reduced to one or two lanes in each direction to have the median and wide cycle path. I personally don't see a problem with this but it will be a while until LA comes to its senses. That actually is enough space for cars (one or two lanes in each direction, maybe without parking in some cases) because if the proper bike infrastructure is there the percent of cyclists will jump enormously and cars simply wont need the space. some might say it's a gamble for the city to make such a commitment but I personally think it is definitely worth it. Maybe Denmark's cycle lanes would be a more plausible model for LA. Though the biggest problem by far is intersections, no matter what US city you're in. I want to see a Dutch or Dane tackle that issue by examining common intersections in US.

Anonymous said...

Just to give readers a feeling from Netherlands a feeling of how different cycle paths are in Germany: Take a look at the final picture with the roundabout. In Germany, at all the intersections of cycle paths and road the cars get the right of way.

If you want to do the equivalent of a left turn, that means to yield way to cars 5 times while cars only have to wait when entering the roundabout. And that's the current way of planning.

It's one reason why German cyclists prefer to use the road.

The other is the surface. Where I live, the majority of cycling paths out of cities is built with a gravel surface.

freewheeler said...

I'm not sure where Adrian is writing from but it doesn't apply to London. Where I live 49 per cent of households don't own a car but you would never know this from the local streets, which are entirely devoted to car parking and managing traffic flow.
The space for good Dutch-style infrastructure exists in many forms, the problem is that Britain's two main cycling organisations are not asking for it. Both the Cyclists' Touring Club and the London Cycling Campaign are run by vehicular cyclists, zealously committed to a strategy which is keeping cycling's modal share below 2 per cent.
Change has to begin with cycling campaigners recognising the solution, but sadly very few of them do. British cycling campaigning consists of trying to ameliorate the conditions for vehicular cycling. But this is never going to result in mass cycling.
The space is there. What is needed is the vision.

Unknown said...

I wouldn't mind having some of those German paths, however there is no question that the Dutch cycleways are much better.

One thing that is slowing bicycle infrastructure in most of Canada is the "us versus them" culture.

Not only the "bikes versus car", but I notice it's becoming more of a "non-helmeted riders versus helmeted riders" and "lycra versus non-lycra".

I'm quite guilty with the "us versus them" culture when it comes to "helmeted/lycra versus non-helmeted/lycra".

Harry Lieben said...

Very insightful, thanks Mark!

@Adrian. Old Dutch cities also have little room, Holland is very crowded. In Groningen the solution was one way streets for cars/both ways for cyclists and the old town centre blocked from motorised traffic/parking outside the city and buses to the the centre. There was a lot of controverse at the time of implementing, but nowadays most people are very happy with the town as it is now. Planning for new residential areas includes good planning for cyclists, some cyclepaths are completely loose from streets. The cars are not forgotten, there is a huge underground parking space being built, right next to the town centre.

I just saw a newspaper article that Groningen is very popular among Germans for a day out, it is even the city with the most tourist visitors in the Netherlands and the revenues are good for the shopkeepers. The tourists like the quiet old town centre.

I really don't see why there should be such a controverse between cars and bicycles. Every cyclist on the cyclepath is one less car-driver on the street. Since a bike takes only a fraction of the space needed by a car, it shouldn't be too hard to convince people that cyclists diminish car-congestion in towns.

Kevin Steinhardt said...

Very nice post and film; I just wish the UK had a bit more money to invest in our infrastructure.

Neil said...

> some cyclists are also reluctant to give up their ‘right to use the roads’,

Indeed, probably because the roads are vastly better than the standard of provision of most of the cycle infrastructure - certainly in UK.

Cyclists should be wooed/tempted from the road by excellent cycle infrastructure, not given substandard scraps that are simply surplus to the motor vehicles needs or shared with pedestrians.

Most UK campaigners probably don't trust anything like a dutch scheme to be implemented properly nor believe that it would be politically possible.

anna said...

Interesting article, thanks.

Anonymous said...

The cycle lanes in Copenhagen and Amsterdam are quite similar. Here is my experience from an adult life in Copenhagen and 3 days in Amsterdam.

The 2 main difference is that Copenhagen rarely has dual directional bicycle paths and that Amsterdam has some bicycle paths with bricks.

Both cities has asphalt bicycle paths.

Both cities has bicycle paths without roads next to them.

Both cities has elevated bicycle paths which are 10? cm above the road.

On smaller roads Amsterdam does have bicycle paths in the side at the same level as the road. Copenhagen does not have this.

Copenhagen bicycle paths are never on the left side of parked cars, always on the right which lets the parked cars form a barrier to the driving cars. Amsterdam has bicycle paths on the left side of parked cars, but only on those smaller roads.

Outer Amsterdam (towards the airport) has some places where you have to press to get over. Copenhagen rarely has this.

Amsterdam has a special green light where all bicycles in all directions are allowed to ride + the normal green light. Copenhagen has red and green, just like the cars and usually at the same side.

In the netherlands it is legal to turn right on red. In Denmark it is not legal.

I do not have experience with intercity bicycle paths in the Netherlands, and very little in Denmark.

freewheeler said...

I don't understand what Kevin means when he says "I just wish the UK had a bit more money to invest in our infrastructure". The money is there. It isn't allocated because cycling campaign groups aren't demanding it and are content with crumbs.

Neil says "Most UK campaigners probably don't trust anything like a dutch scheme to be implemented properly nor believe that it would be politically possible."

I think that's garbage. UK campaign groups are run by committed vehicular cyclists who are not interested in campaigning for separate infrastructure. The LCC and the CTC are major obstacles to mass cycling, and have an ostrich-like attitude to the total failure of their decades of campaigning in raising modal share. As long as British cycle campaigning is dominated by these two organisations cycling's modal share is always going to be less than 2 per cent.

Michael S said...

I do understand the development of the dutch bicycle infrastructure a lot better now. Thank you for posting Marks video here!

However, talking about space, I'm afraid that the dutch example cannot be easily copied. It's root in history is part of the success and it might be part of its exclusivity for some decades. When the dutch infrastructure was established, there was no intense car traffic yet as far as I understand. So plenty of money to errect the desired infrastructure for the by then modern and effective bicycle. People were happy with this solution and there was no need to change this when cars became more prominent. In Germany - and as far as I understand in the US and a lot of other western countries - there were no dedicated bike paths until car traffic was so intense, that they were needed to get bicycles out of the way for the cars. That is a completely different attitude indeed. I don't believe, that we will get dutch type bike paths one day. To me it seems more likely, that more and more people will use the normal roads (and bike lanes), thus creating a demand for slowing down car traffic and better rules in favour of the growing bike share. Parallel to this, more people using the bike as a normal means of transport will mean a better understanding for bike needs, even if going by car. This would certainly soften the "them vs. us" view.

J.. said...


I don't know where you've been cycling, but last time I looked it was illegal to turn right at a red light in the Netherlands.

You said: "On smaller roads Amsterdam does have bicycle paths in the side at the same level as the road. Copenhagen does not have this."

I'm assuming you mean a cycle lane, and again, last time I looked Copenhagen was full of them. I've never been to Denmark myself, but I do have Google streetview, and it only took me a few seconds to find on-street cycle lanes, here:,12.515144&spn=0,0.016072&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=55.686255,12.515351&panoid=B1yotzsc3qPD1v2YHoX2fA&cbp=12,300.88,,0,11.97
and here:,12.563127&spn=0,0.032144&t=h&z=15&layer=c&cbll=55.678867,12.563048&panoid=4pNIEz3UAslhPxa77Z0hng&cbp=12,49.13,,0,13.8

The Danes do seem to have thoroughly embraced the idea of putting the parallel parking bays in between cyclists and cars in stead of adjacent to them. A wise move imho, and although the Dutch to my knowledge do not design roads like that anymore, they do tolerate an awful lot of the existing ones.

One more big difference between Amsterdam and Copenhagen, is the shared use of the right-turn lane on high volume roads like this one in the centre of the Danish capital:,12.566535&spn=0,0.008036&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=55.676788,12.566612&panoid=g01O2FSHqx-z6WSi9f-vtw&cbp=12,188.34,,0,6.17

This sort of defeats the purpose of segregation, and the Dutch, generally speaking, don't allow it.


J.. said...

The biggest obstacle for mass cycling is the defeatist attitudes seen in the comments here. If enough people start cycling, the motor lobby will start campaigning for cycle lanes themselves, if only to get all those cyclists off of the main roads.
Once you realise that motorists have a lot to gain as well, than demanding separated paths is really a no-brainer. People need to get past this car-vs-bicycle attitude, that's all.

I'm not saying it's going to be easy, or that it'll happen overnight. But attitudes won't change unless you change them. How can you say with any certainty that it's never going to happen, when nobody has ever tried? And who would have thought 15 years ago that London would get a bikeshare scheme in 2010? THAT was impossible too.

christhebull said...

I think most of the pessemism towards infrastructure in the UK is purely because most of it is crap, but also because cyclists fear they will be forced to use farcilities designed by the mentally deficient, which will slow them down and cause them to get stuck at some point. The roads themselves are hardly any better in some parts though, with potholes, labyrinth one way systems, and stolen drain covers!

Adrian said...

I'm writing about Sydney, Australia, a city of over 4 million people. The streets are narrow, and the lanes also narrow. The suburbs stretch endlessly, and most people are car-dependent. On-street parking is the norm throughout the inner-city.

If you tried to implement a Dutch cycle path on a narrow 4-lane street (2 lanes each way) here you would be left with a single lane for cars in one direction only, with no on-street parking. Some of the 4-lane streets would be wide enough to have a lane each way for cars, but still no on-street parking.

We have a roads administration that is adamant that road capacity for cars should never be reduced, and a population that screams loudly if on-street parking spots are taken for any purpose. While I would be happy to turn over most of the street to separated bike paths, I'm in a tiny minority. The logic and rightness of the idea isn't sufficient to make it popular or get it implemented.

Severin said...

Thanks J and Jon and everyone else,

I guess what I really wanna know is how would a typical intersection in LA like this be handled. what would be changed to accommodate separated cycle lanes

It certainly doesnt help that many corners in LA are gas stations.

If anyone is skilled with photoshop or the mymaps feature on google maps I would love a visual make-over for this intersection.

David Hembrow said...

I don't think I could written a better response to many of these comments than this from J.. "The biggest obstacle for mass cycling is the defeatist attitudes seen in the comments here."

If cycling campaigners in those countries where cycling is a minority activity don't dare to actually ask for decent infrastructure, who will suggest it ?

I'm not sure if Adrian's comment about "narrow four lane streets" with car parking alongside is meant to be serious or not. However, in reality neither Sydney nor Los Angeles (mentioned by Severin) have narrow streets on which cyclists cannot be accommodated. These are simply excuses made for a lack of action.

I've covered many of these excuses before, including the claim that it's too late to start, that it's about population density, that streets are too narrow. None of the excuses really hold up to much scrutiny.

It's very simple. Cycling rates are proportional to the quality of the infrastructure, and the quality of the infrastructure is proportional to the expenditure on it. The Netherlands spends more money than any other country on cycling, and has the results to show for it.

The excuse of not having enough money never holds up. Providing good cycling infrastructure is much cheaper than the alternative - of not providing it and dealing with the health effects, extra imports of oil, greater road building and maintenance costs due to more driving.

David Hembrow said...


I've many examples of junctions on the blog already (more will follow of course). These are examples with traffic lights and (with quite a bit of overlap) these are other examples of cycling being made more direct. Also, a video on youtube shows a fairly typical treatment of a garage (I've many other videos showing similar things).

Of course, it's also possible to move gas stations. That's certainly been done here. The centre of Assen used to have at least one, but doesn't have it any more.

Oldboy in Brussels said...

Hello All,

As J say, I would add that the most depressing thing in the UK is cycling schemes in newly build areas. Engineers start from scratch and can apply the best practice in terms of road design. For car traffic, the road design is generally excellent, but for cycle traffic it's very often a complete mess:
the cycle lanes are mainly on the footway separated from pedestrians by a white line (with often road signs/lampposts inserted in the middle) and at each junction, cycles are mixed with pedestrians (they have to use the push button, with lights that turn up every Wednesday, etc...).
So generally these facilities are totally ignored by normal cyclists and can make the most courageous cycle campaigner loose all its hopes in the system.

To continue on an other argument developed by J, in London on some major corridor close to the centre, the proportion of cyclists is massive during peak hours. And it's a fine mess: cyclists occupy de facto a complete car lane, squeeze between motorised vehicles to reach the stop line, etc. Even some transport consultant (see below) noted that it affected traffic flows quite a lot and that such level of cycling without dedicated lane never happened in any other locations in Europe... and still there are strictly no plans at TfL to accommodate this cycle traffic... (Apart from the Superficial Highways)

Interesting also to see the history of dutch cycle path and to see that in the 50s, 60s and 70s, these cycle paths have not been removed to make place for additional car lanes. Because for instance in Paris, pedestrians footway and tree alignment have been massively sacrificed for motorised traffic flow. What you have see now when you visit Paris is only one or two alignment of tree when in the 19th century three lines of trees where planted.

About the debate on Copenhagen, I think it's a bit useless as these cities are very different, Copenhagen seems to enjoy very large avenues where car traffic is not really constrained, and Amsterdam and other Dutch city's street are far narrower. What I also notice is that in the Copenhagen streetview is the lack of tree alignments on the streets and the narrowness of the footways. It seems the entire street space is dedicated to transport.

David Hembrow said...

oldboy: There were actually many cycle paths removed in the Netherlands during the post-war period. This has been documented before.

Also, lots of roads were rebuilt after the war on American lines (i.e. very wide, lots of space for cars) and taking cars right to the centres of cities. There was a change in policy in the 1970s and these mistakes have been rectified. You can see evidence of this in Nijmegen and Groningen.

Anonymous said...


next time please user international, so the text will be in english.

That is not a part of copenhagen i bicycle in, so i didnt notice that we got on the same level.

I seem to recall that David told me it was legal to turn right on red lights. But it could have been in a youtube video from someone else. Or i could just be wrong. I certainly saw lots of people doing it in Amsterdam. Just like i do in Copenhagen.

I agree on the shared turn lanes, but it is not all places that bicyclist and the turn lane are shared.

David Hembrow said...

Jon, it's legal to do a right on red where there is a sign which says it is legal. There are quite a few of these, at least in this area. here is an example.

The shared turn lane is something I've never seen in NL, and quite honestly I was shocked to see examples of this in CPH. It's really not good design.

J.. said...

A few thoughts:

1. If space is really tight, sacrificing one car lane would be sufficient for a bidirectional cycle path. You would have to put up some sort of concrete barrier in between that lane and the adjacent car lanes to achieve sufficient subjective safety, but it can be done.

2. Sacrificing one car lane would leave you with three lanes on what was origionally a 4-lane road. In an urban setting, you could make it three lanes one-way or two lanes in one direction and one in the other. The next road running parallel could then be configured in the opposite direction.

3. Not *every* road needs to have a cycle path. As long as the network is comprehensive and convenient, some roads can be left the way they are.

4. Parked cars can form a barrier between the road and the cycle path, providing great safety (both objectively and subjectively). Advocating for cycle paths in combination with parking spaces (in the right places) is a great way to solicit support from drivers. Remember, parked cars are way better than moving ones. They provide shielding, they don't pose any danger, they don't pollute and they slow down other cars.

5. You have the facts on your side. Cyclists have a legitimate place on the road, and it's the responsibility of the government to provide adequate safety. This is a very reasonable demand, and any alternative to segregated cycle paths can be reasonably dismissed as unsafe. This leaves Dutch style infrastructure as the only alternative for the government to escape the accusation of criminal negligence on the issue of road safety. Ofcourse, if nobody ever makes that accusation, then they will keep getting away with it.

Personally, with the number of deaths and injuries on London roads, I'm surprised local politicians haven't had fake-blood soaked dolls and miniature ghost bikes thrown at them yet.

J.. said...


Your example of a legal right turn on red is only valid for cyclists. The way I read Jon's comment, he ment a right turn on red for cars (or am I wrong?). I don't know any intersection in Holland where you're allowed to run a red light when turning right. There are some where the turn-right lane is seperated and has no traffic light (while the other lanes do), but those are always demarked with yield signs and "haaientanden" afaik.

The turn-right rule is a common feature in countries like the US, and imho it's a big problem when implementing safe cycling.

J.. said...


I don't know what constitutes a typical LA intersection, but I more or less randomly choose this one:,-118.254848&spn=0,0.002009&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=34.043736,-118.254745&panoid=gZqmgcGvV11l8x8m3-72LA&cbp=12,134.1,,0,7.73

If I had things my way, I'd make this street a 2-laner with the following configuration:
sidewalk, cycle path, parallel parking, roadway, parallel parking, cycle path, sidewalk.

That's more or less what it is already, judging by the parked cars, but by putting the cycle paths on the outside, next to the sidewalk, you "institutionalize" them, making it impossible for cars to usurp them. The intersection itself can be designed relatively simple. Dedicated cycling lights can be configured roughly in the same way the pedestrian lights are.

Anonymous said...

i did mean for bicycling only.

And as for the level road i must be blind or something. On my way home from work i used 3 such bicycle lanes. They were quite short though, like about 100 meters each?

The 1. was across a bridge. Next to a major road :-(
The 2. was a 2 directional street turned into a single directional street + a bicycle lane in the opposite direction, and bicycle parking.
The 3. was a side street.

The roads i thought of in Amsterdam was some i met from the airport to my hotel, from hotel to cycle vision, and one in central Amsterdam which i used as well. At least 3 places, but i only show 2 such roads.,-95.677068&sspn=53.609468,67.148438&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Amsterdam,+North+Holland,+The+Netherlands&ll=52.366222,4.894366&spn=0.003043,0.008234&z=18&layer=c&cbll=52.366558,4.893309&panoid=u7NrRe57hprF_A03Cicmeg&cbp=12,193.97,,0,5,-95.677068&sspn=53.609468,67.148438&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Amsterdam,+North+Holland,+The+Netherlands&ll=52.356444,4.872286&spn=0.0119,0.032938&z=16&layer=c&cbll=52.356394,4.872121&panoid=AnyFdj3qea7M8Lp4YqcSrQ&cbp=12,238.12,,0,5

Michael S said...

@ David: "I don't think I could written a better response to many of these comments than this from J.. "The biggest obstacle for mass cycling is the defeatist attitudes seen in the comments here."

As you state in your original post "There are complex cultural, political, financial and historical reasons that all contributed to today’s attitude.[that is: in the NL]". So you can be proud of this, though it is not due to your effort, you can be happy about it, since you can benefit from it, you can even be wondering why the situation is like it is in the NL and different elsewhere - but please do recognize, that history, culture, politics, economy etc. are different elsewhere as well. I suppose all readers of this blog are strong supporters for better conditions for bike traffic and I suppose, in general they do know the situation well in their own context. Reading about bike politics in the NL can be a big help in discussions abroad, since some of the excuses by politicians not to change the rules in favour of the bike are just that: excuses. But some are not. Blaming those who are working to change this for having a defeatist attitude is not correct.

Michael S said...

@J.. "[parked cars] provide shielding, they don't pose any danger"

Only if you add still more space to the parking cars. Else they do indeed make up a big danger, there even is a word for this: "dooring" a passer-by cyclist. They even prevent car drivers from noticing the cyclists. I prefer bushes and grass as a seperator.

David Hembrow said...

Jon: Amsterdam's infrastructure is not uniformly good. Much of it around the site of Cyclevision this year was by Dutch standards quite awful. This causes problems which you don't see elsewhere. For instance, Amsterdam has the lowest rate of cycling to school for some ages of children. It's due, at least in part, to the conditions for cycling leading to lower than usual subjective safety for cyclists in Amsterdam. You really need to look to other Dutch cities.

Michael S: I stand by the "defeatist" comment. I am British, and I was for many years a cycling campaigner in that country. I've seen first hand how campaigners talk down the requirements before starting any type of negotiation with the authorities. There is a growing list of excuses on this blog.

You're absolutely right about the possibility of "dooring." This needs to be considered as cycle paths are designed. It is not, however, due to being on the "other side" of parked cars, and is also possible if you're on the road side of cars. Indeed, there was exactly this problem in Cambridge where I used to live. Over here it's rarely an issue, in part due to the separation between cars and cycle paths, and also due to the widths of cycle paths.

Grass and bushes do indeed make a better separator. And that's what you mostly get. However, in town sometimes the parking is required. Take a look at the video here for an example of a street in town with both.

Marco te Br├Âmmelstroet said...

Very interesting information, thanks Mark and David!

There is also an interesting piece on the site of Verkeerskunde: A lobby group from the all time low cycling rate period in the Netherlands (1973)

Also, I am interested in your view on the current revival of the moped, which (as the horse carriages) use the perfect lay-out of the bicycle infrastructure. In Amsterdam, you see more and more mopeds each day. A dangerous and over looked problem for mass cycling, I am affraid...

Anonymous said...

@Michael S:
Dooring is a very very rare event in Copenhagen. Probably because the cars knows the bicyclist are there. In my 17 years of bicycling in Copenhagen i can remember 1 such event which was a close call. And this was on a side street with no bicycle path, so it was on the left side of the car.

I was in Groningen too, remember ;-)
I did not compare Groningen to Copenhagen because Groningen is not the capital and is a much smaller city.

christhebull said...

Why is driving so popular in Texas? Maybe it's because the infrastructure (interstates, frontage roads, Texas U-turns, Michigan lefts, four level stack interchanges, even the "High Five" interchange) is so good, and the conditions for pedestrians so bad... So to suggest that cycling will flourish without the bicycle equivalents of interstates [proper cycle superhighways, not the Tory blue stripes], frontage roads [2 way cycle paths along dual carriageways], etc etc is absurd, just as it would be silly to say "why do Venicians get cars when they move somewhere else, when they always used to use boats" - maybe it's because the canal network in Venice is so much denser and more attractive than in the UK, where canals are not used much because users know they can't get to certain places by canal, whereas they can get almost everywhere by car. [aside from the fact that most homes don't have anywhere to moor boats, and I have never seen a "boat rack" at a school]

freewheeler said...

Michael S says “Blaming those who are working to change this for having a defeatist attitude is not correct.”

Defeatism is everywhere in British cycle campaigning. The two main cycling organisations, the London Cycling Campaign and the Cyclists’ Touring Club, both embrace vehicular cycling, despite its proven failure. If you suggest segregated Dutch-style infrastructure to the average British cycling campasigner you get the response that it is ‘unrealistic’ because the roads are too narrow (not true) and the money isn’t there (not true). These attitudes were expressed by David Love of the London Cycling Campaign on this blog only a few days ago. An astonishing £23 million is being wasted on London’s so-called Cycle Superhighways, which will never result in mass cycling and are an insult to the cyclists who do use these routes. That money would have been much better spent on creating segregated infrastructure on the Dutch model.

Mass cycling in Britain will only ever be achieved by following the successful Dutch example, not by persisting with the failed strategy of trying to ameliorate the conditions of vehicular cycling. The problem is that British cycle campaigning is in denial. In London conditions are actually getting worse for cycling and walking, as more and more road space (including sidewalks) is reallocated for car parking.

Cycling in London remains marginalised, with mediocre vehicular cycling infrastructure. Cycling is not convenient, attractive or safe and it never will be as long as cyclists are expected to share space with lorries, vans and cars, whose flow is regarded by traffic planners as a greater priority.

J.. said...

On "dooring":

This is mostly a problem with parallel parking along a road with on-street cycle lanes, because a driver opening a door can cause a cyclist to dangerously swerve into traffic. When a seperated cycle path is placed on the other side of the parked cars, a cyclist will be
(A) riding along the passenger side of the cars, where doors are less likely to be opened.
(B) riding on the opposite side of the cycle path, as far away from the cars as possible.
(C) unable to swerve into traffic.

There should always be some sort of curb or barrier in between the cars and the cycle path, if only to prevent drivers from entering it. Even if that curb is only a foot wide (30cm) it will provide enough spacing for "dooring" to be a thing of the past. Also note that this solution takes up no more space than the traditional configuration with a cycle lane.

Here's an example:,4.327369&spn=0,0.004018&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=52.077657,4.327282&panoid=a9O68kqDIy_Vidw1PRSAUw&cbp=12,280.46,,0,19.66

Now this seperator is more than a foot wide, but notice the cycle path is also bidirectional.

J.. said...


Jon, the streets you pointed out in Amsterdam are of exactly the kind I was talking about when I said we put up with an awful lot of the existing stuff. New roads are hardly built like this anymore, but the legacy stuff is not being redesigned in large quantaties either. As you can see from the streetview pictures, it's not a matter of redrawing a few white lines on the asphalt. The problem with having massive amounts of cycling infrastructure, is that it'll cost massive amounts of money to upgrade *all* of it. Most cycle friendly cities/towns are picking their battles carefully.

Michael S said...

On dooring: I'm completely aware of dooring being more a problem at the road side of the parking cars, since it is only 1.4 passengers per car average in Germany, so it is mostly the driver only, leaving the car. However, a mere passenger is more likely to open the door without awareness about traffic outside the car. May this be as it is, I wanted to point out, that parking cars are NO good idea and I was stumbling upon the claim, that they "don't pose any danger". At least I feel, that I have to be aware of this danger as long as I'm cycling alongside cars, may it be at the road or at the cycle path (as a consequence, I have to slow down...).

Michael S said...

on dooring 2, @JonBendtsen

I wonder if dooring is less of a problem (proportional), when bike traffic has reached a certain level. When you never see any cyclists, you have a good chance of always leaving your car without ever dooring a single cyclist. When you'd try this in Copenhagen or for that sake in Berlin, you probably would pretty soon.

Michael S said...

@ David "I stand by the "defeatist" comment. I am British, and I was for many years a cycling campaigner in that country."

@ freewheeler "Defeatism is everywhere in British cycle campaigning."

I wasn't aware that this was focusing on the UK. To me it looked like a general "Look how great it is here and it is your own fault, that things are different in your country". I appreciated very much the historic view on dutch bike infrastructure. There is a lot to be learned from this and from todays situation. A car industry focused country like Germany cannot be expected to easily change its attitude about bike traffic. But still it does. Every major city here has very ambitious plans to increase the bike share and politicians dare speak out now, that this has to go AT THE EXPENSE OF CARS! Unthinkable 10 years ago. So, I guess it will take a while but I don't doubt that change is going to come, at least in Germany. What this change will look like is certainly up to further discussion and examples from the NL and elsewhere will help. But I wouldn't expect exact copies of the one system or the other. As David said: It's a mix of cultural, financial and politcal reasons which makes up todays infrastructure - and which will last to create different situations.

David Hembrow said...

Michael S: Germany, for all its problems, actually rates quite highly for the proportion of journeys made by bike. While German infrastructure lacks a lot in terms in quality relative to the Dutch, at least some provision for cyclists exists and it's been successful in encouraging the public at large to cycle for around 10% of journeys.

Given how much of the German economy is involved with the car industry it's not surprising that they have such influence. However, Germans have always seen a place for cycling, and I'm sure you're right that things will improve.

I'm British, and I often think of and compare with the British situation. Britain is very much worse for cyclists than Germany. Unfortunately conditions in Britain are still not improving, and cycling remains at around 1% of journeys.

Anonymous said...

@Michael S
I am pretty sure you are right in saying that if there are enough bicyclists then car drivers remembers bicyclists and do not just open the door.

okay, it was just that the asphalt looked pretty new, so i expected it to be done recently.

Copenhagen too has our share of things that could be much better.

Severin said...

I really enjoy the conversation here, thanks everyone. So that wasn't the most typical intersection but certainly reflective of amount of consideration bicyclists get (zero). What I see as typical LA intersection is two lanes in each direction with a right turning lane and curbside parking. There has been a shift to give pedestrians an L shape crossing rather than crossing on all sides so that cars can make more turns.

I don't have defeatist attitude, just looking for ideas. Thanks for great blog and great commenters.

Oldboy in Brussels said...

About infrastructure in the UK, I walked yesterday between Elephant and Castle and Oval to see the nearly completed cycle superhighway known as CS7. I was deeply depressed/shocked/sadden by the waste of money:
- the "highway" consists of mainly a blue strip located 1.5 m from the kerb, mainly on the bus lane. Which clearly forces cyclists towards the kerb, I usually ride in the middle of the bus lane. (why paint bus lanes anyway, these are already painted red?)
- There are parking and delivery spaces located ON the blue strip (making a very mix of blue, red, yellow, black and white!)
- The complete road surface as been rebuilt along the corridor for the benefit of car users, using the "cycling budget"! - that's why it's so expensiove as all the works are located at night
- the only part segregated section of the superhighway (the elephant and Castle bypass) crosseds numerous road. These crossings and for the majority equiped with TOUCAN cossings where cyclist have to activate the crossing with a push button! (Where is the super from the superhighawy)
- actually the blue paint is very thick (some kind of thermoplastic) which is very uncomfortable as it is non continuous. The worse being the approach to ped crossings with zig-zags which slows you down quite a lot!
- I didn't see a single white line separating cyclists from traffic...

To finsh up I saw a cycle accident with the car not stopping at the scene at the Oval. The girl was very shocked but seemed alright though she was taking by the ambulance. The area around oval was quite a coas as several lanes where closed for the repaving works and no alternative route other than using illegaly the footway where offered to cyclists...

freewheeler said...

"Unfortunately conditions in Britain are still not improving, and cycling remains at around 1% of journeys."

I would argue that things are actually getting worse for cycling in Britain. Where I live in north east London the council is introducing more and more one-way streets in order to accommodate on-street car parking and manage vehicle flow, it is introducing new car parking bays alongside already inadequate cycle lanes, and on one major route it is increasing the speed limit from 30 mph to 40 mph. These disastrous policies are driven by transport planners who don't walk or cycle and enjoy subsidised car dependency in their professional lives, supported by politicians who think that local businesses can best be helped by supplying as much car parking as possible.

Cycle campaign organisations are not resisting these changes or demanding Dutch-style infrastructure but instead settle for promoting cycling as cool, sexy and healthy. But marketing only works if people find out that the product is good.

J.. said...

I'm with Freewheeler on this one all the way. I can't speak for Britain, but just providing more and more parking spaces is generally not a solution. There's nothing more effective for creating parking space, than mass cycling. I'm sure David has some numbers on this.

This, again, is a good example of how the driver-vs-cyclist mindset falls flat on its face. Why antagonise drivers when you can enlist them in your efforts?

I keep coming back to this point because it's central to the problem imho. Designating car drivers "the enemy" is a self defeating strategy, because they are exactly the people we need to persuade. This is why cycling modal share in Britain is still so low. The TfL is listening to cycling campaigners a.k.a. "cyclists", exactly not the kind of people you're trying to reach out to. The real Target Audience is the people who aren't cycling YET. If the TfL people only listened to what they wanted from their cycling experience, then London would be better off.

tOM Trottier said...

Vehicular cyclists promote vehicular cycling because it is safer than riding in the gutter. It is an individual response to a car-oriented system.

Vehicular cyclists see the alternative not as a system of efficient bikeways with priority over cars, but being forced off the road onto sidewalks to be shared with pedestrians, fireplugs, lampposts, never to be cleared of snow, and a danger at every driveway and intersection.

Is vehicular cycling a failure? It is a failure if you count the number of cyclists vs bikeway systems. But if you count the number of surviving cyclists vs the dead cyclists in US cities, you will find that the dead ones are predominantly not vehicular cyclists. They wear black at night with no lights. They jump stoplights and stopsigns. They stay to the right in narrow lanes and are knocked off their bikes. They go down sidewalks and knock down pedestrians or hit cars backing out of driveways.

Vehicular cyclists are agitating for respect from drivers and space on the road in return for respect for the laws. They don't think politicians can be convinced to fund hundreds or thousands of miles of cycle tracks carved out of car lanes, install special stoplights, and in general slow down and fence in cars when the public is 95% car owners. And they fear being thrown off the roads onto inadequate, unsafe, poorly maintained, and slow alternatives.

Do we spend our energies to empty the swamp or to fight off the alligators?

David Hembrow said...

tOM: I don't disagree with you. When I was in the UK I also cycled in that way, and encouraged my family to do so (in the face of school "cycle training" which taught kerb hugging) and I also survived.

As you say, it's clearing swamps vs. fighting alligators. Alligator wrestling is not a popular hobby. The Dutch have cleared the swamps most effectively and as a result, many more people come into the water. Cyclists are relatively safe here even if they do wear black and have no lights.

Anonymous said...

> "school "cycle training" which taught kerb hugging"

Well at least that has changed. AFAIK, Bikeability teaches road riding away from the gutter. (not quite sure how far they go in teaching primary position etc). Although it does seem to also come with hi-viz and helmet indoctrination.

But I like the analogy - aligator wrestling instead of swamp clearing. I am an alligator wrestler, my wife wants an empty swamp...

J.. said...

@ tOM Trottier

You're absolutely right about the motives of vehicular cyclists, but you have to ask yourself the question: "Do we want mass cycling?" If the answer is yes, then vehicular cycling is out, regardless of conditions, political will etc. To put it methematically:

(vehicular cycling) = (modal share < 5%)

and conversely

(mass cycling) = (segregated cycling)

These are a basic, unalterable facts, at least in today's circumstances. If you're willing to settle for a 2% modal share, then vehicular cycling is fine, and a lot easier to achieve.

You claim that dead cyclists in the US are "predominantly not vehicular cyclists". This is a truly misguided statement. They may have been *bad* vehicular cyclists, but they sure as hell were cycling vehicularly. It's not like they were riding on a segregated cycle path, right? So they were riding on the road in between motorized traffic, just like, you know, a *vehicle*.

I'm not saying it's easy or politically convenient. I'm merely stating the obvious facts as I did in the equation above. Any politician who touts goals of double digit modal share for cycling without embrasing "the Dutch Model", is either a liar or an idiot.

J.. said...

You can argue about aligator wrestling, but the FACT remains: *If* you want mass cycling, with all of its societal benefits, you have no choice but to drain the swamp. Just wrestling aligators (like the British cycling campaigners are doing) doesn't, can't, and will never work.

Severin said...

Disadvantages of cycle tracks/separated bike lanes according to Los Angeles City Bike Plan Draft 2010

"Can create unusual situation at intersections for vehicles"

"Can be expensive to correctly implement"

"Can require closure/restrict vehicle access from driveways, alleys, and parking lots through access management"

"Left turns can be complicated for bicyclists and may cause delay due to bicyclist only signal phasing"

"May be difficult for existing street maintenance equipment to maintain cycle track (sweepers, etc"

David Hembrow said...

Severin: I'm afraid there are better places to look than Los Angeles to find quality cycling infrastructure.

To answer each of your points in order:

"Can create unusual situation at intersections for vehicles"

Indeed. But only if design is bad. However, there is no reason for design to be bad. There are no problems at intersections around here.

"Can be expensive to correctly implement"

Define "expensive". Dutch infrastructure, the best in the world, costs just 30 euros per person per year to implement.

"Can require closure/restrict vehicle access from driveways, alleys, and parking lots through access management"

Sure, it can do. But it depends very much on how it's implemented.

"Left turns can be complicated for bicyclists and may cause delay due to bicyclist only signal phasing"

Or, junctions can be designed to make left turns as simple as pie for cyclists reduce delays by giving two greens per cycle.

"May be difficult for existing street maintenance equipment to maintain cycle track (sweepers, etc"

Then make it wide enough for normal sweepers to use, or perhaps consider narrower sweepers.

Daniel Sparing said...

Great post! Interesting story about the first bicycle paths -- I just hope that no superficial reader misinterprets this story as "the Netherlands is different, so it is not possible here".

@Severin "space is very limited in other cities... like Los Angeles!" - having the biggest or at least most famous urban sprawl in the World, and comparing it to the densest Western country, I certainly hope you didn't exactly mean this :)

But in fact, what to do when space is limited? Well, then you certainly do not have space for inefficient modes like cars! Unfortunately in too many North American cities, space is abundant instead, and inefficiency is apparent in their transport structure.

Daniel Sparing said...


"Amsterdam has some bicycle paths with bricks."

that's true for whole NL, and some cities work very hard to convert them to asphalt: for example recently in Den Bosch we were told that they asphalted some 15 km of bricked paths in the last 5 years.

Outer Amsterdam (towards the airport) has some places where you have to press to get over. Copenhagen rarely has this."

That is right. That is basically because in NL, right turning cars will not have the same cycle as bicycles.

Now to not have too long cycles, the lights have to be demand responsive, hence the buttons.

Good news is, most of these buttons have an inductor loop in the road, too -- so if the loop recognizes you, you don't have to push the signal anymore and maybe you will even get green instantly. said...

For the friends of German cycle tracks here some pictures:

Bob Shanteau said...

"When the cyclists' union looked back in the 1930s to three decades of practise, they were very satisfied that this solution had also improved overall road safety."

Do you have a reference for this statement? I understood that the cyclists' union only found that cycle tracks had a better safety record than cycle lanes on rural roads. Am I mistaken?

"Implementation in cities was interrupted by WWII but from the early 1950s the separated cycle paths became more common in city streets too."

Didn't cyclists dominate the streets in cities until the 1950's? If so, why would cyclists advocate for separated cycle paths? Doesn't it make more sense that it was motorists who wanted bicyclists separated from motor traffic?

Also, did the cyclists' union ever study the safety of cycle paths in cities?

Daniel Sparing said...

@Bob, as the post says it is more separate motor traffic paths had to be built to keep them out of the way of cyclists.

also don't forget in the netherlands everyone is a motorist and a cyclist.

Anonymous said...

As an English cyclist I often look at the Dutch example with envious eyes. I think that key to it's success is early adoption of alternative forms of transport..they had the right attitude from the start. The inverse is true in countries like simply dominate, and despite the political ramblings you still have this us vs. them attitude when you're forced to share you space with car drivers and to a lesser extent, pedestrians. Verbal confrontations are common here and in some cases it turns into violence; unfortunately in this country we have an underclass who have yet to evolve to the point where they are basically able to grow up and respect other people in general. As a result they seldom give way to cyclists, are rude, impatient and also put other people in danger. You will not change Britain's cycling infrastructure until you change this attitude, which is made all the more worse by our huge populations densities. You have re-educated people's attitudes including the politicians who are only interested in tax revenue raised from cars stuck in traffic jams.