Monday 4 June 2012

Reducing speeds in villages. Britain vs. The Netherlands

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When we were in Britain last October we drove from one of our parents to the other. It was an interesting experience being back on Britain's roads and making a long journey by car. One of the things we especially noticed after our absence from Britain's roads was how attempts had been made to limit speeds on roads through villages, but that they were inadequate. Speeds remained too high, and conditions for cyclists and pedestrians remained unpleasant.

The example above is of the A153 entering the village of Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and that's the example I'll use in this blog post. There are hundreds of villages along similar roads in the UK. but this is the one by which I stopped and took some photos:

Dangerous British example: Cycle on the road through a pinch point with 40 mph (64 km/h) motor vehicles.
The national speed limit of 60 mph ( 100 km/h ) applies along most of the length of the A153. On entering the village this falls to 40 mph ( 64 km/h ). A reduction in speed is encouraged by signs and a central reservation which doubles as a space for pedestrians to cross the road, though there there is nothing other than grass verge to walk on if you reach the other side of the road.

The A153 has no parallel cycle or pedestrian path. Anyone who wants to travel the 4.5 miles between the next village, Mareham-le-Fen and this one has to use the road. Many journeys are made between villages separated by this sort of distance in order to shop, use sport facilities, go to school or to commute. Coningsby is a desirable destination from Mareham because there are more shops and other facilities in this larger village. However, because cycling along here means being overtaken by vehicles travelling at 100 km/h, very few people would consider it. We stopped for several minutes to take these photos and no cyclists or pedestrians were seen. Everyone who was making this journey made it by car, van or truck.

Where there are two vehicles heading in opposite directions, there is very little room for a motorist to overtake a cyclist.

A few metres past the 40 mph speed limit signs there is a central reservation. It is narrow and does not require drivers to divert much from a straight line. Many vehicles are still travelling in excess of the speed limit when they reach this point. Calls can be made that drivers should slow to well below the speed limit when passing a cyclist inside the pinch point, but they won't be heeded. The result is that anyone on a bicycle will be passed extremely close by a motor vehicle which arrives in the same place at the same time. This does not make for a pleasant or safe experience when cycling. Alternatively, the cyclist can "take the lane" and attempt to force motorists approaching from behind to brake sharply, but this also is doesn't make for pleasant or safe cycling and causes resentment amongst drivers.

This design of road, and this design of traffic calming, is lethal. What's more, given the high speeds that remain through the village, it doesn't even result in particularly pleasant conditions for those who live there.

The reason why this particular feature of the road grabbed my attention was that a few days previously I'd pointed out something very similar in concept to the study tour group from Vilnius when they visited us in Assen.

If you had heard only a description of these two roads and not seen the physical reality then they would probably sound like almost the same thing. However, they are not the same in practice. Here is the "equivalent" traffic calming design in Assen:

Grotere kaart weergweven

The Witterhoofdweg has a speed limit of 60 km/h ( 37 mph ) before the signs and 30 km/h ( 18 mph ) through the village. This is the speed limit through most villages in this area. A third of the Dutch road network now has a speed limit of 30 km/h or lower.

Safe Dutch example: Speed limit is 30 km/h (18 mph) and cyclists have a completely separate cycle-path rather than riding through the pinch point with motor vehicles

The central reservation is much larger than the British example and requires drivers to change course quite dramatically as they drive around it. You couldn't drive through here at the speeds at which drivers in Britain routinely enter Coningsby.

The reservation is 4.5 metres wide, meaning there is ample space in which to wait to cross the road even with a loaded bicycle. On the other side of the road there is a cycle-path which you may well want to reach. Now how on the left side of the photo you can see the three metre wide cycle-path which continues the entire length of the village, even though the speed limit on the road is 30 km/h. At junctions with side-roads in the village, the cycle-path has priority. This results in a continuous, convenient and stress free experience for cyclists.

Looking in the opposite direction we get a good view of the cycle-path as it enters the village. The complete separation of cyclists and drivers ensure that making cars swerve to slow them down doesn't in any way endanger cyclists passing this point at the same time.

For most of the distance from Assen the cycle-path is separated by too large a distance from the road for it to easily appear in photos taken from the road. This cycle-path is four metres wide.

At the opposite end of the village there is a similar traffic calming construction. Cyclists retain a very good degree of subjective and actual safety right through this village and out the other side.

Add caption
At the time when we took this photo it was a cold winter day in the Christmas holidays. However, there was a regular stream of cyclists, as there always is. When the schools are in session, this is part of a route taken by thousands of children each day who ride their bikes from villages to the South West of Assen into the city. Witten, where these photos were taken, is just 3.6 km from the centre of the city. However, this is merely the half way point to the next village, Bovensmilde, which is 6.6 km away - almost exactly the same distance as Mareham-le-Fen to Coningsby, and many people travel along here by bike from other villages considerably further away than that. Because the distance can be covered on cycle-paths, the experience will be pleasant and safe when doing so, and it's convenient to cycle, people cycle.

Written descriptions of these two traffic calming devices would sound the same. However, in reality they are different. Aerial views of both traffic calming features to the same scale:

Coningsby. The signs are above the top of this view, the central reservation is just behind the truck. No need to divert at all while driving through here. While there is space for a cycle-path, none has been built  - View Larger Map

Witten. The signs are very close to the central reservation (see shadows to the right), motorists have to divert from a straight line to cross this point. Cycle-paths lead in all directions, all separated from the road, some by a considerable distance - Grotere kaart weergeven

Now I expect some readers to point out that the A153 is a larger more strategic road than the Witterhoofdweg. They'd be right of course. But larger roads in the Netherlands have rather more care taken to preserve the rights of cyclists and pedestrians to go about their everyday business in peace, not less. A traffic calming feature like this simply has no place on a busy road like the A153.

In Britain, the same ideas have been used as in the Netherlands, but they are often applied in a much weaker way, and often in staggeringly inappropriate places. That is what the blog posts tagged "lost in translation" show.


highwayman said...

Do some of those transport planning committees include among their members both avid cyclists AND professional heavy vehicle drivers (passenger & goods)? It seems so.

We would do well if we included such people in our transportation planning here in the US and Canada. At highest risk of immodesty, I think I can do way better design of roads and junctions and their designated uses thereof, as I'm both a truck driver and an avid cyclist. Now, if my work schedule allowed me some time.

Mark S said...

Great post, it is an all too familiar technique for "calming" traffic through villages in the UK to have the reduced speed limit design with no other consideration for slowing traffic down. The one that normally makes me chuckle is the "Thank you for driving carefully" sign at the opposite end, ironically something that is most likely missed by those who are still doing 60mph....I do recall seeing one story of a villager who was so sick of people speeding he painted a massive "30" speed sign on the side of his house on the edge of the village and others who have erected fake speed cameras.

Anonymous said...

Your description of the road between the Lincolnshire villages reminded me of the roads between Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath in West Sussex. Essentially there are two routes, the A237 or the B2112 both 60MPH Roads with no footpath or cycle path yet the two towns are only 3 miles apart - facilities such as schools and leisure facilities are shared but there is no alternative to driving or infrequent buses - there is the train but Haywards Heath station is about a mile from the town centre. But hey, why on earth would anyone want to walk or ride a whole three miles?

Brian Jones said...

I was recently reading about a cycle path along an A road in Peterborough that has widespread community support because it would provide a safe route for kids to cycle to school. I imagine it would be similar to the ones in the aerial photos in this post. If I remember correctly the path has been approved by the local authority but has not been implemented because a single farmer will not allow his land to be used to accomodate the path. In the Netherlands how was the land acquired to to make their excellent cycle network?

Here's the article :

David Hembrow said...

Brian, I don't see details of the proposed path in Peterborough, but if it were designed to the same standard as that which is normal here, it would be the first in the whole country which was so.

As for buying land, in the Netherlands compulsory purchase is possible for cycle-paths. In Britain it's only possible for roads to put cars on.

Brian Jones said...

In NL did they enact specific legislation to require compulsory purchase for cycle paths? Or did they just interpret legislation that was already on the books to include cycle paths

David Hembrow said...

Brian, I'm sorry but I just don't know legal details like this so I can't tell you. Much of it happened a long time ago. It's been normal to have rural cycle-paths alongside roads for a long while. 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.

Frits B said...

@Brian Jones: Compulsory purchase in the Netherlands is possible for any construction work if it is for the common good. So roads of any kind, buildings, waterways, you name it. The landowner can block the purchase for some times through the courts but in the end they usually come through.

Frits B said...

@David: There is a specific website dealing with compulsory purchase, explaining procedures and time paths. Not overly technical in legal speech, too.

Engineer in The Hague said...

Having lived in NL for 9 months and having explored about 300 kms of bike paths I find the UK's attitude to cycle infrastructure to be very frustratingly short-sighted. Literally a crying shame. In this era of obesity, rising fuel costs and pollution I think it is staggeringly obvious that massive investment in cycle paths for commuting or leisure is the only way forward. At least Boris is trying to do something about it. Cycling in the Netherlands is indeed the unique selling point of NL.

Dennis Hindman said...

Here's a report entitled Low-Stress Bicycling and Network Connectivity that attempts to categorize and quantify the different traffic stress levels for bicycling.

This study was done at California State University San Jose and the researchers use the city of San Jose to illustrate that even though this city has a exceptionally large amount of bicycle infrastructure per population for a U.S. city, the amount of bicycling commuters is just average for a large U.S. city.

The four classified traffic stress levels go from a LTS 1 (suitable for children), to a LTS 4, which is only tolerated by the strong and fearless.

The report states that the critera for a LTS 2 traffic stress level is based on Dutch bicycle facility planning and design standards, which is a traffic stress level for bicycling that would be tolerated by the mainstream adult population.

I'm hoping to get politicians, planners, bicycle advocates and traffic engineers in Los Angeles to focus more on the traffic stress level for bicycling in Los Angeles, rather than primarily focusing on the miles of bicycle infrastructure that is put in.

Traffic engineers in the U.S. deal mainly with numbers, so quantifying the traffic stress levels for bicycling should help to focus on the areas that need the most resources to increase the bicycling rate.

Dennis Hindman said...

I seemed to have miscued on the HTML links in my post above.

Here's the link to the Minota Transportation Institute study on Low-Stress Bicycling and Network Connectivity

The San Jose California bicycle commuting rate is on line 13 of the spreadsheet.

Anonymous said...

vehicular nuts blathering, including comments on Dutch cycle tracks. San Diego may be their last refuge.

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: Sadly, these delusions continue in many places other than San Diego.

I'm not the slightest bit surprised that Sharrows have been found to be ineffective. Indeed, I wrote that they would be several years ago, not in a blog post, but in comments. e.g. here:

"Le Homme au velo: Sadly I see nothing in the video which I'd describe as being good infrastructure. Rather there are narrow strips of pavement or ineffectual lines and "sharrows" on the road. These have every bit of the effect that you can expect from paint alone. i.e. virtually none."

And here: "If instead you aim at sharrows to cover the whole city, you'll achieve very little change anywhere and the effort will look to have been wasted.

What's more, once a street has "been done" with sharrows it is far more difficult to make a political case for it to be improved again. Politicians can say they've already done what was requested in a particular street. The existance of sharrows or on-road bicycle lanes can get in the way of proper infrastructure being considered."

As for the "expert" at using Google Maps on the website, he simply doesn't know what he's looking at. His examples are of country lanes and the pictures of them have no cars on them for a reason. I've written several blog posts to try to explain to people like this, but of course what they really need is to come here and have it explained to them.

Sadly, rather more people take the option of imagining that they are "experts" due to having looked at Google Maps, and thereby often missing the point altogether, than that of taking the time to come and see how it really is.

Koen said...

Well David, this is an older post, but when I reread it, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if a small village like Coningsby would be chosen for a pilot project: full high quality bicycle infrastructure within the village, plus a separated cycle route to the next town. Preferably two: one next to the main road, two-way, wide, separated by the 14+1/2 feet, and one through the fields, without any roads near it. (see your post of July 2nd, 2012: Unravelling of modes)
Now wouldn't such a thing alert people to the possibilities, and show them that so much more is possible?????

roland.backhouse said...

It's good to see someone highlighting fundamental differences in attitude between here and the Netherlands.

In, for example, Stiphout in the Netherlands there is a very good system for slowing down traffic: a speed detector was connected to the lights on a pelican crossing; if a vehicle exceeded the speed limit, the lights turned to red whether or not a pedestrian was in the vicinity. The beauty of this systeme is that it gives immediate feedback to the motorist of the right sort: you are driving too fast and are a danger to vulnerable traffic. The stop light was backed up by a red-light camera in case anyone ignored it. The lights were introduced in Stiphout because of motorists driving through the village at high speed, particularly late at night.

(It's more than 10 years since I lived there so I don't know if the light is still in use. I hope so. The same system was used in Neunen where Van Gogh came from.)

Brian Quinn said...


When I see all the images of your roads in and around Essen they all look to have a significant land take when you account for the road and the cycle paths and the landscaping inbetween and some of the roundabouts with associated cycle infrastructure look enormous. It looks more akin to somewhere like Milton Keynes here with very expansive landscaping everywhere and a lowish density/spacious feel. How did this come about historically - were there alot of older buildings and homes, along streets and roads, demolished to create this width and space for such large land takes? or are these all areas which were designed from scratch in much more recent times?

I think the issue in most British villages is that roads are hemmed in by field boundaries and hedges (which are absent on the continent) and existing quite old housing even with modest front curtiledge that is much closer to the road than many of the examples you show in the Netherlands?

David Hembrow said...

Brian, exactly the same pressures on space exist in the Netherlands as exist in the UK. Dutch cities are just as old as British cities.

Go back and look at the photos above. In British, what space exists is all allocated for motoring or for grass. In the Netherlands the space is allocated differently. Compare the space around the van in the photo captioned "Dangerous British Example" with the space around the similarly sized van in the photo captioned "Safe Dutch Example". That is where the space for cycling infrastructure comes from. It's just the same as in the centres of older cities where space is found for cycling.

Where new build is concerned, there are definitely not any space constraints and the same situation could exist in both countries, but it does not. For example, there are no new developments in the UK which look like this new development in the Netherlands. Even in new build, British planners continue to make roads too wide and to provide no good cycling infrastructure.

Note that road junctions appear to be more spacious in the Netherlands in large part because less is packed in. For instance, multi-lane roundabouts are (thankfully) rare, which means that those roundabouts which exist appear to have a lot of space.

p.s. I live in Assen. Essen is in Germany. It's not great for cycling. There are some photos here.