News site Daily Hive Vancouver recently published an article with the following headline:

Surprise: Bike-friendly Netherlands named best place in the world to be a driver

Daily Hive was reporting on the results from a new index created by wayfinding app Waze:

…a new report released last week by community-based traffic and navigation app Waze, proves a place pleasant for cycling and one pleasant for driving are not mutually exclusive.

For the second year in a row, Waze’s Driver Satisfaction Index – which analyzes the driving experiences of 65 million monthly users in 38 countries and 235 cities across the globe – named The Netherlands the most satisfying place in the world to drive, specifically referencing its “smooth traffic conditions” and “solid road quality.”

waze-driving-index-netherlands

Image: Waze

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a key ingredient in creating the world’s most enjoyable driving conditions is providing the freedom to leave the car at home. With the ability to walk or cycle for short trips, tram or bus for longer trips, and use a fast, frequent national rail system for inter-city trips, the automobile is viewed as a last resort for many Dutch families.

With fewer motorists moving both short and long distances on the country’s roadways, space is freed up for those who really need it, such freight companies and emergency services. In addition to reducing the amount of congestion, this also decreases the need for road maintenance due to “wear and tear.” Finally, the report mentions the unparalleled safety of Dutch streets, statistically the safest in the world, having virtually eliminated deaths and serious injuries by engineering user error out of the equation.

But is it really a surprise that prioritising cycling, walking, and public transport makes life easier for drivers as well?

Not if you’ve been paying close attention!

To illustrate, take a look at this picture of cycle lanes on New North Road, headed east to the Dominion Road flyover. If you’re on a bike, this intersection puts you into a very stressful situation: constantly wary of the risk that a car will clip you from behind. If you’re walking, it’s also pretty unpleasant.

But this design is also bad if you are in a car, as you have to deal with the psychological stress of not knowing what other road users are going to do. Someone ahead of you on a bike could turn left, continue on, or do anything, really. That kind of uncertainty is psychologically costly.

new-north-rd-where-the-cars-cross-the-bike-lane

Here’s another example of an alleged cycling facility on Tamaki Drive, at the east end of the Mission Bay shops. Again, this creates a lot of uncertainty. What on earth are you supposed to do here if you’re on a bike? Do you ride into the hazardous “door zone” next to the lane of parked cars? Head up onto the footpath? Take the lane, and hope that the car behind you doesn’t run you down?

Or are you supposed to simply dematerialise and reassemble your molecules at the point where the bike lane reappears?

Once again, this is bad for drivers and bad for cyclists. Neither party knows what the other one will do, and so both must live in fear.

NCD Tamaki Dr 2

One way to reduce that uncertainty is to create “negotiated spaces” where all users of the street have to communicate informally about who will go and who will give way. That works pretty well in well-designed shared spaces, where people on foot and people in cars make eye contact quite a bit. But it’s virtually impossible at an intersection like this, as cyclists and drivers are all looking forward and trying to guess what each other will do.

On most streets, the best way to reduce this uncertainty – and make life easier for everyone using the street – is to build facilities that give everyone an intuitive and convenient path. Like they do in the Netherlands.

But here’s an example of an intersection that works for people on bikes and people in cars. Unlike the flawed examples above, it’s really easy to understand what everyone has to do. The cyclists ride on the separate cycle path, and the cars drive on the road. Give-way rules are fair and easy to understand: cyclists stop when crossing the road, and cars stop when crossing the cycle path. Everything is straightforward:

Here’s another, more in-depth explanation of the underlying philosophy between Dutch intersection design:

But, you ask, what about traffic speeds? Surely giving over space to better cycling facilities will worsen congestion and driver frustration?

Well, not necessarily. Since it started implementing protected cycle lanes and other traffic calming measures, New York City has been monitoring the end outcomes, including impacts on traffic speeds. Their findings, which Eric Jaffe (CityLab) reported in 2014, contradicted expectations:

A new report on protected bike lanes released by the New York City Department of Transportation offers a great example of how rider safety can be increased even while car speed is maintained.

To see what we mean, let’s take a look at the bike lanes installed on Columbus Avenue from 96th to 77th streets in 2010-2011. As the diagram below shows, the avenue originally had five lanes—three for traffic, one for parking, and one parking-morning rush hybrid. By narrowing the lane widths, the city was able to maintain all five lanes while still squeezing in a protected bike lane and a buffer area.

NYC DOT

Rather than increase delay for cars, the protected bike lanes on Columbus actually improved travel times in the corridor. According to city figures, the average car took about four-and-a-half minutes to go from 96th to 77th before the bike lanes were installed, and three minutes afterward—a 35 percent decrease in travel time. This was true even as total vehicle volume on the road remained pretty consistent. In simpler terms, everybody wins.

Over on Eighth Avenue, where bike lanes were installed in 2008 and 2009, the street configuration was slightly different but the traffic outcome was the same. Originally, the avenue carried four travel lanes, one parking lane, one parking-rush hybrid, and an unprotected bike lane. Again, by narrowing the lanes, all five were preserved (though the hybrid became a parking lane) even as riders gained additional protection.

NYC DOT

After the changes, traffic continued to flow. DOT figures show a 14 percent overall decline in daytime travel times in the corridor from 23rd to 34th streets once the protected bike lanes were installed. That quicker ride was consistent throughout the day: travel time decreased during morning peak (13 percent), midday (21 percent), and evening peak (13 percent) alike. To repeat: a street that became safer for bikes remained just as swift for cars.

So what happened here to overcome the traditional idea that bike lanes lead to car delay? No doubt many factors were involved, but a DOT spokesperson tells CityLab that the steady traffic flow was largely the result of adding left-turn pockets. In the old street configurations, cars turned left from a general traffic lane; in the new one, they merged into a left-turn slot beside the protected bike lane (below, an example from 8th and 23rd). This design has two key advantages: first, traffic doesn’t have to slow down until the left turn is complete, and second, drivers have an easier time seeing bike riders coming up beside them.

There are undoubtedly ways to design cycle facilities that do not result in such positive outcomes. But the data from New York shows that is not an inevitability, even on busy urban streets. Consequently, adding safe, separated cycleways can be a win-win scenario: people in cars aren’t any worse off, as traffic speeds aren’t significantly affected, while both people in cars and people on bikes benefit from increased safety and certainty while using the street.

What do you think about the relationship between cycle facilities and driver satisfaction?

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49 comments

      1. As far as I’m aware, the Dutch law for presumed liability relates to insurance only. This might have a significantly greater effect than it would in New Zealand due to ACC…

          1. The intent of law is pragmatic harm minimisation, not providing blowhards a soapbox to shout from. Asserting “fairness” in situations of power/needs imbalance has led to a society where people feel it’s perfectly ok to refuse to give up their seat to a pregnant woman because “I paid the same fare, I got to the seat first and it’s not my fault you decided to get pregnant”

        1. Interesting link. I think the Dutch are far too sensible to have strict liability for anything. Strict Liability means you are liable for damage regardless of culpability. They have a rule that the driver’s insurance company pays for the damage to the bike unless the cyclists was and adult and doing something wrong. Cyclists don’t need insurance so in pragmatic Dutch style they place a burden of proof onto the insured party.

          1. “If the mistake leading to the incident was made by the non-motorised road user, that mistake has to be so unlikely, that a motor vehicle user could not reasonably have considered it to happen. Failing to give way or jumping a red light (deliberately or by mistake) are not such unlikely events, they happen regularly, so drivers are not granted ‘circumstances beyond control’ very often.

            Besides ‘circumstances beyond control’ the driver can also argue the non-motorised road user was at fault. This is only possible for road users from the age of 14. If that road user was indeed at fault, the driver is still liable for 50% of the damage.”

            This quote would seem to disagree mfwic.

          2. So Tony there is strict liability for crashes with kids and not for adults. Culpability is considered if the cyclist was over 14 so it isn’t strict liability. Even with kids it is liability for the insurance company not the driver. Why? Probably because they work on the last man standing principle, same reason our Council gets to pay for all the leaky homes. Very practical and very Dutch.

          3. Shut up sailorboy the adults are talking.

            mfwic, Ignoring under 14s, if not at fault a driver is still liable for +-50%. And you need court proceedings to decide.

            Which seems to be at odds with their road law. So a driver may not be criminally liable (not at fault) but is still expected to pay the other parties expenses.

            At least the council could be considered to be partially at fault for leaky homes.

          4. “Shut up sailorboy the adults are talking.”

            Repeat after me: Motorists kill cyclists. The motor vehicle is the danger.

          5. Wow Tony what an adult comment.

            Did Sailorboy’s comment not accord with your pre-conceived ideas? Actual facts would completely back up what he is saying.

            Motor vehicles kill people, not bicycles or pedestrians.

          6. That rule is not unique to the Netherlands. Belgium, and probably other countries over there have similar rules, usually drivers are liable for the damage (but not automatically at fault) when hitting a cyclist or pedestrian. There’s no ACC, but it’s illegal to drive a car without third-party insurance.

            Anyway I’d say the main incentives to be careful are: for cyclists the desire to stay alive and in one piece, and for car drivers, aversion to having dead people under your car. In contrast, drivers over here seem remarkably complacent (or perhaps ignorant) about that second issue.

          7. “Repeat after me: Motorists kill cyclists. The motor vehicle is the danger.”

            Repeat after me: I cannot be held liable for other peoples actions.

            PS, you’re confusing motorists with motor vehicles. Even the Goose didn’t confuse the two, although he is also wrong.

          8. Tony, please explain how I am wrong.

            Hundreds of people killed every year by motor vehicles in this country. It is the most common non-health related ways to die in NZ.

            Once every few years a person may be hit by a bike and die.

            Maybe go back to WhaleOil or wherever you crawled out from where blanket statements with no evidence are accepted.

          9. No, I’m not confusing the two. A stationary motor vehicle is no danger. The motor vehicle is the danger when a motorist operates it. The motorists kill people.

            Lets try this again: An untouched knife is no danger. The knife is a danger when the wielder operates it. The wielder kills their victims.

            There, not so difficult is it, if you want to use the most dangerous weapon in New Zealand you should be responsible for the death and crippling injury you cause.

          10. errr, sometimes (16% of the time) cyclists are just dumb and kill themselves

            “Accidents involving child cyclists are often the result of the child playing, doing tricks, riding too fast or losing control. For teenage and adult cyclists, accidents are more likely to involve collisions with motor vehicles, but about 16% of fatal or serious cyclist accidents reported to the police do not involve a collision with another vehicle, but are caused by the rider losing control of their bicycle”

            .http://www.rospa.com/road-safety/advice/pedal-cyclists/facts-figures/

        2. I wonder what happens with e-bikes. Are they classed as motorised vehicles?
          One advantage of driverless cars is all the sensor data to prove who was at fault.
          I think that dutch rule is strange. What if some cyclist crashes into a parked car. Does the car owner still have to pay 50% of damages?

          1. An electric bike is a bicycle as long as it is within the power rules.

            I imagine a cyclist would be presumed liable for hitting a pedestrian. The heavier vehicle should be responsible.

          2. Yes, it’s called Larger Object Liability and it’s something we need to have in NZ. I am no lawyer so am not all over the details but the principle is very simple: the bigger the machine; the bigger the responsibility. More power = more care required.

            And it absolutely makes cyclists automatically at fault in bike on pedestrian crashes, unless proven otherwise.

          3. Damn, so as a tall and heavy person I’m at fault in a footpath collision with someone slight of build?!

          4. Exactly like trains vs cars actually.

            The burden of safety is absolutely places on trains in that situation.

  1. But when you take valuable road space and reduce lanes you will find very few happy drivers, even more so when the cycle lanes are unused. The Great South Road through Takanini is an appalling example of stupidity, two lanes now down to one, endless congestion, an unused cycle lane all in the middle if a commercial area. Major commonsense fail.

    1. There are certainly a lot of myths regarding driving and road space. If road space was so important; why do cars expect to park all over it?

    2. It’s a myth that two lanes of traffic is more efficient that one. The way many Auckland road corridors are designed as that two lanes merge to one anywhere resulting in no significant difference.

      1. Great South Rd still has exactly the same capacity as it did. There are three stacking lanes leading out of each signalised intersection, as there has always been, this is what determines capacity. Whether the midblock section is one lane or two doesn’t really matter. A single lane without intersections will have a flow rate of something like 1500+ vehicles an hour, but the intersections will be lucky to do half that.

        If someone feels there is more traffic, it’s probably because there is more traffic.

    3. There was an independent study done on Froome St in Adelaide which found that the congestion was due to the traffic lights and not the bicycle lane… and the council votes to return the road to four lanes anyway.

      Motorists are pretty immune to evidence.

    4. Don’t blame the cycle lane. The whole of the Gt South rd from takanini interchange to Walters rd was a mess. Two lanes merging into one then out to two and back into one. Then they added in a cycle lane to make it worse. The road design was shite from the get go. And then to put in a poorly designed cycle lane in top is a death sentence. I refuse to ride any where along there.

    5. You’ve referred to Takanini a few times now. That cycle lane down great south road there is used. Not as much as it should be, however I’d say it’s because it’s a great example of a cycle lane that just vanishes at certain point (round about at Longford Park for example) and near the motorway exchange traffic lights.

      You seem to fail to mention that Takanini has seen a huge influx in housing in the last 10 – 15 years, so that could explain the increase in traffic? Rather than just saying it’s because of the cycle lanes.

      1. Yes I think road design, cycle lanes and AT in general are going to get blamed for a lot of traffic issues in the coming months/years but really mostly it will be there is simply more population try Bfbto love about.

  2. One of the things I really noticed in Tokyo was the lack of traffic for a large city. Sure some areas had some but most did not even in peak times in poplar areas. I suspect this is primarily down to the rich transit access and high bike mode share (despite the lack of infrastructure).

    Same thing in Kyoto

  3. One way roads are highly efficient for moving vehicles, so you can afford to narrow the lanes to make room for other things. It’s easy to stick in a cycle lane on a one way road while narrowing the road and keeping the same amount of lanes. I do question the reduction in travel time though. There could be any number of factors that caused that change: change in season, road works , new traffic signal phasing that penalises the side roads etc.I would be interested to know how things turn out on Nelson St after they complete the cycle way.

  4. That problem on New North Road is quite specific to NZ, more specifically the crappy behaviour of drivers over here.

    This is how this would work in Belgium [but assuming you’re driving on the left]: drivers know to stay behind cyclists if they’re about to turn left. Drivers use their indicators. Drivers also know to check their mirrors before turning left. There’s no ambiguity — cyclists on the cycle lane have priority.
    On your driver license test, turning left without checking your mirror is a guaranteed fail. As is overtaking a cyclist if you’re about to turn left.

    The layout would indeed be unusual, normal practice in Belgium is for the bike lane to cross the slip lane at the intersection (with of course a give-way sign for cars).

    And that example in Mission Bay stands out due to the parking lane, but is by no means unique, I used to commute via another example on Wairau Road, starting from the intersection with Forrest Hill Road.

  5. Bus lane design suffers from the same issues. I watched buses on the northwestern motorway this morning navigate the new shoulder lanes. One bus arrived in the shoulder lane at the rosebank rd on-ramp, and then had to cross the lane of cars on the on-ramp to get to the next shoulder lane.

    An underpass for the bus would have made both the bus passengers and merging traffic happier!

    1. Yes Tom that’s called a busway, something that NZTA *forgot* to tell their minister was required to A. make the buses work properly and B. then do the job of attracting enough drivers to make the m’way work properly too. As can be seen to work everyday on the North Shore.

      Extraordinary. And, it seems, without consequences for those involved. All just moving on to push terrible monomondal motorway projects on Auckland like the East/West debacle (I do concede they are extending the existing busway on SH1 north two stops, which is better).

      And I accept that the minister in both cases was the worst in living memory (Brownlee) but isn’t that even more reason for the experts to work harder with their technical expertise to balance whim?

      1. S. Joyce was worse. He was the founding father of the Roads of National Extravagance which have effectively shaped transport policy and consumed most of the transport capital budget ever since. He also was the principal obstructor of the CRL and had to be convinced into funding Kiwirail just to survive. Brownlee mindlessly continued on down the same path with few if any new ideas.

  6. The only reason a car killing a cyclist can be considered as ‘not-the-fault-of-the-driver’ is because car-use and its associated human toll have become so normalised in societal thinking that we have lost perspective on what is actually going on.

    If I decided to exercise my preference to fire a gun in a public place and someone got shot, I would be held liable even if I warned everyone to get out of the way, put up signs showing where I intended to fire, and believed that I shouldn’t be responsible for others choosing to cross my firing line.

    When cars first appeared, their danger was apparent very early on, and in civilised societies they were only permitted to be driven in public places if preceded by someone on foot waving a flag. But at some stage following agitation from motorists, the right to drive anywhere at deadly speeds became enshrined in law, with predictable consequences. This was where the law “f*cked-up”.

    Civilised societies today are those like the Netherlands which place the duty-of-care principally on those operating the dangerous equipment unprotected in a public place.

    1. Have you ever ridden in Amsterdam? The Bikes are heavy, poorly designed and the brakes barely work. Then the riders seem to have scant regard for their own safety or anyone elses. They certainly have no concern about scratching cars as they pass them in the streets.
      Add to that, the weather is often appalling and 6 months of the year, dark and it is no wonder they have quite a few fatalities. I spent 6 months in Holland a few years ago and even though I cycled almost every day, I was often appalled at the behaviour of the local cyclists. The best city for cycling was actually Copenhagen.

        1. Apparently cycling deaths were 30% of all road deaths in the Nederlands last year (185/621). When you consider all the separated lanes etc, that is a high statistic. Honestly, it did not strike me as a safe place to ride a bike and much of the problem seemed to be the assumption of the cyclists, that they were indestructible and somehow had right of way (even when they didn’t) over cars, busses, trams etc.
          Sadly, us cyclists have to own responsibility for our own safety and running lights, pulling out in front of traffic, riding with poor brakes and bad lights is inexcusable and yet I saw that all the time when we were in Holland.
          Of course there needs to be more money spent on safe cycle lanes, but there also needs to be some ownership of the obligation to ride sensibly and within the law. This article could also be ‘when drivers are happy, so are cyclists’. It is perfectly understandable for car drivers to get upset when they see cyclists riding through red lights, just as it is understandable for cyclists to be angry when they are cut up by cars. Let’s all learn to share the roads because no government in the world is ever going to have a fully separated road system,as much as we may wish for it.

  7. It seems to have slipped under the radar, but examples of the Netherlands roundabout design, with cycle lanes around the outside of the roundabout, have been built in Auckland, in the newer back streets near the airport, where several street designs featuring significant pedestrian and cycling amenity have been built. They have an emphasis on greater separation of pedestrians and cyclists from traffic, and also provide significant capacity and much greater accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists, compared to standard road construction.

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