Recently I have been doing a lot of research on cycling, reading CROW – Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, the NACTO Guides, and reading/watching some great content over by Mark Wagenbuur at Bicycle Dutch. People have always told me that the Dutch are the Holy Grail of Cycling, I had some knowledge of Dutch cycling, but it made sense for me to check it out more extensively.
After this research my conclusion is this,
a) Dutch cycling infrastructure design really is great and
b) It’s made me think, are we prioritising on the right aspects (this question is more posed to engineers/designers), and are there some myths of Dutch cycling that we are to focused on (this question is more posed to us as advocates)
Not everything has to be segregated, like the Netherlands you just have to design it right.
When we think of the Netherlands we think glorious 2m+ segregated cycle tracks safe & protected from traffic, with room enough to overtake, or to cycle with friends/family. While it’s true that the Dutch segregate cycling for arterial roads with speeds above 30km/h, not every road in the Netherlands is an arterial, a large part of the streets network in the Netherlands are local streets which have speed limits of 30km/h, and at these speeds you can still have safety with unprotected cycle lanes, two examples are Fietsstrook streets where motorists can enter the cycle lanes to allow other motorists to pass as long as safe for cyclists, and Fietsstraat (Bike Streets) where motorists are allowed but are guests and must maintain low speeds.
Safety is about the Intersections
In NZ, we have a tendency to focus on cycle lanes, we put the cycle lanes in either along the street, or add them into the street, but as soon as we get to an intersection we stop. To the Dutch this would seem odd, mainly because it’s intersections where a lot of the danger is, opposed to the section of road we concentrate on. Surely it makes sense to prioritise the least safe sections for funding, without compromising the network through stop/starting of infrastructure of course, and as these pictures/videos by Bicycle Dutch show fixing them is easier than you might think.
Continuity is Key
Continuity of infrastructure is important, if gaps exist, or it stops short, people wont use it to its full extent. Remember when trains used to stop at the Strand, sure the rail network existed and could be quick, but because it stopped short of the city, people didn’t see it as competitive. Or imagine driving on the Auckland motorway network, then all the sudden SH1 went from 3 lanes each way motorway standard to one lane dirt track then back to motorway standard every few km’s, it wouldn’t be a great drive in the AM peak that is for sure.
For the same reasons why those two examples would be awful for the users, the same applies to cyclists, stopping infrastructure at intersections, gaps in cycle lanes such as at bus stops, or stopping the infrastructure short of where people want to go will lead to infrastructure not being utilized to its full capacity. Arguably, these issues effect cyclists more than PT users/drivers because doing the above not only makes cycling harder, it has large safety effects. Gaps in cycle routes cause a reduction in the perception of safety which leads to potential users avoiding the route, or more likely not to cycle at all.
Therefore getting cycling infrastructure right, and continuous, can be more important for increasing use, than prioritising km’s of cycle lanes across a city.
Width is Important & not just for Safety.
Width of cycle infrastructure is important for cyclists, it gives more of a buffer against other modes when unprotected, and allows cyclists to overtake safely meaning commuter/social cyclists can ride at their own pace. But it isn’t just about safety, the Dutch believe having wider cycle infrastructure is important because it allows people to cycle together side by side, e.g. riding with your partner, or a mother riding with her children to school. It is understanding that social aspect of cycling is a hugely important part of the mix for driving cycling as a successful mode of transport, and is often mentioned in official guides such as CROW.
Is it time to give Roundabouts more of a go?
In many countries there is a preference to building signalized intersections with a perception they are safer than roundabouts, this is interesting to the Dutch who believe the opposite, over the years converting many intersections to roundabouts. Admittedly the Dutch design their roundabouts a little different, with protected cycle lanes, and with the aim of creating easy sight of conflicts for users, as well as slowing traffic down on the roundabout. This is backed up with the safety record that Dutch four-way roundabouts are around two times safer than Dutch four-way signalised intersections.
Here’s a great video by Bicycle Dutch walking through examples of Dutch Roundabout Design
So what do you think?