Don’t misunderstand the Fietsstraat

The Times’ excellent correspondent, Kaya Burgess, is currently in the Netherlands on a fact-finding mission, along with London’s Cycling Commisioner Andrew Gilligan, Scotland’s Minister for Transport Keith Brown, and others. I hope they like what they are seeing (it’s impossible not to). However, I think it is important that they fully understand the context and application of the interventions for cycling they are looking at.

Just one example – on Monday Kaya tweeted this picture of the ‘Fietsstraat’ sign -

Writing that it ‘gives cycles priority’ on Dutch residential streets.

Well, yes and no. Literally, the sign suggests that cars are ‘guests’ on this particular street. But it was immediately misunderstood by several people who responded to Kaya’s tweet – one wrote that

Every cyclist [should] make one and put it in their street

Another

THIS is what we need to back up the 20′s plenty campaign

And another

On every road cyclist are protected by law, and cars take second place. If there is a acident its by law the cardrivers fault.

Every single aspect of that last tweet being completely wrong.

Here’s what the Dutch CROW manual has to say about one particular version of the Fietsstraat -

Screen shot 2013-06-12 at 12.41.59I have highlighted that this particular Fietsstraat treatment (combined profile, i.e. motor vehicles and cyclists travel on the same ‘red’ cycle surface) should only be applied on access roads, where, as you can see, motor vehicles should not number more than 500 per day, or just 20 per hour (likely to be rather higher at peak times, of course, but probably only amounting to around just one or two vehicles every minute).

The same is true for other versions of the Fietsstraat. They are intended for use only in these very low motor traffic environments; places where motor vehicles are only using the Fietsstraat to access a deliberately small number of properties. The cars are ‘guests’ only because they are using the cycle street to access their own houses; they’re not being told to be ‘guests’ in a ‘please play nicely’ kind of way, which is likely to be completely ineffective.

Here’s a different version of the Fietsstraat – one with cycle tracks to the side, and central divider.

DSCN9264Again, this route will only be used by motor vehicles accessing a limited number of properties, and in very small numbers.

Simply plonking up ‘cyclists have priority’ signs on a typical UK residential street, which will have much higher levels of motor vehicle usage, will almost certainly achieve nothing, and may even be a recipe for conflict (I have pointed this out before).

The key ingredient of the Fietsstraat is the removal of motor traffic; the signs are merely the icing on the cake.

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This entry was posted in Andrew Gilligan, Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, David Hembrow, Go Dutch, Infrastructure, Street closures, Strict liability, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, The Times. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Don’t misunderstand the Fietsstraat

  1. Completely agree. This is why Cambridge City Centre is now good for cyclists and pedestrians. Not because of signs, but because of electronic bollards drastically reducing motor vehicle usage.

    Also, great metaphor: ‘the signs are merely the icing on the cake’!

    • Fred says:

      Completely off topic but – have they still got the stone paving around near the bollards on bridge street? There was a border of slate like stone which was very slippery when wet. Found this out one day when it had started to drizzle my front wheel just slipped out from under me at low speeds going round the corner, landed on my chin and now I have a scar :-(

    • radwagon1 says:

      Totally agree with the main article and your comment about our city centre.

      As I was reading this I immediately thought of places like Gwydir Street and Riverside where there is very, very little vehicular traffic, it’s mostly people cycling and walking (aside from all the parked cars, of course!). My experiences of people driving in those areas is that they do tend to be going a lot slower and give way to people riding, although that might be a bit rose-tinted view. My feeling is that if you take away the ability to go anywhere by car from streets you increase the percentage of people driving being locals who don’t want to destroy their neighbourhood. And increase the likelihood that the same people are used to riding in those areas.

      In that way, the result is a more civilised street environment, much like above. It’s not putting signs up or changing the law (both of which I’m not excluding) but changing minds. Of course, aside from those small backstreets, there’s a strong need for some decent infra!

  2. Doug Culnane says:

    The language of the CROW manual is sometimes confusing. “Combined Traffic” really means “No Cars”.

    Great post and thanks for pointing out this misunderstanding which is not just a British problem.

    • Jan says:

      500 cars / day is not equal to ‘no cars’. Most residential streets would be in that range. If you don’t make them through-routes, the only cars there will be residents, which are quite likely more considerate for cyclists (and playing children) anyway.

      I think that’s one of the reasons why the ‘fietsstraat’ is a rare sight in the Netherlands: a lot of streets already work like this, without needing any special signs.

  3. Why doesn’t the Mayor fund several places for borough and TfL engineers to attend a fact finding mission in other EU cities, after all, we are the ones who need to understand the ideas – I guess it would be seized on by the press as a junket!

    • dave lambert says:

      As a professional engineer, isn’t it part of your job to be up to date with the latest developments in your field? The Dutch have been doing this stuff since the 1970s so if you are still designing streets for the 1960s car dominated world, shame on you.

  4. Har Davids says:

    The sign in this article is a pretty recent invention, and I haven’t seen it in Rotterdam yet; it’s official in Belgium, that’s certain. The few fietsstraten I know are basically street-wide cycle-tracks, recognizable by their colour, with a very low speed-limit, mostly used by the people who live there, almost like the street I live in, but we have a 30 Km limit, with most people driving at 15 Km at the most. I don’t think there’ll be many of them if we ever get any, unless they change all the 30 Km signs we have. I think you need to know the Dutch attitude in traffic, we have our share of road-maniacs too, but in general we get along in traffic: all motorists own bikes and use them as well, so we don’t get our knickers in a twist too often. It’s not unusual to see a lorry-driver make a stop for a cyclist or pedestrian, which would make the head-lines in the UK, if the information I find on the internet is true. Fact-finding is great, but spending money on infrastructure should be a first. Tourists love to bike when they’re here, because they feel safe and accepted as a participant in traffic, so there’s no reason they wouldn’t like it at home. Last time I was in London I really wanted to go out and explore the city by bike, but didn’t feel very welcome in the street as a pedestrian, never mind trying a bike-ride. One can only hope for improvements.

  5. Fred says:

    This just makes me want to go back there this summer. I think I’ll do Hook of Holland to Dunkirk and check out the Belgian cycle paths too :-)

    I’m glad the cycling supremos are going to have a look. Scotland are lucky their transport minister thinks it’s worth looking at, I can’t help thinking that someone from the department for transport, the transport minister and all of TFL’s traffic engineers should be there as well…

  6. The tweets from British cyclists seem to me to be from an anti-driver angle. I know where they’re coming from – the aggressive selfishness that we see every day can make one want to punish drivers, or somehow force them to behave. (“You WILL follow the Highway Code, dammit!”) I’ve had that feeling myself, but it’s an emotional response rather than a pragmatic one, and in the long term it’s not the solution.

  7. Aaaarg! Here’s how Keith Brown decides to put action to this at the launch of the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland”:

    “What we noticed in Amsterdam was that they have a hierarchy there and a very interesting concept where the car was the guest, especially in some of the smaller streets. And that does go long a way to breeding a new culture where cyclists and motorists can use the roads safely together” He said a “mutual respect campaign” would be launched next week and it would go “a long way” to ensuring both motorists and cyclists used the roads appropriately.”

    Oh yeah, that and an “aspiration” that all residential areas have 20 mph zones.

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3795521.ece

    So. A “mutual respect campaign” and advisory 20mph speed limits is what Brown thinks Fietsstraat is all about. I wonder, did he get on a bike at all when he was NL?

  8. I was amazed to see that we do have our very own attempt at a “Fietsstraat” on the way into the central terminal area at Heathrow.

    To say that this has “misunderstood” the idea would be being extremely generous to whoever thought that one up. Yes, it has a cycle lane down the middle, but they’ve completely forgotten about the through traffic bit. It really is quite a bizarre feature, but apparently the cars and taxis which use this route “behave” themselves (some of the time, so I’m told!).

    What a shame Keith Brown has accepted the opportunity to go on what should be a useful junket, but come back having learned nothing. The Dutch are not anti-car, and they don’t need “hug-a-look-what’s-under-my-hood” campaigns because the vast majority of them ride bikes AND drive cars.

    So speed limit reduction is a useful step in the right direction, but the removal of the through traffic is far more important. Presumably Mr Brown still thinks “filtered permeability” is something you get from Britta?

  9. dadahans says:


    In this “fietsstraat” there are obviously more than 500 cars per hour!

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