If you live in the suburb of Baggelhuizen in Assen, which lies in the south-west of the city, outside its ring road, you will use Hoofdlaan to get in and out of the city. It’s a fast, straight road, with a 70 km/h speed limit, and nasty pinch points, like this –
It’s the kind of road that in the UK, you would be expected to cycle on – indeed, you would probably have no choice but to cycle on it.
But this is Assen, and of course, we have a wide and smooth cycle path, all to ourselves, running directly alongside this road.
Well, not quite to ourselves – the day we cycled along it, the grass was being mown by the council, and the cycle path was ‘blocked’ by their vehicle –
This is the kind of path upon which ladies can cycle into the city, as relaxed as they like, without having to worry about vehicles travelling close to them at 50 mph.
It’s a road, for bikes.
As Hoofdlaan meets the ring road, there is a busy roundabout.
How do we get across?
The bicycle path and footpath pass directly under it. We don’t encounter that large lorry you can see moving around the roundabout, at all. Our progress is serene.
It’s lovely to be separated from motor vehicles in this fashion. But it doesn’t occur everywhere. Further into the city, Hoofdlaan becomes a road which bicycles have to share with motor vehicles.
At this point, you can see where the cycle paths – to the left and right – cease, and the carriageway becomes shared. The speed limit, however, has dropped from 70 to 30 km/h, there is a speed hump, and the centre line has disappeared. It feels safe to share with cars under these conditions.
You can see these principles on another road, Asserweg, as it approaches the village of Loon, to the north-east of Assen. This road has a 60 km/h limit – reasonably fast – but again we don’t have to share with vehicles here; we have a bi-directional path to the left.
In the village itself, vehicle should be travelling at low speeds, and so there shouldn’t be any need for the separation of bikes and cars to continue – in any case, the space between the houses is rather too narrow for the provision of separate paths.
So what do we see?
Before the cycle path we are using rejoins the carriageway, there is a sharp chicane that vehicles have to negotiate, to ensure that their speed drops to the 30 km/h speed limit in the village. There is also a rough cobbled surface, to give a distinct impression of speed, compared to the smooth tarmac beforehand. Only when the vehicles have been slowed sufficiently does the cycle path feed into the road.
It’s unfeasible to expect cars to travel everywhere at 20 mph; there have to be fast roads for cars. But it’s also unfeasible to expect people using bicycles to share these roads, with vehicles travelling at 50+ mph. This is where the Dutch will keep you separate.
In places where cars should be travelling slowly anyway – in villages, or in the built-up suburbs of a city – the low speed limit makes sharing much more of a possibility. And besides, there often genuinely isn’t the space for separate provision for bicycles. In these circumstances, the low speed limit is coupled with rough surfaces, a lack of centre marking, and other measures to encourage careful driving.
You can read more – much more – on David Hembrow’s blog.