Do the Dutch create ‘shared use’ pavements like us?

There was a small bit of back-and-forth in the comments under my piece about attitudes to ‘surrendering’ the roads in UK cycling campaigning, principally about the usefulness of the Hierarchy of Provision, and its advice (albeit listed last) to

Convert pedestrian routes to shared use

I think that advice is deeply unhelpful, no matter where it is listed in the Hierarchy, because it gives councils and authorities licence to put cyclists on pavements that were designed, first and foremost, for pedestrian use, without considering how that might affect the safety and convenience of both pedestrians and cyclists (this is just one of several serious problems with the Hierarchy). You end up, at best, with this sort of thing-

Screen shot 2013-02-20 at 17.06.50

Taken from LTN 2/08 – ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’

A pavement with ambiguous priority, ambiguous legality of two-way cycling, and ambiguity over where pedestrians and cyclists should be.

Carlton Reid disagreed slightly with the position that I and several others were taking on the Hierarchy of Provision, arguing that

If an item is at the bottom of a list I think that signals that it’s not to be considered until, you know, last.

If a crappy cycle lane is one that’s just striped with paint, which pedestrians can access, UK isn’t alone at having these. Striping with paint is normal in the Netherlands, as your link [this link] shows. I’ve also cycled in the Netherlands, on family cycle tours and on cycle infra tours, and have ridden on plenty of NL cycle paths that are just paint. [my emphasis]

The argument being both that the Hierarchy isn’t at fault, and also that the Dutch do precisely the same thing that we do; simply striping out cycle lanes with paint alongside ‘provision’ for pedestrians.

I pointed out that the photographs of Dutch infrastructure included in that link (by Pedestrianise London) don’t actually show the separation of pedestrians and cyclists with just paint, as Carlton seemed to be arguing, to which he responded

I wasn’t referring *only* to those pix. It was a wider point referring to the fact that the Netherlands sometimes uses paint for cycle infrastructure, of which there are many examples that aren’t too dissimilar to the sort of infra that gets (rightly) disparaged in the UK because it’s not part of a grander whole. Clearly, much infra in the Netherlands is wonderful – separated, kerbed etc etc – but there’s a lot that just works cos it’s systemically understood that the white lines should be considered as brick walls. [my emphasis again]

Again, the implication is that the Dutch sometimes employ ‘Hierarchy-like’ solutions, and do things, effectively, just as badly as we do, with a stripe of paint separating pedestrians from cyclists, just like in the picture above. Apparently the reason this works well in the Netherlands, and not over here, is because of cultural understanding.

I’m not so sure any of this is true.

The Dutch are meticulous about clarity and separation. Even where cycle tracks are built sympathetically with the surrounding environment, it is quite clear what is a cycle track, and what is pavement.


In urban areas, pavements are almost always included alongside cycle tracks, even in places where there isn’t a road for motor vehicles. The separation is clear.DSCN9253

DSCN9269And the usual arrangement of a cycle track beside a pavement is, of course, again scrupulously clear, with different materials, different colouring, and different levels. It could not be more obvious.

DSCN0120 DSCN0128 DSCN0157 DSCN9320 DSCN9358

The reason for this clarity is, I would have thought, blindingly obvious.

The Dutch do not build shared use routes.

They build cycle tracks, and provide pavements alongside those cycle tracks. They treat bicycle users and walkers separately, and don’t try to shoehorn them both into the same design solution. The Dutch do not stripe pavements and expect pedestrians to keep on one side of the line, and cyclists on the other. They design properly.

There are, of course, areas where pedestrian demand is very low indeed in the Netherlands. These are rural areas, or areas right on the outskirts of town and cities, where people will either drive to the nearest town, or cycle. It makes no sense to walk distances of half a mile or more when the cycling infrastructure is so good and can accommodate all types of cycling. In these areas – and only in these areas – will you find this kind of arrangement –

DSCN9188This is two-way cycle track alongside a road through a village just outside the city of Assen. As you can see, there is no pavement for pedestrians here, but this is not an oversight; there aren’t enough pedestrians to justify providing a pavement. The cycle track – with suitably low bicycle traffic – is perfectly adequate to walk on for short trips within the village. If demand were higher, or there were more cyclists using this path, then a pavement – with the clear separation seen in the earlier photographs – would be provided.

Because this is a cycle track, and not a pavement, it is designed like a cycle track across side roads, and at junctions.


Another example of a two-way cycle track, without a pavement – DSCN9438Very few people will be walking to an industrial park some 3 to 4 miles outside the city, and with low demand on the cycle track itself, it is perfectly adequate for walking. If there were plenty of people walking on this route, then a separate pavement would be provided.

These are routes that are ‘shared’, but not in the way we understand ‘shared use’ in the UK. They are effectively roads for bicycles which are perfectly adequate for walking on (and indeed are probably better for walking on than typical UK pavements, given that they are direct, smooth and level, particularly at junctions).

Even in cities, of course, you will find people occasionally walking in cycle tracks. These aren’t just confused tourists; they will be people trying to get past a temporary obstruction on the pavement (a crowd of people, for instance). The cycle track is not sacrosanct. But occasional incursions into cycle tracks do not matter, because of the width and quality of the tracks themselves.

The Dutch create separate space for people to walk and cycle in, respectively, and clearly demarcate it – not just with white paint, but with kerbing, level differences, different colours and different materials. They do not use crappy UK-style solutions which somehow work in their country because of a different cultural understanding of white lines.

This entry was posted in Hierarchy of Provision, Infrastructure, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Do the Dutch create ‘shared use’ pavements like us?

  1. OldGreyBeard says:

    I asked a Dutch colleague about whether there were problems with pedestrians walking in cycleways and she replied that “they don’t walk in the Netherlands, they cycle”. They do seem to regard getting on their bikes as naturally as putting on shoes.

    Perhaps the UK is more a nation of pedestrians than cyclists. Of course pedestrians are just as badly served as cyclists by the car-centric infrastructure.

    • Koen says:

      That’s correct. Whenever we see people walking over 500 metres in other countries, we often wonder why they don’t cycle that distance, because it’s a lot faster, and takes a lot less energy. But then we look at the streets, and agree that we probably wouldn’t cycle there either. So yes, that’s why Dutch pavements are a lot narrower: we just don’t walk as much, for when you visit a shop, you preferably go by bike, and after that cycle to the next shop, and so on. At best we walk a short round trip between some shops in a pedestrian area, ride around it, then park again and visit other shops on the other end. Anything to not have to walk long distances.

      • I think you’re underestimating walking, Koen. Figures that I’ve seen suggest that in Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe combined, approximately 17% of journeys are made by foot.

        And believe me, pavements are no narrower here than in the UK.

        • Koen says:

          It is so hard to categorize pedestrians, David: did they start out on public transport, as a car passenger, on a bike, or drive, or have they just walked all the way? How great is the percentage of combined trips? When you see lots of people walking into Utrecht Central Station, for instance, how many of them drove there, etc? But I believe you’re right, I was ‘exaggerating’- just a bit. (een beetje kort door de bocht)

    • Don says:

      I think the UK is a nation of drivers. We seem to view getting into the car in the same way as your ‘putting on shoes’ analogy. Very few people seem to walk anywhere, unless its 100m to the local chippy.

      • michael says:

        I spent a long time walking most places, before summoning up the courage to try cycling. That might just be me though, I just decided the tube was too hellish to endure and discovered that walking my particular commute back then took barely any longer than going by underground (once you accounted for the quite spectacular unreliability of that tube line back then). Annoys me considerably to think of all the time I’d have saved if cycling wasn’t made so unnecessarily scary in this country.

        I have to say though, that even in the rare places here where the distinction between the bike lane and the pavement is made pretty clear (e.g. the Thames path near the Millennium Dome), you still get pedestrians preferring to walk in the bike lane. It presumably is also partly a function of familiarity with the concept.

  2. Fred Smith says:

    I definitely think we need some of the Dutch clarity about what a cycle path is here in the UK. In the UK provision seems to alternate between treating cyclists as cars and treating them as pedestrians with wheels – neither of which is suitable. Also, minimum standards for cycle paths just don’t seem to exist and the result is some very poor pieces of infrastructure of dubious worth.

    I think you’ve missed off one way the Dutch do really quiet country roads – paint a white line a metre from either edge to serve as cycle lane/pedestrians/passing space. Cars have to drive slowly because they’re in the middle head to head with the cars coming the other way. Although in some ways this is just white paint, the reality is that it puts cars in the position of having to give way to everyone and is completely different to how roads are in the UK. This isn’t just cultural, we would not put cars second, nor give separate lanes for cyclists going each way but only one for cars in both directions. Not sure this contributes to the shared use with pedestrians discussion because this only makes sense in the context of how the cars are treated too.

    There is a picture here under ‘Rural access roads’:
    (I haven’t read the article as I should be working!).

    I think it’s called Woonerf ( – I want some in the UK not just because it’s a great word, but it seemed to work when I was there and is not about giving all the space to the bikes.

    • Fred, a woonerf is a “living space”. These are usually called home-zones in English and a few do already exist in the UK. I don’t know how successful they are.

      The treatment of country roads that you describe, with centre-line removed and space at either side, can quite often be found even where there is a cycle-path alongside. It is not exclusively something done solely for pedestrians and cyclists but something which is part of a package of methods to decrease motor traffic on country roads.

      • Fred Smith says:

        Thanks for explaining this & the link. It seems that roads designed to minimise traffic are a lot more pleasant than ones designed to maximise the number of cars, which isn’t really a surprise 🙂

    • Fred, as David said the lines you talk of are called “suggestion lines” in the CROW manual, as in they suggest where you should drive. They are not cycle lanes per se but a type of traffic calming effective by making the road appear narrower than it actually is. Sometimes they colour the tarmac outside of the lines red which makes them look like cycle lanes when technically they’re not, I’m guessing this is to increase the illusion and red tarmac is already readily available,

      I strongly recommend David’s link above where he talks about how the Dutch road system is designed for traffic reduction on such roads.

  3. I like the “The Dutch treat white lines as brick walls” concept from Carlton. How bizarre! How negligent of the fact that human nature is much the same wherever you go! British drivers are pretty well-trained in the use of our roads as they are engineered. Does that mean they treat the white lines on our roads as “brick walls”?

    This concept of Dutch (or German, or Scandinavian) obedience is very much part of the views of those who persistently argue that the high cycling levels seen in those countries are due in large part to cultural and attitudinal factors, not to hard, concrete infrastructure and good-quality design of the environment. As has often been argued on this blog, and on others, they are mistaken.

  4. Christine Jones says:

    I have been back and forth to Holland since the 80’s when my Mum moved there and I spent the 90’s, which were my 20’s living in Nieuwegein and Utrecht. The dutch take a great deal of pride in their transport infrastructure. This, to me is the real difference. They experiment alot with road design and I’ve seen areas, like by the station in Utrecht in a constant state of change as they work out what works and what doesn’t. They don’t always get it right, but they do at least think about it. In the UK it seems that the act of getting from A to B, doesn’t get much thought, let alone pride or innovation except in extreme circumstances and having looked at the design awards it seems very clear that it’s a very very small proportion of councils and designers here that do think about it. The investment has been lacking for so long. I think the same applies to the way they design houses.
    It might be the way that the Dutch legislate and we don’t. For example they have laws that stipulate you have to have supermarkets in walking distance of every area of housing. When they build, they build nieghbourhoods, they experiment there too. Nieuwegein is a very good example here. I’ve watched it grow since the early 80’s when my Mum moved there and every housing development involves new sustainability projects, houses with very very diverse designs and road layouts based on the feed back they get along the way. For example, where my Mum lives the streets are very windy and there are many play areas. This to some extent became potentially attractive to burglers because the houses were designed not be be overlooked by other houses.
    The next development where my friend bought her house and started a family, all the houses were in rows but designed so they were still not over looked but it was harder to gain access without someone noticing. Both neighborhoods seemed to encourage people to know their neighbours and both provided local shops, schools, a church, a community centre, play parks etc and both are popular but appeal to different tastes because they are designed differently. They both seemed to bring out pride in the owners.
    In contrast, the new developments where I now live in Ely, Cambridgshire have messy on street parking, there were disputes as the builders ran out and didn’t finish the road properly meaning the streets weren’t adopted by the council for months and months so people had to walk their rubbish sacks to the end of the road, chimneys fell down etc. There is no sense of pride, more a sense of we’ve been duped. The rooms are small, they build houses with 3-4 beds and 4 bathrooms (as a mum, do you really need to be cleaning 4-5 toilets!!) and the gardens over look other houses, really shoddy and miserable. Especially as the houses where my friend in Holland lives were really cheap, designed for first time buyers, they moved in and had to fit their own kitchen, do the garden and the 2nd floor had stairs but was basically an attic. They have made it their own. The houses in the UK, are made to look lovely, cost a fortune and soon after moving in, the residents find the fixtures and fittings falling to bits.
    My point is legislation played a part here – over in Holland they spend money on the infrastructure and make the houses so they are well made but not finished, which makes them cheap and attractive to young families who get to make them their own – take pride in them. Here you pay over the odds only then to find there is no neigbourhood, the roads are badly done and your house is slowly falling to pieces.
    The Dutch take a great deal of pride in making where they live a place worth living. This means experimenting and creating laws that protect the quality of life from developers who are just trying to fit the maximum number of plots on a piece of land. This applies even in the recession in Holland, they too have had to make cuts but they know that cutting back on a bus service or a community centre will not help in the long term.
    If the UK is ever going to improve in this area – housing and transport being the main areas here they need to set out minimum standards that protect quality of life. Quality of life partly means being able to get around your town, going to the shops, the doctors, the playpark, without using a car. Never has the phase ‘i’d go for a walk, but I don’t have a car’ ever been truer than in the UK.

    • Koen says:

      I think the realisation that bad neighbourhoods become a problem for the whole town has led to the decision in NL to make them attractive. That’s why we’ve stopped building monotonous housing, but like to experiment with architecture. Far from everything is a succes, of course, but it has made many developments more livable. One does see a lot of retro buildings here though, so I guess this is one of those times before the real new ideas are put forward.

  5. Greg Collins says:

    “Although there are more than 7,000 kilometres of cycle paths in Dutch cities, almost half the
    kilometres cycled are on roads with a combined profile for car and bicycle traffic. Say the Dutch authorities themselves.” (2009 Netherlands Ministry of Transport and Fietsberaad They also say “More interestingly: cyclists often prefer a quiet residential street to an autonomous bicycle path alongside busy traffic arteries”

    So not quite the separate infrastructure nirvana that’s being promoted to us in the UK.

    The Dutch pedestrian doesn’t mind being squeezed out of the street scene in favour of cycling facilities because the Dutch pedestrian is a cyclist. For the same reason they don’t object ot pavement space being taken up with cycle parking.

    • “So not quite the separate infrastructure nirvana that’s being promoted to us in the UK.”

      Greg, nobody is claiming, or has ever claimed, that the Dutch build cycle tracks on every single mile of their roads and streets. As you quite rightly point out, they only build them alongside a relatively small percentage of their network.

      But the guiding principle of Dutch design – and why they are so successful at maintaining such a high level of cycling – is indeed separation of bicycles and motor traffic. Cycle tracks are not the only way to keep motor vehicles and bicycles apart.

      There’s a lovely wiki article that addresses this in detail.

      • 3rdWorldCyclinginGB says:

        But I’ve certainly heard the inverse argument from those who are against a European style network in the UK, that it won’t work because you can’t build cycle paths everywhere, and I bet some casual readers would interpret your article as saying this. Very few blog articles have dsicussed or shown anything but separate cycle paths when discussing European infrastructure. So the argument is used by the opposition whether out of ignorance or malice, and generally undersold by pro-bloggers, and I think it is useful that Greg highlights the point, and that you direct readers to the CEoGB wiki.

      • bikemapper says:

        The LCC’s Go Dutch campaign is about creating “a clear space for cycling on London’s main roads”. Little wonder, then, that their campaign is focussed pretty much entirely on main roads. Their key principles in full, for example, mention main roads 21 times, but residential streets not at all.

        As David Arditti has previously said, “Creating the space on the main roads where cyclists feel subjectively safe is fundamental to the Dutch cycling paradigm. Yes, the Dutch do a lot to minor roads as well. They do radical stuff there that has the effect of clearing the inessential motor traffic off them and establishing segregation of modes without cycle-paths. But this is the second stage. […] Bikes do not “belong” on the minor roads any more than cars do. Give cyclists safe routes on main roads.”

        The emphasis is all about main road routes, and very little is said in favour of quiet residential streets. This seems to me to be wrong. As you say, “Cycle tracks are not the only way to keep motor vehicles and bicycles apart.”

        • Fred Smith says:

          I think there is a lot which can be done by linking up quieter roads in London for bikes. For instance, the route up from Marchmont Street right to the top of Royal College Street is nice and getting better – the trouble is that this route links to Kentish Town Road at top and it’s actually quite hard to connect on to the bottom if you’re coming from central London (Herbrand St to Tavistock Place involves crossing 2 way traffic, one cycle lane and joining the other cycle route without any stopping place, or you can do 3 sides of the Brunswick Centre and turn across oncoming cycles with no space to stop & wait).

          I guess the separated cycle lanes are simpler to explain and promote – which is important because as road planning goes they don’t seem to understand bikes most of the time 😦 Converting back streets to effective bike routes is more nuanced and it runs the risk of it being put in inappropriately by road planners who don’t understand or care because it’s seen as an easier option (much like putting cycle lanes on pavements). That said I think there’s a lot which could be done to create new back street routes and improve existing ones and that’s not something we should forget about.

          There is also an issue that these routes are quite invisible. I only found out about Royal College Street through this blog and although I hadn’t been cycling up Camden High Street on a daily basis for more than a few weeks, I had been using it every couple of weeks for the best part of a decade. Herbrand St (the most direct way on to the south end of this route) has no signage indicating it is a cycle route except half way down. The good thing about the paint on the the superhighways is that when you see the blue you know it’s a route which actually joins up with something!

          I would love to sit down with a huge map of London and work out how a joined up network of bike lanes could be created – I can do North London to Central…

          • paul gannon says:

            Hi Fred, you can get maps of cycle routes in London from the London Cycling Campaign – of course the maps don’t tell you anything about the quality of the routes (which in general is dire of course).

            • Fred Smith says:

              Hi Paul, Thanks for the suggestion, I couldn’t see where the maps were on LCC but I put the route in to TFL and apparently I should be going up Bedford Way from Russell Sq (then Tavistock Place and on to Marchmont St). I’ll try it, looks like a better route.

              That said, we seem to be creating a cycle network which only really works for commuters who can learn the poorly signed intricate route through the back streets which is decent to cycle on (or at least less bad). When you’re at A and need to get to B, it’s not much use unless you have sat nav or don’t mind stopping to check the route every 5 mins. I guess drivers have similar problems in back streets and one way systems, but at least when they reach a main road it looks like a main road. When I see a cycle route which links up it looks just like a back street which goes nowhere…

    • christopher Waller says:

      That is true. However cycle paths in NL are strategically important in terms of providing a continuous route that links urban centres, neighbourhoods and outlying villages together. Bus lanes and motorways are only found on, or constitute a small fraction of our road network, but they are found where needed and form an important part of the bus routes and road network respectively.

    • Fred Smith says:

      Well, I went on a cycling holiday in the Netherlands and the cycling facilities were *absolutely wonderful*, went pretty much everywhere (including many places cars could not, especially in the countryside, felt safe and were well maintained.

      You’ve done a false comparison, because the truth is that the Netherlands has more of everything (segregated and not). How does your statistic compare to the UK per square mile? Surely a better comparison would be the % of roads which don’t have anything.

      Yes, many cyclists use quieter residential roads. That’s not because the ones on the main routes are bad (they’re actually really good). Maybe it’s because the residential routes are quieter and more pleasant? Having the main routes is important to complete the network and for those who don’t know all the back routes, and those are also well used.

  6. Peter Clinch says:

    I don’t spend a huge amount of time in NL, but every time I do go and visit family I seem to run in to things that contradict what people assure me is the case about the infrastructure there… So either it’s not as it is often painted (both by nay-sayers and fans) or I’m a statistical freak that always goes to the “wrong” places.

    So, “The Dutch are meticulous about clarity and separation. Even where cycle tracks are built sympathetically with the surrounding environment, it is quite clear what is a cycle track, and what is pavement”

    Drop 1861 PA BERGEN NH in to Google Maps and you’ll be outside my sister-in-law’s farm. Move up and down the road and you’ll see a track over on the west side. While it is a fietspad and mainly used by bikes there is nowhere else (aside from the road) for pedestrians (and there are a few) so they use the same track as the bikes, on which there is nothing to indicate which side they should be. Traffic levels make that a non-problem though.

    IME infrastructure in NL is not nearly as cut and dried as is often made out, but conforms to stereotypical pragmatism. There is no need for a separate pavement there, so why go to all the expense of putting one in? Bike traffic isn’t too heavy, ped traffic even lighter, so there is no problem sharing. ISTM the important point is clear separation where it is needed and there is room and for it and it is worth the cost, not “clear separation, period”. (Of course, your typical Dutch council will have a rather different idea of “worth the cost”.

    I think it’s important to emphasize you don’t need everyone separated from every other mode, everywhere in the country, because if you try and sell that then you *will* be told it can’t ever be afforded so we’ll stick with the piecemeal rubbish we have. The Dutch don’t have that, so we shouldn’t pretend they do and try to sell it here

    • Koen says:

      Well, you should also point out that usually Dutch people rarely walk these longer distances for transportation, but if they want to make longer walks, there are excellent opportunites for that in the dunes to the west, as well as the beach along the shore. So it’s quite rare to walk here.
      Of course, if there’s need for pedestrian provisions, they’re usually provided. So yes, no prolems in sharing here, because there is hardly any mixing.

    • Peter Clinch says:

      Should have read the Blog more carefully… my point is indeed outlined towards the end. But, I think you’ll do better at selling the idea if the staring points (“The Dutch are meticulous about clarity and separation”) don’t imply more cost and effort than the Dutch actually put in, until you read all the detail.

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