Do Dutch pedestrians get a raw deal?

My post last week – about vehicular cycling being enabled by Dutch infrastructure – prompted a tweet from Jon Usher, wondering where the pedestrian infrastructure was in the Netherlands.

It’s a reasonable question, because (looking at that post again) nearly all the photographs featuring the Netherlands do not contain ‘pedestrian infrastructure’ – they only show cycle tracks. Only one photograph in the post has a pavement beside a cycle track.

Why is this? Have the Dutch forgotten that pedestrians exist? Are they just thinking about bikes, and not about people walking?

The short answer is – absolutely not.

But in longer form – the Dutch don’t bother to cater separately for cycling and walking where there is no need to do so. There is no need, for instance, to build a pavement alongside the cycle track here, because not many people are using it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 18.45.20People walking can use the cycle track without any problems, sharing with people who happen to be cycling. This jogger doesn’t need a separate footway, because the two-way cycle track is perfectly adequate.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 18.47.22

Likewise a a new 4m wide cycle track in Nijmegen can easily accommodate joggers, walkers and cyclists, together. There just isn’t any need to build a footpath alongside it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 09.48.27

This approach means that – particularly in rural areas – the footway is a cycle track.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 18.58.03This isn’t a problem for people walking – the surface is very smooth (smoother than a standard paved footway), and the number of people walking and cycling is so low that conflict is minimal.

It is important to note that this is very different from British ‘shared use’ provision, which is pedestrian-specific infrastructure on which people have been granted permission to cycle. By contrast, the Dutch design for vehicular cycling, which is (by default) suitable for walking on.

Of course, if there were more people walking along these paths, then there would be a problem, and a footway would have to be constructed, to deal with this lack of comfort. Indeed, as you cycle from the countryside into a town or a city, you can quickly see the point at which the numbers of people walking necessitates separation. For instance, the path just outside the town of Veenendaal has no footway – it’s effectively a country lane, albeit one that has no motor vehicles on it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 19.03.05But as soon as this same path enters the built-up area, so a footway appears alongside it. The number of people walking justifies this separate provision.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 19.05.42And again, here’s an example of where a footway suddenly begins alongside a cycle track, as the path enters a built-up area –

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 19.08.18This isn’t accidental. The CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic has clear guidance on when it is acceptable to mix pedestrians and cyclists, and when they must be provided for separately. Table 20 in Chapter 4 –

DSCN0807What this table shows is that, if more than 100 pedestrians, per metre of width, are passing along a path per hour, then they must be provided for separately. So – to take an example – if we have a 3m wide bi-directional cycle track, then 300 people walking along it, per hour, exceeds the limit for sharing. These pedestrians should be provided for separately. Under 300 people walking along it per hour requires no separation.

This is fairly intuitive – a 3m wide path can easily accommodate 5 people walking along it per minute without much difficulty. And – interestingly enough – this pedestrian flow, per metre of with, per hour, corresponds very closely with high levels of pedestrian comfort in TfL guidance, which suggests that 180 pedestrians per metre of width, per hour, would have an A+ level of comfort.

Sometimes it appears that the CROW guidance is stuck to a little too rigidly. For instance, the new ‘The Crossing’ bridge in Nijmegen (which Mark Wagenbuur has blogged about) has a stunning cycle track running across it, but no separate footway.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 09.53.00

I imagine this is acceptable; it’s a long way to walk, so probably not many people will be walking here, and those that do can share this path happily. But… it would have been nice to have it, especially given the cost of building this bridge, and the difficulty of adapting it if, at some future point, pedestrian flows increase.

But all that said, it turns out that the Dutch treat pedestrians rather better than we do. They ensure that they are not forced to share footways with people cycling in areas of high pedestrian footfall, as Surrey County Council appear to be attempting to do in Walton-on-Thames. They would never mix pedestrians and cyclists on footways in busier pedestrian environments – the above guidance table would rule this out. More than 100 pedestrians per hour per metre of width requires separation.

Where pedestrians aren’t catered for separately, there really isn’t any need to do so, due to the low usage levels of the paths in question. Wide paths can be shared happily when the volume of people walking and cycling is low.

Read more about the general way in which pedestrians are catered for in the Netherlands on the Cycling Embassy blog.

This entry was posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Do Dutch pedestrians get a raw deal?

  1. Mark Hewitt says:

    How popular is dog walking in the Netherlands? I ask because, talk to any cyclist who has used off road routes and to a man they’ll always tell you that, it’s not pedestrians that cause issues, it’s dogs. Their unpredictability – often being off the lead – means one can only pass at ‘walking pace’, thus meaning paths such as those shown above are then made unsuitable for vehicular cycling.

    • geoffrone says:

      As both a cyclist and dog owner I can’t win but what I would say Mark is that if you replace the words “cyclist” and “dogs” with “driver” and “cyclists” leaving out the bit about leads, you are left with another familiar message! To be honest, if a bike rider went past me at much more than a fast walking pace – even with the dog on a lead – I’d probably be cursing at the inconsiderate “bloody cyclist” especially if they gave no warning of their approach.

    • plien says:

      I imagine it’s mostly the same, just like lots of other things the UK (particularly England) & the Netherlands have in common.

      The figures i found said the UK had 8,5 million dogs on 64 million inhabitants while the Netherlands had 2,2 million dogs on 16,7 million inhabitants. Which roughly gives one dog for every 7,5 persons.
      Behaviour is also the same, in that people in both countries (rightly) think that one has to take the dog out for a walk, unlike places like the USA where it’s considered normal to keep a dog in a garden.

      As this post indicates, not only does the Netherlands do cycling infra better, but also provides better pavements. This stems from the reason for this infrastructure, namely to protect children & other vunerable roadusers. (search “stop the childmurder”)
      As a result the person walking the dog is on the pavement most of the time, until they reach their destination, which is usually a park. Outside of the city one can see more dogwalkers on bicyclepaths, because of lack of pavement & more space to walk a dog of leash. Dutch dogs are supposed to be on leash inside the city unless it’s a park/ freezone.

      Of course, one can always combine great bike infra with the needs of ones dog;

  2. livinginabox says:

    I am appalled, as a resident of Walton-on-Thames I was unaware of this proposed crime against cycling. I will of course be letting the Council know about the serious dangers and drawbacks of such half-baked proposals.

  3. It’s not just the number of pedestrians that is important: the visibility and crossing movements matter too. In the Walton-on-Thames example a shared-use path would be wrong even if there were few pedestrians because there are doorways and side exits right onto the pavement with almost no visibility. It is not safe to cycle at even 10mph if there could at any time be someone stepping in front of you who you are unable to see and who does not expect you.
    Another example is this,0.117958,3a,75y,51.72h,76.9t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sQdOMCvkwx_1VR8ip62yy4A!2e0
    which is a shared-use path in Cambridge. I don’t care how few pedestrians there are here, it is just wrong that these people’s front doors to open onto a shared-use path.
    In your Dutch pictures, the situations are completely different as there are long stretches with good visibility and pedestrians will be walking along, not across the track. The tracks are also smooth and straight and do not weave around A-boards and bus stops or go up and down kerbs.

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      I’m not sure why you are singling out cyclists as an apparently uniquely bad hazard on narrow footways – don’t believe the hype. Burly joggers are at least as bad, and, of course cars parked or parking there. Or people reversing out of drives with poor sight lines:

      I’m a near-local of Walton, and I am against the plan for a number of reasons, but at present, even without the proposed footway widening, a fair amount of footway cycling goes on and is (better than) tolerated. But then we don’t have hordes of indisciplined students around – it’s mostly “local pedestrians on bikes” and it works. Why should the good citizens of Walton be burdened by the sins of Cambridge?

      What is silly is that just round the corner from the Walton scheme we have this:
      massively wide footway with footfall often within CROW tolerances for no separations, but this is not shared use. So the council thinks 3 m with high footfall is good enough for shared use but 6 m with lower footfall isn’t? Yep, LA’s, as the DfT remind us, must know their own roads best (note also the carriageway surface that the bike rider has to cycle on – been like that for years).

      • I agree that it is perfectly possible to go along even a narrow or busy pavement on a bike without harming or alarming pedestrians so I think that considerate pavement cycling should be permitted. But cycling safely on narrow or busy pavements is slow, inconvenient and stressful; it means slowing right down, stopping frequently and being highly alert to stray toddlers, frail elderly people, people striding out of shops looking at their phones…
        My point is that schemes that have people stepping out unawares into the paths of cyclists with no visibility are not really providing for cycling; they are rubbish for both pedestrians and cyclists.
        The reason I linked the picture of Cambridge houses opening onto an empty shared-use pavement is not that I think the cyclists there are especially irresponsible, just that I think it is wrong to design things so that every time residents opens their front doors they have to be prepared for the risk that there is a bike approaching at speed just a foot or so in front of the door.

      • ” But then we don’t have hordes of indisciplined students around – it’s mostly “local pedestrians on bikes” and it works. Why should the good citizens of Walton be burdened by the sins of Cambridge?”

        The original comment said nothing about students, indisciplined or otherwise, or locals.

        I’m afraid it is very much your own prejudices playing out here.

        Very few of the uni students would cycle on Long Road. The universities and their accommodation are closer to town, and there’s not much for them in this direction. The majority of people using Long Road are likely to be either sixth-form students (local) or workers on the hospital site (also local). The sixth-form students are not necessarily predictable, but they’re not very fast either. Also they’re under 18s seeking independent mobility by bike, exactly where cycle campaigning in this country should be.

        None of which arguing about types of cyclist makes any difference to whether it’s a good idea to have people cycling directly in front of doors. It’s not.

  4. Michael J says:

    The UK is appalling for cycling or walking. In most rural areas it’s impossible to walk a direct route between adjacent villages other than along a busy road (often 60 mph limit), with no footpath and often no verge. Building cycle paths could fix this.

    • Absolutely. Every main road between towns and villages needs a parallel cycle path. In most cases, pedestrian levels are low enough for it to be safe and convenient for them to can use it too. Everyone benefits.

      Meanwhile, in the towns it appears that sometimes the Dutch do sometimes take more space away from pedestrians than ideal, but at least they create decent cycle paths with it. We are also taking space away from pedestrians by dumping the bikes onto the pavement which is the worst of both worlds because it makes things worse for pedestrians and also fails to improve (or even worsens) conditions for cycling.

  5. Sarah says:

    Those per-hour metrics – what hours, days, seasons are they typically based on? A rural facility with mainly leisure use might be used by a handful of people during the week and by a vast horde of people on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

  6. user1 says:

    “Separation; traffic path with continuous profile (no differences in height)”

    Could you tell how the manual explains this? Does CROW recommend separating cyclists and pedestrians just by a white line? It could make sense in pedestrianised areas, but on main cycle routes it seems not Dutch at all, at least as a permanent solution.

    • Jan says:

      I tried to comment on this with some samples, but I guess that moderation thought it was spam. Let’s try some more elaborate answer:

      ‘Just a white line’ is usually a bad idea. A cycle path should be clearly marked, and will usually have a different surface color, and possibly a different surface.

      I think it makes even more sense on cycle routes (high volume of bikes, low volume of pedestrians). It allows walking along the bike path, while occasionally using the path (with a stroller, wheelchair, etc) when passing other pedestrians. It also gives cyclists some extra width where needed.

      In pedestrianized areas, it’s the other way around, and will only work if the volume of cyclists is really low, since pedestrians will start blocking the bike path.

      Some examples:

      • user1 says:

        Jan, thanks for your comment. The first photo shows something which is really not Dutch – it’s a “cycle farcility” in Warsaw. I’m very familiar with Polish cycle “infrastructure” and from my personal experience I’d say that separation by different color or surface works even less than a white line (another popular solution in Poland). Especially in a country where sidewalks are made from all kinds of materials (sometimes changing every few hundred meters or so). White line is at least something more unusual and is well visible.

        On the second and third photo there is something which looks like a bit defective Dutch cycle paths – after all, why not use low angled kerb between a cycle path and a sidewalk? As you say, pedestrians (even those on wheels) could still pass each other using the cycle path, and cyclists would have a possibility to ride up and down the kerb.

        Cycle paths with sidewalks on the same level may work in countries where pedestrians understand cycle infrastructure, but I wouldn’t recommend them in countries where many pedestrians treat cycle paths like some kind of sidewalks. Polish cycle campaigning organization “Cities for bicycles” even prepared a proposal for change in road standards (department for infrastructure is working on it now), so that an angled kerb between a cycle path and adjacent sidewalk would become mandatory.

  7. I know this is a little off-topic but, as you probably already know, I’m not at all keen on the words “cyclist” and “pedestrian” (and “motorist” of course) – it implies that there are people who only ever ride a bike, people who only ever walk, and people who only ever drive. As you’ll have noticed, after spending any time at all in the Netherlands (or even Berlin) it soon becomes clear why this is nonsense. Sometimes a person will walk, that same person will also use a bike, maybe a bus or tram or train or car.

    I think whenever the phrase “for pedestrians” is written, it’s much better to use “for walking” or “for those walking”, as it doesn’t set up the concept of distinct groups of people. Similarly, “cyclists” suggests a specialist out-group, particularly in the UK where people can identify with (and feel pity for) “pedestrians”, while considering “cyclists” to be an alien species, hell-bent on antagonising the “pedestrians” and the “motorists”.

    We need to frame the debate around modes of transport – walking, cycling, driving and public transport – not around pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and… er… bussists/trainists? Because, as this article has shown, the people walking on the cycle track are not “pedestrians” on the “cyclists” path, they’re people who happen to not be using a bike at that moment. We must cease using the language of division!

    • I know someone who uses a wheelchair who feels excluded by saying ‘for walking’, but is quite happy to be referred to as a pedestrian.

    • Yes, you’re right! I think I did okay here, until I started referencing the CROW Manual, which refers to ‘pedestrians’ and ‘cyclists’ – not a problem in the Netherlands, where a ‘cyclist’ could be anyone, but a bit more problematic in the UK.

      • Har Davids says:

        Maybe that problem is something that needs to be taken care of, before the real issues can be faced, as changing the lable won’t change attitudes. To us in Holland these terms mean just what they say: a person who uses a specific mode of transportation at a give time. Friends of mine, who happen to live in London, were really surprised to see lorry-drivers make stops for pedestrians and cyclists even when legally not required. It’s a more relaxed way to travel in urban areas, causing less stress and accidents. Banning the Jeremy Clarksons from TV might be a start, replacing them with people with a more open mind.

  8. Schnauzer Minelli says:

    Amazing! When did the UK fall so far behind???

  9. Nel Boy says:

    It’s a nice refreshing change to see shared cycle/pedestrian routes done properly… I would like the see the author of this blog come to the city of York during the summer season (ends in September) or on a saturday in the 3 weeks leading up to Christmas, and report back their findings on the “shared space” area of Deangate outside the York Minster cathedral. Whilst the Dutch have specific regulations stating how much pedestrian footfall determines what type of seperation there should be between pedestrians and cyclists in a ‘shared space’ (with 200+ pedestrians an hour deeming the area as not being sitable for a ‘shared space’ setup), the city of York has gone for a casserole of nonsense whereby the busiest cross-city cycling route conflicts with the approach to the 2nd busiest tourist attraction in the city – all on the same level, all using the same colour surface, and all of about 6 tactile paving slabs have been used at one end of the area… I’m not quite sure how the council would respond when a blind person gets knocked down by a cyclist there, because it certainly hasn’t been made friendly for sight-impaired people…

    It’d certainly be an excellent comparison for this blog against how to do things properly (the Dutch examples)

  10. Note that this is about what the expected number of pedestrians could be given excellent conditions for them during the busiest of times. You don’t build 2 lane motorways just because the flow may be low during the middle of the night. You build for the busiest times. And many times cycling and walking is suppressed. Given good conditions, a grid that goes absolutely everywhere linking every home and destination, making it socially acceptable to walk, and making it more attractive than driving, walking is likely to be much more common than it otherwise would now.

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