Space for cycling, Dutch-style

I follow the Amsterdam-based photographer Thomas Schlijper on Twitter, mainly for his excellent photographs of street life, and cycling in particular. He’s well worth a follow.

This photograph of his, from a few weeks ago, caught my attention.

Photograph of Haarlemerplein from the air, by Thomas Schlijper

Photograph of Haarlemerplein from the air, by Thomas Schlijper

It shows the Haarlemerplein, a square to the north west of the city centre, with highly visible (and very new) cycle infrastructure, just completed. The name rang a bell – it’s the same square where the same photographer took this beautiful picture, back in May.

Slightly intrigued, I thought I’d see what this area looked like, before these improvements. Thanks to Google Streetview’s archive feature, we can see the state of  roads and streets here, prior to the changes being put in place.

Looking southwest on Korte Marnixstraat (the street at the bottom right of the aerial view above), there was a poor cycle lane and ASL on the east side of the road, and nothing at all, on the west side –

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.04.25

This has been replaced by fully protected cycle tracks, on both sides of the road. The parking also appears to have been removed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.00.21

The north-west approach (over the bridge in the bottom left) had poor (by Dutch standards) cycle tracks.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.07.01These have been replaced by a wide bi-directional track on the south side, and an improved track on the north side. This has come at the expense of two motor traffic lanes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.20.41Approaching the junction from the north-east, a cycle lane, merging into protection at the junction –

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.15.52

Has become a wider, kerb-separated cycle track. Again, at the expense of a motor traffic lane.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.16.24Perhaps the most remarkable change has come on the south-eastern arm, in the square itself, where a fairly grotty narrow road, shared with motor traffic (note the token British-style ASL) –

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.21.46Has become a lovely, bicycle-only route through the square.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 20.21.04You can clearly see this ‘bicycle road’ running across the square on the aerial photograph at the top of this post.

These kinds of changes aren’t particularly exciting – certainly not as eye-catching or newsworthy as a fancy bridge, or a solar cycle path. But they encapsulate the way Dutch cycling success is built upon continual improvement, and maximising the safety, comfort and convenience of cycling as a mode of transport.

This junction wasn’t even particularly bad before – certainly many junctions in the UK would benefit hugely from the kind of physical separation, with separate signalling, that was already present. But it’s been substantially improved, regardless. Indeed, every time I visit the Netherlands, I am struck by how quickly many of the paths, routes and tracks that I had used on my previous visit have been upgraded. This path to the university area – the Uithof – had been widened and resurfaced, with lighting, when I visited last year. Given the numbers of people using it, it really does need to be this wide.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 09.27.54


The Dutch aren’t standing still – they are continually refining and enhancing (and adding to) their already excellent network. Meanwhile British towns and cities don’t even have a network at all, or, at best, a piecemeal one.

It’s profoundly depressing. The one glimmer of hope is that we have a living, breathing example of the benefits of this kind of design, right on our doorstep, and a template for how to do it.

This entry was posted in Space for Cycling, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Space for cycling, Dutch-style

  1. When it comes to transport and infrastructure, I imagine Europe like a street. The Netherlands’ house and garden is constantly kept up, extensions, solar panels on the roof, lovely garden etc big greenhouses! The UK house was once a beautiful house, but the paint is peeling, still hasn’t got round to replacing the awful double glazing they put in 20 years ago to replace the beautiful sash windows. You can get double glazed sash windows but the money went on a duck house and a ride on lawn mower that they still haven’t properly worked out what to do with. The tiles are falling off and there’s a shopping trolley in the back garden. The front garden is OK and they have a nice parlour for guests. The tennents spend most of their time down the pub entertaining their guests, and the owners live in a posh hotel living off the extortionate rent they are charging.
    I’m sure if I were a cartoonist I could picture the whole European street!
    The Dutch take enormous pride in their public spaces, not just in the big cities but everywhere and they do improve as they go along. We have a similar situation in Utrecht where I live. The shopping centre has provision to it in every direction but none through the car park itself. Its a pain to cycle round cars parking and reversing etc so many ride on the wide pavement. It’s not necessarily life threatening but enough people have suggested it needs improving, so it’s happening, including several leaflets through our door inviting us to contribute any ideas or other suggestions.

  2. Joe says:

    Agreed. It is profoundly depressing that the electorate here in the UK don’t insist on a better environment for travelling in. However, there is a chance to change that in May. If we vote for the Green Party then these Dutch examples could be implemented here. The Green Party is the only one that is interested in cycling; sure BoJo pays lips service but look how little he has delivered in his two periods in office. It is time to stand up and be counted, bloggers, recommend voting for the only party that cares.

    • BillG says:

      The Green Party advocates that cycling should take place wherever possible on roads, TR172 in their policy doc. They also waffle on about Education of road users, TR175, which has been a recurring and failing theme of the last 30 or 40 years of cycle campaigning.

      At no point can I find a commitment in a policy document to adopt Dutch standards for cycle lanes or street design. I shall be happy to be proved wrong, but while there are plenty of reasons to vote Green their cycle policies are not among them.

      • Terry says:

        The Greens in the London Borough where I live claim to support cycling. But they’ve made it their policy to increase parking provision in the town centres. They want to encourage people to drive to the local shops, never more than about a mile, when the roads are of course already too hostile for bikes. This is supposedly to help businesses.

      • KristianCyc says:

        Brighton and Hove’s Green council has been doing excellent work for cycling there, so their only council seems to be very good on the matter.

        Having looked over their transport policies recently, their overall plan for transport is excellent. Cycling and walking are consistently made top priority and town planning features highly, which is very important for cycling. I do agree with you though that some of the detail points on cycling aren’t as good as they should be and I hope they will update their cycling policy detail in the near future to catch up with the most recent developments in cycle policy.

        You’ll also note that if you visit the Labour party website right now, you won’t find any policies relating to cycling. I haven’t checked but I’ll assume the Conservative party is missing them also. SNP has no policy on cycling that I can find. Plaid Cymru at least makes mention of cycling.

        • Terry says:

          You’re right about Labour, their local policy is exactly the same. The Barnet Tories don’t do any more than pay lip service to cycling. They did put in a mini-Holland funding bid, but that failed and they don’t seem to have any plans at all beyond that. Neither their councillors nor the relevant officers even reply to emails on the subject.

  3. ambrosewhite says:

    i long to find more details on the real practicalities of these sort of schemes get put in place in real life. specifically, removal of parking, and even more so, removal of traffic lanes. What is casually referred to in this context would be a major move in a British context; if removing 50% of motor traffic capacity is mooted, what study is done of the likely effects of this? is a serious effect on congestion (even if shortish term) accepted by public and politicians? I realise that given that public/political opposition to such changes would be likely diminished (significantly?) given experience, understanding and actual empathising (i.e. those who potentially might be affected are also likely to benefit from the new layout as well). but there must be some practical impacts that are worked through and I would be interested in that. don’t suppose there is any such account of how these schemes are implemented?

    • johdi says:

      Every change or adaptation in every city, village etc. in the Netherlands is very difficult, time-consuming etc. The council design a comprehensive plan with several variants and every person or group of persons can give their meaning (inspraak). Every aspect must thougth of and especially all transport modes, also lorries, cars, not only bikes.
      See e.g. a minute of the participation of this square:
      You can read that every aspect is thought of and several pressure groups are consulted or have already given input.
      See point 3 (Een locatie wordt bestempeld als….) for the main reason : “A site is designated as unsafe ie traffic black spot when in three years more than six accidents have occurred. Both Nassauplein as Haarlemmerplein be considered black spot. For Haarlemmerplein the counter in three years on 29 (!). In 2009, six accidents Instead, three of them with injuries.”
      See also the questions and answers-section page 5: “Traffic Group Jordan, residents and businesses are not in favor of a car-free Jordan and against proposals for one-way traffic in Korte Marnixstraat, bike path and lifting current traffic access to Haarlemmerdijk”
      [this pressure group has already signed against the one-way traffic with more than 3200 signatures in 2007]
      It is not so easy as riding a bike to run a city in the Netherlands.

  4. fullmoonbike says:

    Hi, Nice blog about biking in Amsterdam great photos by Thomoas Schlijper. I was so free to share a link on our Facebook page. (=A group of Belgian Cyclers based in Mechelen who bike on Full Moon.)

  5. Notak says:

    There is a lot written – on this blog and others, in various other places from academic journals to tabloids – about infrastructure for and official attitudes to cycling in the towns of the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany. What it would be interesting to hear about would be:
    a) The experiences and feelings of cycling in those towns and cities. Grab a hundred people riding to work, school, etc, ask them about their journey. Get some emotions, sights, sounds, flavours and smells.
    b) Leisure cycling in rural areas in those countries. Not racing, but a leisurely club ride – something equivalent to a CTC ride, perhaps – or touring (not foreigners touring!) Where do people ride and why? How does infrastructure affect their leisure riding? And so on.

    • Har Davids says:

      Try if you don’t know it already. Not too many interviews, I guess, but lots of graphic examples of the way the Dutch roll.

    • jeldering says:

      I can only speak for myself (Dutch) and what I know from relatives/friends:
      a) If you plainly ask them about their journey, I doubt you’d get many responses about how safe they feel. Cycling alone, I’d typically have my mind on other things, and maybe briefly notice how I just missed a green light, or e.g. how a group of two/three cycling abreast may hold me up a little. Cycling with others, we’d just have a conversation and (although being aware of) not really pay attention to traffic around us. It would be similar to asking someone how their walk to the supermarket two blocks away was.
      b) I’d say there’s roughly two types of leisure cycling: club touring (typically at speeds around 30 km/h, on road bikes, in groups) and families cycling on holidays or vacation, on “normal” Dutch bikes, 20 km/h. I’m not sure the first is what you mean by a club ride, but there are (very) few clubs dedicated to slow recreational cycling. Where people ride: mostly out of towns, in (nicer parts) of the countryside. Club tourers because it allows for more constant speed, long distance rides (either on cyclepaths along busier 80+ km/h roads or on smaller country roads, mostly with 60 km/h limit). For families, etc, there are plenty of nice areas to cycle: the Veluwe nature area (roughly the triangle Zwolle-Amersfoort-Arnhem), through the dunes along the coast, lots of places in the province of Drenthe, the South of Limburg if you like hilly terrain, to name only a few. Many of these areas have dedicated cycling paths for recreational cycling, completely away from motor traffic. For example, when I was 8-14 years old, we often went camping in the Veluwe area and made day-cycling trips of about 30-80km, sometimes visiting a museum, playgrounds, or other local touristic attractions.

  6. Ofer Canfi says:

    I don’t know about you, but one problem I have with riding in lanes is being blinded by overpowered tail-lights, I came up with a solution for it:!Be-Kind-Dont-Blind-The-Sombra-Crowdfunding-Campaign-Is-Live-On-Indiegogo/c1t5y/3D1A6230-A7A5-4AFF-B824-69DA5127A6AD

    Let me know what you think, I know it’s unconventional…

  7. Tony Harms says:

    @Terry: Distance from shops is a useful point but it wont help you if you want a 2 meter length of timber or three pots of paint or a dustbin or if you are a working mother shopping for a family of five. The reality and I suppose the point your greens are making is that people will use their cars to go further to a shopping centre with parking provision – and in the end without that custom the local small shops wont be viable (except for newsagents and five item corner shops) and then wont be available for those on foot or bicycles.
    I’m not a Green (I’m a Lib Dem ttp:// ) but I accept that all the parties “want” to heip cycling. Its a question of the will to push improvements through against conflicting interests. In my borough at the last local government election we tried to plan out a segregated cycle-way as a proposal for cycling improvements. The problem wasnt reducing car space or congestion so much as the number of residents’ cars parked out on the street. Similarly in town centres the problem is often curb space and front loading to shops. How do the Dutch deal with this problem?

    • inge says:

      We move house on a bike, I did that 7 times. We put 3 pots of paint in pannier bags,same with shopping for 5. When it rains we use an umbrella, christmas tree? on the bike rack! 2 meters of timber, peace of cake. A surfboard, no problem. See Bycicle Dutch what Defines Dutch cycling. Have fun!

    • Well not everyone is going to do as Inge does (below). I understand the difficulties politicians have, I just wish they would be more willing to lead instead of follow, and to improve things instead of making them worse.

      What the Dutch don’t do is leave public roads effectively closed to people who would like to cycle, children locked up in their homes because of motor traffic, and everyone liable to poisonous air pollution, noise, congestion, unfitness, obesity and ill health. All for the sake of a few local shop keepers whose businesses would probably not be harmed by change in any case, and a few shoppers who might occasionally have to make other arrangements.

      • Terry says:

        Sorry, Inge comments above, not below

        • Tony Harms says:

          Thank you for answering me Terry. My point is not that we should not discourage car use but that our efforts sometimes do the opposite of what we want. As for Inge I would say we want a land fit for heroes but we (I) dont want a land that only heroes can live in. I myself have bicycled accross London with most of my possessions (including Skis) hung on the bike. But that was when I was 24. I am now 63.
          I believe that if we expand cycling facilities, especially segregated routes, car use will drop. That is why I make the point that it isn’t space and congestion which is the problem. In my opinion, in cities, it is competition for kerb/curb space.
          This leads me to the perhaps counter-intuitive view that increasing car parking provision by way of off road small car parks will lead to less car use because it will free up curb space for dedicated cycling routes.
          When I first became interested in politics, planning and transport a local London councillor said to me “Think globally, Act locally”. I thought that was pretty clever. But after thinking about it over six months or so I thought it was pretty stupid.

          • Terry says:

            As far as space for cycling is concerned, you are right that in this miserable country parking etc is almost always thought more important than peoples’ right to travel in safety. As long as that continues it is hard to find room for improvement. But I can’t see how off-street car parks will stop people parking on the street and pavements. Not unless direct action is taken to reduce it. And it’s certainly hard to believe they would reduce car use.

            It’s funny that so many politicians support provision for cycling ‘when it is practicable’, but somehow it never is. Don’t you think it’s time to grasp the nettle?

          • inge says:

            Not many heroes in the Netherlands, as far as I know. I’m almost 65 years and have been cycling since I was 4. But I would not do it in London or anywhere else in the UK. Not anymore, although I used to ride a bike when I lived in England in the seventies. The traffic then was not much
            different from what I was used to in The Hague.
            What I meant is when the political will is there , the Uk can have what we have. They, whomever they are, have to stop making excuses for doing nothing or sometimes making it worse.
            I can’t understand this stupidity or stubborness from the powers that be to refuse to see the benefits for everyone when a city is a place for all people, including the elderly and the young. And cleaner air and where one can hear birdsong instead of just noise from traffic.
            The shopkeepers would probably hugely benefit when their customers did their shopping by bike, for they would stop by more often than when they come by car. And that is a proven fact in the Netherlands!
            I also wish for a mandatory David Hembrow course for any new UK politician , counselor, alderman or any other person in charge of infrastructure and traffic .
            Or one of Bicycle Dutch’s wonderful video’s.
            But then, if wishes were horses……

  8. Patria says:

    I love riding my bike and bicycles in general, on the other hand, I love cars as well. Usually I drive 60 000 km yearly (work related 90% of the time) and ride my bike 6000 km a year. I hate going by plane and I hate to walk, although hiking is not that bad. The last few years I started reading cycling blogs and realized that the Dutch have something special, which, at first I took for granted. At the end of the sixties the Netherlands was left wing, up to the early eighties when the country was virtually broke. Now right wing liberalism sets the tone. For cycling infrastructure, it didn’t matter, At least in the Netherlands, my conclusion is that cycling is not tied to a political flavour. In other countries it is, so it is a stale mate. Cyclists do not hate car drivers, car drivers do not hate cyclists. Because of the infrastructure or people are both rider and driver? In other countries it is often the case, again a stale mate I realize that excellent bicycle facilities benefit cars as well. Less car trafic on the road, less bicycles on the road thus less conflict, So why not support bicycle infrastructure as a driver? In other countries people usually think spending money on bike infrastructure cannot be spend on car infrastructure. Isn’t this a stalemate again, two parties fighting? Riding a bike in other countries is a statement, the attitude perceived as the (morally) better people. In the Netherlands car ownership gives higher status than bicycle ownership, the choice for making a trip by bike is conveniece, not status or statement. Easy parking, low cost transport, A neutral attitude towards the choice you make. Polarizing is not a Dutch custom. In Germany and Britain I think this is different. Enough babbling without a point. Of all the sites and posts I read I come to the conclusion that decisionmakers really don’t want to support transport by bike. The arguments are secondary and only used to rationalize an irrational choice against bicycle transport. Keep up the Sisyphean fight. One day the Gods show some mercy.

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