Dutch Cycle Infrastructure

NB – this is a DRAFT

There’s a lot of discussion about ‘Dutch style’ cycling infrastructure, but what exactly does this consist of? The following is an attempt to summarise the main design points of Dutch infrastructure, with links to examples and sources wherever possible. Unfortunately the ‘Bible’ of Dutch design, the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, is not available online; those interested in finding out more can purchase it here

Cycle Tracks

By definition, cycle tracks (as opposed to on-road cycle lanes) are separated from travel lanes and pedestrians by a barrier, which could be a paved or unpaved verge, a raised curb or some other barrier.1 Standard widths are generally 2.5 metres for one-way tracks and 4m for two-way ones.2 The minimum width for the tracks themselves is 2m although they may narrow to 1.5m at certain intersections. On main cycle routes, track widths should be based on the expected bicycle traffic: for one-way bike lanes, 2m is fine up to 150 bph (bikes per hour, in both directions); 150-750 bph requires 3m (10’) and over that 4m (13’).3

The higher the speed of the traffic, the greater the separation should be between the tracks and the main carriageway although for safety, bikes should still be visible to car drivers. In built-up areas, the minimum width of the buffer between a cycle track and the road should be at least 0.35m for a one-way cycle path and 1m for a two-way one but usually the width will be greater depending on the barrier type.1

In rural areas the following guidelines apply.1

Speed Limit 60km/h (40mph) 80 km/h (50mph) 100 km/h (60mph)
Minimum separation 1.5m 4.5m 10.0 m
Recommended separation 2.5m 6.0 m 10.0 m

Intercity routes – Fietsroute+ and fietssnelwegen or cycle highways

Some bike routes have extra features making them suitable for long distance commuters and inter-city travel by bike.

Fietsroute+ standard routes require:4

  • clear signposting
  • easy and safe crossings of roads
  • min 2.5m one-way tracks on each side of the road
  • improved shelters en route (including cycle parking facilities)
  • direct route from A-B
  • concrete or asphalt surface

High speed intercity routes (fietssnelwegen or cycle highways) are designed for long-distant commuters. The first one was built in 2003, costing 0.5m Euros per km. The entire route is 3.5m wide and all but one junction gives cyclists right of way over crossing traffic.5 16 more were announced in 2010 at a total cost of 80 million Euros.6

Junctions

While separated cycle tracks are acknowledged to be safe along the run of the road, there are concerns that they increase the danger to cyclists at junctions due to conflicts from turning cars, lack of visibility of cyclists, and increased vehicle speeds with bikes being separated out of the way. The Dutch guidelines are designed to mitigate these problems as far as possible.

Where the speed limit is less than 70km/h (45mph), as the cycle track approaches the junction it should move closer to the carriageway (< 0.35 metres) to improve the visibility of cyclists to drivers.1 If the speed is greater, the track should bend away from the road, to leave space for turning cars to give way before crossing the track, and drivers should be warned of the track through signs. Bus stops and parking should not be allowed within 5m of a junction, and stop lines pulled back, while cyclists are allowed to wait as far forward on the intersection as possible. Bike tracks can be converted to bike lanes also about 5m before the junction to increase visibility and should be coloured. These lane markers can continue right through the junction and the lane should be 2.5m wide. Sharper corners, rather than sweeping bends mean cars slow down and cross a smaller area of the junction when turning.3 Where bike paths have right of way across side streets, the crossing should be on a raised surface.7 This is particularly important where a two-way bike lane crosses a road.8

An interesting post on A View from the Cycle Path contrasts the latest US bikeway design standards with the Dutch ones, particularly at intersections and suggests how Dutch standards might be better incorporated in to US roads, reducing the number of potential conflicts between bikes and cars.

Turning across traffic (i.e. turning left in the Netherlands, equivalent to turning right in the UK)

The standard way to turn across at a large junction is the ‘jughandle’ (also known as the ‘Copenhagen Left’) turn: assuming a cross roads the cyclist first crosses the side street, then waits for a light to turn across the original road, ending up on a cycle path or lane on the correct side of the new road (illustration needed).3 This avoids having to move out into traffic and change lanes, but the disadvantage of this can mean having to wait for up to two sets of lights to make the turn. Mark Wagenbuur’s video explains how this works very clearly and why it’s safer than the approach in other countries. Another of his videos contrasts an older junction in Utrecht, where the bikes have to wait for two sets of lights, with a newer one with a complete separation of bikes from the road by means of a tunnel.

Increasingly, ‘simultaneous green’ (also known as ‘scramble junctions’) give bikes and pedestrians their own green phase, allow cyclists to go in any direction including diagonally across a junction.9 The Fietsberaad has a video explaining how it works – note a few naughty cyclists running the red light anyway. This is similar to the all-way green men crossings increasingly being seen in the UK,including the famous one at Oxford Circus.

Smaller junctions without lights may instead have a large raised area, giving cyclists lots of room to get into and cross the lane if they feel confident doing so. Even in this situation, if they prefer not to pull out into the middle of the road, the raised area is flush with the pavement allowing them to instead get onto the pavement and cross via a pedestrian crossing.10

Traffic Lights

The CROW design manual offers a ‘menu’ of bike-friendly measures which can be used singly or in combination. These include:3

  • Shortened cycle time
  • Include additional green light options for cyclists
  • Permit right turn through red (for bicycles) – or even a ‘slip road’ for cyclists allowing them to bypass the light altogether (see A View From the Cycle Path for an example of this
  • Give all cycling directions a green light at the same time (‘scramble’ signal – see above)
  • Accept motorised vehicle/bicycle sub-conflicts
  • Set favourable waiting times for cyclists
  • Set favourable phase sequence for cyclists turning left (allowing them to turn in a single cycle)
  • Green wave for bicycle traffic so that cyclists travelling at 12mph do not encounter red lights.
  • Introduce advance detection/pre-request for cycle traffic (see A View from the Cycle Path for an example)
  • Introduce expanded cycle stacking lane for bikes slowing down to turn right without delaying cyclists wishing to cycle straight on
  • Increase flow capacity for motorised traffic
  • Set two-way green light

Other examples of bike friendly traffic lights include signals which default to green for cyclists – in other words, a Toucan crossing in reverse11 – and rain-sensitive traffic lights which gives bikes priority in wet weather.12

Roundabouts

Large multi-lane roundabouts can be extremely daunting for cyclists in the UK, with many opportunities for conflict with traffic, and requiring cyclists to be fast, alert and confident of their abilities to accelerate out of trouble. In contrast, the recommended standard for Dutch roundabouts is for there to be a physically separated circular cycle track running around the outside of the main carriageway. In urban areas, cars should give way to cyclists on the track (this is implemented in about 60% of urban roundabouts); whereas in rural areas, bikes generally give way to cars coming on and off the roundabout.13. The track is separated from the rest of the roundabout by about 5m, allowing space for a single car to stop without blocking the passage of bikes.14 Clearly marked pedestrian crossings usually run alongside the bike tracks, making both more visible. These crossings should have traffic islands to make crossing easier and should be raised about 12cm from the rest of the carriageway, starting 5m before the crossing itself, to make them more obvious to cars.1516 Larger two lane roundabouts generally have two entry lanes per leg of the roundabout, but only a single exit lane increasing the visibility of bikes and pedestrians using the crossings.17 Some roundabouts, known as ‘turbo roundabouts’ have spiral lane markings removing the necessity for cars to change lane as they negotiate it – indeed, there are raised markers between the lanes to prevent corner cutting – giving drivers fewer distractions as they exit the roundabout.18 Most cycle tracks are one-way, running in the same direction as the rest of the traffic on the roundabout, but some busy roundabouts have two-way lanes which can increase conflicts and accidents. In one such case, lights warning motorists of the presence of bikes, and more traffic islands, have been used to mitigate these conflicts.15 On the whole, roundabouts have been found to be much safer than four-way intersections, and separated tracks safer than lanes on the roundabout itself; giving cyclists right of way over drivers entering or exiting the roundabout does increase the number of accidents slightly (amounting to 52-73 extra hospital admissions a year).13

Shared space roundabouts, such as the one in Drachten, also have a cycle track around the outside, giving bikes right of way over drivers entering or exiting.16 The main difference is that there is no marked lane separating bikes from pedestrians, fewer warning signs, no traffic islands, and the bike track is less clearly distinguished from the carriageway (a flush paved area rather than raised red tarmac), in line with the shared space principle of minimum regulation. Despite this, a study found that 95% of bikes using the roundabout were able to proceed without stopping as drivers mostly gave way to them. It was also shown to be safer than the intersection which preceeded it, but perceptions by people using it were that it was less safe although they did feel that it had improved the area and traffic flow through the junction.16

One experiment that has been tried for lanes on roundabouts themselves has been in Lelystad where the red tarmac bike lane runs right through the middle of a small single-lane roundabout. This moves bikes and mopeds out of drivers’ blind spots but it has not yet been evaluated to see whether it is successful in improving safety.19

1 CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic

2 http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2010/06/14-and-half-feet-please.html

3 Cycle Tracks: Lessons learned http://www.altaplanning.com/App_Content/files/pres_stud_docs/Cycle%20Tra...

4 http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2008/11/maintaining-priority-in-countryside....

5 http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2009/12/worlds-first-cycling-superhighway-se...

6 Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmG9fi3d1sw

7 Bicycle facilities on road segments and intersections of distributor roads http://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Bicycle_facilities.pdf

8 http://www.fietsberaad.nl/views/voorbeeldenbank/detail_modal.cfm?lang=en...

9 http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2008/08/simultaneous-green.html

10 Left turn provision for cyclists http://www.fietsberaad.nl/views/voorbeeldenbank/detail_modal.cfm?lang=en...

11 http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2008/09/default-to-green.html

12 Rain Sensitive Traffic Light http://www.fietsberaad.nl/views/voorbeeldenbank/detail_modal.cfm?lang=en...

13 SWOV roundabout fact sheet http://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Roundabouts.pdf

14 First roundabout with bike paths and right of way for cyclists http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en&section=Voorbeeldenbank&mode...

15 Turbo roundabout with two-way priority bike paths http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en&section=Voorbeeldenbank&mode...

16 Shared Space Roundabout in Drachten http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en&section=Voorbeeldenbank&mode...

17 Bypass and spiral markings on a multi-lane roundabout http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en&section=Voorbeeldenbank&mode...

18 Semi-turbo roundabout with right of way for cyclists http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en&section=Voorbeeldenbank&mode...

19 Bicycle roundabout prevents blind spots http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en&section=Voorbeeldenbank&mode...