Cambridge's Perne Road roundabout is not 'Dutch'

Cambridge's newly rebuilt 'Dutch style' Perne Road roundabout has been slammed as a poor imitation of the cycle-friendly designs of the Netherlands that were promised.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, a campaign group which promotes best practice in cycling infrastructure design, say that there is very little that's Dutch about the new layout, which lacks the fundamental feature of true Dutch designs: a clear, safe, continuously segregated cycle track set back from the carriageway, providing the attractive conditions that are responsible for the Dutch using bicycles for a much higher proportion of their journeys than is achieved in Cambridge.

Concerns were raised about the safety of the quintessentially British design, which legalises and encourages cycling on the footway beside the roundabout, as early as three years ago. Although the designer has acknowledged that there would be space to put in a dedicated cycle track around the roundabout, a deliberate choice was made not to use the established successful Dutch design.

On busy Dutch roundabouts cyclists are not expected to mix with either vehicles on the roundabout or pedestrians on the footway. Instead, the three modes of travel get their own unambiguous space, with distinct safe routes for cycling.

Cycling Embassy chair Mark Treasure said 

This roundabout is not something that we would campaign for, as it divides people into two categories — 'the fit and the brave' and 'the nervous and slow' — whereas we want to see cycle infrastructure which is safe and fit for anybody to use. This is a compromised scheme which has taken £413,000 from the taxpayer yet only provides second-rate provision for cycling. Calling it 'Dutch' is a complete misunderstanding of what Dutch provision is about.

The designer of the scheme has defended the decision to exclude cycle tracks, but acknowledges that his design is far from Dutch. He has been quoted as saying, "you will see some differences from the classic 'Dutch' roundabout. Most significantly there is no segregated cycle track around the perimeter. This was a deliberate decision. We could have provided one, there is sufficient space if other elements were adjusted, but there is no off-carriageway infrastructure to link into and no prospect of providing any in the foreseeable future."

Cycle infrastructure expert David Hembrow, a former Cambridge resident who now lives in the Netherlands and provides tours of Dutch cycling facilities, describes how the designer contacted him for advice three years ago, and how he explained why the plans were flawed — but the advice went unheeded. "The reason why Dutch roundabouts are designed as they are was being missed on a very fundamental level," wrote Hembrow in 2011.

The roundabout has already seen two collisions since the rebuild was completed.

Mark Treasure went on to say 

The design chosen for Perne Road creates conflict where none is necessary, and forces people on bikes to choose between safety and convenience. Neither option is attractive and ultimately that means that a lot of people who might have cycled will continue to leave their bikes at home.

While Cambridgeshire County Council must take some of the blame for ignoring warnings about these substandard designs, they are far from the exception in this country, which has become an international joke for the quality of its cycling infrastructure. Comically short cycle lanes and cycle routes signed on footways cluttered with street furniture are as much the fault of the deficient design guidance provided to councils by the Department for Transport. Fluctuating central government funding and short notice funding windows also leave councils unable to recruit and retain officers with the right experience and expertise to design adequate streets. 

More than 25% of journeys in the Netherlands are by bike while casualty rates per mile are far lower than in the UK because the Dutch build high-quality cycling infrastructure that anyone can use. The UK needs to copy real Dutch infrastructure, not attempt to pull the wool over the public's eyes by labelling second-rate schemes as Dutch.