Monday, March 25, 2013

Take a lane or make a lane?

A few days ago I shared what I considered to be the best video about bicycle infrastructure, here in the Netherlands. Having made my rounds in various cycling groups over the years, I'm familiar with the groups and individuals that would prefer we do away with separated bike paths in favour of taking the lane, but I was still taken back when a few people commented that they saw the video as a warning of what not to let happen in America. To be honest, I was more than taken aback, I was irritated.

Part of the infrastructure in the Netherlands, a parking lot for bicycles outside Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Let me first say that I see completely that common sense dictates that in certain situations, more often than not in fact, taking the lane is the key to survival on roads without bicycle lanes. However, that being said I'd still rather cycle on a segregated roadway that provides me with a "protective barrier" than share the lane with a lump of steel on wheels.

I'm not by any means as fit as I'd like to be, so for me maintaining a decent speed on a roadway is difficult at times, especially if you add a passenger, an incline and a head on wind, but I do probably represent a great deal of the population. I'm a parent and someone not in the peak of physical fitness so I could represent the young, elderly or infirm for arguments sake. To me if we want cycling to be a part of the masses daily lives, then what is wrong with building, creating and re-claiming space dedicated solely to that end. I firmly believe that if we build it, they will come and really, that's exactly what the video was saying; the Dutch built it and the people came, they fought for it, they worked for it and they created an amazing legacy that I firmly believe could be replicated throughout the world if the people want it, fight for it, work for it.

Red paved lanes on a busy street in Amsterdam.

I'm neither a statistical annalist, nor an expert by any means, I scoured the internet for reliable sources of information, I found this blog to be full of eye opening facts, which included:

Cyclists Injured per 10 million Km (source)
  • US 35
  • UK 6
  • Netherlands 1.4 

I also found this blog to be full of interesting information and would encourage you to take a look. One excerpt I must include would be the fact that you are more likely to get murdered in the United States than you are to die on a bicycle in the Netherlands.

Another attributing factor the low death rates associated with the Dutch system is highlighted in the video below, remember too that if young cyclists grow up to be drivers they are more likely to be understand the needs of cyclists. Here about 1/2 the population cycles on a daily basis and yet you are more likely to die of drowning than you are whilst cycling.


  1. Agree Lindsay, I've been a dedicated cyclist in the UK most of my adult life, but when I needed to start cycling with my child on his own bike I saw a different perspective. Children can be unpredictable, and it was so stressfull trying to control him and keep us both safe whilst cycling among drivers who, for the most part, do ot have a clue about driving safely around cyclists.
    We ended up breaking the law and pavement cycling alot of the time, because the infrastructure just isn't safe for parents with children.
    I read someone that fear of traffic is the number on factor that prevents women from cycling. Thats terrible, but I've spent enough time on my bike on the roads to know that the fear isn't unfonded. We aren't going to change the culture of selfish driving we have now, and vulnerable road users have to be protected, if that means segregation, then I'm al for it.

    1. Sara-

      I agree wholeheartedly, if the trip to the local store is fraught with stress and danger how are we to expect people to cycle? No one is willing to take risks like that long term with their child.

      Most parents are willing to go the longer harder route if it means avoiding risk, whilst I still think its important to not spread the "cycling is dangerous" mind-set, I also realistically have to say even the most ardent parental cyclist in the Netherlands would think twice on some of the roads we see in other countries.

  2. Lindsay, Dutch style bike infrastructure is great. But like a lot of transportation infrastructure, it needs a critical mass to work like it does in Holland.

    US style bike paths generally suck. Many of them are "roads to nowhere", ending at a location where there is nothing of note, and there is no reasonable way to continue by bicycle.

    At intersections and road crossings the cyclist is relegated to second class citizen status. Bike lanes end to make room for automobile turn lanes, and separate bike paths are dumped into the pedestrian crossing.It is common that road crews will place an island down the middle of a road, ignoring the intersecting bike path.

    The difference is that Dutch traffic engineers treat bicycles as transportation, and US traffic engineers treat them as toys. The goal of US bike path designers is to get the bikes out of the way of the "real" traffic.

    1. hey Kevbo,

      Even if what you say about " The goal of US bike path designers is to get the bikes out of the way of the "real" traffic." and "US style bike paths generally suck. Many of them are "roads to nowhere", ending at a location where there is nothing of note, and there is no reasonable way to continue by bicycle. " were true, you can't throw out the baby with the bathwater...we need to change the mindset. But I firmly believe if you build it they will come.

      Also a way to correct the issues with existing paths is to have them made to be useful, not ignore them and say "oh we can't do it right, so lets just ride on the road". Surely we're not willing to say America who can send rockets to the moon is incapable of making a decent cycle path?

      great conversation, thank you for commenting Kevbo!

  3. kevbo, you have it all the wrong way round. Dutch cycle infrastructure does not need a critical mass to make it work, it creates the mass because it is attractive and it works for however many cyclists use it.

    As for US bike path designers wanting to "get bikes out of the way for traffic" I wrote about that whole idea here.

    1. Hello David,

      I really enjoyed your blog post, lots of really good points. I'm amazed every time I remember that only 40 years ago the Netherlands was not the way it is today.

      Another thing I've noticed is there seems to be far less animosity on the roads between drivers/riders.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. L

  4. Hi Lindsay,
    though the blog you quote is correct, the figures, photos and text were nearly all taken from David Hembrow's blog 'A view from the cycle path'. David is a Brit who moved to the north Dutch city of Assen in the province of Drenthe and writes extensively about cycling infrastructure on his blog ( A must read if you are interested in improving cycling facilities! (prepare for a long reading session though)

    1. Hey- thank you, I actually thought I had put a link to that blog, and went back to look, sure enough it missed the line-up, which is what happens when you get interrupted by a toddler! So thank you for mentioning it and I will try to get in there and edit it soon. You are right- a great blog!

  5. Hi Lindsay, really enjoyed reading your blog. My Dutch wife and I are currently in the process of deciding whether we'll move to Holland now that we have a baby and don't want to raise her in London. As a Brit, the culture and language difference has always been a barrier for me to integrate with the Dutch when we visit. I'm looking forward to following your adventures in Amsterdam.

    1. Hey Paul,

      I must say Holland seems like a dream for children, but I too feel like our odds at being able to work and live here are drastically lowered by the language barrier. I'm mortified that we speak only a few words;(

      I do know there are expats everywhere too and large groups for socializing.

      Thanks for reading!

  6. Ahh well, always interesting to see how poorly I make myself understood.

    I am all for Dutch style cycle infrastructure. I think a lot of "Vehicular Cycling" (VC) advocates probably are as well, or would be if they saw it first hand anyway. The critical mass I was thinking of would be a network of useful bike lanes/trails/low traffic streets such that Joe average can take care of his every day needs via bicycle without venturing on to high traffic streets. What we get in the US is mostly recreational trails with parking lots for cars with bike racks at each end.

    The conflict comes because in a lot of the US, bike paths are used as an excuse to justify un-rideable streets. They are poorly designed, poorly executed, and poorly maintained. And they seldom allow one to reach shopping or job destinations without venturing onto the un-rideable streets. And they teach drivers that bicycles don't count, don't matter, and just need to stay out of MY way.

    Beyond the infrastructure, the Dutch also teach and enforce traffic laws such that automobile drivers are aware of and respect bicycles. Even if the US had bike ways like the Dutch, this piece would be needed because the bikes and cars are going to be sharing space at intersections, parking lots, and such. Making nice bike ways won't make cycling any safer in the US as long as the drivers maintain their entitled attitudes.

    And that is my real point. We could be doing that tomorrow, at very low cost, and making cycling a lot safer and more attractive while we figure out how to fund those nice, well designed bike ways. We are never going to have a bike way along every residential street, so educating drivers that you end up behind bars when you hit a bicyclist is a piece of whatever solution we seek. Frankly I would rather my tax dollars be spent on jail cells for aggressive drivers than on another bike path to nowhere.

    1. Kevbo-

      You know I initially thought "Who on earth wouldn't want infrastructure like what I see here in the Netherlands", but have since learned that some people have no use for it. Which is both astonishing and worrying to me, if this isn't their answer what is?

      Of course you are completely correct in your opinion on some bike paths in the states. My issue is they are often in positions where you have to "drive" to get to them, encouraging the average American family to pack their bikes to the park and take a ride, rather than cycle to the park and stop at the grocery shop on the way home.

      I think what the Dutch teach their drivers is icing on the cake in some respects, as they are most likely teaching cyclists to become drivers anyway. It just makes sense that if you've been there yourself, you know the risks. So what does that mean for the American way of life? Lets get the kids started now, so they can grow up to have both empathy and insight to the path of a cyclist.

      The only sentence I can firmly disagree on is your last "Frankly I would rather my tax dollars be spent on jail cells for aggressive drivers than on another bike path to nowhere". I'd rather my money be spent on a bike path to nowhere for the aggressive drivers, then once they get back they might have some education which is what they really need!

      Cheers for good contribution, as always.


  7. Hi again Lindsay. I saw the videos you posted on the FB groups. Is that your voice on the narration? I could listen to you read the phone book for hours! Seriously, since you are looking for a job, with that voice you should consider telephone work or radio. Is there an English language radio station in Amsterdam?

    But to the matter at hand: The drivers minding the triangles and yielding to the bikes is a beautiful thing. Without that, the bikeways don't work. It is a testament to Dutch drivers that the cyclists trust them so. If only 10% of the drivers failed to yield just 10% of the time, there would be carnage.

    Are the bikeways one-way near the roundabout? All the bicycles seem to be passing to the right of the roundabout, but that could be related to the time of day. If they are two-way, this means the drivers entering the roundabout must look for approaching bicycle traffic from both directions, but auto traffic only from the left...that would invite accidents I should think, so it must not be the case.

    The Dutch drivers are obviously used to it, but yielding as they leave a roundabout also requires a bit of new thinking for drivers. Watching US drivers, it seems that many of their brains fall out just seeing a roundabout. Throwing those bike ways into the mix would probably induce seizures in a fair number of them.

    1. HAHA you made me laugh out loud Kevbo!

      Yes, the "narration" as you so politely word it, is me yakking away per the norm. I was a radio personality for a few years in my early twenties, I really loved it but they are not easy jobs to come by. I called the station every day for 6 months (yes, literally) until they said "fine, come in, just stop calling us" and that's how I got the job. I would love a job in phone marketing, I know most people think it would be boring, but as my Mum says, I have the "gift of the gab".

      So, yes the triangles are the key and the trust and respect is palatable between the driver and cyclist. There is a sense in Europe that cars are to be taken seriously, they also tend to be smaller and easier to navigate, probably cause less damage too.

      I really, once again think this takes a few steps to make work, but teaching cyclists to be better drivers is probably how it starts here, as opposed to teaching walkers how to drive, which is where we start in the US for the most part.

      Yes, they are one way from what I've seen.

      I have been around a roundabout in the US as a passenger and it can be downright scary. Also in some places they add stop signs to them, which completely defeats the whole object!



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