Cycling in Assen



I attended David Hembrow’s most recent Study Tour in Assen. I cannot possibly explain more than a fraction of what I learnt, so I will concentrate on one point that I noticed particularly.

A striking difference between Dutch and British approaches to cycling facilities is that the Dutch have no concept of ‘different types of cyclist’. It is official policy here to categorise cyclists (the Department for Transport recognises five types) and facilities are designed for some sub-group of cyclists. By contrast, the Dutch design all facilities to be adequate for all cyclists. They must be safe enough for a 4-year-old, fast enough for a fast cyclist (or a 28mph moped) and unobstructed enough for a mobility scooter.

A pedestrian and bicycle crossing across a 30km/h-limit road.
Image as described adjacent

We have virtually no facilities that are anywhere near this ideal. The best approximations that we have are dedicated paths well away from main roads, or back-street routes linked up by dedicated paths. Whenever we have facilities that are along a road with more than a trivial amount of traffic the facilities are hopelessly compromised. We either have inadequate on-road cycle-lanes, or truly dire off-road paths giving way to every side-road, or even we split the rarely adequate space between the two.

In such environments, the Dutch would have excellent fast off-road cycle-paths. One component vital to building these, that the Dutch have in profusion and we never have, is intersections where bicycles have priority over cars, so that such paths have priority over all side-streets.

Dutch-style intersections

The key is ensuring that drivers do actually give way, and this requires careful design of the intersections. The following features are important:

  • there are small radius corners on the kerbs of the junction to reduce vehicle speed
  • there is a car’s length gap between the main road and the bicycle intersection so that turning and crossing the path are separate simpler manoeuvres
  • the road and the path cross at right-angles to minimise the necessary head-turning
  • there are clear sight-lines so that drivers and cyclists can see each other in plenty of time
  • the cycle-path crosses the road on the top of a speed table
  • the cycle-path is surfaced in a contrasting colour to the road
  • there are clear ‘give way’ signs
  • the Dutch don’t always do all of these, but their drivers are more used to giving way to cyclists. Until there is similar familiarity here, I think it would be wise to do all of these.

The picture above shows a pedestrian and bicycle crossing on a 30km/h-limit road.

Without a road junction, the first two features are not applicable. However all of the other features appear. Note the line of small triangles that is the Dutch road marking for ‘give way’.

This is their equivalent to the single large hollow triangle that appears on British roads.

A cycle-path crossing a side-street.
Image as described adjacent

Adjacent, we have a cycle-path crossing a side-street, which has all the features except the speed table. Low speeds are encouraged by the rougher brick surface of the side-street, in contrast to the smooth asphalt of the cycle-path. As the path is normally less than a car’s length from the road, it diverts slightly to provide the desired gap at the junction.

This is just one of a multitude of features of Dutch infrastructure that makes cycling there so safe and pleasant, and hence so popular. It is the totality of the Dutch approach that achieves results. If you have the time and are interested in learning more about the Dutch approach, I can heartily recommend one of David’s Study Tours (www.hembrowcyclingholidays.com).

Ian Miller