‘Go Dutch’ in London – and beyond?

This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 107.

Eighteen months ago, London Cycling Campaign (LCyC) adopted a new ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ policy, bringing a new approach to cycle campaigning. At our Committee Annual Plan Day and at our March monthly meeting, our Chair presented a similar possible change for Campaign policy. We’ve set up a working party to look at ‘Going Dutch’ or ‘Going Danish’ in Cambridge.

As members will be hearing about the work of this working party soon, we thought it would be useful to outline what ‘Going Dutch’ means and what’s happening in London.

A 15-mile ‘Crossrail for bikes’ at the expense of car space.
Image as described adjacent

Exciting times in London

The London Mayor has announced a major shift in strategy, backed up by real money. Even the most radical of ‘cycle bloggers’ have welcomed this plan, having criticised the London Mayor strongly over the last two years. Some £913m is proposed to be spent in London, over the next ten years.

The most crucial aspect of the plans is that they involve taking away space from cars (an inefficient use of space) and giving it to bikes (which can carry many more people per hour). This is radical stuff.

  • 15-mile continuous ‘Crossrail for bikes’ spanning London with considerable segregation using Westway and Embankment.
  • More Dutch-style fully-segregated lanes.
  • Greater ‘semi-segregation’ on other streets.
  • A new network of ‘Quietways’ – direct, continuous, fully signposted routes on peaceful side streets.
  • Big improvements to both existing and proposed Superhighways.
  • A new ‘Central London Grid’ of bike routes in the City and West End.
  • Substantial improvements to the worst junctions, with measures such as segregation and cycle-only paths or traffic light phases.
  • Trials of ‘Dutch-style’ roundabouts and eye-level traffic lights for cyclists.
  • ‘Mini-Hollands’ in the suburbs, with between one and three outer boroughs chosen for very high spending concentrated in those relatively small areas for the greatest possible impact.

Some have suggested that we’ve had plenty of ‘visions’ and ‘strategies’ before, e.g. the UK government’s 1996 National Cycling Strategy. The difference here though is that the language of the London Mayor has changed substantially. It is finally being recognised that providing really high-quality alternatives to the car is both economically sensible and best for the future of London. And it comes with the promise of roadspace reallocation, something that every previous strategy has shied away from. Of course, in London, vigilant campaigning is still essential, so that the Mayor is held to account.

Catalyst for change: London’s campaigners

Who has caused this change? The announcement itself gave credit to who the catalyst for change has been: campaigners – LCyC and others.

What kind of policy change has London’s campaign been through? Two things:

  1. Arguing for separate provision that avoids mixing cycles with cars in moderately-trafficked areas where cars travel above 20mph.
  2. Refusal to accept half-hearted schemes, and instead holding out and actively campaigning for proper provision.

LCyC came to the conclusion two years ago that the traditional approach to cycle campaigning, outlined below, wasn’t working in London, not only in terms of road design but in terms of campaigning strategy.

Crucially, LCyC concluded that the approach of asking for too little means that you don’t get any more than a little. They are much less willing now to accept changes to the road environment that do not make proper provision for cyclists. This campaigning strategy in London appears to have paid off for them.

The traditional British approach to cycle campaigning

The traditional approach to cycle campaigning is often called ‘vehicular cycling’ – basically the idea that the way to improve cycling is to mix with general traffic by making the roads safe. The first priority is traffic reduction, followed by reduced traffic speeds, and special infrastructure comes last. This is summarised in the table ‘Hierarchy of provision’ below, that has been the mainstay of cycle campaigning for 20 years or so.

The problem is that, it is argued, it has been not working. Traffic reduction is extremely hard, and many people simply do not want to mix with traffic. There are still vast numbers of people in London (and even in Cambridge) who do not cycle, and we hear time and time again that what non-cyclists want is proper space that enables them to cycle safely. Nowhere in the UK (even in Cambridge) have levels of cycling become as high as in Holland or Denmark, and cycling is still seen as a minority cultural pursuit rather than just an everyday, uncontroversial way of getting easily from A to B.

Table: Hierarchy of Provision
Consider first Traffic volume reduction
Traffic speed reduction
Junction treatment, hazard site treatment, traffic management
Reallocation of carriageway space
Cycle tracks away from roads
Consider last Conversion of footways/footpaths for pedestrians and cyclists

Existing cyclists, however, quite rightly do not want to sacrifice their right to use the road. This strongly-held conviction is based on the fact that cycle facilities in the UK are usually ‘farcilities’ – adding a blue sign to a pavement, making you stop and give way at side roads, narrow, etc. Look at Warrington Cycling Campaign’s fantastic ‘Cycle Facility of the Month’ website (www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/facility) and you’ll see very typical pavement rubbish.

The Dutch approach to cycle provision

But Dutch cyclists have no desire whatsoever to use the road, as we found when we visited the Netherlands, and were hosted by David Hembrow who runs excellent infrastructure tours (which we cannot recommend highly enough). Even extremely fast racing cyclists were very happily using Dutch cycle tracks, something that would be impossible on British pavement provision!

The key point is that Dutch cycle tracks are totally different to British cycle paths. They are a proper network, designed to make people want to cycle. They are designed around people’s needs, not squeezed in. In short, the Dutch model basically provides three separate transport networks:

Dutch approach: three networks

  1. People travelling slowly (pedestrians)
  2. Medium-speed people (people cycling)
  3. People travelling at high speed (motor vehicles)

Outcome: Cycling gets proper space and proper attention, meaning that people’s needs are catered for. Accordingly, lots of people cycle.

British approach: two networks

  1. People travelling slowly (pedestrians)
  2. People travelling at high speed (motor vehicles)

Outcome: Cycling awkwardly squeezed between the two, annoying both groups and not really encouraging people to cycle.

The Dutch approach, then, suits everyone: fast cyclists (the kind in England who rightly want to use the road), people cycling slowly (sometimes called ‘less confident’ in England) and, crucially, encourages people not yet cycling to cycle. The Dutch have no false division between ‘types of cyclist’ – people just ride bikes, at whatever speed and on whatever steed.

What do the Dutch do?

Dutch cycle track: high quality, smooth, proper width. Crucially, no conflict with cars.
Image as described adjacent

Some of this is taken, with thanks, from the description by the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (a group campaigning for the best of continental approaches).

In general:

  • In local residential streets with low traffic, no ‘special infrastructure’ like cycle lanes is needed. All that is required are slow speeds (20mph) and streetscapes that encourage people to cycle and kids to play.
  • In connecting streets, it depends on the amount of traffic. Roads like Huntingdon Road, East Road, Lensfield Road, Hills Road, etc. have a clear arterial function and so need segregated provision in the form of dedicated cycle tracks (at least 2.1m wide, and ideally 2.5m, on each side of the road) and priority at every crossing. Streets with much less traffic might involve on-road cycle lanes or other treatments. Narrow streets like Mill Road would be redesigned to make a pedestrian-friendly streetscape to dissuade through-traffic.
  • Routes between urban areas, e.g. 40mph+ roads have proper, segregated cycle tracks.
LEFT: Dutch cycle infrastructure means that most kids cycle to school. RIGHT: Residential streets: no special cycle infrastructure, but the street design encourages slow speeds and enables kids to play. The ‘Home Zone’ approach is common, and two-way cycling is always allowed.
Image as described adjacent

In terms of the design of Dutch-style cycle tracks:

  • Distinct from pedestrian space: By definition, cycle tracks (as opposed to on-road cycle lanes) are separated from traffic lanes and pedestrians by a barrier, which could be a paved or unpaved verge, a raised kerb or some other barrier.
  • Width: Standard widths are generally 2.5m for one-way tracks and 4m for two-way ones. The minimum width 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 150bph (bikes per hour, in both directions); 150-750bph requires 3m and over that 4m.
  • Proper surface: They are built like a road, not a pavement. They have a perfectly smooth concrete or asphalt surface, with proper foundations to stop tree roots coming up. In short, they are usable even at high speeds but extremely pleasant for those travelling slowly.
  • Separation from the road: 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.
This street in Assen is the same width as Gilbert Road – we measured it. Note the presence of: 2.5m cycle track, separate pedestrian pavement, car parking, trees, a two-way road.
Image as described adjacent

In terms of other infrastructure:

  • 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 owing to conflicts with 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. Sharper corners are used to avoid cars speeding through, cycle crossings are raised, bike lanes are coloured, cyclists can wait in front of the traffic, etc.
  • Traffic lights: These include an additional green light for cyclists, and have favourable waiting times.
  • Large roundabouts: These have a totally different design to British roundabouts, and involve a physically separate track round the side, with various features to enable easy crossing by bikes.
  • Cycle parking: This is the one thing the Dutch arguably don’t do so well – the British-style Sheffield stand approach is best and should be retained.

Martin Lucas-Smith, Chair