The Dutch Are Building Purposeful BikeWays

Background Reading


Schoolchildren cycling on the Greenport Bikeway.

Schoolchildren cycling on the Greenport Bikeway.


Some videos that accompanied this article:

What is sorely missing in the discussions that go on within the Urban Cycling Community is a firm grasp of what ‘actually works‘. We Yanks like to glom onto various catch phrases.

Take for instance the notion that to increase safety each road needs a Road Diet. What is fairly evident from view many of the wonderful videos produced by the author of the BicycleDutch blog is that merely narrowing a road is about as meaningful as telling an obese person to either ‘cut out carbs‘ or ‘eat only proteins‘. And yet time and again that is the prescription you read from the transportation wonks who proclaim their cures for what ails our transportation woes.

We need to get beyond this sort of simplistic thinking into some far more critical. We are currently being told that we need more ‘bicycle lanes‘. But clearly adding lanes is not going to remedy some of the design flaws already introduced into newly minted street designs purporting to eliminate the dreaded ‘right hook‘.

In fact in places in Chicago there are newly introduced ‘protected bike lanes‘ which may look great because of the barrier from car traffic, but might not pass muster in terms of dealing effectively with the problems brought on by poor intersection design.

The Dutch have decades of experience in designing intersections and on street parking lanes. Why are we not more conversant with their design experience?

Flee The ‘Road Diet’ Wonks Like The Plague

Folks who are essentially ‘Little Johnny One Note‘ and touting ‘Road Diets‘ without an understanding of how the Dutch have faced road design are not going to get us very far. The designs should be as familiar to the average cyclist as we are with what we think does not work.

Until we spend time as a culture trying to understand what works and what really does not and more importantly, why it does not work, we will be at the mercy of every DOT in the country that is struggling to implement good road design.

Remember they may or may not know what Dutch Design really looks like. There needs to be a compendium of videos and drawings that show how the Dutch handle each of the various situations in which we currently find ourselves. And this kind of understanding should not require a doctorate in street design.

Every cyclist should be acquainted with what flaws there are in the current designs of our streets and what kinds of updates to them would bring us better into alignment with what actually works.

We should no longer be hostage to the trend of Bicycle Advocates to glibly promote ‘more bike lanes‘ without going into details. We have already lived through the fiasco of Dearborn Street and its bloated budget. The street does not work. It is that simple. There was little if any consideration of how drivers parking on street would get into and out of their automobiles. And worse yet not thought at all as to how pedestrian crosswalk would coexist with the bike lanes laid down.

Instead we are spending precious capital fighting over whether or not we have to come to ‘complete stops‘ at stop signs. This is counterproductive at the very least. Clearly a good protected intersection does require obedience to signals. But in exchange it means getting through the intersection faster and more safely than is otherwise possible.

We have not dealt effectively with ‘Right Hooks‘ because we are far too focused on what sorts of body paint to wear at the next World Naked Bike Ride. Frankly, I could care less about protesting the use of fossil fuels if we have no plans for safe bicycle infrastructure design.

Inefficient street design wastes more fuel than can ever be saved from some goofy event where overweight, middle-aged men with sagging breasts waddle around looking for video cameras to record their ugly bodies. Why do we even bother? If we focus on the more important things perhaps we can jettison some of the silly stuff and better spend our money on great infrastructure.