BICYCLE DUTCH

All about cycling in the Netherlands

How come there are no pot holes in the Netherlands?

“How come there are no pot holes in the Netherlands?“ Every time I show Dutch infrastructure to foreign guests that question keeps coming back. And it’s not just people with an interest in road design that notice it. “In the Netherlands I did not see one pot hole in the road and I have seen a lot of the Netherlands. Basically Dutch sidewalks and streets look so damn clean you could like eat off them” writes a visitor to a forum on the internet.

kooikersweg-before

Before the reconstruction of Kooikersweg in ’s-Hertogenbosch there were cracks in the asphalt surface, partial repairs with tiles and also the foot way was in a bad condition.

 

kooikersweg-after

After the reconstruction there is new asphalt on the cycle way and we see new tiles on the sidewalk. There are tactile tiles for the visually impaired at this zebra crossing and the kerb (‘curb’ in North-American English) is lowered for people in wheel chairs or with baby carriages.

This surprise goes back a long way. In his 1661 book “Les délices de la Hollande” Frenchman Jean Nicolas de Parival writes that the Dutch seem obsessed with the cleanliness of their streets and their homes: “The living room floor was so clean that a visitor would not even dare to spit on it.”

In 1673 Englishman sir William Temple linked this Dutch characteristic to the climate:

“The extreme moisture of the air I take it to be the occasion of the great neatness of their houses, and cleanliness of their towns. For without the help of those customs their country would not be habitable by such crowds of people. The same moisture of air makes all metal apt to rust and wood to mould; which forces them, by continual pains of rubbing and scowering, to seek a prevention, or cure. [It] forces them, to exactness of paving in their streets, […] as, indeed, most national customs are the effect of some unseen or unobserved natural causes or necessities.”

From: Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands.
kooikersweg-before

Clearly visible is the very bad condition of the asphalt surface of the cycle way. Tar was used to repair cracks but that has proven to be inadequate over time.

 

kooikersweg-after

With the new surface of smooth red asphalt, the cycle way is in an immaculate state again.

Whatever the reason for this trait: maintenance is something the Dutch value. And not only for aesthetic reasons. The surface of the infrastructure is of high importance to people cycling. In the CROW design manual we find: “Paving is an essential element of a bicycle friendly infrastructure. The road management authority must realise that what is regarded as light damage for motorised traffic is very easily moderate or even serious damage for cyclists.”

The main requirements for a good road surface for people cycling are:

  • Evenness of the paving surface
  • Skid resistance
  • Drainage

Asphalt is the type of surface that is most appreciated by people cycling because it has the most even and seamless surface. With a good foundation you can prevent pot holes, but after years of use even asphalt will show wear and tear. Of course the Netherlands does have streets in a poor condition, but they are being dealt with. That is the reason the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch recently re-paved cycle ways on a busy arterial of which the surface was simply no longer good enough. The pictures in this post show you some before and after examples.

kooikersweg-before

Note how the former kerb cast a shadow over the cycle way, which made it optically narrower than it really was. Also visible are the many cracks that were sealed with tar which made the surface less smooth overall.

 

kooikersweg-after

The new kerb under a 45 degree angle does not cast a shadow making the full width of the cycle way usable. The drainage grate in the kerb is also under a 45 degree angle.

The city did not only replace the surface of the cycle path but also the tiles on the foot way and the dividing kerb (‘curb’ in North-American English) between the two. That kerb now has a 45 degree angle. This may seem like a detail but makes the division less intrusive. Not only can you now (accidentally) hit it with your front wheel without an almost immediate fall, it also casts no shadow on the cycle path. No shadow means that the path looks optically wider. This enhances both actual safety and the feeling of safety. This cycle route – with its separated cycle paths – was built in the 1970s, on an arterial street. I have shown you the continuation into the city centre in an earlier post. Initially, the path was tiled with concrete slabs. These tiles were replaced in the 1990s by asphalt, that now had to be replaced again by a new coat of asphalt. The video shows you what a difference that makes: yet another street without any pot holes!

Before and After of Kooikersweg in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

(The before images were filmed in January 2014 and the after images in April 2014.)

 

 

 

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23 comments on “How come there are no pot holes in the Netherlands?

  1. platinum
    22 May 2014

    Britain really needs to start doing concurrent utility repairs whenever a road is being dug up anyway. My local town just had an over £1 million makeover of about 200 metres of street necessitating a complete closure of a main through road for several months. Not one month after the work was completed the road had to be closed again for the water pipes to be replaced, permanently ruining the brand new road surface – it just makes no sense!

  2. Alex
    19 May 2014

    Sod off the lot of you complainers :(. You at least HAVE bike lanes to complain about.

  3. Heather
    15 May 2014

    Wow, I thought the first photo was the repair, not the ‘before’. We would be lucky to even have the damaged version of the infrastructure. Canada is so far behind.

  4. Steven Vance
    15 May 2014

    I noticed that the Dutch will also repair potholes or poor asphalt/tarmac conditions with bricks/tiles for full or partial width portions of the bike path. This seems a temporary solution that will be replaced when a larger segment of the bike path will be repaved.

    I think this solution is preferable to patching and using tar, at least if you consider the low quality results of patching and using tar in Chicago (and much of the United States). The tiles are essentially “forever lasting” – but aren’t as smooth making them slightly less desirable on which to cycle.

  5. Paul M
    15 May 2014

    The Netherlands is not the only country where potholes are, at least, rare. Same is true in France. You might alternatively ask, why are there so many potholes in the UK?

    I think it is probably our lack of civic pride, our obsession with the individual, and our meanness with taxpayer money. In France, you don’t see potholes, what you see is large square patches in the road, where the tarmac is a slightly different colour, and a seam of bitumen forms a boundary all the way around. The surface is perfectly levelled so there is no feel of a bump as you cross, so the only way you can tell is that slight shade difference.

    In the UK, when we get a pothole, first of all it is left unattended for months on end. Eventually a few people report it through their local authority pothole line or fillthathole.org. Now, the council needs to deal with it because from now on hey can’t profess ignorance, and if anyone is injured by the pothole, or suffers material damage to their car, the council could be sued for damages. The council’s private contractors go out with a tub of asphalt and a wooden mallet, and the stuff cold asphalt into eth hole and bash it down a bit with the mallet until it looks kinda level. they don’t seal the edges. A few weeks later, the hole has reopened and the asphalt has scattered across the road.

    As I have discovered, if you find three or four potholes close to each other you can’t just assume that reporting one will be enough to have all four repaired at once. The private contractor will deal with the hole which best fits the description given in the resident’s report, and ignore the others altogether – after all, their fixed-fee contract only requires them to repair the reported hole, and they would be reducing their profits if they repair other holes which have not been reported.

    This isn’t directly relevant to cycling of course (except that I fear potholes more than almost any other road hazard, especially when riding my Brompton due to itd small wheels) but with attitudes like that, is it any wonder we have such crap cycle infrastructure?

  6. Q
    15 May 2014

    Actually, I always think our streets are much dirtier than for instance in the scandinavian countries, Austria, Switzerland. So it is all a matter of perspective ;-).
    And, to answer our American friends: don’t forget we pay much, much more taxes than you do. That goes towards things like this.

  7. Tim
    15 May 2014

    Of course, the physical separation of cycleways and busy motor traffic must mean that the cycle infrastructure stays nice for longer.

    I often cycle on Manchester’s Oxford Road in the UK, which is described as the busiest bus route in Europe, and has a shared bus/cycle lane, which is completely inappropriate, especially given the high volumes of traffic.

    Of course the huge combined weight of all the buses does a tremendous amount of damage over time, As well as the potholes the tarmac (asphalt) gets rucked up into folds like a hallway rug.

    Obviously cyclists don’t cause any of this damage, but they suffer from it the most, by a long way.

  8. sharp
    15 May 2014

    I think it all comes down to urban planning and land use.
    Belgium has a similar size and poplation density as the NL and it has a double amount of roads to maintain.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_OECD_countries_by_highway_network_size#Total_road_network

    Belgium 14.49 m / capita or 4678 m per sq km.
    NL 7.18m / capita or 2828 m / km².

    • sharp
      15 May 2014

      So you’ll say “but my country is large/sparsely populated”. Generally countries less densely populated have lengthier road network per capita, but they tend to have a smaller road density (length/area). France has roughly half the population density of Germany, so it is expected that they have more road per capita. But they also have almost the same road density (per square km). It should be lower in France with a lower population density. It’s an indicator that France does a poorer job in the Land use/Urban planning area.

      If you have lots of potholes, maybe you just build too much road infrastructure that you can’t afford to maintain. American readers are urged to listen to Chuck Marohn from http://www.strongtowns.org/ and Jeff Speck ‘s Walkable City.

      The culprit is likely suburban sprawl http://www.nacionrotonda.com/ https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=sprawl&tbs=imgo:1

  9. Rangjan
    15 May 2014

    I also understood that in the Netherlands the tarmac on the roads is also designed/engineered to allow water to seep through (porous) and to prevent freeze damage?

    • Ewout
      15 May 2014

      Porous asphalt is mostly used on motorways and other high-speed roads near urban area’s, because it reduces noise (and also prevents cars from hydroplaning). It is almost never used within urban area’s, because it has no effect at low speeds. Also, the contrary is true about it preventing freeze damage. If the water within the asphalt freezes, it can tear apart the road. This makes the life span of porous asphalt significantly shorter (average of about 8 years, compared to 15 years for regular asphalt), and therefore it is quite expensive.

  10. Son of Shaft
    15 May 2014

    The road owner, (city,province or national government,) are also liable for any damage the roads causes to the user. My father got a punctured carter/oilpan once because of a non flush sitting manhole. (Sporty car with relatively low ground clearance.) His neighbour mentioned he saw a trail of oil drips from several streets over right to my fathers driveway. My father checked it out found the reason and contacted his insurance. The insurance paid out and contacted the city for compensation. Four workdays later the manhole was flush with the rest of the street.

  11. beezodog
    15 May 2014

    Reblogged this on Beezodog's Place and commented:
    test

  12. Reblogged this on Move for Change and the Brooklyn Culture Jam and commented:
    I’m jealous. The Dutch not only have far better bike paths than we do–they FIX them when they break.

  13. ambrose
    15 May 2014

    i have been waiting for an article like this but it has left me with more questions than answers! the answer to the question originally posed, “how come there are no pot holes in the Netherlands” seems to be “there are, but they are soon repaired”. but for a UK observer, this begs questions such as:

    – how long are pot holes, or rather deficiencies in the cycleway (or roadway) tolerated?
    – are defective cycleways treated as a priority over the roadway due to cyclists increased difficulties from holes/cracks compared to cars?
    – what is the definition of a pot hole in NL? (in the UK there are defined limits of depth etc)
    – how is the condition of cycleways/footways/roadways monitored? how do the authorities keep track of the condition of their highway?
    – many issues with the “pavement” (the technical UK term for any bit of the public highway, foot,road, cycle, whatever) and deficiencies result from reinstated/”repaired” sections that have been dug up when utility companies have done works there. how is this addressed in NL, or perhaps, why isnt it a problem? e.g. – there are no buried cables under cycleways, or footways, or roadway – or utility companies are required to resurface a large section – or perhaps there is greater quality control over repairs made by utility companies?
    – does NL have different/better construction standards, in general for the pavement, and thus avoid damage to the surfacing and sub base etc that is experienced in the UK
    – how can NL “afford” to do so much maintenance? or rather, what proportion of budgets are they willing to spend to keep their highways in this good state?

    so many issues that would be fascinating to understand how NL compares to somewhere like the UK, to learn what would have to be different for us to have the same scenario. Of course you have identified the culture of maintenance in NL, and although i can hardly prove it, i do have a hunch or a feeling that in the UK, we have the opposite – a culture of avoiding maintenance. why this might be, or whether it could change, i dont know.

    thanks for the post! any answers to the questions above you can think of, greatly appreciated ;)

    • andreengels
      15 May 2014

      Quote:
      – many issues with the “pavement” (the technical UK term for any bit of the public highway, foot,road, cycle, whatever) and deficiencies result from reinstated/”repaired” sections that have been dug up when utility companies have done works there. how is this addressed in NL, or perhaps, why isnt it a problem? e.g. – there are no buried cables under cycleways, or footways, or roadway – or utility companies are required to resurface a large section – or perhaps there is greater quality control over repairs made by utility companies?

      It might partly be the last, but partly also that such works are being done all at once, when the road is being renewed anyway.

    • Har Davids
      15 May 2014

      Ambrose, there may be a historical explanation for this phenomenon. After all, it has been necessary for centuries to spend money on our polders and dykes, if only to keep our feet dry. Maintenance of roads and other public utilities is just part of it. Monitoring of roads, cycle-paths and side-walks can be done by any citizen willling to make a phone-call to the municipallity. There’s even an App we can use, BuitenBeter(.nl); you can send a picture, location-info, the problem and some free text. I’ve used it and, in Rotterdam, it does seem to work.

    • jan
      18 May 2014

      To elaborate on Andre’s remark: for most roads, the owner (city, province, state) will schedule regular maintenance periodically, and force all companies with infrastructure to do their maintenance in that window.
      If a utility company requests to open the road outside that window, it might be denied or required to restore the road up to very high standards. It’s more efficient for all, but it does require an awful lot of planning.

  14. Dennis Hindman
    15 May 2014

    Where does the taxes to create or maintain roads and bikeways come from in the Netherlands? Is it motor fuel or general tax funds and is it mainly local taxes, regional or national?

    The U.S. has had a fixed rate of motor fuel tax at the federal level which was set in 1993 that is used for highways. It has lost about 37% of its purchasing power since that time.

    There probably is not another product that has a price as closely watched by consumers as motor fuel in the U.S. People readily aware of the few penny’s difference in prices between gas stations.

    Politicians in the U.S. are afraid to even suggest that the taxes on motor fuel should be raised, even though the current tax rate is not enough to maintain the highways and the motor fuel prices are some of the lowest in the world.

    The previous head of the federal department of transportation–Ray LaHood–stated that the roads in the U.S. are one big pothole.

    About 37% of the streets in Los Angeles and 38% in Portland are in D or F condition. A street in F condition is a failure rating where it must be completely reconstructed all the way to the dirt.

    The sidewalks in Los Angeles have been almost completely neglected in Los Angeles for decades. In my area of the city many of the sidewalks and curbs are stamped with construction dates of 1927.

    • andreengels
      15 May 2014

      Funds come from general taxation. Most roads and cycleways are paid by the municipalities, but those get a part of their income (on average about one third) from a payment out of national taxation.

      • Mbozdkng
        7 July 2014

        I’m sorry, but that’s not really true. The use of a car is highly taxed in the Netherlands.

        First, when you purchase a car you’ve to pay “BPM” (taxation of person vehicles and motorcarraiges), which is an extra tax on new cars besides the normal VAT. This is a percentage of the price and the height depends on the CO2 per kilometre the car produces.
        For example a new Chevy Camaro ZL1 is priced for $55,355 in the USA. The same car in NL will cost you $144,347.

        Now you own a car, so you need to pay every three months “road tax”. The amount depends on the kind of fuel your car uses, the weight of your car and the province where you live. In case of the camaro it will be around $1,500 per year.

        When you don’t own your car but when you have a leaseconstruction with your employer, pretty common in NL when you work at a big company, and you use your car also in private.Then you need to add between 7% to 25% of the new price of your car to your income before taxation, every year again!! The percentage depends again on the CO2/Kilometre ratio.
        The income tax in NL is max 52%, so the maximum you will pay is 52% of 25% = 13%. In case of the Camaro you will pay $18,765 in income tax, every year you lease this car!

        Last but not least, we have taxation on fuel. The favorite tax for our government to increase again, again and again. Every dutchmen still knows the “kwartje van Kok”, a 25 cent increase in the nineties which would be only temporary but we still pay it today. Currently the taxation on petrol is about 43% (excise duty). On the total price including(!) the excise duty you will have to pay VAT (21% in NL).
        The current price of one gallon petrol in NL is $9.51 against (around) $3.70 in the USA.

        Of course do we get one of the best infrastructures in the world in return. But the total income of these taxations are way higher then the costs of new roads and the maintanence of the excisting ones.

        • andreengels
          8 July 2014

          There’s quite some taxation on cars, yes, but those taxations are not specifically used for road (or cycleway) maintenance. The taxation goes into the general funds, and the spending comes from the general funds. Road maintenance costs are not tied to car taxes any more than they are to property tax or tobacco excise. Car and fuel taxes are not tied to road maintenance any more than they are tied to the army, schools or aid to cultural subsidies.

  15. bhtooefr
    15 May 2014

    Unfortunately, seems like that one really is a cultural and economic difference.

    Where I am (Newark, Ohio, not to be confused with New Jersey), where the car is definitely king, even the car infrastructure is in quite atrocious condition (and that applies for everywhere in Ohio – and here in Newark, we’ve even had times where they give up trying to clear the roadways of ice and snow due to running out of funds for salt), and what little (primarily recreational) cycling infrastructure there is, maintenance is almost non-existent (as in, your worn out path would be a massive upgrade in surface quality, for portions of it). Of course, part of that is because the cycling infrastructure is under the purview of the county parks department, which was running on a donation basis due to tax levies being voted down, until a couple years ago…

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This entry was posted on 15 May 2014 by in Original posts and tagged , , .
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