It is a fact that not every street in the Netherlands has separated cycle paths. It is also true that Dutch traffic experts do sometimes say that in road building they only “separate where needed” and “mix where possible”. These two facts combined are cause for one of the great misunderstandings of the Dutch road building system. “Even a Dutch cyclist will have to ride with motorized traffic one time or another, because cycle paths simply can’t go everywhere.” This probably comes right after the great misunderstanding of ‘strict liability’ when that is assumed to ‘magically’ bring road safety to vulnerable road users in the Netherlands.
I have argued before that what keeps Dutch vulnerable road users safe is the system of ‘sustainable safety’ and the categorization of streets and roads under that system. A large part of the streets in the Netherlands is designated as ‘area where people want or need to be’. In those streets it is not the car but the human who is king of the road. The areas are mostly residential but also commercial, and the streets in those areas have a maximum speed limit of 30 km/h (18mph) and that makes it very possible to ‘mix’ different types of traffic there. Never is traffic ‘mixed’ on through streets with high volume traffic at high(er) speeds. There traffic will always be separated. So what does this policy mean on the actual roads?
The video below shows a route from the edge of the historic city center of ’s-Hertogenbosch to the former town of Rosmalen that became part of the ’s-Hertogenbosch municipality only in 1996. The route is 4 kilometers long and for the larger part there are no separated cycle paths. In fact on only about 1 kilometer of the route or 25% there are separated cycle paths. So does that mean I have to cycle with traffic? Not exactly!
- On the entire route there is only one interaction with a motorized vehicle (2) and that car driver gives me priority as he should.
- Twice I have to deal with two cyclists riding the wrong way (1, 5) but I can do so without stopping.
- In fact, as you can see, I can ride the 4 kilometers without having to stop once*.
- There are two junctions with traffic lights (1, 8) but I have a green light twice.
- I only have to give way to motorized traffic once (9), but there is no car coming when I arrive at that point.
- I have to give way to other cyclists twice at junctions (8, 9) but no other cyclists are there either.
- The third and last time I have to give way to other cyclists is on entering the roundabout (10).
- I pass an enormous building site (7) but (apart from old fashioned road surface) I hardly notice it.
- I bypass a roundabout (3) and underpass a motorway (6) almost without noticing it.
(* I only pause to show you the former municipal border stone; a replica of the 1680 stone (4).)
This all is possible because where I ‘mix with traffic’ the streets are residential streets and not through streets. They are service streets next to a main road and they were (re)constructed as cycle streets where cyclists have priority. The fact that only residents use those streets makes the number car movements very low. So low that on the entire ‘mixed’ part of the route I do not have to interact with a single car. And I filmed this between 5 and 6 in the evening, so at a time that many people could return from their daily business.
At the building site a canal is being constructed. It is the relocation of a canal that now goes right through the center of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. When the canal is finished a part of the through route will have been diverted. Some houses will then not be on the through route anymore.