What qualifies as Dutch Design?

The UK have recently started to look across the North sea for cycle infrastructure inspiration… again. Because some people in the UK already did that in the 1930s  and also in the 1980s. One thing that seems different now, is a willingness to actually do something with that inspiration. Dutch professionals are invited to speak at design workshops and to offer their advice for real traffic situations. That is a development that I applaud. Now we even see the first plans emerge. That should make us very happy, but, to be honest, these plans give me cause for concern.

Yesterday, I read about the conversion of a Manchester junction. There is no design included but the description starts promising: “segregated lanes will be set up on the approaches to the junction on Wilmslow Road,”. Great: this is a big road and a big junction and it is good practice in the Netherlands to separate cycling traffic and motor traffic on roads like that. So that sounds perfect. But the description continues: “to allow cyclists to reach the waiting area in safety. The traffic signals installed at the site will have dedicated lights for cyclists allowing them to set off and turn in safety before cars are released.” Hang on… ‘waiting area’ and ‘set off before cars are released’? On a Dutch junction there is no ‘waiting area’ at least not on the main carriage way and ‘set off before cars’? The cyclists need a completely different green cycle. It almost seems as though they are talking about an advanced stop line on the road. Something the Dutch would never combine with segregated lanes in the approach to such a junction.

Today there was another announcement. This time about a junction in Southampton, which is announced as a Dutch style junction. A picture was included and I was totally surprised. What is depicted there bears no resemblance to a Dutch junction at all!

Left: design for a Southampton junction (pic courtesy of DailyEcho), right: design of a real Dutch junction. In red the cycle paths. Note how straight forward crossing this junction is. Even turning is clear. In the left picture it is really a puzzle how you go from one end to the other via the fragmented pieces of cycle infrastructure that seem randomly scattered around the junction.

Yes, advanced stop lines or bike boxes if you like to call them that, do exist in the Netherlands, but they are only used in low volume traffic situations. What really struck me were those coloured squares in every corner. I’ve never seen them. Oh yes wait, I did see them, but not in the streets, in the design examples of NACTO from the US!

In my opinion that design is not the best solution for cyclists on that junction. Of course UK traffic engineers have every right to come up with their own solutions, but to call that Dutch style is simply not right. Dutch junctions are very straight forward. All the routes for the different types of traffic are clearly connected and separated from other flows of traffic. There is no turning in strange and unexpected places, no waiting on a coloured square with other traffic passing on all sides.

I have explained the basics of a Dutch junction before. [There is also a more recent post now! And an even more recent example of an actual junction retrofitted to that design.] The problem is that we Dutch have moved on. Our traffic is now much more separated on route level, not on street level anymore. So the situation on junctions becomes ever more incomparable. But we do have older style junctions that are comparable enough with the average UK junction. We have tried and tested our designs for cycle infrastructure on such junctions for decades, it has proved to be clear, safe and pleasant. Why come up with something from a US guide that is new and experimental? UK and US roads are far less comparible than UK and NL streets. And then to promote such experiments as Dutch, it is almost offensive. As someone on Twitter says: “We Dutch should trademark ‘Dutch Junction’ to prevent these kind of PR accidents“.

Dutch junction design explained

26 thoughts on “What qualifies as Dutch Design?

  1. You know, trademarking Dutch Junction and Dutch road design is absolutely a good idea. Except who holds the trademark? Perhaps the SWOV, the company behind the CROW, maybe the national government. And because a rule that applies in the Netherlands would not apply in the UK, we would need to go to the EU. Given that things like Stilton Cheese can be trademarked, I think this is possible.

    1. Stilton cheese is not a trademark, it is a protected designation of origin. That is, the right to use the name is not with a single company, but with any producer in a certain geographical region.

  2. Hello everyone

    My city just got a public bike sharing system along with something like 10km of cycle lanes that are not even interconnected and lots of “sharrows” 😦 on streets where cars can easily go above 30km/h.
    We have an archaic public transport system that the government is difficultly trying to bring into the XXIst century, having mention that, the budget for cycling infra is tight however any steps are welcomed and cyclist are pushing the government to extend the infrastructure further although I strongly believe the engineers designing the infra are following somehow the NACTO model, green bike boxes started popping everywhere being the same for a small street or a big avenue where you can’t even turn left but ” heeey cyclist we are giving you bike boxes and plenty of signs you should be happy”.
    As urban cyclist I can easily know when then infra could be improved and when it totally fails
    My question is (in your opinion) are bike boxes and sharrows a good starting point for a city completely new to cycling infrastructure ?
    What would be a good practice for an urban area with a lot of one way streets and avenues dominated by cars where bus and taxi drivers injure people almost every week?
    I have thought of some mods like pushing the bike box ahead of pedestrian crossing to emulate a dutch style junction, I’ve even come up with a humble idea (probably nothing new) that could avoid the clogging on corners for the most common Dutch style junction itself.

    1. No, I don’t think bike boxes and sharrows are a good starting point. From what you describe, I would think 30 km/h (or 20 mi/h) zones, filtered permeability and bicycle counterflow on one-way streets are to me what seems more appropriate.

  3. So Mark, you wrote about your concerns that the Manchester junction is not truly Dutch style, but in reality it’s MUCH worse than that.

    Now, 17 months later, the Manchester junction “conversion” is complete. Huge sums of money have been spent. And how does it look?

    Well, only one approach – northbound – has any segregation; some small kerbed sections (with gaps) to try and stop drivers from parking to use the shops and cashpoint. This has some effect but does not work all the time (as yo can see). Even here the segregation stops well before the junction so, as anticipated, it’s just the usual ASLs and all the other approaches are the same as they were before.

    And the advanced traffic light phases? Well, that may have been worse than a Dutch cycle-only phase, but it’s irrelevant because it never happened anyway. For reasons which are not fully clear (inconveniencing other modes? regulations wouldn’t allow it?) there are no bike-specific lights of any kind on the carriageway.

    Instead, the crossings on all four arms have been changed to toucan crossings to allow cyclists to navigate around on the pavement, and the phasing includes a green scramble for pedestrians (and because they are toucan crossings, cyclists too). But this is a disaster. In order to use the toucan crossings correctly a cyclist must mount the kerb and negotiate the railings and bollards all over the place while mixing with pedestrians at this very busy junction.

    So I use the ASL, and if the green scramble starts, I just continue and navigate around the junction in the carriageway, with the toucan crossings as my back-up excuse. I probably look like a rogue-cyclist red-light-jumper and it’s counter-intuitive, but I’ve given up caring.

    You honestly have no idea how much more civilised your infrastructure is, and how hard it is to make any progress in the UK. Thank you again for your continuing efforts to show the world how it could be.

  4. I live near the Manchester junction, and I just wanted to thank you for getting up a response to the announcement, and so quickly.

    For those unfamiliar with the area this junction is on a busy route into town through South Manchester known as the Oxford Road Corridor (including Wilmslow Road and Oxford Road – often described as “the busiest bus route in Europe”. The junction is surrounded by the main student residential areas and halls, about two miles from the UK’s largest single site university and about three miles from town all on relatively flat roads.

    And yet only a tiny minority of students cycle.

    My concern is that this junction will be an isolated instance of physically separated infrastructure (on the approaches), only to throw cyclists straight back into the mix with the buses (share bus/bike lanes) and cars parking in the on-carriageway cycle lanes.

    Several of the Transport for Greater Manchester staff are very keen to improve things for cyclists and hopefully posts like this can help them to make the most of the small amounts of money which are allocated for cycling in the UK.

  5. Yes looks Danish and not disimilar from a problem I’m working on in newcastle. Getting a separate left turn traffic lane is very difficult and without this how can you go dutch?

    Right now we have traffic engineers who are in love with signals being given cycling money and first thing they do is remove roundabouts. I fear a backlash as the public quite like RBTs.

    1. There’s some semblance to Danish cycle facilities, except they very rarely paint the cycle track/bike lanes blue or any color before reaching the junction. Sometimes the blue will be used to designate continuation of the bike facility across the junction. I also did not see any ASL’s of the form in the illustration above at any major/medium-sized junction, where cyclists can filter out and in front of cars in the car lane(s). What they sometimes have, however, is the cycle track becoming a shared lane with right-turning vehicles and such cars would merge/cross into that rightmost lane. It’s definitely not a great feature in my opinion, but enough people cycle in Cph that it at least still feels way better than cycling on a typically street in the US where bike lanes end right before the junction or there’s some sort of crisscrossing involved between cyclists and motorists.

  6. …. ‘set off before cars are released’…. Does anyone else have the same association with a hunting party here? ‘I’ll give you a slight head start, so you better start to run before the dogs are released’. It’s as if the hunting season is being declared open, and the cyclists are the foxes upon which the hound are set. Doesn’t sound anything like a balanced approach based on respectful mutual interaction

  7. Cities that have a low single-digit modal share for bicycling seemingly have to go through evolutionary steps that involve several generations of bicycle infrastructure design. Its like picking the wolves that have a gentler demeanor, breed them, then pick the ones with more of these desirable traits, breed them, continue this several more times, and you eventually end up with a domestic dog after several generations.

    A city may have less than 1% modal share that consists of mostly young adult males riding bicycles in mixed traffic on busy streets. Then the traffic engineers put stripes, which creates some separated space for bicycling, reduces the injuries for cycling by 30% which then raises the proportion of the adult population who would be willing to ride there to 7%. Then, you put in plastic posts and move the cars away from the curb to put in a bike lane that gives a greater since of separation from traffic for the cyclist. After that has been there long enough for people to get used to having less room for motor vehicles, then you can put in permanent physical barriers. That would then move to changes in design of the physical barriers, along with dedicated bicycle signals, wayfinding signs, more dedicated space for parking, etc.

    So when I hear that the Netherlands has a much more advanced (tame) bicycle infrastructure than say the U.S., a country which has bicyclists mainly riding in mixed traffic amongst the predators (motor vehicles), I’m getting to realize that the U.S. is still very close to still being the wild wolf in bicycle infrastructure design.

    Just getting the space and funding for bicycle infrastructure in cities with a low-modal share for bicycling are huge challenges.

    The below link to an article illustrates this when the Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner showed pictures of what Chicago was creating with bicycle infrastructure to some traffic planners in Utrecht when he visited the Netherlands last October. Their reaction? They laughed and said that this was what they were doing 40 years ago.

    I’ve attended about six meetings with neighborhood councils and a working group formed by one of the councilmembers in Los Angeles about taking away a travel lane for motor vehicles in order to install bike lanes on a two mile section of a street (LA has 6,500 miles of streets) Frustratingly, there are still at least two more meetings to go before this councilmember makes a decision on whether to put in bike lanes on this street. The other councilmember whose jurisdiction has about half of this proposed project has already flatly turned it down after getting a overwhelming response from motorists to not take away a motor vehicle lane to put in bike lanes.

  8. Wow mark. You are fast with the blogging. The twitter discussion is still ongoing. Let’s just, from now on and forever, call the junction with separated cycle crossings off roads, the ‘Dutch Junction’. And it works: Implemented it in several roads in Ottawa already. Just keep spreading the word.

  9. Bike boxes (ASLs) are indeed very rarely employed in the Netherlands, and where they exist they are usually targets for removal. The only place where they’re introduced, out of necessity, is where there’s no space at all for separate filter lanes. Note that this means that there’s physically no space, like at a canalside or a very narrow urban canyon. In such a circumstance, the lack of filter lanes would inherently mean that all traffic in all directions sets of at once, without the possibility of separate green cycles. This would lead to an unacceptable conflict between cyclists going straight ahead and motorists turning right – hence the ASL.
    A separate cyclist facility at the junction, like the one in the rightmost image and the video, only takes up as much as the width of a narrow traffic island + a modest one-way cycle path, so if there’s enough space for a cycle lane, there’s usually enough space to give cyclists their own green cycle.

    1. not even the Danes would call this theirs.

      The problem is not branding, the problem is compounding issues of:
      – pressure to ‘go Dutch’ without actually knowing what that means (see other examples such as ‘Woonerf’ in relation to ‘Shared Space’)
      – designers use NACTA, which presents itself as (in part) based on “best European practice” (of which there isn’t any)
      – designers mix it up with existing (failed) design principle and actual layout (no way around it), not moving away from HoP too much (cost-efficient, too)
      – “close enough” > approved.
      – Yay! Oh wait…

      Rinse & repeat.

    2. It could be German or Austrian style, if that could ever fit into any specific “national” style. But interesting, how poor the knowledge about Danish design is in the Netherlands. It seems, that there is envy and resentment . . . , however.

      1. excuse me, Hamburgize, but I think you’re misinterpreting me (or Richard Mann – who’s from *Oxford*, not NL) or the whole piece. For argument’s sake, I’m not bashing the Danes. More like defending them. And besides that, what do you base your claim on that knowledge abt Danish design in NL is poor? In general, with us? Envy, resentment? Seriously, I’m baffled.
        Second: the point of the story (and Mark’s very thorough explanation) is that on a design level there’s a big issue in UK with using ‘Dutch’ design (aka misrepresenting it), that this in the short and long term has ramifications for safety and progress. Ergo: I think my points are very valid. I merely countered Richard’s remark.


        1. I’d probably go for a Dutch-style roundabout at that junction, myself, though the traffic level is probably a bit high. Dutch-style traffic-lit junctions are very difficult to implement in the UK under current regs (and it would probably need even more space than is used in NL), so it’s not really surprising that no-one is proposing one. You are correct that UK designers do rather seem to take a pick & mix approach, though it’s more likely to be inspired by the Danes than by the US (or the Germans). I think we may have to have a period of just supporting people trying stuff, and see what emerges. Some of it will be less than perfect, but trying to get people to stick to a Dutch ideal that they don’t understand and is hard to implement is unrealistic.

  10. I think you are entirely right with your comments to these junctions. Those are not Dutch at all. In our bicycle design manual (also available in English and German ) you can find the guidelines when to use which solution. Segregation of fast moving cars and bicycles is one of the main characteristics of our traffic planning. It looks as if the UK planners didn’t understand this chapter at all.

    1. Advanced stops lines simply do not work at busy locations – just ask yourself what would happen if lots of people tried to use them. You get maybe two or three people in the ASL before it becomes blocked. The next cyclists have to wait in the lead-in lane and then can’t get the advantage of the ASL. Even those who are in the ASL box feel under pressure when trying to get through such a large junction as this. (See here for an excellent explanation:

      Having cycled a little bit in the Netherlands, I can confirm that you very rarely feel hassled by motorists at busy junctions because you are usually completely segregated. This is so important in terms of encouraging people to cycle because subjective safety is paramount.

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