All about cycling in the Netherlands

Sustainable or Systematic Safety

Peter G. Furth, professor Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, asked me to help him create a video to explain the Dutch system that aims to make the streets in the Netherlands safer. We call it “Duurzaam Veilig”, which is generally translated as “Sustainable Safety”, but Professor Furth coined the new phrase “Systematic Safety”, which, he feels, better explains the policy. He also links it to “Vision Zero”.


The briefing at Boston City Hall last week. Picture courtesy of @streetsboston

There was not supposed to be a post this week, as announced earlier, there will be some changes at this blog. To remedy my chronic time shortage, I had two options. I could either reduce the quality of my posts, or I could reduce the frequency of my posts. I have chosen for the latter. So, in 2017, there will only be a new post every other week. A new countdown in the right column informs you about the next post. But having longer intervals does give me room for alternative posts and this can be one of them. It doesn’t mean there will always be ‘something’ in the weeks without an ordinary post, but you are lucky that in the first ‘post-less’ week there is a video to show you.


Announcing the discussion series at Boston City Hall in partnership with Northeastern University.

Some of you had already found it. Professor Peter Furth published the link to the video on his own webpage at Northeastern University and that was soon mentioned on Twitter quite some times. Peter Furth showed the video we created together at a policy briefing to Boston’s City Council’s committee on Parks, Recreation, and Transportation, last Thursday, January 5th, in one of the meetings of the series “Let’s talk transportation policy!”

If the U.S. improved safety to the standards in the Netherlands, 20,000 lives would be saved
Toole Design Group

I had already tried to explain “Duurzaam Veilig” myself in a post five years ago. What follows is the explanation for a – mainly American – audience in the video written and narrated by Professor Peter Furth, and (mostly*) filmed and edited by me, Mark Wagenbuur.

Video: Systematic Safety, the Principles Behind Vision Zero

On Dr. Furth’s page, you will also find a link to the presentation he gave at the same briefing.

* Some of the footage was shot by summer school students of 2016. Peter Furth has come to the Netherlands with a class of (mostly) civil engineer students for a number of years now, to teach them about Dutch urban design.

11 comments on “Sustainable or Systematic Safety

  1. Chris Mealy
    22 January 2017

    What an excellent video! Thanks for everything Mark.

  2. Pingback: Vision Zero, or is it Zero Vision? - West Side Action

  3. Jk
    11 January 2017

    There are many more details on why The Netherlands is safer and not just in the way the infrastructure is created. These need to be explored as well. For example, the car driving culture overall is one of sensibleness. Drivers do not generally exceed speed limits or do dangerous maneuvers, which are prevalent in other countries. The age when one can get a driver’s license has been historically higher than in the US. Even this year you must be supervised until you are 18! I believe this has resulted in the roads being far safer.

    Also, the country is so densely populated there are not nearly as many roads with higher speed limits per square kilometer. Many roads are less than 50km per hr and therefore lead to less accidents. There’s like a handful of major highways. In the US there must be thousands.

    As to bicyclists, they are mostly safe due to the separated cycle paths however there are other safety aspects like national warnings when the cycle paths become icy for example They are experimenting with heated and lighted cycle paths as well as other novel, practical ideas. Things like this I believe reduce accidents significantly.

    It’s great to learn good things from other countries but some ideas simply won’t work. It would be nice to have a cycling infrastructure in the US like The Netherlands but this will never happen, at least for the next 100 years. For starters distances between everything are so far. In the US a trip to the supermarket may be like 5 kms on average, requiring a car trip for most people. In The Netherlands it is like 1 km or less and one can easily cycle or walk to the store.

    • André Engels
      12 January 2017

      I agree with you on some points, but not on others. Regarding your first point, the Netherlands isn’t a bad country regarding driving style, but it is also not exceptional. And furthermore, that is also partly an issue of infrastructure: When a road has a certain maximum speed, it will be built for that speed, making it unattractive to ride faster. Same with the driving license age: It’s higher than in the US, but not different from most European countries.
      Your point about density I very much disagree with. A higher density means more, not less major roads. Having roads with less than 50 km/h maximum speed limit has nothing to do with density, and much with infrastructure. I do think it is definitely something to be explored – but not as a sign that the Netherlands are special, but as an example that may perhaps be emulated. It is part of a bigger thing: The Netherlands have a clear division of roads by function. Those 30 km/h roads are residential roads, used for people to get to their houses and ONLY intended for that function. Several measures are in place to make such roads impractible or unusable for other functions (rat running), and safe for cyclists, walkers and even playing children. 30 km/h maximum speed is one of them, filtered permeability, one way roads and an infrastructure that makes higher speeds impractical are others. Other roads have gotten the opposite treatment: They are major connecting and through roads, and have been built for a higher speed and few speed differences: separated cyclepaths, no on-street parking, no connections directly to properties, reduced number of connections to other streets, no sharp curves etcetera.

    • Victor5
      14 January 2017

      Still 40 % of all trips in the US by car, are less then 2 miles/ 3,2 km. So cycling in the US has potential.

    • CyclinginEdmontonfromtheEyesofaTeen
      17 January 2017

      The US is far more dense than people tend to think. Exclude the areas that are not strictly rural and the density goes way up. And you can introduce a lot of densification programs, rezone the buildings next to the streets to be nice 2-4 story brick buildings that share walls without parking lots in front. The area to the back and on top of them can function as apartment space. Rezone neighbourhoods to add rowhouses at something like a 35-45% rate rather than at almost nil in many places. And a typical 30 metre wide street with 1.5 metre wide sidewalks, 1.5-3.7 metre wide boulevards and 4-6 lanes 3.65 metres each with a 5 metre wide medians or something like that can be changed to a 3 metre wide sidewalk, 2.5 metre wide driving lanes, 1 3 metre wide lane per direction and 3 metre wide central median and a pair of parking lanes, 1.9 metres wide and a .8 metre wide optical buffer, and the remaining space given for the curb buffer between parking and cycle track, works really nicely. The US is not as incapable societally incapable of adopting Dutch road design as you might think. Well, if the opposite of progress was’t congress that is.

    • alpincesare
      21 January 2017

      Jk > It would be nice to have a cycling infrastructure in the US like The Netherlands but this will never happen, at least for the next 100 years

      It could happen a lot faster. Peak Oil is already here, and with it, Peak Everything, including Peak Growth, and with it, Peak Transportation.

      A couple of people who get it:

  4. Well done Mark, it summarizes a large topic neatly and clearly.

  5. I’m not totally happy about his explanation. He gets a few things wrong. First, the speed limit on all distributor roads in urban areas that are not classed as urban through roads like that south bypass of Den Bosch opened in 2011 is 50 km/h, a mix of 40 and 50 will make it unclear. You can lower the speed at pedestrian crossings to 30 km/h, which is of course 20 mph, on a per crossing basis. The head on crash speed is actually 45 mph, which more accurately reflects 70 km/h as opposed to 35 or perhaps 40 mph which should be rural access roads.

    He also does not show roundabouts well and he was far too positive about bike lanes. He should have said that they should only be used when you have no other option on distributor roads, and the US has a far smaller requirement for bike lanes at only 4 feet or 1.2 metres, the Dutch have minimums of 1.75 metres, or 6 feet and usually 2 metres or 6 and a half feet.

    And he does not explain rural roads as well, which do matter in the US. He gets the freeway speed wrong, the Dutch have 120 (75 mph) or 130 (80 mph) limits not 110 which would by suggested by 70 mph.

    The Dutch have dealt with alcohol and driving not with superficial changes like the drinking age of 21, but with measures like ignition interlock for alcohol offenders, very specialized driving education and training and a limit of .05% BAC. I don’t know how it is in the Netherlands but where I live, the limit is 0 for beginning drivers which I’m on, .05% for civil penalties and .08% for criminal penalties. It’s much easier to take public transport, walk and cycle of course in the Netherlands and bars and pubs are zoned relatively close to homes, so there’s no reason to want to drive to or from the bar or pub in the first place. Education, enforcement and better signage and similar can, and I say only in combination with infrastructure, work, and we can implement a lot of measures too.

    • Space Pootler
      10 January 2017

      I appreciate that there are a number of details about how things are on the ground that may not accurately reflect what is on the ground in the Netherlands right now. A friend of mine was baffled by the separate 25 and 30mph areas in the video, for example, which kind of exist as engineered speeds but not posted limits in the Netherlands (both are 50kph).

      There may be rounding errors in speeds, and a number of sticky topics he didn’t get into. The video is amazing as an introduction to the engineering standards in NL for an English-language audience. I feel that this video is as important as the old ones for helping inspire good urban design in the US, and with any luck in Britain as well.

      I don’t know that asking “Why the devil do bars have car parks in the US??” would have helped get the core message of this video across. It’s a calm and tidy presentation of a topic that will teach people a lot.

    • This all has to do with design speed as mentioned by the Dutch Royal Touring Club ANWB. So those aren’t the maximum speeds as mentioned on the signs, but these are the maximum speeds by design. The ANWB also didn’t mentioned rural areas in their research so that’s why he probably forgot them too.

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This entry was posted on 10 January 2017 by in Video post and tagged .


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