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 Prof. 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.

66 thoughts on “Sustainable or Systematic Safety

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. The Netherlands has a culture of moderateness and sensibleness which manifests itself in the driving practices of the population. This is quite noticeable, regardless of the speed limit.

        All you need to do is look at road map of The Netherlands and you can see that there are not many major roads for a population of 17 million. Density inhibits higher speed roads and therefore less accidents.

        The Netherlands has it’s own particular dynamics that are not found in most places. First, the flat land and moderate climate. Second, the extreme density of population. Third, a culture that is practical. These qualities combine and what you get is a bicycle culture that can only be emulated in relatively few places in the world.

        1. Regarding the driving practices of the Dutch, while their culture is considered quite egalitarian overall, I’m not sure that that translates to a more-desirable driving culture. For instance, many of my Dutch colleagues, whom have driven and/or lived in Belgium, will readily tell you that Belgian drivers are noticeably less aggressive. I had the same experience while in Ghent, Antwerp and Oostende. The driving there was more laid back compared to what I’ve seen in Rotterdam, Delft and Utrecht, the latter of which I’ve also witnessed aggressive honking/tailgating behavior from people in cars and scooters towards cyclists on shared streets. Having also spent considerable time in Copenhagen, the drivers there were also noticeably more relaxed. And as I am currently living in a small town in the southwest province of Zeeland, Netherlands, I will also say that the drivers in many of the smaller towns here are among the most reckless that I’ve ever encountered anywhere. People regularly go way over the speed limit, buzzing through the narrow city streets, speeding around tight corners and pass cyclists extremely closely and at speed. Completely not the small-town, laid-back traffic atmosphere that I had expected.

          As André Engels stated above, the driving here is not terrible but it’s also not exceptionally nice in any way.

          1. Dutch drivers are often behaving like “King of the Road” Just like their British or American counterparts they assume the public space is for them and their cars. Parking on the sidewalk, or the cyclepath, mwah moet kunnen. Mostly nice people out of their vehicles, car -fascists when it comes to their holy metal coffin.
            I drive, therefore I AM ( a shit)

          2. I never mentioned that the egalitarian society is the cause of good driving. I stated the culture being one of moderation, sensibility and practicality is the cause.

            I have spent a lot of time on a bicycle in southwest Zeeland and I have never seen one case of noticeable speeding or dangerous driving. Most, if not all, towns in the region have speed bumps upon entering the town. The roads outside this, other than the few minor highways, are narrow double and single lanes roads. Some are unpaved. This does not allow for speeding without severe risk of accidents.

            Belgium is actually two very different regions. You were in the north, Flanders, where the culture is very similar to The Netherlands.. The south of Belgium, Wallonia, has a very different culture, more like France, and I have seen speeding and dangerous driving.

            1. Don’t mention that first comment in your last paragraph to the Flemish! They will surely protest and disagree 🙂 My boss is Belgium and most of my colleagues are either Dutch or Flemish, and I’ve come to realize that the only real similarity between them is the language.

              Having lived in Zeeland for almost a year now, I don’t really feel that the Dutch culture has much to do with the the way in which they drive. The irony is that drivers in the larger towns and cities are more relaxed overall. Nowhere is the driving absolutely atrocious, but in the part of Zeeland around Yerseke, there are a lot of people who drive recklessly. At the same time, the infrastructure, and probably lack of enforcement (have not seen a single policeman yet), allows people to drive that way. And regarding Inge’s comment about parking on the sidewalk and cyclepath, that is something that happens here everyday. Even in the States, I have never seen such blatant, habitual illegal parking.

              The one big difference between here and the US, is the lack of road rage. By that, I mean that people don’t purposely try to run cyclists off the road or roll down their windows and yell “Get off the road” and every possible insult one can think of, all of which I had to deal with many times when I still lived there. To me, this has more to do with people being cyclists themselves and being used to cyclists than anything else. The same is also true in the US.

          3. I used the word “similar” to describe the Flemish culture as it relates to the Dutch culture. It is true if you look closely the cultures are very different. Even the language sounds noticeably different the moment you step, or cycle, over the border. But in general the cultures are very similar. In fact at points in history they were the same country!

            Most people from the outside, if they crossed the border without realizing, would not see any difference in the cultures. However when you cross into Wallonia you will know it!

        2. You’ve clearly don’t think much of Limburg. Limburg is known for having numerous hills, some of them long and steep. Limburg’s capital, Maastricht, may be flat within its boundaries, but maybe you should try cycling away from Maastricht. People still cycle there in Limburg. It also snows sometimes in the Netherlands. When it does so, the cycle paths are still often very busy.
          Perhaps the cultural thing is something that is not completely replicable. That being said, the read that I get from people (amongst Americans, who are stereotyped as loving muscle cars and huge SUVs and not caring about Global Warming) is that they don’t love driving for driving’s sake very often; mostly, if they like driving, it is simply because it is the only safe and efficient way of transporting oneself most of the time. But people are tired of it, and the country is changing faster than its transportation system is adapting.

    2. 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.

      1. The average American will almost always drive a car to the supermarket if the store is more than a couple of blocks away. The mindset is much different than in Europe.

        Plus much of the US is not flat. This makes a huge difference in the effort required to cycle. It also has very hot summers and cold winters on average. I don’t think there is any potential, unfortunately.

    3. 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.

      1. The dynamics, as I have noted above, make it near impossible for it to be done. Thousands of people may live within a 1 mile radius of a supermarket in the US but only a few, literally a few, will walk or cycle. The rest will drive a car or truck. The opposite is true in Europe. Even if you gave each and every person in the US a perfect dedicated bicycle path right to their door and a perfect bicycle the vast majority still would not cycle as a major mode of transportation.

    4. 5 km isn’t bad on a bike. But even then, many a time infill infrastructure and legalizing commercial and residential and light industry in the same place will make it far better.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

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