Amsterdam, Netherlands – Transportation V: The Dutch Masters of Bikeway Planning

November 2015 – Visitors to the Netherlands will quickly notice that very few Dutch cyclists wear helmets. According to the Dutch, the global masters of bikeway planning, safety for cyclists has little to do with foam helmets and everything to do with the physical layout of the road. The Dutch believe that a safe transit space should tangibly address the needs of all road users, particularly those of the cyclist. The helmet is an afterthought.

Conversely, the helmet is regarded as a safety essential for many American cyclists. In Seattle and a handful of other American cities, the law requires cyclists to wear their helmets at all times1.   The law embodies a codified belief that bike accidents are an inevitable fact of life on the road instead of a cruel result of poor bikeway planning. Brightly painted bike lanes and overly optimistic street signs do little to hide the fact that American roads are still structurally designed to accommodate the hegemony of the automobile.

The Dutch masters of bikeway planning teach us that safety is a byproduct of a democratized transit space. The Netherlands´ nearly 17 million citizens own roughly 1.3 bikes per person, peddling them across a nation about double the size of New Jersey2. This means lots of cyclists competing for space, particularly in dense cities like Amsterdam. To ensure safety on their roads, Dutch planners have implemented several key bikeway innovations that prove why they are the world´s bikeway masters.

The most important element is the segregated bike lane which gives cyclists the safety and comfort of knowing they don´t have to compete with cars or pedestrians for space on the road or the sidewalk. The Dutch bike lane is usually on or beside the sidewalk and is often protected from motorized traffic by a lane of parked cars or small, concrete barriers. Maroon colored bricks make it clear which space is designated for cyclists and which space is allotted to pedestrians or cars. With this strict delineation of transit space, commuters of different forms can feel confident they are protected in their own segregated spaces. Cycling in the Netherlands isn´t just for the brave-hearted. Encouraged by bicycle-friendly street design, heading out on a bike is a common as coffee in the morning.

The ingenious Dutch intersection is another key innovation in bikeway design.

The most important feature is a concrete island that juts outward from the curb and into the intersection. The augmented curb creates a safe refuge for cyclists as American urbanist Nick Falbo demonstrates in his video, which elaborates on the work of Mark Wagenburr, a Dutchman.

The Netherlands also has LF Routes, a comprehensive inter-city bikeway network that connects cities and towns with over 4,500km of trail3. There are also scenic, guided routes designed for the adventurer touring the country´s natural attractions by bicycle3. The Nederlandse Kustroute takes riders 570km through the country´s dramatic coastal landscapes.

For long distance riders, the Dutch have developed a special way of dealing with the intersections at highway traffic circles, which are typically dangerous places for cyclists. Engineers installed a huge tower in the middle of the intersection and used dozens of cables to suspend a bicycle roundabout that seemingly hovers over the cars below. Sloped pathways allow cyclists to climb onto the floating roundabout and exit as they wish, safely away from the car traffic below.

Half of the Netherlands is either below sea level or at extreme risk of flooding, so Dutch cyclists often find themselves riding along canals, controlled waterways or major bodies of water4. In fact, one of Amsterdam´s main tourist activities is cycling along the city´s charming canals in the historic district. Bicyclists traveling to the northern part of the city across the North Sea Canal can wheel onto ferries that leave every few minutes from a dock just outside Amsterdam´s main rail station.

Commuters arriving by train to Central Station Amsterdam often leave their bicycles overnight in massive multi-level bicycle-only parking lots located behind the station. In an interesting Dutch-style commute, workers from the suburbs or nearby towns will arrive by train each morning, find their bikes, and ride to work. It´s so busy that there´s talk of developing an app to help commuters locate their bicycles in the dense maze of parked two-wheelers.

Beyond traffic and safety management, the Netherlands is pioneering the next generation of bikeway innovations by integrating solar powered paths into the nation´s trail network. The test track of 70 meters, laid in 2014, generated enough energy in just six months to cover the energy needs of a single home for a year5. The Dutch hope to improve the design and convert more of the existing trail network into solar powered paths.

As cities across the world strive to improve their cycling systems, they ought to look towards the Netherlands for inspiration since they truly are the Dutch masters of bikeway innovation.


Cited Sources

  1. Bicycle Safety and Bike Helmets. King County. July, 2013         
  1. Ten Questions about The Netherlands and Their Bikes. The Netherlands by Numbers.
  2. Long Distance Cycle Routes. Nederland Fietsland.

  1. New Mistake Found in UN Climate Report. archief. April 2nd, 2010                                       
  1. 6 Months Later, Here´s What Happened to The Netherlands Solar Bike Paths. Tom McKay, Tec.Mic. May 11t, 2015

Non-Cited Hyperlinked Sources

  1. Bicycle Dutch. Mark Wagenburr.

  1. Protected Intersection. Nick Falbo

  1. Spectacular New Floating Cycle Roundabout. Bicycle Dutch.
  2. Nederlandse Kustroute. Nederland Fietsland routes/nederlandse-kustroute

  1. 6 Months Later, Here´s What Happened to The Netherlands Solar Bike Paths. Tom McKay, Tec.Mic. May 11t, 2015

  1. Bike Parking at Amsterdam Central Station
  1. Lost in the Amsterdam Bike Parking Lots

  1. Floating Roundabout. Huffington Post Canada netherlands_n_4170857.html

  1. Roads and Routes.

  1. Amsterdam Canal Map. Imgarcade.

  1. Of Trams and Bicycles. American Planning Association of North Carolina.

  1. Take the Ferry to Amsterdam North. Annabelle Gerard, Amsterdam City Blog. to-amsterdam-north/


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