Guidelines for cycle infrastructure versus common knowledge

Last autumn we had the first expert meeting to update the existing Dutch guidelines for bicycle infrastructure. The current guidelines date from 2003 and are available as a book and in a digital payed internet environment. There is large demand to the guidelines from abroad, so there is a translation available of the current guidelines.  At this moment the release of  the new guidelines is foreseen in November 2015. Until now a translation of the new manual is not foreseen.

History of guidelines

Dutch design guides weren’t written out of the blue. We started cycling in the late 1880’s and as bicycles and transport policy evolved, also our guidelines evolved. In the 1920’s the national policy was started to implement cycle paths along national roads outside the build up areas, with precise dimensions for width. In the 1930’s cycling was seen as a serious transport option into the development of new parts of cities, like Amsterdam-West.

Verkeersmemorandum 4, ANWB

Fietspaden en – oversteekpaden, Verkeersmemorandum 4, ANWB

One of the oldest guidelines I know is the publication “Fietspaden en -oversteekplaatsen”, dating back of june 1970. Based upon earlier articles, these guidelines describes the habits of cyclists and make rules how to make traffic safer by “separating traffic of different speeds, breaking distance, maneuverability and visibility”. As this was the mean reason to build cycle paths, adding cycle facilities wasn’t seen as something to encourage cycling, but just as streamlining a natural phenomenon. Up until today the guidelines don’t have the status of law, the describe the wide variety of bicycle facilities and the reasons why they can be implemented.

Tekenen voor de fiets / Sign up for the Bike

Tekenen voor de fiets / Sign up for the Bike

The first book of designing Dutch cycle infrastructure based on more scientific evidence was published in 1993. “Tekenen voor de fiets” or in English “Sign up for the bike” accumulated the knowledge of 20 years of increasing attention for urban cycling. This manual was breaking with traditions, by the structured way it describes the planning of a bicycle network and the needs of cyclists translated to infrastructure. For example, the manual deals with minimum width for urban one-way streets and contraflow cycling, but also with minimizing physical and mental stress. In 2006 the manual was updated in the current manual CROW#230 “Ontwerpwijzer Fietsverkeer” or in English “Design manual for Bicycle Traffic”. A lot of examples and drawings were added, to make the publication more in line with other CROW publications.

Unfortunately the chapters with a more holistic approach of design principles were shortened. That is a pity, because cycle infrastructure is still not teached at academies or civil engineer trainings. This means we often see new infrastructure complying to the manual, but not to the number of cyclists and their typical behaviour at the spot. And sometimes, we see interventions in existing infrastructure which are not recommended at all, but made just because someone ordered it. Research of the Dutch Road Safety Research group SWOV suggests that almost half of the Dutch municipalities cannot indicate if their cycle infrastructure meets the standards in the current design manual. This emerges from a survey about seventy municipalities. Observations on the streets shows that a lot of municipalities don’t follow the recommendations for the width of cycle paths, markings of bike bollards and the barrier-free distance.

Costs of action and lack of space to expand bicycle paths are often to blame, as well as good coordination with other municipal departments. Acceptance of the guidelines and social pressure from peers play a major role in following the guidelines. This is not new, the findings of SWOV are consistent with previous research on the use of guidelines in the administration and criminology. The researchers recommend to make the design guide more accessible and bring the manual to the municipal department of maintenance. The full report (in Dutch) can be downloaded here.

Although the examples of bad infrastructure design provide enough material for endless entertaining workshops it is also a proof that cycling isn’t seen as a serious engineering issue. See also this recent example, investigated by Mark Wagenbuur in Sint Michelsgestel (his blogpost will follow in a few weeks). The total cost of the infrastructure was more than 10 million euros, but a proper design of the bicycle facilities wasn’t included. The little roundabout in the middle is unnecessary and the angle between the straight line and the roundabout is too sharp.

Dutch guidelines abroad

Dutch Design manual for bicycle traffic

Dutch Design manual for bicycle traffic

The manual is translated in English. Many offices I visited abroad in the recent years, have a well used copy of the Dutch manual. Although it is sometimes hard to directly translate the Dutch guidelines in the cycling and traffic culture of a different country, people make good use of the manual. Some adjust the initial text to their own circumstances and pick the most important parts and combine it with other sources to define “Dutch” bicycle infrastructure, in other countries the guidelines are rewritten to give engineers the best possible options.

In October I was part of a Dutch delegation in Finland for workshops to improve the planning and design skills of civil servants in Tampere and a lot of other cities. The workshops were well received and will be repeated by the Technical University in September this year. As this was my forth visit to Helsinki I saw some improvements even at the as best considered cycle route of Finland. At Baana, the former railway converted in a super cycle route, the intersection right after the tunnel was changed.

Baana in summer 2014

Baana in summer 2014, no separation between pedestrians & cyclists, straight crossing.

Baana in October 2014

Baana in October 2014

Separation between pedestrians and cyclists and the crossing of the cyclists looks quite OK now. Also the double T-crossing is a huge improvement of the dangerous direct 4-arm crossing. Still, some details can be improved:

  • The height of the curb is rather unforgiving, we prefer a 45 angle of 4 cm to make the difference between pedestrians and cyclists. I have to admit this is a guideline that is often overlooked, also in the Netherlands, see the pictures of the roundabout.
  • The radius of the corner is too small to make a right curve. When possible we prefer a radius at minimum of 5 meters, to keep on the right side with a certain speed. In the design manual we have a graph to show which radius should be used at which speed.
  • The Zebra-crossing of the incoming branch doesn’t follow the desire line of the pedestrians. I don’t know if it is allowed in Finland to make a crooked Zebra, but it is something we often use in the Netherlands (we have far less zebras than in Finland).

Given the original situation  it is a huge improvement of the 4 arm crossing and the paint as a separation between cyclists and pedestrians. But it also shows that the details matter, specially for bicycle infrastructure.

Details matter!

A last example to close this post in the picture below, a wrong placed drain in De Bilt. More mistakes, and how to solve them, will be displayed in my contribution to Velo-City 2015 later this year in a new round of “Battle of Mistakes between the Dutch and the Danes”. Looking forward to meet my opponent, Marie Kåstrup from the city of Copenhagen!

Details matter, also in De Bilt. The curve is to tight and the drain is wrong placed.

Details matter, also in De Bilt. The curve is to tight and the drain is wrong placed.

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4 thoughts on “Guidelines for cycle infrastructure versus common knowledge

  1. Thanks for letting us know. The Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic has meant a lot for agitating with confidence for better solutions in Uppsala.
    The new Dutch edition must be translated immediately! (Preferably to Swedish, but I can take English as second best 😉 )

    Liked by 3 people

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