Netherlands 16: 5 myths about cycling in The Netherlands

As you may have noticed, we’ve experienced cycling in The Netherlands a number of times, during what has pretty much become our yearly visit. In this post, I’ve highlighted some of the myths when it comes to cycling there, based on our experiences.

1. All cycling infrastructure is segregated

Cycling in the Netherlands is pretty much synonymous with segregated cycleways. But the reality is there are huge numbers of roads that contain on-road cycle lanes or no cycling infrastructure at all.

In some cases, this is intentional. On fietsstraats (cycle streets), cycles share the road with cars, where cars are guests. It’s important that where fietsstraats are implemented, there are high volumes of cycles and low volumes of motor traffic. The streets should also be access-only for motor traffic and not a through route.

In other cases, cycle lanes are added to roads in a similar way to what we see in the UK. With this, you get the same door-zone dangers and the same conflicts with motor traffic.

Poorly implemented fietsstraat, a through route and consequently has too high volumes of motor traffic
Door-zone advisory cycle lanes, as commonly seen in the UK

2. Dutch drivers are well behaved and respect bikes

A lot has been made of the strict liability laws in The Netherlands and Denmark and the impact they have on driver behaviour and cycling numbers. This is a myth.

In reality, drivers in The Netherlands are no different to those in the UK or elsewhere. Indeed, you see the same bad behaviour you see in the UK. Speeding, not giving adequate space when overtaking, cutting up to get in front at junctions and so on.

If Dutch drivers were so much better than UK drivers and aware of bikes, then surely, there wouldn’t be such a need for segregation? But this isn’t the case.

Driver blocking an advisory cycle lane

3. Vehicles don’t block cycleways (or pavements)

I’m probably as guilty as anyone for getting angry when I see what limited cycling infrastructure we have in the UK blocked by vehicles parked in it. Indeed, I’ve posted one or two tweets when I’ve seen such digressions.

I think people assume this is something that just happens in countries with low cycling rates and not in places like The Netherlands, but this isn’t true. Whether it’s vans loading, cars parked badly or workmen parking their vans to be closer to where they’re working, it happens in The Netherlands as it does in the UK.

Given the amount of cycling infrastructure in The Netherlands, the percentage of blocked cycleways will be incredibly low compared to the UK. I’d also say that streets in general in The Netherlands are better designed than the UK to accommodate things like loading and parking, so there’s less of a need to block cycleways.

Van blocking a cycle lane while loading
Van pavement parking

4. Dutch planners don’t get things wrong

As we know, the Dutch have had many years to refine their cycling infrastructure and develop best practice. Best practice that UK planners should learn from, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel (or save money).

Whether it’s relics from an earlier time or just plain poor design, there’s plenty of times where Dutch planners have got it wrong. As you can see from just a few examples, there’s poor junction design, inappropriate use of barriers, lack of priority for cycles and cycles in conflict with buses.

These are all things we’re used to seeing in the UK, but probably think don’t exist in The Netherlands. The reality is, Dutch planners have got things wrong in the past, and in some cases continue to get things wrong. Read some of A view from the cycle path’s posts on Assen to see some examples of where newly implemented infrastructure negatively impacts cycling.

Very poorly designed junction, try going straight on a bike without getting right-hooked by a car
Barriers causing accessibility issues to the fietspad
Busy approach to a roundabout, where bikes have to cross multiple lanes and motor traffic has priority
Bike lane sandwiched between parked and moving buses, very similar to the recent changes on Portland Street in Manchester

5. The Dutch always use bikes

In most people’s minds, The Netherlands is synonymous with cycling. But it is just one of the ways people choose to get about. As with most countries, there are plenty of cars and per capita, car ownership is at the same level as the UK. There’s also plenty of trains, buses and light rail systems.

The key difference between The Netherlands and the UK is the Dutch have choice. We know for shorter journeys, bikes make much more sense than cars. So having high quality cycling infrastructure to make it safe and convenient means that cycling is by far the better option for those shorter trips. Or even for longer trips with the increasing popularity of e-bikes and good public transport integration.

In the UK, a lot of people feel like they have no option but to drive. In many cases, it’s because they’ve never viewed cycling as a viable form of transport. Cycling is often viewed solely as a recreational or sport activity, with the media contributing to this (think helmets, hi-vis and safety equipment).

But the most significant factor is our streets are designed around cars, making cycling a much less attractive and convenient option. Whether it’s the perceived dangers of mixing with motor vehicles or the lack of decent bike parking where it’s needed, it all adds up to discourage us from getting on the bike. Add into that the fact that most homes are ill equipped for storing bikes and there’s a complete lack of cycling parking in residential areas.

So the Dutch really do have options open to them and are able to choose the most appropriate form of transport for the journey. This is often the bike, but it can also be the car or public transport when it’s appropriate.

Traffic backing up over a bridge near Leiden

Back to part 4 – The route to Katwijk aan Zee

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