Skip to content
November 22, 2010 / clayliesstill

Dutch cycle paths: a realistic example?

Yes, the Dutch cycle over ten times as much as the British, and the reason they do stems in great part thanks to a tremendous network of cycle paths.

Interestingly, Mikael over at has a fascinating video on his site which illustrates the long history of cycle path construction in the Netherlands.

Clearly if Britain had built a similar network of cycle paths from the beginning and built them properly, there would be many more people cycling here than there are presently. Cycling would probably be considered a normal thing to do, and facilities may have improved over time, just as they have in the Netherlands.

Enough of the counterfactual. We don’t have that. We’ve lost out on billions of pounds of investment over decades. Every time a road was built, or its alignment adjusted, we missed out on the opportunity to build good facilities. Each of those choices, those forks in the road (as it were), represent ‘opportunity costs’. Miss the opportunity to build something in from the beginning and the costs of retrofitting are usually huge.

Given that the feudal land holding structure in Britain managed to send railways on ridiculous diversions, or build pointless stations in the middle of nowhere to serve a whim, perhaps it is no surprise that it wasn’t very common for landowners to hand over extra space for it to be used for what was, for a long time, simply a sport.

To start to replicate the Dutch level of cycle provision on British rural roads and major urban radial routes (where cycle paths are most needed) would cost many billions in land acquisition and construction. Then there would be the maintenance costs. In Germany, many cycle paths in rural areas are used as agricultural access routes and therefore receive massive subsidy. Alternatively, they can follow routes granted by chance, such as abandoned railway lines. This is the approach taken in the National Cycle Network, which is essentially a few old railway paths stitched together by a disjointed network of country lanes. This is fine for a leisure network, but no good for everyday transport.

Despite the huge cost one could argue that those decades of unbuilt facilities should just mean that we should start on the backlog, and in part, I agree. Where a well designed facility can be built and maintenance guaranteed, I for one will push for it. Urban radials in major cities may be the place to pursue this idea, but ensuring the standards are good enough from the outset is always the tricky bit. Will they retain priority over side roads? Will surface quality be better than the existing road surface?



Leave a Comment
  1. Txarli / Nov 23 2010 6:06 pm

    The video you find fascinating seems to me little more than an embellished mythological narrative of Orwellian intent to create a nobility right-of-birth for the Dutchsegregation policies. I am dispayed to see over and over again cyclist who should know better hail this kind of gibberish as interesting at all, let alone “fascinating”.

    And Mikael over at, er, Copenhagenize is full of, er, something with his discourse about “These people will hate it like the plague, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

    You can find my view on the Viking model of cycling over at my blog, here. There is also some other stuff in English there.

    And you may be interested in this video (also in English), calling for a meeting to create a integrated/vehicular cycling group in Madrid and with some solid points for cutting with the bikelaneist nonsense.

    Good to have found your blog. Cheers.


    • clayliesstill / Nov 24 2010 7:32 pm


      Thanks for your comment and for those interesting links.

      I do know that some bad things are happening in Spain, and some dreadful ‘cycle facilities’ are being constructed there.

      While it may seem that I am endorsing a ‘segregate us now’ message, that is far from my position.

      Perhaps I should be clear when I ask the rhetorical questions: “Will they retain priority over side roads? Will surface quality be better than the existing road surface?”. Without them, I can’t support a cycle path (except alongside rural major roads). In Britain, as I suspect, Spain, those design features are rare in cycle path design.

      I sympathise with much of your position, which is very well put. Copenhagen seems very car-dominated to me, even if it is also very impressive to see the vast, unimaginable numbers of cyclists. I don’t fully buy the idea that segregation only makes modal shift from pedestrians to bikes, and not from car to bike. The modal share of walking in the Netherlands is about as high as it is in Britain.

      The point I was trying to make above is that perhaps the Dutch example is unrealistic, and we shouldn’t aim for it, mainly because they’re so far ahead of us and in so many cases in the past 100 years they took a different path. To follow their path would mean an enormous, costly shift in our road network and land usage pattern – a shift we in Britain neither have the resources, or the skills, to manage.

      On the other hand recapturing the road network from dominance by motor traffic is a laudable aim, but is also slightly unrealistic. I firmly believe we should aim for that on most streets, but on the ‘major road network’ we need to create an environment where cyclists can coexist with heavy and fast moving traffic. Well-designed segregation must be considered as part of the solution, I feel.

      Oh yeah – and before you claim that driving on the left is ‘cute and quaint’ remember that at least 25% of the world does the same! The Swedes only switched over to the right (‘right’?) side in the late 1960s.

      Gracias y hasta luego,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: