Amsterdam vs Copenhagen…
…Netherlands vs Denmark
Part 1 – Basic urban cycle track anatomy
Despite the provocative title this blog post will have a relatively technical focus – comparing some features of infrastructure found in the Netherlands with what’s found in Denmark – and comparing both to the UK. But it’ll not be too technical. What I’m aiming for is to convey my overall impression of the differences in infrastructure design where this is intended to support cycling.
These design differences have major consequences for pedestrians too – but a more direct introduction to Dutch design and the pedestrian environment, and how different things can be around this, is in the article “I want my street to be like this” (which also has some pretty animations).
This 3 part series is spread over three separate blog articles.
Note that the images in this post are simple sketches, illustrating my overall impression of the differences in relatively standard infrastructure in each place.
These images are not to scale, and almost certainly contain errors when compared to real infrastructure. Inevitably actual infrastructure varies hugely in reality too. What I’m drawing here is simply an idealised image, intended to convey the differences in general approach which I’ve observed during my visits.
I highly recommend – for those who don’t know them – spending some time browsing the cities of the Netherlands, and Copenhagen using Google Streetview. I’ve included initial links to show locations most closely matching the images I’ve drawn.
If you live in one of these countries and can provide further information then please do use the comments to do so. If necessary I will also update the article as additional information is provided.
1. Relatively narrow city-centre road
Note that the three drawings below have the same dimensions as one another. Imagine a street with some shopping or restaurants, close to the town centre. Here are the UK, Danish, and Dutch treatments. Descriptions follow – click the main images to get larger versions:
NB: For small screens, the images and text may work best with your device held in landscape orientation.
This is a UK road where some very basic attempts have been made to support cycling. There are ‘advisory’ cycle lanes. The purpose of these is unclear – as they (often) achieve very little. They may even be so narrow as to make it impossible to paint a bicycle symbol in the lane. Such narrow lanes encourage people to cycle on broken road surface, into drains and other obstacles, and to take the most dangerous road position. They also encourage those driving to pass, when they wouldn’t normally.
In the image you can see that cars are parked in these lanes.
A Copenhagen / Danish equivalent – a relatively standard treatment for a road like this would be as shown. Cycling has been prioritised over parking. There’s no space for parking. Cycle tracks have been added. These are slightly raised from the road, and slightly lower than the footway.
Note that I’m using the term ‘footway’ for clarity, to refer to what we’d call ‘pavement’ in the UK, to distinguish this from the word ‘pavement’ as used to describe the surfacing material.
The tracks are immediately between road and footway. They have the same surfacing as the road. They can be used in one direction only – cycling is on the right of the road, as with other traffic.
Typically a street in the Netherlands which is too narrow to allow for safe passage of those on foot, cycling, and driving – where there is significant use by bike and on foot – will see walking and cycling prioritised – or it will be turned into a residential street (which means a design to prioritise those who live there).
This might mean some degree of pedestrianisation – as shown in this image (which looks less exciting because all the lanes have gone – leaving just people).
Other more unique solutions might be considered too. Perhaps, as in the second image, one-way traffic would be allowed, maybe being limited to public transport. Or it would be changed into a residential street, with profound consequences (see “I want my street to be like this“).
Typically cycle tracks in the Netherlands are set slightly below the footway with forgiving angled kerbs. Each track is for one-way cycling – cycling is on the right of the road. There is also a buffer space between the cycle track and the road – used for bicycle parking, plant life (3 small trees in this image), or simply as a buffer. The cycle tracks are often of a distinctive red material used throughout the Netherlands to indicate cycling infrastructure.
In reality situations exactly as described here are rare – and what I’m trying to capture is some idea of the approach to priorities. The streetview images below capture some locations where this kind of thinking is evident – although they don’t match the actual image.
2. Wider street
The three drawings below have the same dimensions as each other. Imagine a busy urban street – with significant through traffic in the UK. Descriptions follow – click the main images to get larger versions:
There is space in this street to allow parking, and wide lanes for traffic flow. Traffic travels quickly because of the wide lanes. The speed limit is 30mph/48kph but traffic often reaches 40mph/64kph. In an attempt to support cycling the footway on this street has been ‘redetermined’ such that cycling on it is legal. Cycling is allowed on either footway in both directions. In future the footways may be widened a little. Most people who are cycling choose to remain on the road for obvious reasons.
This street is wide enough to allow vehicle movement, parking, and cycle tracks. The cycle tracks are uni-directional – cycling is in one direction on a track, and as with the motor traffic is on the right of the road. There is some risk to those cycling from car doors being opened into the cycle track – but the tracks are wide enough such that those cycling to the right of the track are clear of an opened door. On the whole traffic speeds are limited by the road configuration.
A physical buffer between the cycle track and parked vehicles is regarded as important so the carriageway space is narrowed, with parking restricted. There is no risk to those cycling from opened car doors. Cycle tracks are set below the surrounding footway, are uni-directional, and are surfaced with the distinctive red material used throughout the Netherlands. The additional footway space, lower traffic volume, and lower traffic speed, makes the road much easier to cross than an equivalent in the UK.
3. Very wide street
Each of the three drawings below have the same dimensions as one another. Imagine a main road carrying very significant number of motor vehicles in the UK (although these are often queuing and actual throughput of people is relatively low compared to the Netherlands). Descriptions follow – click the main images to get larger versions:
This road is wide enough to support four lanes, with a divider in the middle of the road. There may also be a barrier restricting the ability of people to cross the road. The speed limit is 40mph/64kmh, but when congestion eases people often travel at up to 50mph/80kph. In this case the footways have been ‘redetermined’ in order that cycling is legal here – but pedestrian numbers are often small and it wouldn’t be unusual to find that those few people cycling might resort to use of the footway anyway.
This is an important through-route for motor traffic, so parking is restricted and 4 vehicle lanes are provided. Cycle tracks are provided using the standard design discussed above. As always these are uni-directional.
Because this is an inner-city road, and cycling and walking are to be prioritised, steps have been taken to restrict the speed and volume of motor traffic. Where the road previously had four lanes of motor traffic there are now only two. These are not consistently straight, and there is a significant amount of greenery on the street. This may be in the middle, or at the sides.
If the street is wide enough it may be a section of actual park which is in the middle of the street.
4. What’s missing from these images
There are some important images missing from those above.
I’d like to provide an image to adequately demonstrate the treatment of narrower residential streets – or even wider residential streets. Unfortunately the key design features are difficult to illustrate with this approach.
These streets are as important, if not more important, for cycling and walking as those streets with obvious cycleways. From above, in short sections as I’ve drawn here, they would often look relatively similar to streets in the UK. The key difference is that they carry tiny amounts of motor-vehicle movement because the one-way systems are designed to prevent use for anything other than access. Access to the streets will have been by crossing a gateway feature – making it clear that this is a quiet residential street. The carriageway will be narrow. Parking is also controlled, road space restricted, and very low speeds result.
Narrow residential UK streets, overwhelmed by vehicles.
Sometimes these streets are regarded as suitable for cycling. In this case, because it is perceived that there is no space for dedicated infrastructure, images of bicycles are painted on the road surface instead.
Parking on the footway is allowed, or even actively encouraged.
Narrower residential Netherlands streets, with human life prioritised.
In addition to the treatments described above, in this example – which may be signed as a ‘home zone’ the carriageway is further narrowed.
This will be a one way street, with two way cycling. It’s not a suburban street, but one within the main part of the city. Housing is dense here, so there’s lots of human life. The greenery isn’t a scrubby tree or two, but something much less restrained. The street will include play equipment. There will be bollards, or fences, or strategically positioned trees meaning that car movement has to be slow.
Importantly the street will not feel like a car park – but an urban space for people where some car parking is squeezed in. This is not at the back of the housing – but is overlooked. The buildings focus onto this space, not away from it.
This is where children will be playing.
There are occasional attempts to copy this kind of treatment in the UK – but what’s easy to miss is the detail here… the combination of factors that make the street successful.
‘Alternative’ pro-cycling treatments in the UK #1
In the images at the top of this post I’ve shown a UK advisory cycle lane overwhelmed by parked vehicles, and then later the common practice of ‘re-determining’ footway so that cycling is allowed. While I was drawing pretty pictures I couldn’t resist capturing the character of some of the other alternative treatments of infrastructure in the UK… treatments provided with the supposed aim of supporting cycling.
So here, for your entertainment, we have the “so narrow as to be utterly useless everywhere and gives up when it gets difficult” style of advisory cycle lane.
‘Alternative’ pro-cycling treatments in the UK #2
Note that the paint has faded in parts and while this section still appears on maps it’s not actually used by anyone (and never was).
- Amsterdam vs Copenhagen (part 2)
- Amsterdam vs Copenhagen (part 3)
- What nobody told me (about Netherlands urban design)
- Copenhagen bus stops
- Read everything – New here? This is a suggested reading order.
- Scroll below to view comments.
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