I want my street to be like this…
Reclaiming residential streets, Dutch street design, and why this REALLY REALLY matters.
This might be the most important blog post I write on urban design – but it’s also been one of the most difficult. I want to demonstrate how to look at a quiet Dutch residential street, and to see what isn’t there – and to be amazed by that. Obviously that’s not an easy thing to do.
Look at this video. It’s quite a nice street isn’t it? Nice, but I don’t expect many people to be amazed by it. I’m going to try to change that. Perhaps you’re trying to encourage people to cycle in your city. You might look at this street and say ‘so what?’ – and go looking for one of my articles on segregated infrastructure. But if you do that you’re going to miss out on something really big and really important about what makes Dutch cities what they are, and what might make our cities substantially nicer to live in.
I’d like people to look at streets like this and to say “wow that’s amazing”.
So get yourself a cup of coffee and a biscuit, or glass of wine if you prefer, and let’s get started. Trust me – it’s worth it. (Although if you really have to have nothing more than 3 minute version of the article then jump below to the main animation and just watch that.)
I’m going to write about the UK quite a bit in this article, but I hope it will be just as useful to readers from elsewhere. My objective is to explain why the Dutch infrastructure is amazing – and to support a way of seeing and understanding Dutch design – and it’s easiest to do this by making comparisons to another country.
The “what’s different?” challenge
Take a look at these ten photos. Five are of UK (Edinburgh) residential streets, and five are of Dutch (Amsterdam) residential streets. I’m sure that most people can immediately tell which are Dutch and which are from the UK (this should be very easy for UK readers, but perhaps a little harder for international readers). How is it possible to tell?
Ignore the differences in building design and ignore what the streets have in common.
Focus on what’s different in the street layout.
Maybe also take a look on Google Streetview. Drop in on the Dutch cities at some random location – perhaps choose somewhere with a reputation for being particularly good for cycling. You’ll probably land on a street which looks like one of the Dutch ones above. The Dutch designs I’m showing here aren’t unusual. In general terms this is roughly what most streets in Dutch cities look like (outside of industrial areas).
What is it which makes them feel Dutch? What’s different to how the UK (or your country) works in comparison?
Throughout this article I’m going to encourage you to refer to Google Streetview. Try to do this for real – I’m going to make big claims. Don’t just trust me – you can check this out yourself – and agree or argue that I’m wrong if you like…. You WILL be able to find locations where what I say isn’t true – but how common are these? Clearly I’m generalising a lot in this article, so if you think I’m wrong then how wrong am I? Is it just about fine detail? Am I right in the overall thrust of my argument? Or not? Do comment below.
Now – lets make the challenge easier. I’ve taken out all the distractions and created an animation (below) to help.
The animation switches between typical Dutch and typical UK designs.
- I’ve used exactly the same building layout, the same distances between buildings, and the same overall street pattern, and even the same lighting on the ‘Dutch’ and ‘UK’ models.
- I’ve missed out some details which are common to both countries, and which I feel to be less important… like street lighting.
- The buildings look like some kind of apartment, but they could just as well be separate houses – I aimed for something simple to model – ignore them and concentrate on what’s between them.
I think that some of the differences we see here are really dramatic. I hope you do too.
It would be easy to assume the Dutch streets feel different, just because they are Dutch. Or we may assume that they feel different just because fewer people are wanting to drive. Or we may think that what makes the difference is the number of people on bikes.
I see this the other way around.
It’s the urban design – the way that the street is designed – which makes them feel different, and the people cycling, walking, and living there… sitting in the street, standing talking… are doing that because the design has facilitated it.
And – incredibly importantly – there are fewer people driving in these streets because that’s how they have been designed, not because people don’t want to drive through them. If we put UK street designs in the Dutch cities then they would feel like, and operate like, UK cities. Dutch cities work the way they do because of the way their streets are designed – and UK cities work the way they do because of the way their streets are designed.
I’ll say more about this later.
Top level differences
Before we get into detail (answering the “what’s different?” question in depth), let’s take a moment to think about what ‘top level’ differences can be seen in the animation. This second (much shorter) animation illustrates one of the biggest:
Overall, what I see in Dutch design is a street-space from which a minimum and very limited area for driving on is cut out. I’ll use the UK word ‘carriageway’ for this part of the street. Because this space for driving on – the carriageway – is so tightly controlled it tightly controls speed (not always enough, but much more than UK street design). The general assumption is that the street is for multiple purposes (it’s quite common to find play areas for children also cut out of the street-space).
(Click/tap for larger images – these are from two different sections of the model)
Below I’ve taken some of the images of Dutch streets that I used earlier, and I’ve drawn red lines along the edges of the carriageway. The red lines show the edges of the bit of the street that looks like it’s designed for driving on.
(Tap/click for larger images)
Overall – in contrast – what I see in UK street design is the assumption that the primary purpose of the street is the movement of traffic.
In contrast to the Dutch approach (with minimum space for driving), the need for space for walking is accommodated by providing the minimum footway. If there are individual locations where this minimum space is inadequate, for example at key locations where it is impossible to cross a road, some secondary features may be provided to improve things a little. And (again unlike the Dutch approach) any space not currently used for a parked vehicle becomes available for driving in. Parking is restricted only to allow for the movement of motor vehicles.
Below are some of the images of UK streets I used earlier. The red lines indicate the edges of the carriageway – the edges of the bit of the street which appears to be for driving on.
Learning point: Dutch residential local-access streets define a much narrower carriageway than is used on UK residential streets. They provide only what is needed for one-way vehicle movement and nothing more. Parking is off the carriageway, and vehicle speeds are severely controlled. The effects of this design are not only physical, but also visual (and the streets feel very different too).
All the other differences
What other differences are there? What other details can we see which make a difference? Well be assured this isn’t a dry technical exercise… some of the other differences are also dramatic.
One-way versus two-way
Dutch residential local access streets carry one-way traffic if possible.
UK residential streets carry two-way traffic if possible – this image is from exactly the same position in the UK model as the image from the Dutch model above.
In Dutch residential streets it is normal for one-way restrictions to apply to motorised vehicles only.
I didn’t draw the relevant signs on my animation – but I’ve assumed they are there (so the person cycling towards us here is doing so legally). Most ‘one-way’ and ‘no-entry’ signs have an ‘except bicycles’ sign, exempting people cycling from the rule:
Some might assume this would be unsafe, but it is so normal, and one-way streets are so common, that anyone who drives expects to see people cycling the other way.
This means that residential areas are permeable on a bicycle, in all directions, but are very difficult to drive through using a motor vehicle.
Learning point: Dutch one-way streets are an essential tool in prioritising cycling over motor traffic.
On UK residential streets it is usual for one-way restrictions to apply to everybody, even if they put people on bicycles at a major disadvantage.
There’s a common belief in the UK, which is that one-way streets are ‘bad’ because (it is argued) vehicles are driven faster on them. It is also said that one-way streets will mean people visiting a location might need to travel a bit further, with the result that any one location will see more traffic. I hope the images I’m showing here demonstrate how damaging these myths are.
Clearly if we change a two-way street, like those I picture in the UK model, to be one-way – without any other changes – then vehicles might be driven faster on the wide space. But do the one-way streets I’ve modelled here look like places where vehicles will be driven faster? My experience of the Dutch streets is so much the opposite.
Learning point: One-way streets, appropriately designed, can significantly cut traffic speeds and volumes.
I describe this situation in simple terms of preference for one-way streets. In truth on wider residential roads – perhaps further from a city centre, or where there is a lowered pressure for parking and already plenty of footway space – Dutch design is quite happy with two-way streets. Like all the principles discussed here, variation from this starting point can be seen if you look at Streetview images – but I hope what you’ll see is the application of the set of principles, but with an appropriate response to the individual location.
The two images below are animated, changing between Dutch and UK designs.
Dutch residential street junctions have no marked priorities. Their Dutch default ‘yield to the right’ rule applies, meaning everyone may have to give-way. They are very careful to alter the shape of junctions like this to ensure that nobody assumes priority (the bend in the street in the design I show makes it clear that this is a three way junction).
The result is that each junction in a residential area acts as a traffic calming feature.
Generally (given reduced levels of traffic) people cycling here don’t need to slow down at all from the steady Dutch cycling speed.
UK residential street junctions almost always have marked priorities. The aim is to ensure that nobody is in any doubt that vehicles on one of the roads can maintain speed, while vehicles emerging from the secondary road have to wait.
Learning point: Appropriately designed junctions, with no priority markings, act as traffic calming.
There are many other important design features used at Dutch residential local-access street junctions.
The junctions are designed, like the streets, by providing just the minimum space needed for vehicle movement. Traffic has to negotiate junction space slowly because the space is tight. There are often hard features, including bollards, forcing slow speeds.
Parking is restricted to increase the space for footway, and to improve sight lines so that people on foot and cycling are safer.
UK residential junctions lack these features. Footways tend to remain at the edge of the street, perhaps with a ‘build out’ on occasion, or some minimal change to street colour or surface level. Most of the street space is for vehicle movement – and if parking is restricted it is to facilitate this.
Learning point: Junctions combining the narrow Dutch carriageway, with no priority markings, leave lots of public space and wide open areas for city life to thrive.
Some more sceptical people might complain that I’ve drawn standard UK junctions here, not improved versions as are described in the modern policies of some cities. But how much difference do you think that these ‘improved’ junctions make – when you compare them to the Dutch designs?
Are you really sure that those gentle speed humps at the road ends make any difference? They might be painted red (or the paint may have worn off). They might not be speed humps but cobbles or some other feature. It might not be possible to drive over them at 40mph (but 35mph is fine). There might (as above) be some small ‘build out’ features to narrow the gap a little, or to reduce the radius of the curve of the kerbs. But really how much difference is this really making? Some perhaps? Or is this just ‘window dressing’ in comparison to the Dutch design?
And maybe there could be a minor build-out on the bigger road too? You can see there are two people waiting on a build-out in the background of this image. It’s a little bit easier to cross here than it was before – but this design shares almost nothing of the Dutch streetscape. The ‘build-out’ is clearly a build-out not a normal section of footway – it’s a temporary refuge from traffic, not somewhere you’d stand for a conversation. Compare that to the Dutch design. The overall feel of the street is basically unchanged by this build-out. Is it better than nothing? Perhaps. Is is ‘good’? Not in comparison to the standard Dutch approach.
The surface of Dutch residential local access streets is very often of street bricks. This is a very important signal to people driving on these streets that they are not on a main thoroughfare. In general this is consistent across the whole country.
The colour and design of this surface creates a warmer streetscape compared to the UK use of black/grey tarmac/bitmac. Sometimes the slightly uneven nature of these bricks, on older streets, can also be significant in creating a message about how the street should be driven on. I’ve drawn these street bricks on my animation, which is a key reason for the Dutch model looking warmer and sunnier (despite me using the same lighting in both models).
Note that Dutch street bricks are nothing like old UK cobblestones. These are a modern surfacing material, and can provide a smooth surface. They also provide a surface which is permeable to water (look up ‘water sensitive urban design’ to understand why this is now seen as so hugely important internationally) – I’m reliably informed that it has been being taught, for at least 20 years in the Netherlands, that this is a good reason to use street bricks.
Here are more photos of the real thing:
Street bricks aren’t universal, but they are extremely common.
The surface of UK residential streets is almost always built from the same material as the surface of any main street/road. The tarmac may be more worn, but when the street is resurfaced it is brought up to the same standard (in general terms) as any main thoroughfare. There are very few national distinguishing features indicating a difference between residential streets and main thoroughfares. Often the speed limit doesn’t even change.
Parking is handled completely differently
As already alluded to above, and shown in many of the images, parking in Dutch streets usually works completely differently in comparison to the UK. We already discussed above the way that parking feels like it is off the carriageway. There is usually a different surface material, or at the very least a change in the pattern of the street bricks. There’s commonly a broken dividing white line along the carriageway edge – helping to mark the narrow width of the carriageway even when there are empty parking spaces.
But what’s also worth noticing is that it is assumed that parking is not allowed unless a space is provided for it. That means that there are no yellow lines along road edges marking where parking is prohibited.
Let me emphasise that last point, because not many people notice this…. There are no yellow lines marked along the edges of Dutch streets for controlling parking.
UK parking is on the carriageway. There is no difference in surface material. It is assumed that parking is allowed unless it’s marked as not being allowed. UK cities have thousands and thousands of miles of yellow line painted along the edges of their streets.
Can you imagine taking our system to Dutch cites and trying to tell them that it’s a good one? Instead of marking the places to park, they’d have to paint yellow lines along the edges of all their lovely homely streets… I don’t think they’d buy the idea.
If you want the full story about Dutch parking rules, rather than this simplified version, then take a look at the links and descriptions provided by ‘hanneke28’ in the comments at the end of the article.
Learning point: Dutch streets don’t have yellow lines drawn along them to control parking. The system (in busier locations) is to mark where it is allowed, not where it is not allowed.
Dutch residential streets often/regularly have on-street trees. Often there aren’t only a few trees, but many.
Some UK residential streets do have street trees, and there are cities where these are more common, but they certainly aren’t a normal feature when you look at the UK as a whole. They work more like a luxury feature. In places with more money, or wider streets, they are sometimes included. If the streets are narrower, or money tighter, or the perceived need to move motor vehicles is greater, they are missing.
Who ‘owns’ the space
Dutch residential street space often feels like an extension of the nearby houses. It’s clear that the local people – in many places – feel that this is ‘their’ space. There is often greenery looked after by the residents (and there are often weeds, moss, grass growing in cracks too). There may be benches belonging to the residents. Their bicycles are left there. There are signs of human life.
UK residential street space generally feels sterile, and is clearly the territory of the local authority (council etc). It is clear that local people do not regard this space as ‘theirs’. Weed-killer may be used here to ensure that no weeds grow. It is seems that benches or plants belonging to a resident would probably be removed (even if there was space for them).
This is an image from the exact same spot in my UK model as is shown in the Dutch version above.
Now clearly my model is simplified – in many ways. The bicycles in the Dutch model are all in a neat row. Because I’m not modelling the houses the UK model loses any softening effect that might exist because of private gardens. You might claim that this makes the comparison unfair – but I don’t think it does. After all, I’m wanting to emphasise how the street works – not the overall amount of greenery present in an area. How the street works changes who feels safe on it, how people travel, what people think it’s for. There are some nice UK streets – but what I almost always see is the domination of the strip of sterile tarmac which lies between one private space and another.
If you stand on the footway of many Dutch residential streets and ask “who loves this space?” people will point to the local residences. If you stand on the footway of most UK residential streets and ask the same question, people will think you are strange (I’ve done this by the way – and it was only when I explained with one of the images I show below that people understood why I was asking this).
How many UK city streets look like this? I’m sure we can find some, but this in completely normal in Dutch cities.
Not all streets look exactly like this of course – these particular images are all in central Amsterdam, and I’ve chosen them because they match what’s in my model. But go searching using Google Streetview and you will find that is very normal that a street feels like there is a merging of private and public space. This is absolutely not my experience in the UK.
More sceptical people might look at my animation and complain that this street in the UK model (below) has been drawn as if it’s more important – as if it is required to carry more traffic – than the comparable street in the Dutch model. They might assume that good design must allow for this flow to continue.
Such people might argue that the comparison is unfair because in the Dutch model I’ve shown a street clearly designed to carry less traffic.
In one way they would be correct. Quite clearly the Dutch street, at the same location in the model, couldn’t carry the amounts of traffic shown on the UK model.
But that’s the point of course. The Dutch system takes streets which in the UK would be seen as key routes (with a supplementary residential function) and decides that they are residential local access streets – not urban through streets. They are then designed so that cannot any longer carry large volumes of motor traffic.
In the UK one of the least understood elements of Dutch design is the way that their ‘Sustainable Safety’ policy works in achieving this end (perhaps a better translation is ‘systemic safety’ or ‘systematic safety’). I’m not going to describe it in detail here – but here’s something everyone should know…
The Dutch streets in locations like this are either classified as urban through streets or residential local access streets. The Dutch words are gebiedsontsluitingswegen and erftoegangswegen (which I’m not translating literally). You may notice that I’ve tried to use these classifications throughout this article because I want to emphasise how important they are.
For an explanation about why I’m using non-standard and non-literal translations of ‘gebiedsontsluitingswegen’ and ‘erftoegangswegen’ please see the note in the appendix at the end of the article.
This isn’t just a classification for the sake of classification. That’s what often happens in the UK – a street is classified in one of many different (probably local) ways, but that classification is really just a description of the way the street currently operates. In the Netherlands this classification really matters because once it’s been decided which category a street belongs to its design is changed (at some point) to match what’s required for a street in that category. For the kinds of street we’re looking at here there are only really two classifications available – urban through street, or local-access street. That makes the system beautifully clear – except in exceptional circumstances the street has to be one thing or the other – and this is the same across the whole country.
Here (in our model) we have a street which might have been classified as an urban through street – but instead a decision has been taken that it’s to be a local access street. The reason that it now looks so different is because once this was decided it has been re-designed to prevent through traffic.
If, instead, it been decided that it was to be an urban through street, the design would also have been changed. Then the safety of people cycling and on foot (etc) would take precedence (generally speaking) over the needs of people to park. Some kind of segregated cycling facility would be provided, even if parking had to be removed to fit it in.
Imagine if the choice that was given in the UK to local people – about their streets – was between 1) a very quiet one-way street with plenty of parking, but no through traffic, and 2) as street where parking was limited because cycling takes priority. Imagine if it was national policy that streets had to be one of the other.
Learning point: The Dutch Sustainable (Systematic) Safety policy is about infrastructure design, and over time its influence has been profound.
Dutch residential local access streets are in large blocks, with urban through streets around the edges of these areas. The transition between urban through street and residential local access street, is obvious – with people needing to drive over the footway to enter the area, and the streetscape changing radically and immediately upon doing so.
There is a great deal more about ‘continuous footway’ – where the footway is continued across the end of a residential local-access street – in this previous article (‘Design Details 1’).
There is a change in speed limit when entering an area of residential local access streets over this continuous footway. The continuous footway acts as much as a gateway feature as it does a support for walking and cycling on the urban through street. It is obvious that the speed limit in these areas is lower (although driving faster would be difficult anyway). The one-way systems in the residential local access streets almost always make it very difficult or impossible to drive through an area as part of an ongoing journey. Those driving in a residential area are only normally going to be accessing or leaving one of the properties in that area.
In comparison it is unusual for there to be any features in the UK which clearly distinguish local residential streets from any other roads and streets. There is absolutely no transition marked here (in the image below, from the equivalent point in the UK model)- the street ahead is just another UK street.
There may or may not be a change in speed limit, but this is generally only indicated by signs, and driving faster is common and easy to do. There may be traffic calming features, but these look no different to traffic calming anywhere else. Where decisions have been taken to limit through traffic it is often on a street by street basis.
For a few words on my choice of language around ‘sustainable’ or systemic or systematic safety please refer to the explanation at the foot of this article.
But parking is equal
Last in this list – here is what is not different.
There are generally, in Dutch city streets, just as many cars parked as there are in UK city streets (and certainly in the Dutch streets which look like those I’ve modelled).
Roughly speaking, depending on exactly how you count, there are the same number of parked cars in both my models. The cars are distributed a little differently, but actually Dutch design leaves plenty of space for parking (and if anything can be criticised for making residential streets into car-storage areas).
Why this all matters
I don’t hear people talking about these things. I speak to lots of people about Dutch cities. I follow lots of Twitter feeds which describe Dutch design. I hear lots of debates about how to find a way forward for supporting people to cycle and walk in our UK/international cities and towns. I rarely hear people talking about how Dutch residential local-access streets are designed. I rarely hear people talking about the Dutch Sustainable (or systematic) Safety policy/system.
People tend to be drawn to images of segregated infrastructure – lovely Dutch bicycle tracks, and beautiful sweeping Dutch bridges for walking and cycling over. People even point to the Eindhoven ‘hovenring’ as something we should aspire to. The hovenring is just a glorified bridge over a motorway-like road. It’s a very impressive piece of engineering, and it’s a sign that money is spent on infrastructure for cycling, but it’s just a bridge.
Nice bridges, and beautiful cycle tracks are really important – yet I think that too few people stop to think to analyse properly…
What proportion of Dutch urban roads/streets have segregated cycleways?
Take a look on Streetview again. Look at the proper urban areas rather than any industrial estates. The proportion of Dutch streets in these areas which have cycleways of any kind is actually pretty small. Most Dutch city streets do not have segregated facilities for cycling BECAUSE they are residential local access streets and they are consequently good for cycling on already.
The re-designs I’ve shown here, in general terms, make these residential local access streets:
- good for living on;
- good for walking along;
- easy to cross;
- places where you might be able to sit in the sun;
- places you can speak at normal levels because there’s minimal traffic noise;
- places which feel a bit like an extension of the private space around them; and
- good to cycle on.
Learning point: Dutch cities and towns are good to cycle in, despite only having segregated infrastructure for cycling on main urban through-streets (and beside more major roads too).
Many UK schemes to increase cycling begin with trying to increase segregation on main streets, while ignoring the nearby residential streets. But the Dutch system works as a unified whole. They couldn’t do what they do for cycling on their main urban through streets without doing what they do on their residential local access streets. The Dutch segregated cycling tracks work BECAUSE of the design of the nearby residential streets. This is part of a unified design strategy.
In the UK changes to introduce segregation for cycling on main streets inevitably impact on parking and loading. This is particularly the case where parking and loading have previously been prioritised over the safety of people cycling.
And UK changes to introduce segregation for cycling often fail miserably due to design compromises when at side-roads. Huge and disastrous, or even dangerous compromises are made where maximum vehicle permeability is still being sought in the residential streets. Dutch continuous-footway (and cycleway) works as a design because it’s used in the way I describe above – it isn’t used to take cycle tracks or footway across major roads. If the road is a major road then that major road also gains segregated cycle tracks, and probably proper traffic signals or a roundabout will be provided at the junction. If it’s not a major road then it becomes a local-access street – as above.
In my view, changes to main streets to support cycling MUST be accompanied by changes to the nearby residential streets.
But this isn’t a scary thing – this might broaden the scale of the changes we need to discuss, but it’s a MUCH better way to work and has huge advantages as far as local people are concerned.
It means that overall parking levels can be maintained, even if parking is changed on a main through street. This may not be ‘good’ in environmental terms, but at least should reduce objections.
It means that segregated infrastructure can be built in such a way that it is no longer fatally compromised at side road crossings.
But most of all, if we work this way it means that the biggest effects of the overall changes in streetscape are to improve the quality of life of the local residents, with improvements to the safety of ‘cyclists’ (people cycling through the area) being only one part of a whole unified scheme.
Of course if we only do this in one area we might make ourselves unpopular – after all one person’s local area is another person’s through-route. But once we start to consider this as city-wide policy we should find that everyone living in a city has their own local area that they’d like to see improve.
I think that this is something worth striving for. How about you?
I want my local street to be like this:
Appendix – Sustainable/Systematic/Systemic Safety
Those in the know will notice (and some might object) that I’m not using the most literal/common translations of the Dutch words gebiedsontsluitingswegen and erftoegangswegen – and I’ve copied Professor Furth (as discussed here by ‘Bicycle Dutch’) in introducing the word ‘systematic’ but also I’m going further in using the word ‘systemic’ rather than ‘systematic’.
The Dutch Sustainable Safety approach is discussed very little in the UK – and I often think that people assume it to be some kind of behaviour/safety campaign rather than a policy directly influencing infrastructure design. In this article I only want to convey some of the most important features or effects of the approach – and indeed to highlight how important it is.
I’ve done my best to find appropriate phrases, which concentrate on conveying meaning rather than on being a full explanation of Systemic Safety (using ‘local-access street’ and ‘urban through street’ consistently above). I’m also adding this explanation to the bottom of the article so that curious people are clear that the words I’ve chosen aren’t standard ones.
Someone may be able to come up with better phrases than ‘urban through street’ and ‘local access street’ – and others might argue that more common translations are just fine – but this article isn’t an attempt to explain the whole Systemic Safety approach anyway. I think that clarity in this article is more important than sticking to traditional translations.
No phrases will be perfect, and those I’ve used here may not work in other countries. In the UK the word ‘street’ is used in the urban context (where people live or walk or shop), whereas ‘road’ is more general. Streets always also roads, but not all roads are streets. The word ‘distributor’ in the UK (often appearing in translations) is often associated with large multi-lane motorway-like roads – even though this is not its literal meaning. It’s probably used more literally elsewhere.
For the article above, and in an urban UK context, the key difference between these road types is the assumption that ‘gebiedsontsluitingswegen’ carry vehicles through an area, whereas ‘erftoegangswegen’ are designed to not allow for anything other than local traffic (discouraging through traffic). Many in the UK will find it difficult to believe that cities can work in this way – so I want to use phrases which make it as clear as possible that this is the Dutch approach.
And whether ‘systemic’ or ‘systematic’ is best… who knows. To my mind ‘sustainable safety’ simply doesn’t mean what we need it to mean in English. I suppose ‘systematic’ means something practised consistently and across a system in a focused way to achieve a goal. ‘Systemic’ on the other hand means something which is at the level of the system.
In the end it won’t matter, because the meaning of any phrase soon drifts once people start to adopt it – but for the moment I’m going to commit to the phrase “systemic safety” because I think that implies something at the level of the system – and reminds us that what we’re looking for is high level changes of principle, not just focused and systematic application of existing principle.
Our current system is fundamentally focused on the movement of vehicles at the expense of human safety and well-being (on the basis that ‘accidents are basically unavoidable). What I’m working for is a change to this system, so that the system is instead based on the idea that safety comes first, and that movement of vehicles should only be allowed if this isn’t destructive of human life and safety. That might sound idealistic, but it only mirrors what’s happened in the workplace in the UK and many other countries over the last hundred years or so.
Once upon a time if a worker died in your employment you might be able to argue that it was just an accident, a product of the worker’s carelessness perhaps, or just an unfortunate chance occurrence. Nowadays – at least in broad terms – if a worker dies in your employment the assumption is that you’ve been incompetent, or neglectful, and that this is true even if the worker made a mistake.
Please feel free to discuss this in the comments below. If someone can point to a good enough reason I may even update the words in the article.
For anyone curious to find out more, there’s a link below.
- Amsterdam vs Copenhagen (part 1) (basic cycle track anatomy)
- Amsterdam vs Copenhagen (part 2) (basic junction anatomy)
- Amsterdam vs Copenhagen (part 3) (what can we learn)
- What nobody told me (about Netherlands urban design)
- Design Details (1) – Continuous footway. Side-road crossings. Simplicity and clarity. Getting it right. Getting it wrong
- Read everything – New here? This is a suggested reading order.
- Sustainable or Systematic Safety by Mark Wagenbuur (Bicycle Dutch)
- Sustainable Safety by Paul James / Cycling Embassy of Great Britain
As ever, I welcome your comments. If you disagree with something I say then let me know. If you can help me explain my points then please do so. And read the comments of others to see what they think too – there’s some in-depth knowledge already offered by others if you want to keep learning.
If you’re Dutch (or have detailed Dutch knowledge) you might disagree with some of the generalisations I make. You might know of streets that look nothing like those I picture. I do too – but I’m explaining principles here. If you think I’ve generalised too much or that there are details which I’ve glossed over then do say so.
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