How is transportation design and planning different in the Netherlands?
The Dutch approach transportation planning and design much differently than in the United States. The Netherlands begins transportation design with policy at the national level. These policies touch on everything from the quality of the living environment to increasing social and traffic safety to reducing bicycle thefts. Such policies provide a framework for lower levels of government to set their own goals and targets. Traffic signage and regulations prioritize the safety of cyclists, particularly those in vulnerable groups like children and the elderly. Traffic calming measures are implemented in full neighborhoods, not just on a single street. Posted vehicle speeds are reduced drastically, sometimes to as low as 15km/h. At transit stations, cyclists are provided with adequate and safe bicycle parking so to provide seamless integration of bicycling and public transit. In addition to design, the Dutch also incorporate bicyclist safety education training for school-aged children and for those obtaining a driver’s license.
Perhaps the most fundamental difference of the Dutch approach to transportation design is the prioritization of separated bicycle facilities. The country’s design manual, the CROW, which is similar in nature to the MUTCD or a NACTO publication, publish best practices and guidelines for the design of bike facilities. Bicycle traffic is assumed to be separated from vehicular traffic unless on a road with speeds 30km/h or less, traffic volume less than 5,000 vehicles, and no clear lanes. In America, this would be a perfect street for a sharrow; whereas, in the Netherlands, an advisory bike lane is introduced. The Dutch also employ wide, painted bike lanes with buffers in areas with very low traffic stress. Examples of separated bike facilities, which comprise the majority of the bicycle network in the Netherlands, include cycle tracks and standalone paths.
What is the impact of those differences?
Through the aforementioned transportation planning and design practices, the Dutch have been able to achieve mass cycling ridership throughout the country. This increased ridership results in more trip purposes (utilitarian cycling) and longer distances traveled by bike as compared to the United States. The Dutch are also more physically active than Americans because they are getting exercise while transporting themselves from place to place. Increased cycling and decreased motor vehicle use also results in healthier public spaces, with increased air quality and decreased noise pollution. The Dutch approach to transportation also facilitates higher bicycle ridership among women, children, and elderly adults as compared to the US, where there is a large gap in ridership between these groups and middle-aged male cyclists. Because the Dutch prioritize bicycle separation from traffic stress, this also results in a dramatic reduction in traffic injuries and fatalities.