Dutch scenes in a British context

2015 update: I made some more photos like these, you can find them here.

I’m sure you’ve all read my guest blog post for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain by now (and if not, why not?), and most people seem to agree with most or all of the message.

But one comment by ‘DonM’ – a perfectly nice, well-written comment, by the way, I’m not having a go at the writer here! – suggested that more encouragement is required, as it’s cheaper than tarmac and concrete. (These ‘encouragement’ campaigns may be cheap, but as they have all failed to achieve anything, the millions spent on them over the years has been wasted.) But Don’s comment got me thinking, as I keep seeing this sort of thing time and time again.

There are people who haven’t seen Dutch conditions, who don’t understand the scale of it. (Most of the UK has no concept of it whatsoever, of course. I’m talking about people interested in promoting cycling, here.)

Anybody who has studied cycling in the Netherlands and then suggests that the UK can achieve the same results without proper infrastructure is barmy. The idea of all those children and grandmas riding on the roads sounds as sensible as saying people should have free access to the rail network to use their own handcar.

So with the intention of demonstrating why riding on the roads is not an option, I took some photos of Dutch cyclists and dropped them into London scenes. I hope they will help any infrastructure doubters to see why Cyclecraft is not the way forward for cycling.

A photo-montage which juxtaposes a young boy riding a bike with his dog running alongside, with the fast, dangerous conditions on Euston Road in London.

More training?

A photo of a Dutch woman riding a bike with shopping on it, juxtaposed with fast and dangerous on-road conditions in London.

Strict liability?

A photo of an elderly man calmly riding a bike in the Netherlands, juxtaposed with heavy traffic in London.

Keep your wits about you, Grandad!

A photograph of a young girl on a bike in the Netherlands, juxtaposed with one of London's most deadly road junctions.

Take the lane!

A photograph of a family out riding bikes together in the Netherlands, juxtaposed with a photograph of heavy traffic at Kings Cross in London.

Assert yourselves!

A photograph of people on bikes at rush hour in Utrecht, Netherlands, juxtaposed with rush hour on Euston Road in London.

Smoothing traffic flow?

(The final two are in a different style because I couldn’t be bothered cutting groups of people out.) (Though two years later I finally did!)



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29 responses to “Dutch scenes in a British context

  1. Good thinking Batman – an excellent way to get the point across.

  2. Well played. I have to say the first one particularly hits the nail square on the head.

  3. I used to live in King’s Cross, about 500 yards from where that first picture was taken, and I cycled regularly in that bus lane on my way into central London. I am sure I never saw a child cycling along that road. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw a child cycling anywhere in London, at least not on the pavement. I think that says it all.

    (Great pictures, by the way!).

    • Thanks, I’m glad you like the pictures!

      Ugh, Euston Road… It’s not even nice to drive or walk along, never mind cycling! The only time I use it is when going from Mabledon Place to Ossulston Street (or vice-versa), as I only have to use about 10 metres of the main road while protected from the traffic by the lights!

  4. What an innovative way of thinking! And next, a British location but photoshopped with a Dutch road layout and cyclists????

  5. 3rdWorldCyclinginGB

    I mostly agree but don’t underestimate the influence of strict liability laws in the measures that would help, because it underpins the reasoning behind the CROW manual for Dutch roads (see summary at http://pedestrianiselondon.tumblr.com/post/31015887762/cycle-provision-cheatsheet). Without it you would have to segregate everywhere, and that, even in the Netherlands, is recognised (quite rightly) to be impossible.

    Here’s a Dutch road without visible provision: http://goo.gl/maps/u05sq . You can imagine how a bunch of Brit motorists would tackle this road. The provision that protects Dutch cyclists here is the invisible strict liability law. But note what happens when the danger increases i.e. at a junction: http://goo.gl/maps/6LHiI . Kind of the opposite way round to how Brits arrange their cycling infrastructure.

    • Hi,

      Sure, Strict Liability is a piece of the puzzle, but nowhere near as large a piece as many UK cycle campaigners believe.

      I’ll quote from this article about Strict Liability by David Hembrow: “The ‘strict liability’ law in the Netherlands … has not had an appreciable effect on the rate of crashes between drivers and cyclists… All it has done is to make clear where financial responsibility lies after damage has been caused.” Furthermore, it wasn’t brought into law there until the early 1990s, long after the cycling revolution had begun.

      As for getting Strict Liability implemented here, writer of the iBikeLondon blog Mark Ames described the response from the Transport Minister to a letter he’d written about it: “You want me to change the law of the country to something which would be awfully misconstrued by the likes of the Daily Mail simply to appease a handful of cyclists who have an unusually high awareness of insurance law? Ha!” (11:40 into the presentation here)

      So while it’s not a bad thing, it’s not a big deal either. And yet some cyclists yap on about it as if it’s an alternative to proper infrastructure! That’s why I included it as one of the captions.


    • Jan

      As a Dutchman, I’d like to comment on this:

      Strict liability doesn’t help at all. If motorists behavior is different, it’s due to their awareness of cyclists; because of extensive training before they get their license, and daily confrontation with the huge number of cyclists. The second is ‘safety in numbers’, the first one should get more attention.

      No car will ever drive into a cyclist (or pedestrian, or other car for that matter) just because the other driver is ‘at fault’. Dutch strict liability is just an extension of the ‘right of way’ rules we have. We don’t know the concept of ‘right of way’, we only have the obligation to yield. That means that if the other driver doesn’t yield, you’re not allowed to continue. He might be at fault, it doesn’t give you the right to continue right through him.

      For cyclists, pedestrians and children in particular, this is extended to ‘expect the unexpected’. Children tend to suddenly appear on the street during some ball game, cyclists tend to cycle against traffic, pedestrians tend to ignore red lights at zebra crossings. They all shouldn’t, but a car driver should be aware that these things happen, and should take action to avoid an accident if possible. Strict liability enforces that rule, but even without strict liability, the rule still applies.

      • Chris Juden

        It’s really good that you, a Dutchman, have pointed all this out, because when I do I’m accused of knowing nothing about the Netherlands! I’ve cycled there often, and the way that drivers yield to cyclists is the first thing a Brit notices when cycling off the boat at Hoek van Holland.

        The second thing one notices of course, is the high quality bikepath as soon as you reach a main road. You are impressed by the width, the smoothness, the clear signposting, but the biggest, most important difference is how it has priority over side roads and how drivers turning in and out of those roads respect that priority. They respect that priority with a scrupulousness that is unimaginable in Britain. Even when one does not have priority, Dutch drivers hold back, do not even try to bully you out of their way. Something is making them put their busy shedules second and the cyclist’s comfort first. A British visitor marvels and wonders what that something can be.

        My point is that the ‘right of way’ rules and/or enforcement that you have, and that we all too obviously lack (of which strict liability is one aspect), are just as essential to the construction of good quality segregation as tarmac and concrete. I want to read more about how that part of a cyclepath, the vital part where it crosses side roads – without even slowing down – actually works in the Netherlands (including what happens when it doesn’t) and ideas for how it might be made to work here.

        • Jan

          There are a lot of aspects to this. Rules, training, liability, the fact that car drivers and cyclists are the same people, et cetera. I don’t have time to elaborate on all of them, but there’s one i’d like to mention: The right of the cheapest.

          As you might have noticed, a lot of the dutch bikes (especially in the cities) are cheap, basic, possible old and rusty. Since they tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, in the rain, in cramped bike racks with hundreds of other bikes, we don’t like the fancy new shiny stuff that is prone to break down or get stolen.

          This has another huge benefit when it comes to the interaction with cars: The right of the cheapest. At high speeds, the right of the strongest applies: You don’t want to hit a car are dangerous speeds. But at the typical slow speed of city traffic difficult intersections, the car is much more wary of an accident then the biker is. Feel free to hit me, my bike is worth less then 50 euro’s, and with some bending I can likely continue my journey (and getting hit at this low speed won’t hurt me much). However, your car will end up with some very expensive scratches on it’s nice shiny paint…

          (Of course, this is quite likely one of the least important factors. It does play a role though)

        • I think that the UK standards for a cycle path having priority over a road it’s crossing aren’t too bad – they’re just very rarely implemented.

          It’s all about making the intention clear. Cycle path on a hump, different coloured tarmac extending across the road and beyond, maybe a dashed line down the middle or a couple of cycle markings if it’s two-way, good visibility, double-dashed lines and give way triangles on the road – all this would make it very clear that people on the cycle path have priority.

          You’re right about the shocking courteousness of Dutch drivers. My first day in the Netherlands was spent in delighted awe at every driver which gave way to me – even, sometimes, when they had right of way! But that culture surely comes from the normality and scale of cycling there, which itself comes from having the infrastructure to enable all that cycling.

          • haagse hop

            Well, if only Dutch drivers where always so courteous. 2 weeks ago a stupid and arrogant Dutch driver of the ” I am in a hurry and I have the car, youre just an old bird on a trycicle so get out of my way” variety tried to drive me out of my socks, as the Dutch proverb goes. ( van de sokken gereden) He was driving the wrong way in a one way street but he speeded up when I didn’t back down and could have taken my left backwheel of . It was just badly scratched and I could fix it myself. His car must have scratches too. So, what I’m trying to say is, Dutch people are not nicer than Brits or others, we just do have that better infrastructure to protect us from each other.

            • I think we’re in agreement, although my comment was a little vague – not all Dutch drivers are lovely people! It’s the infrastructure which does so much to even out the imbalance between motor vehicles and bicycles, and the fact that a driver in the Netherlands is much more likely to also ride a bike than anyone in the UK makes a difference to the way people on bikes are perceived too.

              But still, it always comes down to the infrastructure – “Dutch people are not nicer than Brits or others, we just do have that better infrastructure to protect us from each other” – I absolutely agree! It’s the infrastructure which causes the nicer behaviour towards people on bikes, and it’s the infrastructure which protects people on bikes from bad behaviour.

        • Tim

          In Manchester, while some drivers are dangerously close and either don’t know or don’t care how much space cyclists need, some other drivers are courteous and thoughtful.

          But sometimes the problem will be that drivers will offer to let you cross in front of them (or similar) without appreciating a hazard coming from another direction, and then they might get impatient or frustrated when you don’t take them up on their offer. So much nicer when the possibility of conflict is eliminated altogether.

          • JB

            I’d echo that, my experience of Mcr cycling isn’t perfect, but doesn’t appear to be nearly as horrific and terrifying as many in blogs and on Twitter depict. But there is a casual bikeism in even the nicest of drivers as evidenced by Tim and more so I’d suggest when they stop to wave one another across, usually to right turn in front of them without ever checking if I am coming up at the side of

  6. Don (another Don M altogether..)

    I wondered if I was ‘Don M’ for a minute, but no! Thanks for this superb post though; I missed your CEoGB guest post so it was great to see it! The photos are brilliant..

  7. Edward

    What you are showing is ‘integrated cycing’, ‘bicycle driving’ or whatever the latest label is. Don’t you know they are statistically safer taking the lane like that? If only we could convince everyone how safe cycling is if they ‘own the lane’ and don’t get intimidated. Perhaps we need an education campaign.

  8. socrates

    Superb post!

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  10. sexify*bicycles

    Good photoshop speaks 1000 well-made points. *doffs hat*

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