Humane traffic management on country roads

On narrow country roads throughout the Netherlands, the needs of cyclists come before those of drivers. Cycling southward from Amsterdam to Rotterdam last year, I was shocked to realise much of the marked bike route I started out following (before I got lost), was comprised of shared narrow roads with two-way car traffic. At first I thought, I could get as much in Australia, but quickly noted these roads weren’t divided into two car lanes, with sketchy shoulders given to cyclists. They were divided into two bike lanes, plus one narrow car lane in the middle.

Drivers proceed at half or two thirds the speed they would in Australia. They don’t assume they can travel all day at the maximum allowable limit, as though this were their divine right. Rather, they find their brakes each time they encounter traffic from the other direction, even if that means virtually stopping, to file in behind me. Elsewhere in the world, two cars would pass at full speed, as if I were a bug they could hose off their tires.

This approach to managing traffic on country roads, spares the Netherlands having almost all trips in the country being made using motorised vehicles, as happens in most industrialised nations. Whether you own a cheap bike, a racing bike, or even a human powered velomobile, you can live in the country, and make a portion of trips by your own steam. Kids can ride to school in Dutch farming regions, something that has been virtually unthinkable in rural parts of Australia since the interwar era.

7 Comments

  1. I think you’ve missed the big point here. It’s not surprising, as most people do miss it. However, the paint isn’t even half of the story.

    Dutch rural roads are not the same as those in other countries because routes for driving are not the same as routes for cycling in the countryside as much as in the towns.

    I covered this specific case of rural roads in 2008 on my blog, pointing out how if drivers try to use rural routes for cyclists then they won’t find it to be convenient at all.

    That is what you experienced. Those cars which remained on this road were there for access to somewhere nearby. Those who have longer journeys to make won’t be on the minor road.

  2. Steven says:

    I said “country roads” not highways or motorways.

    • Luke says:

      Steven, David, I haven’t been to Australia, but I’ll take a wild guess and say that the road network in rural australia may be less dense than in the netherlands. So probably harder to divert cars from back roads. David’s point is more relevant to Europe.

      Sadly your excellent bike hour didn’t seem to have much take up over here (uk) but there’s still sept…

    • Steven says:

      Thanks Luke. The Netherlands is a compact country with intense agriculture, meaning speeds can be slowed in the country without making trips very much longer time wise. Australia has minor roads stretching long distances, and yeah, let those be highways. It’s in irrigated pastural areas that I’m thinking a Dutch approach is worth considering. It drives most thinking people insane that townships in these areas are turning into residential satellites of cities, meaning lots of people wanting to commute fast in their cars from the farmlands to the city each day. But it’s a fact, so maybe back ways can be thought of as tamed routes suitable for cyclists, like the route I rode south from Amsterdam. Or maybe we run protected strips of tar parallel to the highways. However, given the bloody minded tradition we have of vehicular cycling, I’m afraid roadies will persist with riding as close to cars as they can, and new cyclists will copy them, and everyone else will think they can’t be a cyclist. I read a cool piece a while back by a woman saying die hard vehicular cyclists have something like a battered wife syndrome.

  3. Andy says:

    The Eaglesham Moor Road (B764) http://g.co/maps/g6g2g is arranged a bit like that, but with painted “passing places” where the cycle lanes stop briefly, but from experience motorists ignore the cycle lanes and just drive on the left. There’s no special speed limit.

    • Steven says:

      I guess the road markings have a lot to answer for, for causing confusion. Dutch road bike riders would nevertheless be awfully jealous of those rolling hills! Such beautiful countryside.

  4. Luke says:

    Having no children, I read this and took the “objective” view that what your son’s class was being told was stupid, but sadly predictable. By chance I then happened to spend an afternoon with friends and their children (5-8). I re-read the article, and checked ages. I now have what I think is an equally objective view that those lecturing your son’s class are potentially guilty of manslaughter. I now understand your depression about vehicular cyclists on another post.

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