In the Netherlands, riding a scooter in a bike lane could soon be illegal FaceMePLS/Flickr

The Netherlands’ cycle lanes are overcrowded, says a new report.

Cycling is now so popular in the Netherlands that its bike lanes just don't have the space to accommodate all riders, says a new report. According to the country’s SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, cycling infrastructure in Holland is getting seriously overloaded. The Dutch lane system may well be exemplary compared to most other countries, but as bike paths fill to capacity during rush hour, crashes are becoming more frequent.  

The problem is partly a by-product of success, evidence of cycling’s ever-growing popularity in a country where its place in everyday life was already substantial. In Amsterdam between 1986 and 1991, the city already saw 470,000 trips by bike on an average day. Between 2004 and 2008, that number grew to 604,000 per day, and is still growing now. That growth can be counted as a triumph, but infrastructure improvements are lagging behind. By last year, Amsterdam had become so short on bike parking that it announced a plan to build new lots underwater and on artificial islands in its inner harbor. Now the SWOV’s research shows that riders are being squeezed into bottlenecks where the pressure of numbers means they can no longer opt to ride at the speed of their choice. Partly as a result, the proportion of road crashes that involve no cars at all is rising.

According to the SWOV’s argument, some of these accidents are happening thanks to poor road habits among riders. When they set up cameras at four major bike lane intersections in the Hague, they recorded a catalog of bad behavior. Footage showed 20 percent of cyclists using their phones while riding—though most of these were listening to music rather that texting. A large majority of riders (80 percent) pulled out of lane to overtake without looking behind them, while 5 percent of riders went as far as cycling in the wrong direction entirely. You can arguably get away with some of this behavior on a quiet, underused  path. On a packed thoroughfare shared with thousands of commuters, it can land you in hospital. In fact, the report notes that 1,000 cyclists are hospitalized annually after collisions with other cyclists. This could well be enough to deter some from venturing out on two wheels, but it’s worth noting that the toll of serious accidents is still tiny given the numbers using the system. The Netherlands, after all, is the world’s only country where bikes actually outnumber people.

So what’s the solution to this increasing overcrowding? One small measure already underway is banning scooters from cycle lanes. Under current rules, scooters with small engines are permitted on such paths provided their speed goes no higher than around 15 miles per hour. Now there are moves afoot to shut them out for good. Scooters only account for 7 percent of bike lane traffic, however, so changes like this are fine-tuning rather than a paradigm shift. To turn things around and truly give Dutch cyclists space to turn or breathe, the country needs to widen lanes by reclaiming more of the roadway from motor vehicles, at least in cities. This seems like a logical next step, but for some pro-cycling voices, the political climate is such that Holland risks pedalling backwards. Mark Van Woudenburg of the urban design blog Amsterdamize writes that, given cycling’s popularity, the degree of city space given up to cars in his hometown is still wildly disproportionate:

In Amsterdam, 70% of trips in the city center are by bike, yet only 11% of public space is allocated to that mode. Cars, by contrast, account for 25% of trips, yet are given 44% of space. Recently the VVD rubberstamped the budget to create 2500 more car parking spaces in the center—extremely expensive underground spaces constructed beneath canals. That’s a plan which does away with 23 years of policies to remove car parking.”

The Netherlands may have long been envied as one of the world’s most bike-friendly nations, but if they want to keep that title untarnished, it seems they may have to push a little harder.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks at Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

  2. A photo of a cyclist on the streets of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.
    Equity

    Can Historic Preservation Cool Down a Hot Neighborhood?

    The new plan to landmark Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood aims to protect more than just buildings: It’s designed to curb gentrification.

  3. Design

    What Cities Can Do to Help Birds and Bees Survive

    Pollinators—the wildlife that shuffle pollen between flowers—are being decimated. But they may still thrive with enough help from urban humans.

  4. Rows of machinery with long blue tubes and pipes seen at a water desalination plant.
    Environment

    A Water-Stressed World Turns to Desalination

    Desalination is increasingly being used to provide drinking water around the globe. But it remains expensive and creates its own environmental problems.

  5. Detail of a Brutalist building.
    Design

    Can This Flawed Brutalist Plaza in Boston Be Fixed?

    The chain-link fences are finally down at Boston’s long-closed Government Services Center, thanks to some clever design updates.

×