Monday, 5 December 2011

Just a different lick of paint!

In The Netherlands about a third of all journeys are made by bicycle, as you can experience for yourself with my new guidebook. This is not only because the country is flat and the presence of many traffic-free cycle paths, but also because many local through roads have been redesigned to slow motorised traffic down. This is an essential ingredient to make the share the road principle truly work. Slowing motorised traffic down on local through roads in The Netherlands is achieved by a relatively cheap method; just a different lick of paint!

This picture on the right shows a typical road in the UK in a built up area with a 30 mph speed limit. It is not classed with an A or B-number, but just a local through route with medium traffic intensity where the share the road principle should apply. The road is narrow, but many drivers go faster here than 30 mph. Why? Because the white line in the centre of the road is exactly defining to drivers where to steer the vehicle to avoid crashing into motorised vehicles from the opposite direction. The white line also creates a sense of freedom to drivers that they can proceed at will, regardless other smaller or slower road users. It is the lining here that confirms psychologically that the road is just made for cars, as cars fit exactly in that spot between the kerb and the white line! "Share the road"? Forget it; cyclists are clearly "just in the way" and as a cyclist, you get exactly that same impression as the driver. You feel unwelcome and just not safe, the main reason for many people in the UK not to cycle, but to take the car instead!

Many local through roads in The Netherlands used to look exactly the same as the one pictured above, but since the 1980s a different lick of paint was gradually introduced, simply when the road was due resurfacing. Thirty years on, this has lead to the typical look of Dutch local through roads as is pictured here on the left. This road has a similar traffic intensity and similar road width as the UK picture above; but what a difference! The road lining not only confirms to cyclists and drivers that this is a shared place, but it also naturally slows drivers down, especially in a situation of motorised traffic from both directions. In that situation drivers from both sides have to work their senses to work out their road spacing away from each other, straddling the cycle lanes. This process slows them down to a speed that does much more justice to the limited road width. Also, as you can see in the picture, if there is a cyclist on any of these lanes at the same time, the driver from behind naturally has to wait, instead of the common practice of hazardous "pushing through overtaking" in the UK.

Introducing cycle lanes as above might still be a step too far for many UK people, but there are still other licks of paint that should be considered. In another picture from The Netherlands on the right I would like you to focus on the length of the individual lines that make up the centre road line together. These lines are generally three times shorter as the equivalent individual line in the UK. This means Dutch drivers achieve a sense of speed at much lower speeds, whilst UK drivers have to speed up much more to get a similar visual “sensation”. The length of every individual line is another psychological element that makes UK drivers going faster than they should and again confirms the misconception that roads are made for cars only.

So, what about if we were to remove road lines all together? Now this is a thought. When I cycle in the UK I always find roads without any road lines generally safer to cycle on. People drive slower (their “white safety net” is not there) and are more considerate to other road users. The picture on the left shows such a situation, taken in the village of Swimbridge in Devon. This road is a through route with a medium traffic intensity and the centre line stops on arrival in the village. This concept makes most drivers even going slower than 30 mph, as they feel like a guest, passing through the village. This example shows how a different approach on road lining can indeed make a difference for local communities.

I leave you with another striking picture from The Netherlands, showing a narrow medium traffic intensity road with a 30 mph speed limit during rush hour. The centre line of this road has been removed and wide cycle lanes on both sides clearly confirm this road is not just for motorised traffic, but also for others. Despite the busy time of the day (yes there are many drivers in The Netherlands as well), the cyclist pictured is able to keep going in a relaxed way, with drivers naturally queueing behind, waiting until it is safe to overtake. Again, this is all achieved just by a different lick of paint!

Note from the author: In 2014, a study funded by the CTC confirmed my findings in this article. "Professor John Parkin and Stella Shackel observed a reduction of speed of vehicles passing cyclists on roads with no centre line. A centre line may present a visual clue about where a driver should ‘drive up to’. Its absence may cause the driver to consider his or her road position and speed more carefully." How long will it take to convince the good old highway authorities that change of its out of date designs is desperately needed? 

What about going for a traffic-calmed cycling holiday with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see also

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see

Other popular Cycling Dutchman blog articles:

Explaining Dutch cycling infrastructure:

Dutch bike rides and Dutch cycling culture:

The 12 best bike rides of The Netherlands

Dutch style bike rides in the United Kingdom:
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