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 guidebook. This is not just 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 inexpensive method; just a different lick of paint!

This picture here 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 30 mph or faster. Why? Because the white line in the center 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 earlier. Since the 1980s a different lick of paint was gradually introduced, simply when the road was due resurfacing. Thirty years on, this led to the typical look of Dutch local through roads as is pictured here (note: again not a main road with UK- A-or B-road classification!). This road has a similar function, traffic intensity and similar road width as the UK road shown earlier; but what a difference! 

The road lining not only confirms to cyclists and drivers that this is a shared space, 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 will still be a step too far for many UK people, but there are other licks of paint that should be considered. In another picture from The Netherlands, I would like you now to focus on the length of the individual strokes that make up the center road line. 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 stroke is another psychological element that makes UK drivers going faster than they should. It also once again confirms the misconception that roads were made for cars only (while they weren't). 

So, what about if we were to remove all road lines on our local through roads? 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 here shows such a situation, taken in the village of Swimbridge in Devon. This road is an old through route, which lost its A-road classification many years ago. It still sees some through traffic, but the center road line stops on arrival in the village. This concept makes most drivers going slower than 30 mph, as they feel like a guest when 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 center 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 here 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 by just a different lick of paint!

Notes from the author: In 2014, a study funded by the CTC (now Cycling UK) confirmed my case 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."

Further notes: Just providing a change in road layouts by different paint is not a solution for roads with a main through route function (so UK-roads with A- or B-number classifications). Such roads in The Netherlands always have a separated cycle path away from the main carriageway, as is pictured here. 

The Dutch system, with varied solutions for various types of roads is further explained in my articles Cycle paths and cycle lanes; the full story! and Sharing the road or segregated cycle paths? Well its both! 

As is explained in these articles, a seriously reduced speed limit is always in place on Dutch roads with on-road cycle lanes. Also, Dutch cycle lanes are generally much wider than UK cycle lanes. These are both essential factors to make on road cycle lanes safe to use. The main article above intends to focus on the general design of road lines only!     


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


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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.


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The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.