IMAGES: Dutch cycle paths; And how we can stop getting it so horribly wrong

People cycling are not the only users of Dutch cycle paths — the paths allow people with mobility issues to get around

DUTCH CYCLING SERIESWe’ve been to the Netherlands twice in the last two years; on arrival back home, we’re left with the same feeling each time — Why are we getting cycle routes so horribly wrong?

To answer that, it’s worth looking at the standards the Dutch use. Our image below of a two-way cycle path in Amsterdam explains a lot more than you might think. Beyond what might be obvious, the image shows a few key things which are typical of Dutch cycle paths:

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  • The crossings where pedestrians cross the cycle path are kept on the inside of traffic lights — people walking and cycling can navigate safely without traffic lights.
  • There’s no shared use footpath section at the junction, keeping the flows of cycling and walking separate is clearer and safer.
  • There’s no notable transition between the cycle path and the crossing of the road — no kerb, drop or notable ramp: The route across junctions and side roads is smooth and continuous.
  • The street to the left only has cycle lanes but the lanes feed into a cycle path just before the junction with the main two-way cycle path. This means cyclist are protected from motor traffic and are able to make a right turn (left in Ireland or the UK) without getting stopped by a traffic light.

Unlike in Denmark where two-way routes are generally only used on greenways or other paths away from traffic, two-way paths like this one pictured are fairly common in the Netherlands: DSC_6251

This two-way route, which is also depicted in the below photo, shows that cycle paths can work even in areas where people are not used to cycle paths — this example in Amsterdam between the central train station and the core of the city centre. It’s also between a large hotel and coach parking.

It has a lot of tourist pedestrian traffic beside it and crossing it:

Dutch cycling

A fundamental of Dutch most single-directional modern cycle paths is the trilingual-like island between the cycle path and turning cars, vans and trucks. This gives cyclists a protected place to stop in advance of motor traffic: DSC_7544

The protective island comes in different shapes and sizes. Below is an example of it on a larger road — it shows how far back turning motorists wait and the wide turn they have to take to get to the cycling crossing point. It makes visibility and good eye contact easier:


This typical junction deign is covered in detail in the below video by the excellent Bicycle Dutch blog:

(article continues below)

Even before you land at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport you can see cycle paths. In this case, the cycle path around this fairly rural roundabout does not have priority over motor traffic — but the norm in built up areas, as explained by Bicycle Dutch, is that there is “priority for cyclists on roundabouts in the Netherlands” and this works even on busy city junctions.

Non-proirty reoundabout

At crossings without traffic lights, it’s generally the case that bicycles have priority over motor traffic: DSC_6424

Including two-way cycle paths around roundabouts in urban and suburban areas: IMG_0189

Amsterdam has retained and expanded its tram network, but as with with Irish cities, there is no shortage of buses in the centre of Utrecht:


Buses and bicycles in the Netherlands are however kept separate even in the city centre. Here’s a bus stop bypass which has a dual function of a cycle route and a service street: DSC_6794

Some cycle paths which are now old and narrow, by current Dutch standards, still look wondrous from Irish eyes. Like this one in the suburbs of Amsterdam:


Then you come across newer cycle paths, like the freshly built path pictured below in Utrecht. And you end up repeating aloud: “It’s one-direction and this wide”. It’s in the middle of the city centre in Utrecht and there’s the space for it because the city has chosen to give the space over to walking, cycling and public transport:


Copenhagen may have fairly wide streets which allow for wide cycle paths all around the city — the same can’t be said for Amsterdam and the centres of many other Dutch cities. On the street shown below, you’d never fit wide cycle lanes or paths along with two general traffic lane, but a two-way cycle path fits in nicely when the street is reduced to one traffic general traffic lane:


Where there is parking on a street, cycle paths are placed between the parking and the footpath — the cycle path continues uninterrupted:


Details are important. At this t-junction, the cycle path across the road is also uninterrupted and remains segregated, yet there’s clear access on and off the path. The road sign shows the direction of the cycle path and the painted Dutch yield markings (the white triangles) tell people cycling that they are to yield when accessing the path and yield when crossing the road:


Getting details right seems to be at the centre of how the Dutch get cycle routes so right. As with this case, where the cycle path widens at a traffic light to allow for wobble room when starting off:

wider at junction

Segregation comes in a few different ways. Around larger roads in urban areas, grade segregation  is used — people walking and cycling are segregated fully from traffic. Underpasses or bridges are used to get people safely across the busier and larger roads:


We cycled around Amsterdam and Utrecht, and passed by many more kilometres of cycle routes in other areas — there’s zero signs of shared use footpaths of the type used in the UK and Ireland. Cycling and walking only mix sometimes in historic city and town centres on streets where motorised traffic is removed or very limited and on wide rural paths which are as standard much wider than ours.

Shared space — where motorist, pedestrians and people on bikes mix — is limited to very small areas of the country. It’s not common. This image below shows a (we think, fairly uncommon) raised junction design which mixes bicycle and cars but not pedestrian:



So, how can we stop getting it so horribly wrong? Stop using shared use (at least in urban areas) and instead follow Dutch design and priority principles. Our design manuals covering cycle routes and street design needs to be changed again. In some cases the law may need to be changed.

This series on Dutch cycling will continue, covering issues such as permeability and why its about more than just cycle paths, mass bicycle parking and more. Check out the first in the series: IMAGES: Typical Dutch cycling.


  1. I always enjoy reading about Dutch cycle paths, the emphasis on walking/cycling means that the city centres are very pleasant to meander around.
    However, welcome as these articles are, I think you are preaching to the converted on this website. Those of us who would like to see Dutch-style cycle facilities in Ireland must find a way of communicating to the politicians and the wider electorate.

  2. The Politicians are afraid of upsetting Motorists,they seem to be set in a time warp and are unwilling to change their ideas or else they like to promote Motorists.All of this of course is blinkered thinking. If they brought in this kind of infrastructure like the Netherlands there would be less chances of conflict between cars and Cyclist/Pedestrians especially at rush hour.

    This is the most dangerous time when everybody is in a rush here on City and Town Streets in particular. Motor Traffic veering onto the so called Cycle Lanes because they are so intent of getting to their destination resulting in hitting Cyclists the odd occasion fatally.

    So keeping Traffic away from Cyclists and pedestrians and all the other little things mentioned actually improve things for all and not just for the Cyclists,it also makes it a lot safer. We seem to have a lot of bad road designers here in Ireland who only seem to think Car and put in bad Cycling Infrastructure after the Road or Bridge is designed. As I stated before and so many other people too ,you have only to look at that Sam Beckett Bridge which is on the main Cycle Route which will eventually stretch from Arklow to Drogheda and which is supposed to be a showcase of Cycling and they could not get that right. I of course refer to that dangerous Bend and Hill on the Sir John Rogersons Quay side. There is conflict with Cyclists against Cyclist and Pedestrians and Cyclists. In the rush hour this is highly dangerous.

  3. My own view is that we just are unwilling to take away vehicle parking space on all our main radial roads into the city to free up road space for such facilities.
    You only have to witness the kerfuffle raised by residents and commercial interests to any QBC lane creation to understand that the car is king. The failure of Garda/Wardens/DSPS to meaningfully enforce fly-parking shows the reality that the car is king.
    Look at the opposition by high-end retailers to the Grafton Street Quarer.
    Another factor is that WW2 wreaked havoc with inner core of many European cities so rebuilding took place that permitted wider streets than we typically have.

  4. @Mike I dont know about WW2 as the Dutch started the ‘stop de kindermoord’ protest to get safer in the early 70’s and at that stage the rebuild after the bombings from WW2 would have been finalised. Speaking for Amsterdam there is a lot of single lane one way traffic for cars, lanes are small which helps slow cars down. None of the 2-3 lanes you see here and a right turn lane thrown in at junctions you see here.


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