IMAGES: How the Dutch allow bicycles to flow like water

One-way street, expect for cycling and no lane required here

DUTCH CYCLING SERIES: Last week, we covered Dutch cycle paths generally, however the networks of cycle routes in Dutch towns and cities are not just comprised of cycle paths. Permeability is a key element of Dutch cycling networks — as it was put to us by a council officials from Amsterdam city council: People walking and cycling is like water flowing.

In Ireland and the UK the flow of cycling is cut off — often needlessly made to follow detours due to networks of one-way streets. Sometimes the barriers are walls or gates, or just by legal means. The difference in Dutch cities and towns is that their councils and national lawmakers try to accommodate cycling and walking to a far, far greater level.

Providing two-way cycling access to most one-way streets is the norm, other streets are walking and cycling only streets, and most parks have cycle paths through them.

And it’s not just about cycling, as shown below, what’s good for cycling is more often than not also good for walking and social uses of streets. Moving people onto bicycles also means the perceived need for cars is lessened and that can allow for more scope using space more productively.

Our first example below is a bicycle-only street — effectively, a street with just a cycle path and footpaths, a simple bollard controls the access:


But, more often, bollards are used to restrict access to just part of a street, like this bridge crossing which has car access on both sides, just clearly not over the bridge:


Making streets through routes for cycling and walking only makes streets friendly for people walking:


It’s not just narrow streets where access is restricted for motorist. Pictured below is the centre of campus of the Delft University of Technology which has recently been transformed from car-centric to open public space and parkland with sustainable transport routes — including a yet-to-be commissioned tram line, cycle paths and footpaths. Imagine this space with a through road for cars and, on both sides of that road, lot’s of surface parking on both sides:


The same concept is used in Dutch towns and cities, and this allows space to be used more than just transport. Here’s an example in the town of Bunschoten-Spakenburg (population ~20k) which has more of a village feel to its town centre:


One of the most used methods of allowing better cycling access and permeability is what’s called contra-flow in the UK and Ireland. Basically, a street which is one-way just for motorists. Here’s an example in Amsterdam:


Another Amsterdam example, the no-entry sign pictured has an “expect bicycles” plate under it:


Contra-flow is also possible on narrow access streets, or streets which are narrowed because spaces is allocated to parking spaces, footpaths or trees. No lane or path is required. This type of design is used across the Netherlands and has aloe been used in Denmark, Germany, France, and Phibsborough in Dublin. Even without lanes, there’s no problem passing cars coming in the opposite direction on streets like these, even for mopeds:


Putting a two-way cycle path beside one-way general traffic lanes is another means of allowing for two-way cycling on otherwise one-way streets. This path pictured below was also featured in our recent Dutch cycle path feature. It’s an example of a two-way cycle path beside a single one-way motor traffic lane, but this concept also works on larger streets and roads with many lanes:


And when we’re on the subject of permeability we can’t let this opportunity pass to mention, once again, the cycle path under the Rijksmuseum museum (it was built over a road, designed to fit trams and a open to motor traffic up to 1931):


Just down the road from the Rijksmuseum museum is Vondelpark, an elongated urban park. It has footpaths and a wide road reserved for people cycling, running, skating, etc and the odd police car (the one pictured in the background is going so slow it’s being overtaken by a family on bicycles). It’s great for leisure cycling and sustainable access to the park, but it also acts as a super commuter route with many access points into the residential areas around the park:


It can feel like things are too different and that Ireland or the UK will never be able to bridge the gap between our cycling and Dutch cycling. But cycle paths are a cost effective method of spending transport, health and tourism funding, and a lot of the methods above are cheaper to implement than the average cycle path which are needed on larger roads.

This series on Dutch cycling will continue, covering issues such mass bicycle parking, why we are more like the Dutch than we think, and more. Check out the first two articles in the series:

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


  1. Our Road/Traffic Divisions in local authorities have been given too much power to determine how traffic is managed. It is time for Planners to assert themselves too.
    There is too much effort devoted to keeping motorised vehicles ‘king’ of the road in the mistaken belief that everyone is entitled to use their vehicle in any way they want. There is a failure to differentiate between car ownership and car use. The ‘free-flow’ traffic management paradigm rules supreme. The Garda Traffic Corps even had this concept in its mission statement up to two years ago!
    Time for change.


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