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Thursday 3 November 2011

Dutch pick-and-mix

'There's more to 'going Dutch' than having a separate cycling lane' was a recent piece written by Matthew Wright for the Guardian. The title is a valid statement, Dutch levels of cycling didn't come about just from building cycle tracks along busy main roads, it requires that the private car is tamed on streets and lanes, so that a cycle track is unnecessary. However, the article quickly falls into that peculiar trapping which appears to be unique to the English-speaking world; Dutch pick-and-mix.

Dutch pick-and-mix (a term I hope will catch-on) is the idea that picking and choosing randomly from all of the the pro-cycling measures employed by the Dutch (other than building cycle tracks alongside roads) can result in Dutch-levels of cycling. Dutch pick-and-mix is attractive to people who are ideologically opposed to the idea of any separation of cyclists and motor traffic; Matthew Wright's choice, upon visiting The Netherlands, to ride on the main carriageway and shun the far superior adjacent cycle-only facility is a particularly informative one. By avoiding the cycle track-shaped elephant in the room, Dutch pick-and-mix offers campaigners and local authorities the easy way out; rather than making the main roads accessible to all cyclists by installing cycle tracks, a few blue signs can be used to direct cyclists via circuitous residential streets. Rather than addressing lethal junction designs, the roads in adjacent residential areas can have '20' painted onto them within a circle. 

Whilst these measures are not a bad thing, they are completely, totally and utterly worthless if cyclists can't use the roads which get them to the places they need to go; main roads. Dutch pick-and-mix fails as an approach not because there is a problem with lower residential speed limits and facilitating cycling on minor roads, these are good things, but because they don't work unless they are built on a foundation of cycle tracks running alongside main roads. There is little point in creating an island of cycling paradise within a residential area if the main road connecting it to the next island of cycling paradise remains unchanged and hostile to cyclists. The Dutch pick-and-mix approach epitomised by 'There's more to 'going Dutch' than having a separate cycling lane' misses this point; there is more to 'going Dutch' than having a separate cycle lane, but without the main road network being fixed by the addition of separate cycle lanes, the rest of the measures used by the Dutch simply won't work. Separate cycle lanes are the very foundation of going Dutch, whilst attempting to build something without first laying the foundations is pretty much what we've been doing in the UK for fifty years, an approach which has done little for anyone who wants to get around by bike.

In addition to a severe case of Dutch pick-and-mix, Matthew Wright's article also falls foul of cherry-picking through the referencing of John Franklin's page of cherry-picked research, which has been dissected here previously and rendered irrelevant by a much more honest and up-to-date equivalent started here.

Whilst it is true that separate cycle lanes are not the only measure involved in 'going Dutch,' suggesting that they are anything less than the very foundation of it is at best extremely naive and at worst shockingly dishonest. Articles such as 'There's more to 'going Dutch' than having a separate cycling lane' simply serve to spread the disinformation which has held back cycling in this country for decades. A Dutch pick-and-mix approach might seem appealing, because it is comparably easy, but without the foundation of separate cycle lanes on the worst parts of the road network, it can only be expected to deliver a continuation of the flat-lining of cycle rates and a continuation of the stream of avoidable deaths on our roads.


  1. I still don't understand why Britons are so hell bent on reinventing the wheel. It's not enough to know what measures have been installed, you can learn from the history what combinations worked. We know for instance that backroad aproach didn't work at all in Copenhagen, where it was the first step undertaken. Only when direct routes, which followed desire lines were installed that cycling really blossomed.
    The Dutch have been experimenting with cycle infrastructure for nearly (or more than) a century and still they admit they don't get everything right, yet some people become cycling experts the moment their bum touches the saddle. Thanks to lack of will to learn from others mistakes, rather than your own, and know-it-all attitude we have what we have now.
    Thanks John Franklin. How silly do you feel now?

  2. Yes, the main point to make is very valid in the 'islands bit'.
    Wherever you cycle on cycle paths, lanes, side streets, parks you are avoiding the rat race, the fumes and giving yourself that more relaxed ride that we all want. But when you get to that mega roundabout with a dual carriage way to get across it all turns nasty. This does put of plenty of would be cyclists.
    We need a proper cycle way through these areas just like the cars demand ring rounds around towns.

  3. ndru is so spot on!! I really can't get my head round the stubbornness of Brits, as much as I love them all to bits! ;P But honestly, it's not even just on cycling, it's on transport too. The crappiest trains I have been on are here, just hop on the continent, even those countries which at the moment are being ridiculed (Italy, Spain, Portugal) have top notch services at good, affordable prices. Schooling system too, we still push our children to make a decision at 16/17 about what they want to do when they grow up. I lost count of friends who choose A-level subjects tailored to their then decision of university, to only find out at 21, after having spent time and money in a degree that it wasn't what they wanted to do... why at 16 do you need to choose to drop humanities subjects only in favour of the science ones and vice versa???

    When I left Italy at 16 I was studying 11 subjects which I would have maintained till I was 19, then decide what further studies I would have embarked on. Here my curriculum was reduced to maths, physics, chemistry, biology and design :( just 5 subjects. I had to catch on all the other humanities in my own spare time, and I am still lacking knowledge on things like history, literature and philosophy, which is truly embarrassing.

    I am digressing I know... but this thing of wanting to re-invent the wheel or not wanting to acknowledge that others may do things better, it's beyond me. Why not learn from them and be grateful that others made all the mistakes before hand and we can just reap the good, useful lessons.

    It's stubbornness that borders on arrogance at times :(

    [sorry, rant over]

  4. I read the original blog post with a growing sense of despair. This was from the Guardian after all.

    I feel small changes can sometimes make big isolated improvements and this should not be ignored but we really need a wholesale change of planning, public and political attitude to make any significant national change.

    Car driving, particularly for local journeys, needs to be far more unattractive and expensive than it is and the viable alternative options - walking, cycling and public transport - made more attractive and straight forward.

    It ain't going to happen anytime soon I fear! *sigh*

  5. Nice response to the Guardian article which really annoyed me when I first read it, and still bugs me with the lack of vision even now, when I have calmed down and read it properly :)

  6. we really need a wholesale change of planning, public and political attitude

    And some!

    The Dutch have been experimenting with cycle infrastructure for nearly (or more than) a century and still they admit they don't get everything right, yet some people become cycling experts the moment their bum touches the saddle.

    What really smarts is the situation at local government level whereby the arses of those responsible for 'cycling' haven't touched a saddle since childhood...

  7. Yes, this is a real disease with cycling "experts" in the UK: the arrogant idea that they think, sometimes without ever having visited the Netherlands in modern times, that they can pick apart the Dutch cycling solution and work out for themselves which parts "really work" and which parts are "not necessary". The parts they select are then based on their own prejudices and preferences in cycling, coupled with a simply misinformed belief that Dutch policy discriminates against some types of cycling, where the truth is that Dutch policy encourages more cycling of all types.

  8. Dutch pick-and-mix sounds like a candy assortment. Maybe some "Dutch" chocolate covered raisins mixed with some macadamia nuts?

    Here in Portland we've done our share of Dutch pick-and-mix as well. We have a decent network of bikeways known as Bicycle Boulevards or Neighborhood Greenways. Mostly low traffic streets through residential neighborhood. Great for what it is, but when you have to access commercial services on a busier street, forget it.

    And the main reason is: putting bike routes on low-traffic side streets is "easy". It's "low hanging fruit." Creating bicycle accommodations on busy streets needs political will, which is lacking. Business owners oppose anything--anything--they feel would inconvenience drivers, because cars=customers. Even the most "hip" business districts like Hawthorne Blvd have consistently shot down bike lanes.

    And as sucky as rail service is in the UK, at least it ain't Amtrak. I can only hope that someday it will get better!

  9. @nrdu,

    What I find particularly baffling is when the back-streets idea is touted by self-proclaimed 'hardcore cyclists.' It seems odd that, seeing separate cycle infrastructure as a 'relegation' for cyclists, they then suggest that cyclists be shunted onto inconvenient, circuitous & poorly signed back street routes instead.


    My mum is a good example of this. Having gone out on some quiet country roads a few weeks ago she was enthusiastic about cycling back home. The streets near where she lives aren't too bad, but the 40 mph town-centre dual-carriageway she'd have to negotiate in order to cycle anywhere outside of that little island is effectively a de facto ban on cycling for her.


    In many matters, we in the UK do seem overly reluctant to learn from the successes of others. For example, in addition to the transport network, the Dutch justice system could teach us a lot too.


    Small improvements are often worthwhile in improving particularly bad areas where budgets are limited, but they usually only mitigate conditions for existing cyclists rather than making cycling appealing to the rest of the population. I know plenty of people who drive the mile to work because it is easy; they aren't interested in 'the issues,' it just seems like the easiest (and cheap) option for them. Getting them to care is never going to happen, so the environment needs to make the choice to not drive the obvious one.

    @Estudio27 Architects

    Thanks, at the time I was too depressed by the tone to bother addressing it. It probably would have been more of a rant if I had written it sooner too.


    The disconnect between those tasked with providing for cycling and the actual act of cycling is a big problem. Considering the state of the job market at the moment, there are no excuses for not finding someone who is currently looking for a job, cycles and knows what they are talking about to fill the cycling officer roles.

    @David Arditti,

    I agree wholeheartedly. I sometimes get the feeling that the so-called experts are more concerned with some unfounded fear of losing the 'right to the road' for that Sunday afternoon club ride along country lanes that they refuse to acknowledge the dire situation for people who just want to get around from A-to-B by bike. As you wrote, good cycle infrastructure caters for the enthusiasts who currently make up a large proportion of UK cyclists. It won't shrink their number, just their relative proportion.


    In the UK, retailers and business owners seem to over-estimate the proportion of their business which arrives via car, generally by 3-5 fold. Cycle infrastructure is good for business due to the increased capacity for passing trade, the increased likelihood they will stop and shop and the fact that they often have more money to spend because they haven dumped a significant portion of their wages into the tank of a car. UK rail could be a lot better and is poor compared to the rest of Europe, but I think we are lucky in that respect compared to the USA.

  10. You have hit the nail on the head as far as my local cycling is concerned. I cycle out into the Cheshire plains with a cycle club without a second thought (almost) about traffic. However on a day to day basis, I have a child in tow (literally). Thats not to say there aren't places for me to cycle with him, it just to get there involves a cycle up a main road, or worse still a car journey. I would use the Floop if only I could get my bike on the tram.

    There are plenty of lovely islands near where I live, just no way of getting to any of them without massive roads.

  11. What cycling advocates are doing here in Vancouver, Canada are carrying their helmets into the stores when they shop. Also there's a group to educate and involve store owners about their cycling customers.


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