Before the 1970s, most Dutch cities were car-dominated with dangerous and unpleasant streets, just like Hamilton today. They changed. We can too.
By Kevin Love
Published April 04, 2014
The Netherlands is famous for getting transportation right. The cycle mode share is 27% for all trips in the country as a whole, including rural areas. For Central Amsterdam this rises to 70%. This includes all ages, from school children to the elderly. Men and women cycle equally. Indeed, slightly more cycle trips are taken by women than men.
So what are they doing? Most importantly, can we do the same in Hamilton?
The Dutch system is composed of two basic principles. The first principle is that of Sustainable Safety. The second principle is to make walking, cycling or public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of going from A to B.
Let us look at each of these two principles in turn.
Sustainable Safety is safety that is engineered into the transportation infrastructure to mistake-proof it against human error. Error that is due to human beings being distracted, tired, in a rush, impaired or experiencing human emotions such as anger or aggression.
These elements of human nature are not going to change. What can change is changing the transportation infrastructure to protect human beings from motor vehicle operators who are experiencing these human errors.
The way this works out in practice is through the use of protective barriers and separation of modes to protect people from car drivers. This starts with residential neighbourhoods.
The Dutch method is to eliminate cut-through "rat-running" car traffic from residential streets. This is typically done through the use of permeable neighbourhood connectors that allow pedestrians, cyclists and public transit vehicles to go straight through, but prevent car drivers.
Here are two examples in Toronto:
Inglewood Drive and Heath Street East, Toronto (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Earl Street and Huntley Street, Toronto (Image Credit: Google Street View)
In this example, please note that the bollards are far enough apart to easily allow cargo bicycles to pass through.
We even have a local company in Mississauga that manufactures automatic retractable security bollards that let public transit vehicles through, but not car drivers. See page 9-12 in their catalogue of bollards [PDF].
Since only local people will be driving cars on residential streets, cars will be very infrequently seen. Car speed limits are typically set at 30 km/hr.
These streets, with their higher volume of motor vehicle traffic, use the famous Dutch protected cycle path system. Without protected cycle paths, motor vehicles can be quite intimidating and threatening. To quote my 75-year-old mother, "At my age, I am not playing tag with a multi-tonne lethal weapon."
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. Protective barriers can be used to protect people from motor vehicles. All people of all ages. Here is an example of a perfectly ordinary arterial street in The Netherlands:
Simon Stevinweg with separated cycle tracks (Image Credit: Bicycle Dutch)
In the following video, please note the high volume of both cycle and motor vehicle traffic. Another feature to note is the concrete barriers forming the protected cycle roundabout in the video. Here is another example of a typical arterial through route:
In this video, note how all road users have their own dedicated space. Red cycle paths for people on bicycles next to the white concrete sidewalks for pedestrians with a protective treed barrier to protect people from car drivers.
Safety is particularly important at intersections, where 63% of crash injuries in Ontario occur. We have already seen a video with an example of a protected cycle roundabout. The next video shows an example of a standard traffic light controlled intersection design in The Netherlands:
Another intersection treatment is to allow left turns by using a simultaneous green traffic light for pedestrians and cyclists, with motor vehicles being stopped in all directions. For an explanation of how this works, please see this article.
The best intersection treatment of all is to reduce and eliminate intersections where people encounter motor vehicles. This is done by unravelling cycle and motor vehicle routes, so that cyclists travel on entirely different routes than car drivers. See:
When done well, this provides a high degree of safety and also helps make cycling faster by avoiding traffic lights. One example in Hamilton is the Rail Trail between Aberdeen Avenue and Ainsley Woods.
The Rail Trail is up to Dutch standards in terms of width, surface quality and night lighting. It provides a direct route with zero traffic lights.
It only lacks appropriate signage to require car drivers to yield right of way at minor side streets such as Stroud and Emerson. And it lacks a proper connection through Fortinos to a much better quality of bicycle parking at this supermarket. And this connection through Fortinos should lead to the rest of the Rail Trail to the west. Which would be paved. And would have proper paved connections to the side streets that it passes by. And connected to a proper cycling network. And a much higher quality of winter snow clearance.
OK, we are quite far from being up to Dutch standards!
The city of Groningen is an excellent example of the neighbourhood strategy of dividing the city centre into neighbourhood sectors or zones. Pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users can go straight from A to B. But in order for a car driver to move from one zone to another, it is necessary for him to go out to the surrounding ring road, drive around until opposite the destination zone, and then drive back into the city again.
This neighbourhood strategy greatly enhances safety. It reduces the volume of motor vehicle traffic in each neighbourhood by helping to make walking, cycling or public transit faster, easier and more convenient than car driving.
Hamilton also has a surrounding ring of expressways in the form of the QEW, 403, Linc and Red Hill Expressway. This allows a similar strategy to be implemented here. We already have one example in Ainsley Woods. The 403 and White Chapel Cemetary form a barrier that prevents cut-through car driving, but cyclists can go straight through on the Rail-Trail.
We see in the following video of the City of Groningen how the complete package is put together.
Residential streets and the commercial town centre are not through routes for car drivers. A neighbourhood strategy has been put into place to make walking, cycling or public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of going from A to B. See the retractable bollard at the 2:30 mark.
Most importantly, the principles of Sustainable Safety have made the streets in Groningen safe for all its citizens.
Like most Dutch cities, before the 1970s Groningen was car-dominated with dangerous and unpleasant streets, just like Hamilton today. They changed. We can too.
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