How the Dutch Kicked the Culture of Speed

Readers know I am not a fan of all things Dutch. I don’t care for segregation-by-vehicle-type. However, there are other aspects of Dutch road design — and more-importantly, Dutch public policy — which I applaud and would like to see reproduced here.

What can we Learn about Road Safety from the Dutch? offers a look at those items.

Sustainable Safety

The U.S. focus was on making cars and roads “safer,” in order to protect us from ourselves. This marks the biggest difference between the American and the Dutch approach to transportation planning.

While the U.S. focused on making cars and roads “safer” for car drivers, the Dutch focused on making transportation infrastructure and social structure safer for everyone. In both cases, the infrastructure very much informs and reinforces the social structure. For the Dutch, this creates a spiral of positive consequences which produce an increasingly sustainable transportation system. For us, a spiral of negative consequences which produce an increasingly unsustainable transportation system.

The U.S. engineering approach to “safety” has been  to create a forgiving environment for the Culture of Speed — aimed at keeping inattentive and incompetent drivers from running off the road at high speed. Non-motorized users have become anathema in this environment. Even though we can learn to operate safely, it is seldom a pleasant place for us and we face the wrath of the entitled for violating a taboo reinforced by the road design. As a result, gentle users have been chased from much of our roadway system, making it increasingly brutish.

broward shame

From the Hall of Shame: Broward County's infamous 3ft bike lanes

Our current attempts to bring gentle users back to the roadway (by jamming them into the gutter alongside speeding traffic) have been worse than lame. If we want to reclaim this public utility, we need to attack the Culture of Speed, and the entitlement mentality of motorized users, head on. IMO, that means avoiding infrastructure that reinforces it by visibly shoving non-motorized users out of the way at their expense.

Related posts:
The Incompetent Shall Inherit the Roadway
The Culture of Speed vs the Culture of Trust

12 replies
    • Keri
      Keri says:

      It’s even scarier in person. It’s an 11+3 conversion of a formerly wide curb lane. Not the work of some bike-hating DOT, but of a bike/ped coordinator. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

  1. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    The official standard for bike lanes is two metres. One metre for the human being elbow to elbow (I’m about that width myself) and 1/2 metre “swerve room” on either side.

    I’ll see if I can find a CSA or government link. The bike lane pictured is just absurd.

  2. MikeOnBike
    MikeOnBike says:

    If my memory is correct, bike lane minimum widths in AASHTO (and California) are typically 5 feet (1.5m) including gutter pan, or 4 feet (1.2m) without. When there’s a gutter pan, there’s supposed to be 3 feet (1m) outside the gutter pan.

    As far as I know, there’s no mechanism for enforcing these standards, at least nothing an individual cyclist can do if they see a nonstandard width.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      The bus cuts across it to go into the bus stop pull-outs, too.

      I’ve made it a mission to take photos of large vehicles in 10-11ft lanes so people can see what it looks like when narrow bike lanes are shoehorned next to narrow general traffic lanes. This practice has become all the rage with the “advocates” who insist we must put bike lanes everywhere to coddle the timid.

      Riding in something like that will send the timid right back onto the sidewalk. It scares the crap out of me and I have no fear of taking the lane on a 6-lane arterial with 50+mph traffic. It basically ruins the road for cycling because cyclists are then nolonger tolerated in the general traffic lanes where we would have gotten far more separation from high speed traffic.

  3. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    that’s a really wide road regardless…look at that right turn only lane. Why is it there? What is its purpose? ANNNNND there’s no sidewalk. All sorts of problems. I don’t think it’s fair to place blame on the bike/ped coordinator – ultimately, many transportation planners and FDOT contribute to these conditions, not just one individual. Paint is cheap which results in these sometimes unintended consequences.

  4. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    There are sidewalks (both sides); they’re set back rather far from the curb. The narrow (unfortunately I cannot say “substandard” because FDOT allows 3-foot undesignated bike lanes in the Green Book) bike lane results from splitting a 14-foot lane into 11 and 3, a practice I reeeally dislike.

    With a 14-foot lane the motorists shift to the left edge of the lane. With the 11/3 combo they center themselves in the 11-foot lane, so on-average they end up passing closer.

    You can see the street here:,-80.294995&spn=0.003433,0.005735&t=h&z=18

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