Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Pedestrians and the Dutch model

Pedestrian groups in many areas often are divided about supporting cycle infrastructure or not. I want to debunk some myths about it today.

There are some that oppose it, like a Blind people association in London, this is a common theme around disabled people's rights groups, they tend to oppose separate cycle infrastructure. Seniors groups too, for the same reasons. Children's groups may or may not oppose it, and some people concerned about public transport also may be concerned about pedestrian access.

There are common themes to their opposition. I think the source of this is the divide we have between vehicular cyclists and relaxed but slow cycling. Unpredictable, going to run over everyone without even ringing their bell, and others along the lines of this. The main reason why cyclists tend to not be predictable is that the road design doesn't give them obvious reasons for doing what they are supposed to do. There isn't an obvious reason for obeying stop signs if the visibility is sufficient. And there isn't an intrinsic reason why a red light should be obeyed if there isn't a car in sight. And if you don't have a separate path to ride on in the face of fast and or heavy traffic, then you often take to the sidewalk. Thus, you scare pedestrians in the process. This is solved by having cycle paths at far lower thresholds, about 2000 PCU/d and over 30 km/h in the built up area. And the second part is by having signs and signals intrinsically linked to how you should obey them. Short waiting times at traffic signals, and not using stop signs unless the visibility is exceptionally poor and nothing else can be done about it.

The part about being run over tends to come from a bias towards looking for events that happened recently or were talked a lot about, and from the perception as that vehicular cyclists don't care for other people. Just because something is well talked about does not mean that it is common. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. They are talked a lot about because they are so rare. The shooting in Parliament that required the sergeant at arms to resolve is extremely uncommon. If we talked about car crashes as much as plane crashes we would be swamped with news reports. And most people do care for others. It's called altruism. We recognize other members of our species, or even with characteristics that we have, like puppies, and care for them, almost as if they were our children. And you often do feel incredible guilt if you know that you cause a problem. Most people do show remorse and try to help as best they can. It's the exceptions that make us mad. Thankfully, these are also uncommon. Car drivers angry at other car drivers are helped by the fact that they would be yelling at an object, not a face.

Blind pedestrians tend to object due to how cyclists are silent vehicles, and worrying about how they will be able to cross a cycleway from the sidewalk. The Dutch have blind pedestrians, obviously they are coping somehow. Providing tactile markings to show where the crossings are helps a lot, and making laws that give those who are blind, or who look like they are likely to be, a white cane, a dog with a badge on the side, someone holding the arm of someone in sunglasses, helps. And better education about how to give priority to a blind pedestrian could be used. But among the most important of these is that most cyclists do care about other people and would usually be on omafietsen, not race bikes.

Now that most of the misconceptions are out of the way, let's go into exactly what the Dutch have done to change the environment of pedestrians.

Pedestrian courtesy crossings as they are called in Ontario, or just uncontrolled pedestrian crossings in normal terminology outside North America, are when pedestrians know they don't have priority, but car drivers are asked politely to let pedestrians go first, but they aren't obligated to. Pedestrians look both ways, look for a good time to cross, and once there is a good gap in the traffic, they can proceed. Of course if there is too much traffic, there is going to be a long wait, so a low enough volume is critical. A median refuge island really helps here if you can provide one. Low speeds too are important. 30 km/h is the best speed for these crossings, with 50 as an absolute maximum. Even 70 is too fast in the built up area.

Normal pedestrian zebra crossings are also very helpful and would be widely used. They let pedestrians get immediate priority. I believe that it would be a good idea to restrict these to places where a car would only pass through at 30 km/h or less. On a 30 km/h road of course, but also near a roundabout and where there is a median refuge design with a curve sharp enough to require 30 km/h speeds. They would be well marked, and usually with an overhead sign. Amber flashers shouldn't really be needed, as it relies entirely on drivers wanting to give way, not anything physical.

Both of these crossings can be used on cycleways as well. Given that they have low speeds anyway and rarely have too many cyclists to use otherwise, non priority crossings are probably going to be more common. If an important footway, like the one that the cycleway would parallel, for example at a protected intersection, or at a busy bus stop, at a crossing near a school, hospital, or areas with very many pedestrians or so many cyclists that gaps would be hard to find, then zebra crossings may be used.

Jaywalking would not be an offense in and of itself. Failing to give traffic the right of way first would be the offense if you did fail to yield. But even still, if motor traffic had time to react to you, they should have stopped under the principle of that everyone must not create extra dangers and all must do what they can to avoid a collision, they are still partially guilty and liable.

Now minor side roads will change dramatically. Paralleling a distributor road crossing a minor side access road with a 30 km/h speed zone with no roundabout or traffic signals would mean that the access road would not be continuous over the footway. The footway is the same elevation as it normally is, and the material would be the same as well. Same with business accesses. The cars have to go up and down. This makes it very obvious who waits and who has visual priority. At intersections between 30 km/h zones, then they would often be raised intersections to help control the speeds. But they also give pedestrians presumed priority. Either using zebra crossings or a continuous footway built into the bricks of the raised intersection surface would make it last a long time and with minimal maintenance.

The footways in general may change. The Dutch put utility lines under the footways not the road. This makes the latter not doing to be disrupted and the surface won't be broken. By using bricks for the footway not concrete or asphalt, it means that they are easily repairable. This could be a means of making maintenance easier. And because you could temporarily walk on the cycle paths instead, disruption is minimal.

Pedestrians would rarely interact with motor traffic at all. They rarely would walk more than a kilometre or so. Because most destinations would either be a pedestrianized shopping area or in the residential areas, both places where motor traffic would be excluded, there would rarely be crossings. Of the locations that do remain, they are likely to remain small intersections to deal with. The protected intersection or simultaneous green or roundabouts or zebra crossings would be the most common means of dealing with them. Main routes for pedestrians and grade separation would be rare because of how the through roads would be unraveled so much from pedestrian routes. But of the places where they do still exist, they would have a separate sidewalk.

Footways would be wider, usually at least 2 metres wide, 1.8 metres minimum. Sometimes wider sidewalks will exist. A considerable improvement from the 1.5 metres we often use.

In areas where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians are not disadvantaged. They are either going to be on a cycle path, or on a low speed low volume road. This way, you still have the freedom to walk in these areas if you chose to do so, just that there would be few who do alike. All you do is walk on the left side of the travelway facing cyclists and motor traffic.

This shows how pedestrians have a lot to gain and are not going to have their lives ruined by the Dutch method. Dutch pedestrians have a higher quality of life than ours. And safer travels. Why don't we make pedestrians the focus of our lives again? We have legs for a reason. What use are they if we don't feel comfortable walking somewhere?


  1. These are helpful tips. Lets borrow these ideas.

  2. I do not like these Dutch Martin Nugter... Imagine designing their society for cyclists and pedestrians. Complete idiots .... Helmets are the way to go.... Who wants a bunch of laid back carefree happy cycling walking people around. What we need is more police and more cars.... Luckily we live in freedom loving Canada where Harper is making us more of a car loving, overpoliced, bomb other countries in violation of International law, helmet wearing patriotic Canadians.... AnD his new bill C-51 once enacted will allow our secret police to get rid of sarcastic environmentalists who suggest we need to look at the Dutch Model. I will feel safe and Happy especially once they arrest Bruce Treokand me :p


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