Lessons from the Netherlands: Speed Kills

One of the fascinating things about cycling here in Amsterdam and the rest of the country is that they have this incredible volume of cycling yet very low accident counts compared to our country.

The planners believe there are several factors involved (wearing helmets is not one of them – nobody does for city riding). I’ll discuss other factors in future posts, but today’s topic is speed.

www.flickr.com

30 kph zones portlandtransport’s 30 kph zones photoset

One of the fascinating things about cycling here in Amsterdam and the rest of the country is that they have this incredible volume of cycling yet very low accident counts compared to our country.

The planners believe there are several factors involved (wearing helmets is not one of them – nobody does for city riding). I’ll discuss other factors in future posts, but today’s topic is speed.

A primary safety tool has been the establishment of 30 kilometer-per-hour zones (30 kph) for cars. That’s about 18 miles-per-hour. You can pretty much figure that in an environment where bikes are expected to share a lane with cars, the speed will be no higher than 30 kph.

This is important, because at 30 kph, the chances of surviving a bike/car collision (ditto ped/car collisions) are MUCH better than at 25 or 30 mph, the U.S. norm for neighborhood streets. Also, at the lower speed drivers, bikes and peds have more reaction time to avoid a collision.

These zones are so prevalent in city centers that they are often not even signed with a number (I had to hunt for one for a photo). More often there is a physical or visual transition like the slight ramp shown here. The space is very well delineated by bollards or differing paving.

I find this very interesting compared to my experience as a neighborhood transportation chair in Portland. Neighbors would often complain to me that a street was too fast to be safe. PDOT would come out and do speed checks and report that it was fine. But this missed two points:

1) 25 mph is NOT safe enough. 18 mph would be MUCH safer.
2) Traffic operations folks look for the 85 percentile speed. That means they say the street is OK when 15% of the folks are going over the limit.

Couple this with the fact that the police won’t ticket you unless you’re going at least 10 mph over the limit, and no wonder parents don’t think streets are safe for their kids.

I have been told (perhaps some reader can confirm this) that the City except in specific circumstances is prohibited from marking streets for lower than 25 mph by state law.

Maybe it’s time to lobby Salem for some changes in that law!

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