Tag Archives | Traffic Enforcement

Traffic Enforcement in the Netherlands

We had the opportunity to spend about two hours with Chief Smoorenburg during our visit to Amsterdam (the chief’s HQ was outside Utrecht, a one hour train ride, 30 minute tram ride and 20 minute walk from Amsterdam). The Chief is responsible for traffic enforcement for the county surrounding Utrecht.

We had the opportunity to spend about two hours with Chief Smoorenburg during our visit to Amsterdam (the chief’s HQ was outside Utrecht, a one hour train ride, 30 minute tram ride and 20 minute walk from Amsterdam). The Chief is responsible for traffic enforcement for the county surrounding Utrecht.

That’s PDOT bicycle coordinator Roger Geller (left) and BTA Executive Director Evan Manvel with the Chief.

Perhaps the first thing that we noted was that the Chief’s unit had 80 officers for an area with 1.1M residents. By way of comparison, Commander Bill Sinnott tells me that Portland, with a population of about 550,000, has 46 officers in the Traffic Division. So the resource levels are not radically different relative to population.

The secret to why accident rates in the Netherlands are much lower than the U.S. must lie somewhere else.

So with 25-40% of trips made by bicycle, where does the Chief focus his enforcement resources? On cars. That’s still where he believes the biggest potential reduction in accidents will come from.

But what about the bikes – do they run red lights? Yes, I’m afraid it’s a worldwide phenomenon [which I do not condone]. Of course, the stats on that may be different than in the U.S., since there are virtually no stop signs to run. During our time in Amsterdam we saw all of about three stops signs. Short of a traffic light, yield is the general way of dealing with conflicting traffic streams. This seems to make both cars and bikes pay more attention – and perhaps more respect – to each other.

Another eye-opener was the Chief’s response to complaints about speeding. When they are requested to do speed enforcement on a street, they first analyze the engineering of the street. If they conclude that the street is designed for a higher speed than the posted limit, they won’t try to bring the speeds down by enforcement – they turn the issue over to the transportation department to fix the road instead!