Cycling Against Traffic

The experience of cycling differs considerably between cities, let alone countries. This experience is dictated by so many factors that no one can really tell you why some cities are better than others. A literature overview about the topic from 2010 by Eva Heinen, Bert van Wee and Kees Maat from Delft University of Technology showed that the built and natural environment affect a person’s transportation choice. Socio-economic and psychological factors have also been found to influence people’s choice, but they should be further examined.

It is therefore hard to put the finger on what it is that makes me prefer cycling in Groningen more than in Stockholm. I have been living in Groningen for the past few months after a year in Stockholm, and comparing these two cities is like comparing apples and oranges. Even if one just considers the urban form, one realizes that Stockholm, a relatively small capital in western standards, is still much bigger than the tiny student town in the north of the Netherlands. Nonetheless, pointing out their differences can help improve both cities.

Take for example the following small difference between Dutch and Swedish traffic laws. In the Netherlands, cyclists are normally allowed to ride against traffic on one-way streets in inner cities. While a ‘no entrance’ sign is targeted at both vehicles and cyclists, it is very common to see a little sign below the sign stating that bicycles and mopeds are exempted from the prohibition. In effect, in Groningen I can almost always cycle against traffic, and cars seem to know it and drive slower. This way I don’t need to make detours, making many of my routes shorter. On the other hand, this practice does sometimes cause some confusion and inconvenience. When trucks and buses are coming towards you, they sometimes force you to get off the road. Moreover, since cyclists in Groningen are so used to be exempt from the ‘no entrance’ sign, they even enter streets where the exemption is not in effect.

No Entrance, except of bicycles and mopeds. Groningen, the Netherlands. Picture by Lior Steinberg.

Stockholm, and Sweden in General, has different regulations when it comes to one-way streets. Cyclists are just not allowed to ride against traffic. Check for instance Malmö’s Cycling Program for 2012-2019. They state that “In Sweden it is impossible to allow cyclists to ride against the direction in one-way streets. In order to make cycling against direction possible, separated infrastructure should be built” (free translation). Building a separated lane for bicycles requires a great political and financial will, especially in comparison to the Dutch practice of a small sign under ‘No Entrance’ signs. However, there is no question that the separated bike-lane is a rather safe solution for cyclists.

So which ‘Riding Against Traffic’ policy is better, the Dutch or the Swedish? I go for the Dutch version, largely because it indicates a much wider concept of preferring bicycles over motor vehicles, even if it means that cyclists can jump from every direction and surprise drivers. What do you think? Leave a comment.


Written by Lior Steinberg. Follow him on Twitter and .