Can Open Street Map and Qgis show where it’s ok to cycle against traffic

[Update here] - The Italian cities Milan, Bologna and Turin would like to allow cyclists to ride against traffic on some oneway streets. This would help promote environment-friendly modes of transport and it would bring Italian cities in line with many European cities, where this is already allowed. For example, Brussels allows cycling contromano on 85% of oneway streets, they argue.

I was intrigued by that percentage, and curious what the percentage for Amsterdam might be. My first hunch was that it might well be similar, because you sort of expect that cycling in both directions is normally allowed here. Then I realised that the exceptions to this rule include canals, where the streets usually are oneway for cyclists as well. That might cost us percentage points.

I reckoned it should be possible to find out more using Open Street Map, where streets have oneway and oneway:bicycle labels. Unfortunately, the oneway:bicycle information is often missing (dotted lines on the map). This includes streets along canals that are oneway for cyclists, but also streets in neighbourhoods such as the Oosterparkbuurt where cycling in both directions is allowed.

Of course, Open Street Map is a volunteer project, so if information appears to be missing, I guess that’s my responsibility as much as anyone else’s. So here’s my to-do list:

  • Try to find out if I interpreted the oneway:bicycle tag correctly,
  • Figure out how to edit Open Street Map,
  • Add some oneway:bicycle information.

At the very least, it will be a good opportunity to learn something about Open Street Map.

Incidentally, the Italian cities saw their request turned down by minister Maurizio Lupi. Cycling against traffic may work elsewhere, but «we’re in Italy, not Germany», he argues.


Not only am I basically new to OSM; I also don’t have much experience with Qgis, so this was a bit of a trial and error thing. First I tried to define specific types of roads based on this overview of types of oneway roads with cycle lanes. However, trying to create new attributes in Qgis based on these descriptions all but crashed my computer (for some reason using conditions containing AND in the field calculator seems to be problematic). Further, almost no roads in Amsterdam appear to meet these specific criteria.

So instead I took a more basic approach, looking for oneway=yes in combination with different values for oneway:bicycle. Out of more than 11,500 polylines with oneway=yes, 267 had oneway:bicycle=no and five oneway:bicycle=yes (Halvemaansbrug, a nearby bit of Kloveniersburgwal and three unnamed polylines).

Data based on a rectangle comprising the city of Amsterdam, downloaded on 20 September 2014.

Cycling and income in the Netherlands

In Nickel and Dimed, her book on going undercover in low-wage America, Barbara Ehrenreich describes how not owning a car is one of the many factors making it difficult for low-paid workers to find better jobs. «Some of my co-workers, in Minneapolis as well as Key West, rode bikes to work, and this clearly limited their geographical range», she adds.

I was reminded of Ehrenreich’s book when I read a blog post by Michael Andersen. He argues that Denmark’s good quality bicycle infrastructure has contributed to the country’s egalitarian nature by making it easier to escape poverty. Danes with low incomes make a high share of their trips by bicycle. Rich Danes cycle too, but make far more trips by car.

In the comments to the blog post there’s a suggestion that in Amsterdam, it’s mainly the wealthy who ride bicycles. I couldn’t find recent data for Amsterdam, but geographical patterns may play a role. In the central area, where density is high and where the high-income districts Zuid and Centrum are located, people cycle more. In the peripheral districts, where distances to shops and other facilities tend to be longer, fewer trips are made by bicycle. Some of the poorest neighbourhoods are located there.

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has data for the entire country, as well as for the cities with the highest addresses per surface area ratio. These include Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, Utrecht and a number of smaller cities. The main conclusions:

  • Like in Denmark, cycling infrastructure benefits all kinds of people, but low-income people even more so;
  • In high-density cities, not just the lowest income groups, but also the richest are more likely to take advantage of cycling infrastructure.

Incidentally, this doesn’t mean that cyclists get the space they should get. In a recent opinion article in NRC Handelsblad, writer Fred Feddes says that bicycle lanes make up 11% of public space in Amsterdam’s inner city, but parked cars probably far more.

Detailed data can be found here (I took this as an opportunity to practice the knitr skills taught in the Reproducible research course).

Update 20 August - Someone at the Fietsersbond dug up this (pdf) publication of the Amsterdam Municipality from 2010 which compares the mobility of Amsterdammers over the period 1986-1991 to 2005-2008. It suggests that cycling patterns in Amsterdam may in fact differ from the general pattern in high-density cities, with more cycling among high-income residents (as suggested by the commenter quoted above):

As for the development per income class, it turns out there are substantial differences. Among high-income residents the share of cycling in the total number of trips has more than doubled (from 15% to 33%), whereas the growth is only modest among low-income residents (from 26% to 33%). This means that relatively speaking, wealthy Amsterdammers today cycle more than low-income residents.

UPDATE 15 April 2018 - In a tweet, Dermot Hanney suggests that perhaps people with lower incomes cycle more because affordable housing tends to be located at a distance from central areas and transport hubs that lends itself to cycling.

One piece of information that may shed some light on this is neighbourhood (buurt) data from Statistics Netherlands. The table below shows mean and median house value (1,000 euro) for neighbourhoods grouped by their average distance to a large supermarket.

dist to supermarket mean median n
0-1 km 206 192 5407
1-2 km 285 262 2120
2-3 km 317 300 1097
3-4 km 280 267 636
4-5 km 271 254 336
5-6 km 247 237 149
6-7 km 230 202 45
7-8 km 242 257 12
8-9 km 201 210 6
9-10 km 259 242 4

The data suggests that more expensive houses tend to be located at 2–3 km from a large supermarket. Other data from Statistics Netherlands show people use their bicycle (the data source doesn’t differentiate between bicycles and e-bikes) primarily for trips between 1 and 3.7km.

So this wouldn’t seem to confirm Hanney’s hypothesis. Then again, this is hardly conclusive. One would preferably want to use data at the individual level to explore this.

Are parked cars really dominating Amsterdam’s public space

In an intriguing opinion article in Thursday’s NRC Handelsblad, an author named Fred Feddes suggests banning parked cars from Amsterdam’s city centre. He argues that the current 15,000 parking spaces in the inner city take up 18ha, amounting to as much as 40% of the 45ha public space.

Sure, parked cars use lots of space, but 40%? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to find that figure incredible. Council member Zeeger Ernsting tweeted:

As much as I endorse the viewpoint, the figure of 40% parking can’t possibly be right.. But indeed, cars [are] still far too dominant

I couldn’t immediately trace Feddes’ source and I’m sure there will be more debate on the issue. For now, here’s a quick and dirty calculation:

  • According to this (pdf) document of the Centrum district, «traffic areas» and green areas amount to 86ha. That’s more than Feddes’ 45ha, although I think the green areas may include some non-public space.
  • The district’s open data site has data on parking spaces (dating from 2010). All types combined, there were some 16,000 of them, slightly more than Feddes’ estimate.
  • Assuming that one parking space takes up 12 to 14m2, this would amount to 19 to 22ha; again slightly more than Feddes’ 18ha.

Perhaps Ernsting could ask the local government to shed some more light on this issue. Meanwhile, my provisional conclusion is that Feddes’ estimate doesn’t seem as incredible as I initially thought. And even if parked cars use only about 25% of public space, that’s still an enormous amount of space if you think about it.

Update 3 January 2015 - in a new article on the issue, Feddes provides more detail on the data he uses. The 45ha public space refers to «traffic terrain» (verkeersterrein) in 2009. CBS data for 2008 also put that number at 45ha. A more recent table (xlsx) indicates that this has since grown to 58ha. Interestingly, these more recent data also differentiate between types of traffic space. Apparently, railways take up 19ha (and according to this pdf, tram and metro tracks haven’t even been included in that category since 1993), leaving only 40ha for road traffic. On the basis of that number, the share of space dominated by (parked) cars would be even larger. Amazing.

Hier zouden fietsers voorrang moeten hebben


Soms stuit je op situaties waar je denkt: wat raar dat fietsers hier geen voorrang hebben. Het komt voor in Amsterdam, maar vaker nog buiten de stad. Er zijn verschillende varianten, maar vaak zie je dat er in de aanloop naar een kruising een slinger in het fietspad is gelegd. Het fietspad vormt zo niet langer onderdeel van de doorgaande voorrangsweg en de fietser krijgt zelf haaientanden voor zijn of haar neus. Daardoor moet je aan iedereen voorrang geven: achteropkomende auto’s die rechtsafslaan, tegemoetkomende auto’s die linksaf slaan en verkeer van rechts.

Vaak moet je voorrang geven aan nogal secundair autoverkeer. De afrit naar een klein parkeerplaatsje aan de Oostvaardersdijk in Almere bijvoorbeeld (zie foto hierboven). Of de oprit van het gebouw van Rijkswaterstaat aan de Amsterdamseweg in Velsen-Zuid, waar de auto’s die voorrang hebben gekregen vervolgens alsnog moeten stoppen omdat er een groot toegangshek staat.

Als fietser zit je opgezadeld met een onoverzichtelijke oversteek. Je moet letten op achteropkomend verkeer, op tegenliggers en op verkeer van rechts. Het gevoel van onveiligheid vermengt zich met verontwaardiging over het feit dat men blijkbaar speciaal het fietspad heeft omgelegd om fietsers hun voorrang af te pakken. Waarom doen ze dat?

Ik heb die vraag - zij het wat neutraler geformuleerd - voorgelegd aan een aantal wegbeheerders, geïllustreerd met voorbeelden uit Velsen-Zuid, Watergang, Monnickendam, Weesp, Almere en Muiden. Uit hun antwoorden blijkt dat het ‘uitbuigen’ van fietspaden twee redenen heeft. In de eerste plaats ontstaat er op deze manier opstelruimte voor een auto die uit de zijweg komt en die de doorgaande weg wil oprijden of oversteken (dit is een reden om het fietspad uit te buigen maar op zich nog geen reden om fietsers hun voorrang te ontnemen). In de tweede plaats gaat het om de veiligheid van fietsers. In de woorden van een woordvoerder van de provincie Noord-Holland:

Voor de veiligheid van de fietser kiezen we bij de provincie vaak om de fietser uit de voorrang te halen, zeker buiten de bebouwde kom. Net als bij rotonden: je kunt als fietser wel voorrang hebben, maar of je het krijgt is een tweede. En bij rotonden is al gebleken dat fietsers die voorrang hebben vaker betrokken zij bij ongevallen, simpelweg omdat zij geen voorrang krijgen.

Het is goed dat de veiligheid van fietsers prioriteit heeft. Maar het fietspad ‘uitbuigen’ en fietsers ‘uit de voorrang halen’ – ik ben niet overtuigd dat dat de juiste oplossing is. Eigenlijk is het een beetje krom om automobilisten te belonen voor het feit dat ze niet goed opletten op doorgaande fietsers die voorrang hebben. Er moeten betere oplossingen zijn om ze op fietsers te attenderen en te zorgen dat ze snelheid minderen.

Zoals gezegd, dit soort situaties komen vooral voor buiten de stad. In Amsterdam zijn ook situaties aan te wijzen waar fietsers voorrang zouden moeten hebben, maar meestal gaat het niet om fietspaden bij voorrangswegen waar een slinger in is gelegd. Er is wel een situatie die hier een beetje op lijkt: tegenover de ingang van het Westerpark (zie deze melding plus de reacties).

Dit artikel verscheen eerder in de OEK (pdf). Meer voorbeelden hier. Vind je ook dat fietsers ergens voorrang zouden moeten hebben? Meld het met hashtag #hzfvmh op twitter en natuurlijk op het meldpunt van de Fietsersbond.

Cyclists should have priority here


Some crossings make you wonder: isn’t it weird that cyclists don’t have priority here. This occurs in Amsterdam, but more often in the country. There are different variants, but often there’s a bend in the cycle path just before a crossing. The cycle path is no longer part of the main road and cyclists are confronted with give way road markings. You have to give way to everybody: motorists coming from behind who turn right, oncoming traffic turning left and traffic from the right.

Often, you have to give way to rather secondary roads. For example, the exit to a tiny car park along the Oostvaardersdijk in Almere (photo above). Or the entrance of a government building at the Amsterdamseweg in Velsen-Zuid, where motorists who get priority subsequently have to stop at a gate anyway.

As a cyclist, you end up with a tricky crossing. You have to pay attention to traffic from behind, oncoming traffic and traffic from the right. The sense of insecurity mixes with indignation at the fact that apparently, people have specifically diverted the cycle path just to rob cyclists of their priority. Why are they doing this?

I put this question – in somewhat more neutral terms – to a number of road maintenance authorities, with illustrations from Velsen-Zuid, Watergang, Monnickendam, Weesp, Almere and Muiden. Their answers reveal that there are two reasons for bending cycle paths. First, this creates a space for motorists coming from the right where they can wait before entering or crossing the main road (this is a reason for bending the cycle path, but in itself not a reason to rob cyclists of their priority). Second, it’s about bicycle safety. In the words of the spokesperson of the Province of Noord-Holland:

For reasons of bicycle safety, we at the province often choose not to let cyclists have priority, especially outside the built-up area. It’s the same thing as with roundabouts: you may have priority as a cyclist, but whether you’ll be given priority is a different matter. And with roundabouts, it’s been shown that cyclists who have priority are more often involved in accidents, simply because they’re not given priority.

It’s good to know that the safety of cyclists is high on the agenda. But bending the cycle path and robbing cyclists of their priority – I’m not convinced that’s the right solution. In fact, it’s a bit twisted to reward motorists for not paying attention to cyclists who have priority. There have to be better ways to make them pay attention to cyclists and to slow them down.

As I said, such situations occur mainly in the country. You can point to situations in Amsterdam where cyclists should have priority, but mostly these don’t concern cycle paths along main roads that have been bended. However, there is a slightly similar situation opposite the entrance of the Westerpark.

The original Dutch version of this article appeared in the OEK (pdf). More examples here.