Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (CROW) Review
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
See the open Bicycle Infrastructure Manuals website for more international cycling design manuals and strategy documents.
Title: Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic
Publication Year: 2017
Page count: 301
Cost: 135 EUR at https://crowplatform.com/product/design-manual-for-bicycle-traffic/
Language: English, Dutch
Rating (out of 5 stars)
Document layout & figures ☆☆☆☆
Innovation - Process ☆☆☆☆
Innovation - Design ☆☆☆☆☆
Impact factor / adoption ☆☆☆☆
Jurisdictional Context & History
Where and when was this manual conceived. What is the history and its predecessors? What
national and provincial laws does this manual operate within? Where are the biggest influences from?
It is hard to argue with the practical experience and wisdom in a design manual from a country
where 27% of all trips are done by bicycle. Originating in 1993 with CROW’s first design manual, Sign up for the bike: design manual for a cycle-friendly infrastructure, there has since been a 2006 version before the most recent 2016 update. Due to the small size of the Netherlands as a country, most control over infrastructure in on the national level. The CROW website states, “CROW is one of the parties that ensures that the infrastructure, public space and traffic and transport are well organized in the Netherlands.” Although this is a national level guide, the geographic jurisdiction is only 33,893 km2 (13,086 sq mi) of land mass, less than one-tenth the size of California, USA! A key component of the cycling system is a national rail network, where close to half of all train trips start with a bike ride. I ask you, is the Netherlands an empty metropolis or dense country?
Document layout & figures
Comment on the aesthetic and functional qualities of the manual. Does this manual provide
guidance in a useful and user-friendly layout for designers?
The 2016 design manual brings a cleaner look and consolidates all the design sheets at the end of the book. A clear table of contents gives you an overview of where you need to go. Supported by numerous figures and images, though if you have the 2006 design manual, you can go without an update. References at the end of each chapter. At 301 pages, it is handbook size and the text is readable for non-professionals.
Design sheet (Source: CROW)
Innovation - Process *
How is this design manual innovative in terms of processes? Does it include consultation with
users of bicycle infrastructure and also integration of marketing, planning, and design
It is easy to mistake the CROW Design Manual as a recipe book, but despite how the manual
reads, this is not the case. The manual is meant as an inspiration for a creative design process, not as designs that are set in stone. Jan Ploeger, one of the original authors in the Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, states in Infrastructure planning for cycling (2003), “The Design manual concentrates on the design process as a creative process instead of using examples and stereotypes that just ask to be copied without any further consideration. A designer of bicycle friendly infrastructure has to concentrate on the cyclist as a future user of the design and has to bring form, function and use into a combined balance.”
The Foreword to the 2016 reinforces this sentiment, and states, “Just like its predecessor from
2006, this edition of the Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic is not a recipe book either; what it
does present is a wide array of arguments, empirical data, ideas and tips which will assist the
designer in affording the bicycle a full place in the traffic and transport system. As the title
suggests, the content focuses on design aspects of bicycle traffic: cycle facilities. However, as
no facilities are created without policy, the present Design Manual devotes ample attention to
policy aspects of bicycle traffic. This also supersedes the Policy Manual for Bicycle Traffic
(Beleidswijzer fietsverkeer) from the Dutch Bicycle Council (Fietsberaad).”
Despite the disclaimers, and many first principles presented in the manual, I understand why
practitioners may flip directly to the design sheets in the appendix for practical guidance.
Despite this temptation, let this be a warning from the authors of the CROW Design Manual and myself to read and understand the guiding principles first! The design sheets are only there as examples.
Innovation - Design
What innovative designs are in this manual? More importantly, is this manual promoting designs that are known to be unsafe or uncomfortable for cyclists? Where innovative designs are found, where have these designs been implemented? What will it take to implement these innovative designs within the jurisdiction of the manual?
Heed the warning above to understand the principles of bicycle infrastructure design first before looking at the design sheets but that being said, the designs in this manual are not only innovative, but is tried and tested in the Dutch context. In the design sheets remain less
favourable designs such as bike boxes, bike lanes between general traffic lanes, and allowance for narrow bike lanes, which Dutch bicycle planners now seek to avoid. Innovation in the 2016 manual comes contain new topics, “such as bicycle highways, forgiving cycle paths and roundabouts for cyclists (primarily referred to as the Zwolle roundabout). Furthermore, trusted measures and facilities are subjected to scrutiny again, sometimes with surprising results. Consider in this regard cycle lanes or bollards barring car traffic from cycle paths.”
Cycle-friendly design (Source: CROW)
Does this manual reference where their ideas come from? Does this manual reference research studies?
There is a reference list at the end of every chapter, but most referenced sources are in Dutch, which may present a barrier to English speakers who want to dig deeper. A major gripe I have with this manual is the lack of explanations for the images. It would be good to know which cities or streets that the images come from so we can do our own exploration on Google Street view.
Impact factor / adoption
To what extent has this manual impacted the landscape of bicycle infrastructure design? Where has the ideas of this manual been adopted, both in vertically (National -> provincial -> city) and horizontally, (cross-city transfer of ideas, or Dutch to North America). Has other infrastructure manuals followed suit?
There is no question that this design manual has been one of the most influential in the world,
yet it’s 135 Euro price tag and difficulty shipping outside the Netherlands has probably served as a barrier to widespread adoption. Combining elements of a traffic manual with implicit directives for good urban design, we see many of the Dutch designs being showcased in manuals from jurisdictions all around the world. In conversation with Danish bicycle planners, most concede (secretly) that Dutch design is more comfortable and more user friendly than their Danish counterparts. But I remind you that context is supreme, and the real question is how to adapt these designs to other jurisdictional context with their own set of design guides.
For what is perceived to be the gold standard in bicycle infrastructure design manuals, you may expect nothing less than a perfect score. Yet, its insufficient exposition of incorporating users in the design process seems to suggest to blueprint thinking, despite disclaimers to the contrary. Plus its hefty price tag at 135 Euros discourages adoption by non-professionals. I give the CROW manual 4 stars.
Design manuals give best practices. Do you want to know the mechanics behind why some cycling infrastructure works while others will not be used? BUX teaches urban mobility professionals this in our courses. We also advise organizations looking to transform their street design approach.