Roads in the Netherlands

Detailed road map of the Netherlands (2012)

With 139,000 km of public roads,[1] the Netherlands has one of the most dense road networks in the world: much denser than Germany and France, but still not as dense as Belgium.[2][nb 1] Dutch roads include at least 3,530 km of motorways and expressways,[1] and with a motorway density of 64 kilometres per 1,000 km², the country also has one of the densest motorway networks in the world.[3]
The Netherlands' main highway net (hoofdwegennet), comparable to Britains net of trunk roads, consists of most of its 5,200 km of national roads, supplemented with the most prominent provincial roads. Although only about 2,500 km of roads are fully constructed to motorway standards,[4] much of the remainder are also expressways for fast motor vehicles only.

Except for motorways and expressways, most roads support cyclists. Some 35,000 km (a quarter of all Dutch roads) feature dedicated cycle tracks, physically segregated from motor traffic.[5][6] A further 4,700 km of roads have clearly marked bike lanes,[6] and on other roads, traffic is calmed such that cyclists and motorists can safely mix. Busy junctions sometimes give priority to cyclists, and in street roads like fietsstraten and woonerven, bicycles always have priority over cars.

Since 1997, a national traffic safety program called Duurzaam Veilig (Sustainable Safety) has had a major impact on the road network. Traffic calming has been applied on a massive scale. In 2009, more than 33,000 km of extra-urban roads had a speed limit of 60 km/h, and over 41,000 km of local roads were limited to 30 km/h, adding up to just over half of all roads.[7] A popular calming measure is to replace intersections by roundabouts, of which there were over 4800 in 2013, both in and out of town.[8]

Mobility on Dutch roads has grown continuously since the 1950s and now exceeds 200 billion km travelled per year,[9] three quarters of which are done by car,[10] meaning that while Dutch roads are numerous, they are also used with one of the highest intensities of any road network.[3]


The 1927 Rijkswegenplan was the first Dutch national highway structure plan for a century.

The country's first centrally-planned highway system dates back to the early 19th century, when Napoleon was emperor of France, and the Holland was annexed into the French empire. In 1811, Napoleon decreed that a network of 229 paved imperial roads (Routes Impériales) would be created, extending from Paris to the borders of his empire.[11][12] In addition to systematic paving, the roads were all numbered, an innovation at the time. Construction of several imperial highways through Holland commenced. Amsterdam was connected to Paris by Route Impériale no. 2, a section between Amsterdam and Utrecht is today still a part of the A2 motorway.

After the country's liberation in 1813, Hollands new king continued the project but with Amsterdam at the centre. The plan was expanded several times. In 1821, it projected 42 Rijksstraatwegen (literally: "Imperial paved roads"), which were built until 1850.[13] Since 1927, this network was transformed into today's system of Rijkswegen (national highways) in the Netherlands.[14]

The first motorway dates back to 1936, when the current A12 was opened to traffic between Voorburg and Zoetermeer, near The Hague. Motorway construction accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s but halted in the 1980s. Current motorway expansion mostly occurs outside the Randstad.

Roads by management

Roads are developed and maintained by authorities at all four administrative levels in the Netherlands. About 5,200 km of national roads (Rijkswegen) are controlled by central government agency Rijkswaterstaat, and the country's twelve provinces control about 7,800 km of provincial roads.[15][16] Most motorways are national roads, and the remaining national roads are mostly expressways. Only a few motorways are provincial ones, and they are much shorter and serve mostly regional traffic.[17] Frequently, they used to be national roads. Road numbers counting one or two digits (regardless of the preceding letter) are mostly national roads, but those with three numbers are typically provincial roads.

Municipality roads make up the bulk of the network, totalling some 120,000 km.[16] They are mostly local roads. Aside from the division in provinces, the Netherlands is also divided in 24 water management boards. Together with miscellaneous authorities, they own and control another 7,500 km of roads.[16] For some roads, it is because they are a physical element of water barriers, like dikes and dams while others provide primary access to critical water control structures and may not even be open to the public.

Roads by safety policy category

Single carriageway expressway economically upgraded to meet most of the new regional flow road standard. A physical traffic barrier, and a hard shoulder were added.
Dutch roads are typically built for cyclists as well

In 1997, the collective Dutch road management authorities reached agreement on a major traffic safety program, called Duurzaam Veilig ("Sustainable Safety"). One of its principles is a clear-cut categorisation of roads, into a small number of visually distinct and clearly recognisable designs, that must be applied consistently throughout the country. Three main categories were established:

Roads by type

Outside of built-up areas

Autosnelweg, or simply snelweg, is the Dutch designation for motorways or freeways. They are controlled-access highways for fast motor vehicles only and are consistently built with multiple carriageways, guard rails and interchanges with overpasses. Since September 2012, the nationwide maximum speed has been raised to 130 km/h, but on many stretches, speed is still limited to 120 km/h or 100 km/h. Dutch motorways may be used only by motor vehicles both capable and legally allowed to go at least 60 km/h.
To improve traffic flow, a common feature of Dutch motorways is peak, rush hour or plus lanes, that allow motorists to use the hard shoulder in case of congestion. Less common but increasingly so, multiple carriageways are applied to separate local and regional traffic from through traffic. By splitting traffic in the same direction into parallel carriageways, the number of weaving motions across lanes is reduced, and the traffic capacity per lane of the road is optimised. Autosnelwegen are consistently numbered and signposted with an A and up to three digits, like A12. Motorways are by definition stroomwegen ("flow roads") and most of them are national roads: only a few shorter stretches are under provincial control.

All Dutch motorways (in red) and N-roads (green). Some N-roads are Autowegen (expressways).

Autoweg is the designation for expressways that do not (fully) meet motorway standards. They are limited-access highways for faster motor vehicles only but built to varying standards. Designs range from dual carriageways, with full shoulders and grade separation, to single carriageways with just one lane per direction, no traffic barrier, and only intermittent shoulder patches called Vluchthavens. Many intersections are at grade with traffic lights, or they are roundabouts. There can also be moveable bridges in these roads. In either case, the speed limit is frequently reduced to 70 km/h before one reaches the junction or the bridge. The general speed limit is 100 km/h, unless marked otherwise. Only motor vehicles both capable and legally allowed to go at least 50 km/h are allowed.

Although Autowegen do not have to conform completely to the new Dutch design standard for regional flow roads (stroomwegen), many of these roads require at least some upgrades. Otherwise, they are downgraded to the safety category of distributor roads and so lose their expressway status.

Autowegen are always numbered and mostly signposted with an N (for Non motorway highway) and up to three digits, like N34. Almost all of these expressways are national or provincial roads.

Other Non motorway highways that are not expressways either are simpler in design, with level intersections and mostly single carriageways. Nevertheless, many of them feature adjacent bicycle tracks.

Regional access road with colored advisory bike lanes

As far as these roads have (inter)regional significance, they are also numbered and to an extent signposted with an N and typically three digits. In that case, the roads are referred to as N-roads. These roads are mostly categorised as distributor roads, with a speed limit of 80 km/h. In principle, farm traffic and slow road users are not allowed. For them, there should be parallel roads like frontage roads or cycle tracks. In partially built-up rural areas, the speed limit may drop to 60 km/h, as indicated by signage. Provincial road N377 is an example of an N-road that is only partially an Autoweg.

Primary N-roads are numbered up to N400, and the numbers have to be on road signs. Although these roads can fall under any of the road management authorities, most are provincial roads. N-roads of secondary importance are numbered 401 through 999, but the numbers are not frequently signposted. They serve a more local function. Over time, they are transferred from provinces to municipalities, and the numbers are dropped.

From 1998 to 2007, more than 33,000 km of roads have been converted to regional access roads with a speed limit of 60 km/h,[7] so indicated by signage,[18] and frequently in zones.[19] Regional access roads are visually distinct from other roads having no road surface marking. Slower vehicles and non-motorised traffic are allowed. Busier roads have adjacent cycle tracks, but quieter ones have advisory bike lanes. Again, they can fall under any of the road management authorities.

Within built-up areas

Inside of built-up areas, all roads are municipal. They are categorised only as either distributor roads or local access roads. Arterial roads and collector roads fall into the first category. Their maximum speed is 50 km/h except for arterials with a dual carriageway, which may be 70 km/h. Bicycle tracks have to be segregated.

A special type of arterials is stadsroutes and city ring roads.

A traffic-calmed street with wide advisory cycle lanes (red) that motorists may use to pass oncoming cars. Drivers must use them safely though and not crowd out the cyclists.

Stadsroutes (city routes) form a network of numbered arterials that connect parts of a city to a ring road or motorways running outside the city. City routes are signposted prefixed by an s and numbered from 100 or 101. When there is an s 100 present, it is an inner city ring road around the city centre. Stadsroutes can so far be found in six Dutch cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Almere, Zaanstad and Nijmegen. Nijmegen has only its s 100 centre ring operational, but other routes are in progress.

Despite the way motorways and N-roads are numbered, city routes are not a national system. The same numbers can be used in every partaking city and are therefore not unique. Many other Dutch cities have constructed inner city ring arterials without numbering them (yet).

From 1998 through 2007, more than 41,000 km of city streets have been converted to local access roads with a speed limit of 30 km/h, for the purpose of traffic calming.[7] Local access streets include frontage roads, fietsstraten and woonerven although the legal status of the latter two is somewhat ambiguous.

A fietsstraat (bike street) where bicycles are the main form of transport and cars are considered "guests".

Woonerf (literally "living yard") or legally just Erf, is the Dutch term for a specific implementation of living streets, abundantly applied throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Although not officially a part of the Sustainable Safety road categorisation policy, the woonerf is still a legally defined Dutch road type. The defining characteristic is that the living function of the street (walking, talking, playing) has official priority over its traffic function. Legally, pedestrians and children have priority over all other road users. They may use the full width of the street to walk and play. Road paving is more or less continuous. Under article 45 of the Dutch traffic code, motorised traffic in a woonerf is restricted to "walking pace", which the Dutch Supreme Court has ruled to be 15 km/h. Parking is also restricted.
Although woonerven have come under pressure from the drive to implement zones of 30 km/h local access streets, they are still prolific. In some places, new ones are still created, such as for space restrictions. In 2011, 20% of all Dutch homes were still located in woonerf areas,[20] and around 2 million people were living in woonerven.[21]

Fietsstraat (literally "Bicycle street") is not (yet) an official Dutch road type or category.[nb 2] The implementation comes down to paving the full width of the road (except for the sidewalk) as a cycle track, including the associated color. Signs are put up by the municipal authorities, informing motorists that they are guests and must yield to cyclists.

Correspondingly, the road portion of the street (between kerbs) is then legally considered to be a bicycle track with benefits instead of a road in the conventional sense.


Motorway A15 / A16 near Rotterdam

The busiest Dutch motorway is the A16 in Rotterdam,, with a traffic volume of 232.000 vehicles per day.[24] The A12, near Utrecht, comes second at 220.000 vehicles per day. The busiest four-lane motorway in the Netherlands is the A10 in the Coen Tunnel, in Amsterdam, with 110.000 vehicles per day. The widest Dutch motorway is the A15/A16, just south of Rotterdam, with 16 lanes, in a 4+4+4+4 setup.

See also


Sustainable Safety

Publications by SWOV, the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research


  1. Japan has the same per country road density,[3] but the Netherlands' area includes 18.4% water, compared to 0.8% for Japan.
  2. Neighbour countries Germany and Belgium have adopted the fietsstraat concept into their traffic code; and Belgium included road signs based on a Dutch design.[22][23]


  1. 1 2 "CIA World Factbook | Field listing: Roadways". U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. 2014. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  2. "Road density (km of road per 100 sq. km of land area) | Data | Table". The World Bank Group. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-07. External link in |website= (help)
  3. 1 2 3 "Road traffic, vehicles and networks | Environment at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators" (PDF) (Press release). Paris, France: OECD Publishing. 2013. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  4. "Autosnelweg - WegenWiki" [Motorway - WegenWiki]. (in Dutch). 2012. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  5. "The Netherlands boast almost 35,000 km of cycling paths". CROW - Dutch knowledge platform on cycling policy. 2012-10-25. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  6. 1 2 "Nederland telt bijna 35.000 km fietspad" [The Netherlands has almost 35,000 km of bicycle path] (in Dutch). Dutch online platform for traffic engineering. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 "De balans opgemaakt: Duurzaam Veilig 1998-2007" [Sustainable Safety in the Netherlands - 1998-2007] (PDF) (in Dutch). SWOV, Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research. 2009: 6 (English abstract). ISBN 978-90-73946-06-4. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  8. "Rotondes | IBM Cognos" [Roundabouts]. (in Dutch). SWOV, Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research. 2012. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
  9. "SWOV Fact sheet | Mobility on Dutch roads" (PDF) (Press release). Leidschendam, the Netherlands: SWOV, Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research. July 2013. Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  10. Waard, Jan van der; Jorritsma, Peter; Immers, Ben (October 2012). "New Drivers in Mobility: What Moves the Dutch in 2012 and Beyond?" (PDF). Delft, the Netherlands: OECD International Transport Forum. Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  11. Liste des routes impériales françaises de 1811 - Wikipédia
  12. Route impériale - Wikipedia (NL)
  13. - 1. 1795-1839 - Begin van een Rijkswegennet (Dutch)
  14. Rijkswegenplan 1927 - Wegenwiki (NL)
  15. "CBS StatLine | Lengte van wegen, wegkenmerken, regio" [CBS Statline - Length of roads, road types]. (in Dutch). Statistics Netherlands. 2013. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  16. 1 2 3 "Weglengte Nationaal WegenBestand (NWB) | IBM Cognos" [Road length | National Road Database]. (in Dutch). SWOV, Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research. 2012. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  17. Provinciale weg - Wikipedia (NL)
  18. Wat betekenen de strepen op de weg? | (Dutch)
  19. Erftoegangsweg | (Dutch)
  20. "Sterke woonerfwijken: Voorkomen is beter dan herstructureren" [Strong woonerf areas: prevention beats restructuring] (in Dutch). Nicis-Platform31. 28 September 2011. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  21. Wassenberg, Frank; Lupi, Tineke (September 2011). Sterke woonerfwijken: Voorkomen is beter dan herstructureren [Strong woonerf areas: prevention beats restructuring] (in Dutch). The Hague, Netherlands: Nicis Institute. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  22. "Belgische Wetgeving" [Belgian Traffic code] (in Dutch). Waddinxveen, Netherlands: Veringmeier Verkeersmanagement BV. 2012. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
  23. Fahrradstraße - Wikipedia (DE)
  24. Traffic volumes in the Netherlands
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