Cycle route update: it’s all in the details
Cycle routes in the Netherlands are constantly being updated. Wanting to keep things tidy and in a good order is a Dutch trait and you see that reflected in the streets. The Dutch language has different terms for small repairs and everyday maintenance (‘klein onderhoud’ or ‘small maintenance’) and major maintenance works such as a complete resurfacing which is called ‘groot onderhoud’ or ‘large maintenance’. The latter is scheduled with regular intervals, the first is executed on a need to do basis. ‘Major maintenance’ for streets takes place at intervals of about 30 years. The pipes and cables in a street will then be renewed and a complete new surface including new kerbs and surfacing material (asphalt or pavers) will be used for the new street design. Since all streets have a different life span this process is constant and continuous. At almost every time there is a street that is going through a major maintenance treatment. That means that recently reconstructed streets are everywhere. It’s also the reason that Google StreetView is outdated at almost the moment Google publishes its pictures.
Route from the city centre of ’s-Hertogenbosch (starting at Koningsweg, at the green flag) in the direction of Vught (Finish flag to the left). North is right on this 2014 picture of the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch. The 2009 picture of Google does not show the new ring road and all kinds of other details are outdated.
In ’s-Hertogenbosch the reconstruction of the route from the centre to a town south of the city called Vught was recently finished. The proces had started in 2012 and was finished last June. Here the major maintenance cycle was combined with a road diet. When the new south ring road was finished the main flow of traffic was first relocated away from this route and then the streets in this route could be downgraded to signal that is it no longer a main route for motor traffic. For cycling on the other hand the route has now more importance, so for cycling the route was upgraded. In the pictures below I give you some more information on what you see in the before and after situation.
Koningsweg ’s-Hertogenbosch. What was once a one-way cycle path is now a bi-directional cycleway. Note how well this T-junction for cycling is designed. There is space for people waiting for the light without being in the way of other people passing in either direction. Also note that the building to the right has a new façade. The 1980s dark brown bricks have been replaced with a lighter and smoother marble façade. A ‘large maintenance’ process for that building as well.
From a cycle lane to a bi-directional cycleway. Only a very small percentage of the cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands is formed by on-street cycle lanes and I have the feeling that percentage is also going down*. Protected cycleways are always to be preferred over on-street cycle lanes. Two-way cycle paths are tricky. The Cyclists’ Union does not prefer them, ‘unless’… And that is because they are slightly more dangerous at intersections. But when (as in this case) the bi-directional cycleway makes that you have fewer crossings with motor traffic, then it can be okay to build them. Note how well protected the cycleway is from the carriageway. There is also cycle infrastructure on the other side of the street. With bi-directional cycleways you can usually choose which side of the road is more convenient for your particular route. * In the Netherlands there are 4,700 kilometres of on street cycle lanes versus 35,000 kilometres of protected cycleways. (Source Fietsersbond 2013)
This is where we turn left. The new bi-directional cycleway straight-on was already under construction in the before picture. It is finished now. Here too there is also a one-way cycleway on the other side of the street. Again, you have the option to use this side or the other side of the street. The new left turn is in a slightly different location. It is now a bit further away from the stairs on the right hand side than it used to be. That is to make the crossing better (as can be seen on the next pictures).
Crossing some lanes for motor traffic. In the before situation there was a triangular traffic island in the centre of the intersection. Pedestrians and cyclists approached that island from three sides and could choose from two directions to continue. Which meant there were always at least two and sometimes three sharp turns in your crossing. That island has been completely removed. Crossings are now straight as a line. Much more convenient for cycling and walking.
An aerial picture of the same crossing. The traffic island was a bit hard to see so I drew the outlines of it and the crossings on the picture. Clear to see that any crossing would have a few sharp turns this way. In the old situation it was not automatic that a green light to get to the island would also mean a green light to get from the island again. You would sometimes have to wait again on the island. In the new situation the traffic island has been removed and the crossings were replaced by two straight crossings. A green light is now always for the entire crossing. There is no stopping in the central reservation (or median strip).
This before and after picture is clearly showing how standards have changed in the Netherlands in the last 30 years. Before a typical 1960s/1970s cycle path, 1.5 metres wide and tiled with concrete pavers. In the after picture we see a standard cycleway of the 21st century. At least 2 metres wide and paved with smooth red asphalt. This is a cycleway in one direction.
In the before picture a cycle path from the left joined this cycleway. That was hard to know. In the new situation that cycleway to the left has become bi-directional and the junction has become much clearer. You can now see very well that you can expect people cycling from the left. Also note that there is space for the man to wait for the light without being in the way of people cycling straight-on here. There are traffic lights for motor traffic going straight-on, but – as is usual in the Netherlands – people cycling can just ride past these lights.
The one-way cycle path on this bridge has been widened at the expense of one lane for motor traffic. This was possible because this road was downgraded from a main arterial road to a neighbourhood access road. It went from 4 to 2 lanes (but at this location there is a dedicated right turning lane for approaching traffic, so there are 3 lanes in total). Also note that the bridge railings have been painted in a darker colour now. When you do major maintenance you have to do all maintenance. The iron barrier between the cycleway and the carriageway has been removed. That would signal that this road would be an arterial road (which it is not anymore) and these fences are dangerous for people cycling if you accidentally hit them. The new kerb forms a better division. It is low at the cycleway side and high at the carriageway side.
This service street has become a cycle street and that made the approach different. In the before situation people cycling rejoined the service street from the cycleway on the bridge (of the previous photo) with this old-fashioned chicane. That is no longer wanted, as it makes it necessary to reduce your speed. People could fall if they accidentally hit that central kerb or the two strange bollards. That is why all these unwanted obstacles have been removed now. Speed on the cycle street is 30km/h. On the main carriageway it is 50km/h.
It seems not much has changed here. But the colour of the brand new asphalt indicates it is now a cycle street where cars are guests. All pipes and cables under the surface have been renewed, as were the kerbs and the pavers of the side walk. The entrance to the side street in the front is now formed with pavers under an angle. In the before situation the kerbs were lowered. If you look carefully you will see that the main carriageway between the large trees to the left has been narrowed from 4 lanes to 2. The trees have much more grass to their left. (A much better view in the two pictures below.)
Vughterweg ’s-Hertogenbosch before reconstruction. A 4 lane arterial road squeezed in between the trees. (picture Google StreetView).
After reconstruction (late 2012) the road went back to just two lanes (one for each direction). The trees have more space now. Since this picture was taken the grass has grown back.
A speed bump, that was added in the 1990s by the look of it, has been removed. They are too uncomfortable for people cycling and do only little to reduce the speed of motor traffic. Again on this picture you can see that the grass strip to the left of the large trees is much wider now. Because of the removed two lanes for motor traffic.
The right turning lane that was there for motor traffic in the before situation has been completely removed. Grass with trees came in its place. The lowered kerb in the front right, an access to a drive way, has been replaced by pavers with an angle. That detail makes that the rest of the side-walk is much more even and horizontal now. In the before situation the whole side-walk was under an angle, now only a small part is. For (older) people walking that makes a difference. The surface was originally brick here, now it is smooth asphalt.
The road diet is clearly visible on this picture. In the before situation there were three lanes for motor traffic at this intersection. Two to go straight-on and one right turning lane. That was reduced to just one lane. The space that became available was used for grass and new trees and also the cycle street was moved to the left slightly, so the side-walk could be widened too.
The lights have been changed. In the before situation the light for right turning traffic as well as the light for cycling were default red. Depending on which type of traffic arrived first, that particular light would turn green. In the after situation the light for cycling is default green. Only if there is traffic coming from the side street the light turns red. Turning traffic has to give way to people cycling straight-on because that is the law in the Netherlands. There is room for motor traffic to wait – out-of-the-way of other traffic – for people cycling. Note also that the cycleway has become bi-directional now. This gives people the opportunity to choose on what side of the intersection they wish to cross. So they can reduce the number of crossings in their particular route.
What was the start of a service street has now become a bi-directional cycleway with a bus stop. In the distance some trees could be planted because of the room that became available when the road went from 4 to 2 lanes.
From this location the before and after pictures become the same again, but for one detail: three larger trees in the before situation have been removed. I hope they were replanted. I know some larger trees were indeed moved to a better location and I hope that that were these trees (it would be a shame if they were just cut down). In the after situation you see that a new line of trees was planted, really in one line. The older trees were not in that line and too close to the cycle street. I assume there was fear that they could later uproot kerbs and asphalt.
What I tried to tell you with all these pictures, is that the details of infrastructure are very important. You need them to be just right for a good cycle route. Details, which you might have overlooked if you just watched the video. Now that I have pointed them out to you, I am sure you will watch the video with different eyes. Oh, and before you think we always do our maintenance well… No, that is not the case. Otherwise we would not need a term for maintenance that was supposed to be done, but wasn’t. And we do have that term! So ‘achterstallig onderhoud’ (‘overdue maintenance’) does exist; The Netherlands is not perfect!
My video showing a before and after of a cycle route in ’s-Hertogenbosch.