Goyplein 1998

Huge roads do not have to be huge barriers

Huge roads can be huge barriers for cyclists. But they do not need to be. It is possible to design crossings and junctions that are safe for cyclists, both objectively and subjectively even in major high speed and high volume roads.

I recently came across a video of a crossing of London’s North Circular Road. The way cyclists have to maneuver through traffic, some of which heavy goods transportation, is shocking to anyone I believe. But if you are familiar with the situation on Dutch roads even more so.

I will show you how crossing such major roads is done in the Netherlands. The Eastern part of the ring road around Utrecht was originally built as a national motorway from the 1940s to the 1960s. It has since been downgraded to an inner-city ring road with a maximum speed of 70km/h (43.5mph) but it still has all the characteristics of a motorway (freeway). It is not allowed to cycle on this road. Where the road meets another major road, a very large traffic circle (it is officially not a roundabout) was constructed in 1971. The perfect circle has an outer diameter of 120 meters (394Ft) and is mostly 3 lanes wide. The whole junction area (including the separate cycle paths) is 150 meters (494Ft) wide.

Goyplein 1973
The junction ‘Goyplein’ in the then national motorway 22, after its construction in 1971. (Looking South) The cycle paths were part of the original design. This is now the East city ring road of Utrecht.

The picture shows the traffic circle just after its completion. The city had not yet expanded across the road to the East on the left hand side of the picture. But the large traffic circle was built in anticipation to that jump. The road to the left was completed in the early 1980s and it forms the only access for motorized traffic to an entire borough (Lunetten) that houses thousands of people. What is clearly visible is that the design included separated cycle paths from the very beginning.

Goyplein 1998
The large traffic circle Goyplein as it is today (looking West). The elevated former motorway now goes by the name of “Waterlinieweg”.

The second picture shows the traffic circle as it is today. The trees grew considerably in 40 years. But the bright red cycle paths peek through the foliage at a number of places. Giving you an idea of how they were constructed around the huge intersection. The video will make clear how this junction with the separate cycle paths functions. It shows how the cycle paths and the timing of the traffic lights separate people cycling from motorized traffic in time and space to make this enormous intersection very easy and safe to pass. At the same time it also makes the flow of huge amounts of motorized traffic possible.

– There was a ride on Sunday 25th of March called “Barnet’s Great Divide Ride” to protest against the poor cycle provisions around the North Circular Road. Cycle facilities can be designed and constructed a whole lot better. The Dutch have an experience of at least half a century with designs that work. Also on high volume, high speed roads. If only people would want to see it.

12 thoughts on “Huge roads do not have to be huge barriers

  1. I love that the Netherlands has short traffic lights on the side of the road instead of large mast signals. It is a lot more cost-effective and less obtrusive.

  2. This is an inspiring demonstration of a solution that combines separate space for bikes, separate time for bikes, and coordinated signal timing that favors bikes. I have recently sent in criticism for a planned intersection in Boston that would require crossing bikes and pedestrians to wait, on average, 40 s at a first red light, 30 s at a second, and then 60 s at a third red light. Completely unnecessary; I showed them how, with signal timing that cares about the needs of bikes and pedestrians, average delay could be reduced to less than 40 s total.

    A question: I notice that all of the cycle tracks on this junction are two-way, even though it looks as though most of the bikes are going the “right” way (probably because the bike paths approaching the junction lead people to the “right” side). Does the provision for 2-way cycling reduce delay for some cyclists, or perhaps allow them to avoid crossing a wide street twice? Why are the cycle tracks 2-way?

    1. It is not so much that the signal timing ‘favors’ bikes. It just treats them as traffic, equal to motorized traffic. While cyclists have a green light, so does motorized traffic. That can be done with clever timing and different green phases for different directions. And with well designed cycle infrastructure of course.

      The two way cycle paths are there to give cyclists a choice. Sometimes it can be an advantage to go ‘against’ traffic. When it is not, most people choose to go the traditional way. Because the Dutch allow people to cycle as a counter flow and because there are more and more two way cycle paths on one or both sides of the roads, cyclists arrive at junctions on the other side of the road. That has to be taken into account when designing those junctions. Which is indeed done and also visible in this video.

  3. Don’t show this to vehicular cyclists, they’ll claim 1) the left turn took too long (even though times are comparable to a 4-way stop light signalized intersection) 2) bicyclists have a right to the road and 3) children should ride bicycles for transportation, and if they do they should do so on the road with motor vehicles! and most importantly 4) cyclists are safer mixing with motor vehicles

    1. Each of these points are idiotic (against the arguments you pose that claim that it takes too long or that children should ever mix with this type of busy traffic or that all vehicular cyclists want these). I ride vehicularly often but not because I want to, I wish I could ride feeling as safe as the Dutch do, but because I often have to. Most residential roads are quiet enough for a feeling that a teenager could ride, or a young-middle aged adult, but not the elderly in mobility scooters or young children. If I was a parent, if I was to allow them to ride, I would want someone my age to accompany them until at least 12. Some of the problems are the signal wait times, the intimidation of traffic even though most drivers do in fact do things like stop for you even if it is the cyclist facing the yield/stop sign, the latter of which is much more likely.

  4. I just watched your video. 1:15 to turn left across the motorway and ramps, including waiting time. I’ve waited that long (and longer) to cross streets that aren’t as big and don’t have cycle facilities and are subjectively and objectively more dangerous (as defined by the number of crashes and injuries received).

    How many automobile-bike crashes have occurred at this junction? 0-4 per year, I guess.

  5. I watched the Barnet’s Great Divide video. It shows a “shared use” overhead walkway for pedestrians and cyclists. Shared use facilities are neither ideal for pedestrians nor cyclists. I’m reminded of the several shared use facilities in Chicago, like the Lakefront Trail. You will not hear more complaints about any other cycling (or running or walking or beach-accessing) facility than this one. Skip to 0:45 in this video for what other monstrosities are on the trail. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KiDPkoHta8

    1. Not often I get to correct you in turn but you mean “think it’s peek, not peak”.

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