All about cycling in the Netherlands
“This really looks a lot like Elephant & Castle” is what I thought when I was cycling in The Hague on the last Sunday of 2012. If “Elephant & Castle” doesn’t ring a bell: it is a major intersection in London that is notorious because it is so dangerous to get through on a bicycle. I had heard about it and decided to visit the northern roundabout last year to see what it was like with my own eyes. Because I had been there, I could see the similarities when I rode on one of the larger intersections in The Hague. Erasmusplein is a ‘traffic circle’ under Dutch law. Elephant & Castle and Erasmusplein both look a bit like a giant roundabout with straight sides. They are very similar in size and have no less than 4 lanes for motorised traffic. The Elephant has one arm extra but the principle difference is of course how people on a bicycle can go through both these intersections.
This week’s videos show you how to go through these enormous intersections on a bicycle. Dutch traffic designers consider the junction so large and dangerous, that even people on the faster type of mopeds are sent back to the cycle track for their safety. You can see that in the beginning of my video. The cycle tracks are kept completely separate from motorised traffic and because crossing other traffic is controlled by traffic lights, you hardly notice that this junction is so large. But as you can see from the pictures, it is really very comparable with Elephant & Castle. The pictures below show both to the same scale and these pictures reveal that the Dutch built the same type of intersections with the same number of lanes for motorised traffic in the same amount of space, only they also included completely separated safe cycle tracks. The green line represents the route I took to get through this intersection from the top right to the bottom centre. The red line left is the route in the London video.
First the ride in London filmed by YouTube user “DrMorocho”.
“Cycling through the infamous Elephant & Castle”, the actual roundabout starts from about 35 seconds in the video.
My ride in The Hague is rather different.
Cycling through Erasmusplein in The Hague.
Note: the lights for pedestrians confuse some viewers, but there is no red light jumping in this video.
It would have been possible that the cycle paths in the Dutch version were a later addition, so I tried to find out when they were constructed. This area of The Hague was constructed in the 1950s. I found a picture of the junction under construction in 1954 but it doesn’t show the road layout yet. The first picture to show a cycle path is a detail from 1959. That is so shortly after construction that I think it is safe to say the cycle tracks were designed and constructed right from the start. Building separate cycling infrastructure on major new roads was common in the Netherlands since at least the 1930s.
Later pictures all show the separate cycle paths. The carriage way was originally not divided in 4 lanes, not even on the 1975 picture, so that was a much later change. The smooth red asphalt of the cycle paths is certainly more recent. Google Streetview’s 2008 pictures still show a tiled surface.
What this comparison shows is that even for the major intersections there is almost always a counterpart in the Netherlands that is very similar, but comes with separate cycling infrastructure. It is not how the Dutch would design their modern cycling infrastructure today, after all this particular example was built in 1954(!), but at least it shows that a safer solution to those larger junctions is very possible. Examples to give you an idea of how you could retrofit existing junctions do exist and they have been tried and tested, in this case for 59 years!