The signs are good

Directional signs for people cycling appeared all over the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch, last February. They marked that the city’s big six-year cycling infrastructure update is coming to an end. In the plans of March 2009 they were mentioned as the icing on the cake: first all routes, all missing links and many of the surfaces of cycle tracks would be updated, then a whole new system of wayfinding would be implemented.

Four years in the plan, the time has come for those signs to appear. People in the city cannot have missed them. There are 888 signs on 130 posts. Together they give directions to 36 destinations: boroughs, villages, towns and cities. Near and far. That is more than in the original plans, which mentioned 28 destinations. Routes are also indicated to important local destinations like the railway stations, the transferia (Park and Ride), the main exhibition hall, underground bicycle parking facilities and the main hospital.

The new signs for wayfinding for cyclists. Top left destinations in the city: to the central railway station and the city’s main hospital. The lowest sign points to an indoor bicycle parking facility. Unfortunately ‘Centum’ is a misspelling, it should have been ‘Centrum’ (Centre).

The new signs do not point to museums. There were already signs for people on foot to reach those destinations in the city centre. The cycling wayfinding system was set up in cooperation with the local branch of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union and it replaces the signs by ANWB. That old system was incomplete and therefore did not offer enough continuity.

The whole project cost 170,000 euro and a third was paid by the province, the rest by the municipality.

Video showing the new system of wayfinding for people cycling in the municipality of ‘s-Hertogenbosch

The design follows most of the recommendations of the CROW design manual for bicycle traffic. They are therefore instantly recognisable as cycle signs by the Dutch. The signs are white and the letters are red and in lower case, which improves legibility. There are also only two destinations (lines) per sign.

But some of the further recommendations were not followed. The maximum number of three signs per direction was not observed. Nor was the maximum of 8 signs per post. I have seen 7 signs pointing in the same direction with a total of 14 destinations and that can be a bit much! Even though there is a hierarchy in the destinations, it takes time to read all those lines. Time you do not have when you cycle past such a sign post.

The hierarchy does make it easier to quickly find the destination you need. The top destinations are in the municipality, followed by (nearby) towns and villages and the final rows of destinations show larger cities, usually further away.

With such a high number of new signs it is not strange that some mistakes were made. It also didn’t help that the firm supplying the signs is from the other side of the country. The city had to correct signs that were pointing in the wrong direction, but some mistakes do still have to be corrected.

Two of these signs points to the right, up the wrong way of a one way cycle path. That can’t be right and indeed, all three places mentioned on those two signs are really straight on. Both signs should have pointed in that direction.

Spelling errors were cause for amusement even in the Carnival parade. Someone walked around with a big photo asking what “Centum” could mean. The sign should have said “Centrum” (Centre) and it is indeed a bit strange that you would misspell such a common word, even if you come from the other side of the country. Zaltbommel was also misspelled with just one ‘m’ on many signs.

Some of the signs were kept blank on the back. This is in accordance with regulations, but some of the backs really should have repeated the directions of the other side. Because seeing a sign post with only blank signs (as can be seen in the video), gives a very odd impression. Especially if cyclists do see the sign from that side.

The signs indicate how far away a destination is. But rounding off to the nearest kilometre did also not go right all the time. A sign in front of the central railway station mentions Utrecht to be 56 kilometres away. If you then cycle half a kilometre in the direction of Utrecht, you arrive at the next sign telling you Utrecht is now 57 kilometres from where you are. That is not very encouraging!

It’s important to realise that the city choose to update the entire cycle grid first! The wayfinding posts came almost last in the plans. Because your routes need to be ready first to have signs pointing the right way. You can’t have signs that lead you to routes that aren’t there yet or through dangerous streets that will be made safe later. Most of the 888 signs do give the right information and together they form a really good system to help people on bicycles to find their way in and through the city on the improved cycle grid.

17 thoughts on “The signs are good

  1. I didn’t know these were new when I was visiting! These were incredibly helpful for me figuring out how to get back to Leiden from Noordwijk. Every time I’d come to a place I was unsure of, sure enough, a helpful sign pointing the way!

    1. They are only new in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, that is, new ones were added! There was already a whole bunch of them, but they were not considered good enough anymore. The entire country has these signs and they’ve been around for decades already.

  2. Thank goodness most of the signs are correct. We are heading to Amsterdam in 3 weeks so we don’t want to get lost too much. =)

    Are the signs situated best for cyclists, pedestrians or cars?

    1. This is only about the new cycle signs in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, that have some start-up problems.The signs in Amsterdam have been there much longer, there the initial issues are sorted. You can trust the cycle signs in the Netherlands to be correct. This system, (white signs with red letters) is for cyclists and for cyclists only. They are therefore perfectly placed so cyclists can see and use them best. For motor traffic there is an entirely different system of blue signs with white letters. See also: the video in this post.

      1. What signs do pedestrians use then? And what is the meaning of a blue sign with a white background and red letters?

        1. Pedestrian signs are not standardized, I think. They usually only exist in city centers anyway. In ‘s-Hertogenbosch they look like this: https://goo.gl/maps/TC5EU. As for “a blue sign with a white background and red letters” – if the background is white and the letters are red, what’s left for there to be blue? Perhaps you mean something like https://goo.gl/maps/oq8Vn – that’s a sign for cars with bicycle signage included.

    2. one added bonus of Amsterdam signage is that there’s a similar system for pedestrians, same size, but black and directions for museums, landmarks etc. Suffice to say, they’re also perfect for visitors on bikes. 😉

  3. I had thought the signs were already installed across the country. I used them extensively in 2010 when making my way from the German border to Groningen and then south to Amsterdam. They were really helpful, and I never needed a map en route except for the ends of my journeys, usually to get to a hotel for the night. Before starting out each morning, I’d write down the names of the towns I needed to pass through on my way for the day, and then follow the signs. Easy peasy.

    1. Yes, there are cycle signs all over the country but they were not considered good enough for this day and age. With so much more cycling the city thought a more elaborate system was needed. Anything ‘new’ in the Netherlands regarding cycling is actually more ‘replacing’ something that was already there.

  4. Some of the signs look very wobbly in the wind. Are the poles a bit thin, or is it that there are too many signs on some posts and it causes the signs to act like a sail?

    1. Most of the wobble is me: with the camera zoomed in a lot (had to film from across the street mostly) you see the movement of the camera much more too. But one or two do move in the wind. They have to wobble a little in fierce winds to prevent them from breaking. I don’t think they are made of inferior materials.

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