All about cycling in the Netherlands
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 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.
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.