What was a four lane road with separated cycle lanes just six months ago, is now a street with only two lanes for motor traffic (one for each direction) and completely protected cycle paths right next to it. The Dutch are currently downgrading many of their streets in a somewhat similar way as the US ‘road diet’*, but why?
Two weeks ago I showed you how Utrecht cut residential streets that were built very wide in the 1960s exactly in half, to comply with today’s policies of traffic safety and to make the streets more attractive for people to live in. Today I show you that ʼs-Herto-genbosch (aka Den Bosch) did the same, but in this case it was a former arterial road that was downgraded to be a neighbourhood access street.
Sint Teunislaan can be found in an area of the city that was outlined in the 1960s. The official plan to build it was approved by the council in 1966. The plan wasn’t very detailed: the details would be hammered out as planners were developing one part after the other. But the first thing that was done was to build large roads. This was the time in which urban planners thought people needed to be able to reach their homes quickly with the car that ‘soon everybody would have’. So in the early 1970s the first four lane roads were constructed and they formed a grid with open spaces in between that would later be filled with blocks of housing. Designed over the years, each block had very different design characteristics. Some have very traditional street patterns, but when a block was finished in the mid-1970s, the street pattern was built directly after the 1964 example in the Dutch town of Emmen and it was revolutionary! The ‘woonerf’ or home zone (not to be confused with ‘shared space’) was introduced in the city. It took so long for the area to fill up (almost 20 years) that the later street designs were completely different from the first. The ideas of urban planning had changed so rapidly and radically that it can even be seen in the main street pattern. A wide and straight four lane road suddenly became a winding two lane street, because the first was built in the early 1970s and the latter in the late 1980s. While diversity can be charming, it is not such a good idea when it comes to a coherent and safe street grid design.
The city council established a Neighbourhood Plan for the area’s future early 2013. The city wants to bring some unity to this part of the city to make sure that this area will not become unattractive in the future. The city redefined all the various functions in the neighbourhood and designated areas for them. This plan will be the guiding principle for all future planning permissions. The traffic policies form an integrated part of this plan. The city wants more trips to be made cycling and fewer by car and it wants its infrastructure to reflect these policies. All the existing main roads were reclassified and Sint Teunislaan, designed and built as an important arterial road, was now to be downgraded: it should only be a neighbourhood access street. It was no longer to be used by motor traffic that had to move from one part of the city to the other, but only by traffic that needs access to the area itself. That meant it was much too large and the city has therefore now reduced the number of lanes for motor traffic: from 2 x 2 to 2 x 1 lane. And the space that became available was used for completely separated and protected cycle paths. This is in line with the desire to enhance the quality of cycling in the city. Of course, as it usual, the city took the opportunity to replace the sewer pipes while the street was re-constructed.
Video showing how the street was reconstructed.
The street is still an important road, because it gives access to the residential streets, so the speed limit remained 50km/h. All the residential streets have become 30km/h zones. Apart from the woonerven (home zone streets). There the speed limit used to be ‘walking pace’ but that had to be an exact figure under European law. The woonerven now have a speed limit of 15km/h.
A video with a side by side ‘before and after’ ride through the recently reconstructed part of the street and back again.
Late 2011 ʼs-Hertogenbosch was awarded the title ‘Best Cycling City of the Netherlands’ (Fietsstad 2011) because it was very actively reconstructing the city to make cycling a viable alternative to the car. Even though there will be a new city chosen to be Best Cycling City 2014, ʼs-Hertogenbosch keeps the right to call itself ‘Fietsstad 2011’ and it is good to see the city also continues to improve cycling!
* Streetfilms produced a very good video explaining road diets in the US.