Before and After ʼs-Hertogenbosch (4)

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 map
The Sint Teunislaan in ʼs-Hertogenbosch (highlighted in red) was an important arterial road, but it was downgraded to a neighbourhood access road. Also clearly visible are the different types of street designs for the residential areas (see text for explanation). On the left and below the red line: traditional streets, On the right hand side below and above the red line the little winding dead end streets of the ‘woonerven’ (home zones). Picture: Bing Maps

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.

Sint Teunislaan in ʼs-Hertogenbosch shortly after its construction in the early 1970s. Two motor traffic lanes in each direction, a turning lane and cycle lanes on the carriage way with only a painted line as a division. (Picture Stadsarchief ʼs-Hertogenbosch)

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!

Sint Teunislaan after the 2013 reconstruction. One motor traffic lane in each direction and protected cycle paths along side of it. The one motor traffic lane connects much better to the 2 roundabouts in the street that also have only one lane.

* Streetfilms produced a very good video explaining road diets in the US.

23 thoughts on “Before and After ʼs-Hertogenbosch (4)

  1. With this type cyclists lane, there no accidents involving motor vehicles. Thanks for taking care of cyclists.

  2. Mark, the black-and-white photo from the 1970s intrigues me. Is it possible to find the precise spot on Google Streetview so we can see how it looks today? Or perhaps you have a photo of it? It would be great to compare the “before and after” of that exact position.

    1. The last picture IS the same location as the black and white picture!
      Note that both pictures show a slight curve to the right and a side street in the distance on the left hand side. That street is “Van der Eygenweg”. You can find that street in Streetview as well, but Google Streetview gives the old situation, before the 2013 reconstruction.

        1. The only difference is that on the black and white picture you look from the left hand side of the road and on the 2013 picture you look from the right hand side. That makes that the curve looks different. Streetview is again from the left hand side and there the curve is much more visible again. But it is really the same place: on the roundabout looking west (it was a junction in the 1970s).

  3. Another interesting example would be the Biltstraat in in Utrecht. That went through a massive transformation a while back and there is one narrow lane for cars, a big bus lane and two way cycle paths on either side. It really does say, do you really need to bring your car through our lovely city?

      1. In part yes, but there is also a part with a two way cycle path and there are also parts where motor traffic and cycling takes place in the same space (behind bus stops).

  4. I am so amazed that even in the completely car-focused 1970ties cyclists in the Netherlands were not forgotten. This old cycle lanes would still be better then the mostly crappy cycling-infrastructure in Germany, and that we got a lot of.

    1. Even though it is safe, it does not feel safe, and regardless of how safe something actually is, people will not use it if it does not feel safe, and also for that matter, vice versa.

  5. Great post. Another example of this kind is the reconversion of the Antonius Deusinglaan in Groningen -Once a major, arterial road (also 2×2) leading car traffic to the hospital and the center of the city, the municipality redeveloped the grid, created the new Vrydemalaan instead, and derived car traffic accessing the city via other existing arteries. This leaves the new Vrydemalaan to bus, taxi and hospital traffic, and permitted the creation of bikelanes separated from the road by at least a meter wide of trees and grass. A real sense of calmth and safety is evoked while cycling that new itinerary, even though so close to the city center. Great piece of planning in my opinion!

  6. At first glance this looks like a very expensive redo of a street, but some of the techniques used in the construction might have cost savings compared to those that are used in the U.S.

    Something that I had never seen before that I noticed in the first video is the use of what looks like interlocking precast concrete for curbs. In the U.S., curbs are usually handmade on-site, which probably is more time consuming and expensive.

    This also lead me to see how tiled sidewalks might have maintenance advantages over the poured concrete designs that are typical in the U.S. Repair of a large concrete slab would probably require removal by a jackhammer, but smaller tiles could be much more easily removed, the underlying surface leveled, and then the tiles put back into place.

    In Los Angeles, developers paid for the installation of most of the sidewalks and streets over the decades. However, in the ensuing years the city failed to properly maintain them and the costs for repair have compounded, as is typical with most large U.S. cities. Outgoing U.S. secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently described the U.S. road infrastructure as one big pothole.

    One of the agenda items yesterday for the Los Angeles City Council meeting was to study the different types of taxes that would have enough appeal for voters to approve $3 billion in bonds to be used over ten years to catch up on a 60 year backlog of needed repairs that would bring the streets up to a average B condition from a C-. There are 6,500 miles of streets and 28,000 total lane miles in LA and 38% of them in D or F condition (the circumference of the earth is 26,000 miles).

    The city estimates it would take 75 years to complete the backlog of requested sidewalk repairs. Needless to say, the maintenance of sidewalks is almost totally neglected in Los Angeles. The city checks the condition of every mile of street every three years, but has never bothered to do the same for sidewalks. There could be as much as $1.5 billion in needed repairs.

    1. The level of expenditure is much higher here: In the Netherlands, i’d estimate that every street will get completely overhauled (redesigned if needed), including sidewalks, sewers, lamp posts, street furniture, once every 25-30 years.

      The city of Amsterdam (800.000 inh.) is spending 800 million euro (~1B USD) each year on traffic and infrastructure (that would include tram, metro and other public transport though).

    2. Those interlocking precast concrete slabs are pretty standard here. One of the reasons for the tiled sidewalks is that often the cables are underneath there, so can be easily dug up.

      But to reply to Jan at least sewers in residential area’s are not replaced every 30 years, it takes more time about 40 to 50 years.

      1. Thanks for the responses somedude and jan. This information helped me come up with some ideas on how to perhaps get improvements specifically for sidewalks and bicycling included in the upcoming road repair bond ballot initiative that I mentioned in my post. Getting separate money for sidewalks and especially bicycling can be very difficult since they are ranked much lower in hierarchy than transportation by car in the U.S., so installing all of these at the same time is a opportunity to speed up the advancement of cycling infrastructure.

        Bond initiatives that are put on a voter ballot by the Los Angeles city government must state precisely the amount that is to be built or repaired and the total estimated cost. The two council members who have been working on this were told by the bureau of street services that it would take $10 million and a minimum of 18 months to inventory the condition of all the sidewalks.

        One problem with this is that the two council members want to put the bond initiative on the November 2014 ballot and to do this it would have be finalized by July of 2014. That doesn’t leave enough time to check the condition of the almost 11,000 miles of sidewalks.

        A downside to the maintenance of the current street designs is that there are 200 companies that have utilities located under the streets. The street surfaces can end up with irregularities from the holes and trenches that are filled after the utilities are repaired. There is also usually heavy metal plates that are placed over the excavation. This can cause a sudden jolt when hit by a tire and can be slippery when wet.

        If the two council members and the city departments can be convinced that putting some of these utilities under sidewalk tiles would have big benefits with easier and less disruptive repairs in the future, and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing, then the argument could be made that all of the poured concrete sidewalks should be replaced where the road reconstruction is to be made. This would eliminate the need to do a complete inventory of all sidewalks. Just do a cost estimate for removal and installation of sidewalks on either side of the road work.

        Perhaps an even trickier part is trying to figure out how to get grade separated cycle tracks included in this bond initiative. At this point, the design of cycle tracks is not in any of the manuals that traffic engineers use in the U.S. The Los Angeles department of transportation is seeking state and federal approval to install its first cycle track as an experimental treatment by the end of 2014. There is also the problem of knowing ahead of time if enough room can be removed from motor vehicles to install cycle tracks.

        The good news is that the LADOT has recently removed 40-50 miles of motor vehicle lanes to install stripping for bike lanes and there will be an additional 20 miles lane miles removed very soon. These installations required a precise measurement that can be used to determine if there is enough room for a continuous cycle track.

        Determining how much it would cost to build grade separated cycle tracks could be difficult since only about 100 miles of any type of cycle track have ever been built in the U.S. and most of those were not grade separated from the roadway. There is not much precedence for height, width or type of border required.

        1. There could be several ways to speed up the assessment of the condition of sidewalks.
          1: How about setting up some sort of light vehicle with a GPS system and a video camera, and making video recordings of the entire stretch. Then you can analyze this at home, dividing every section into one of five or six categories, depending on the state of disrepair.
          2: Or you could do something like crowdsourcing, asking people to sign up to asses sections of sidewalksout of a long list of sections. Disadvantage is different people tend to asses differently, so you’ll have to define very thoroughly what you mean by what, and it takes a lot of time to co-ordinate all this. Advantage is it can be done VERY quickly, provided you can generate a group of enthusiastic supporters. Another advantage is that you gain a lot of publicity this way, and can involve the end users in this.

  7. Have there never been complaints about this sort of thing? In my experience, whenever something resembling a road diet or any restriction on motorised traffic is suggestedover here (Aus), it is so often shouted down. The result is inevitably a hopeless compromise or, more than likely, nothing gets done. It sometimes seems impossible to make any progress.

    1. Think about it. What has improved in this redesign? Cycling, walking, the amount of green space, road safety (slower and more careful driving because of narrower roadway, no overtaking), lower volume of traffic with associated reduction in pollution and noise. What has gotten worse? Through journeys, which will now likely pick a longer journey around the neighbourhood using bigger trunk roads.

      Now, when they ask local residents, what do you think they’ll find more important? Non-locals might disagree, but their input is not actively sollicited.

      1. The amount of traffic on the road really didn’t need the dual carriageways – St. Theunislaan is an east-west street, and the main direction of traffic in that part of the city is north-south. In fact, even the through-traffic that is still there might have benefited: The piece of road was too short for overtaking anyway (500 meters), and the reconstruction made continuation at the west side going straight ahead, where it was making a left turn before.
        Apart from that, traffic calming is generally liked by the local population, for the reasons bz2 mentions. It is general policy in the Netherlands to concentrate through traffic on a few big roads. On other roads it is discouraged.

  8. “…a former arterial road that was downgraded to be a neighbourhood access street.”

    In my opinion, it was upgraded, not downgraded

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