Most of the cycling infrastructure I show you on this blog has been tried and tested for years, usually even decades. Today is different. Zwolle has built a piece of cycling infrastructure that is a first even for the Netherlands. An experimental and innovative roundabout for cyclists that is at the same time not a roundabout for motorists. In Dutch it is called a “Fietsrotonde” or ‘Bicycle Roundabout’. It was opened last Friday afternoon, 23rd of August 2013.
Zwolle has a policy of separating cycle traffic and motor traffic on route level. Most of the time the two types of traffic follow an entirely different route and that eliminates most of the interactions. But inevitably the two types of traffic are going to meet somewhere. Where an important cycle route had to cross the inner-city ring, the flow of motor traffic had gotten the priority. But that led to long waiting times for the many people cycling. The city of Zwolle tried to find a better solution for this troublesome crossing. In a video (in Dutch) the city explains how they handled this project.
Project leader Ilse Bloemhof and designer Marieke van Brussel of the municipality of Zwolle had meetings with a wide range of stake holders like the society for a safer traffic in the Netherlands (Veilig Verkeer Nederland), the police, a lorry driver, the local branch of the Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond), representatives of nearby schools and people living in close proximity of the junction.
Designer Marieke van Brussel: “First I try the most extreme designs and that is what I did here too. I tried a shared space design, and an ordinary priority cycle path crossing, but I also tried an idea that a resident brought forward in another project and that was the bicycle roundabout. It was the first sketch I made and now it turned out to be the winning design. I must say that I hadn’t really expected that.”
Project leader Ilse Bloemhof: “The stake holders were very excited. We gave them several options but the cycle roundabout was the design that they wanted to pursue further. Everybody was so positive that the project advanced a lot quicker than we ourselves had expected.”
The local branch of the Cyclists’ Union had a bit more doubts at first with regards to cycling safety. But they have now seen the finished roundabout and on their blog they write: “It seems a lot easier to cross this junction on a bicycle. Long waiting times for a gap between the passing cars are a thing of the past, because you go first now as a cyclist. Motorists on the main route no longer face cyclists on one location crossing from multiple directions, that makes the traffic situation clearer. They do now have to give priority to cyclists twice, but on a roundabout. That is a familiar situation that they know from other roundabouts in the city. All in all we think this situation is more pleasant and safer for cycling.”
The budget for the roundabout was 500,000 euros and it was in part financed by the province. The rest was paid for by the municipality. It is important to make clear that this roundabout is of a different and much tighter size than usual. This smaller size had to be tested thoroughly and the roundabout was set up live size on a test area to see if a big lorry (the measure of things for a roundabout like this) could safely navigate it. The project leader sat behind the wheel of a lorry herself to test if she could see the people on bicycles.
She was also present in the final hour before the actual opening, handing out refreshments to the workers who had to work really hard to finish the last details in time.
The first tweets of people who navigated the roundabout were very positive. I must say I was a bit sceptical myself of the need for a new design. But after seeing it and actually riding on the roundabout I am really positive too. Especially because it is so easily understood in the Dutch situation where this type of roundabout is common. For that reason I do think this would only work in the Netherlands, simply because we have 20 years of experience with these roundabouts with priority for cyclists. If you don’t have that, this design would not be so easily understood by all traffic users. It is hoped that the flow of motor traffic is not interrupted too much by the (many) cyclists. But since there is another roundabout nearby the cars already flow in a pace that makes it easy to take turns. On Dutch roundabouts it is common that people pass each other really ‘close’ and that people will even adjust their speed slightly so they can really take turns. I showed this earlier with the roundabout in the centre of Amsterdam and the video below already shows that phenomenon starting to happen here too even in the first minutes after the opening.
In the first hour after the roundabout was opened, the designer herself could be seen cycling around it. On a sturdy sit-up bike with a basket on the front, panniers and her young child in a seat at the back. No wonder she designs something that is good for cyclists, when she can be seen cycling like that herself!
Video of the opening and first hour that the brand new cycle roundabout in Zwolle was in use. The dust literally hadn’t settled yet…
On Monday morning the fist rush hour will be the big test for this roundabout. Hopefully both traffic flows will be able to cross each other’s paths smoothly.