Road works: detours gone wrong

When it comes to cycling there is always room for improvement. Even in the Netherlands where cycling is generally considered traffic and a normal means of transport, people cycling still sometimes have the feeling they come in second place. That is especially the case when things are a little bit out of the ordinary: during road works.

Rosmalen NL: The yellow sign reads “Cyclists Dismount”, but the road works were only on the carriage way that got a new surface. Why would cycling be impossible here? The cycle path is in perfect shape and completely clear.

A quick search on the internet reveals a number of examples of people complaining about how cycling is treated during road works.

The local branch of the Cyclists’ Union in the town of Alphen aan de Rijn is clear and direct: “Cycling detour during road works: and yet again they make a mess of it”. And it is not a local phenomenon. The complete reconstruction of the centre of Utrecht also came with problems. A local news site quoted the Cyclists’ Union: “Detours must improve”. Spokesperson Ria Glas explained: “The city of Utrecht has once again created a bad detour for cycling. Cycling is still not on the radar in this city and we feel that that is really a problem”. In response the city admitted to having underestimated the effect of this detour for cycling, “because of the good weather there were more people cycling than anticipated”. A lousy excuse for a city which is proud that a third of all journeys are made by bicycle! But at least Utrecht managed to make necessary adjustments after the complaints. They brought in traffic wardens to help the flow of traffic (both motor traffic and cycling) to get past the road works in a better way.

An Utrecht detour gone wrong. Long waiting times for a traffic light caused a real bicycle traffic jam. (Picture via Ria Glas). A week later everything ran smoothly as I wrote before.

This behaviour of municipalities seems to be a structural problem. At first everything is set up to an absolute minimum and then when things go wrong, the arrangements are changed and the detour is okay. It makes you wonder why such detours can’t be done right in the first place. It sure gets road works in the top 10 of most annoying situations for people cycling like it does in Nieuwegein, a town in the province of Utrecht.

Even award winning ʼs-Hertogenbosch, provokes anger sometimes. Recently, a part of a cycle path was ripped out. It had to be moved to the side to make room for an extra motor traffic lane that will serve as an extra entrance to a motorway. On the first day of the works the detour was badly signed and that made it unclear what cyclists had to do. It resulted in people choosing different solutions. That made behaviour of cyclists unpredictable for motorists and that is never good for traffic safety. Not only were signs missing, a temporary traffic light was placed but not functioning. So people who did choose the right detour were on their own in crossing a motorway exit and entrance with multiple lanes. These lanes also have multiple green cycles so even when some cars were stopping others could be driving on. On top of it all the cyclists had to cross these lanes from the wrong direction. Motorists who couldn’t know that that was what these people cycling were supposed to do, reacted very inconsiderate. As if these people were breaking laws. In the following days the mistakes were corrected, but why it “always” has to take extra time after the road works have already started will remain a mystery, unless of course you ask someone who can know!

Detour gone wrong in ʼs-Hertogenbosch (filmed by Lei Lennaerts).

So I did ask and I got an explanation from Arnold Bongers, who is a traffic engineer of the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch. First of all he agreed that things went wrong here and here’s the reason why. “Ultimately, the department for Public Space and Traffic is responsible for every aspect of this project, from design, to financing and even gaining public support. Another city department designed the new traffic lanes and they also hired a contractor and were responsible for arranging an alternative for traffic circulation at the time of construction. During such a process there are consultations between the different departments. The idea was to use a temporary traffic light installation here, but that had not been communicated well enough with the city’s traffic lights expert. In ’s-Hertogenbosch the lights are arranged in an exceptional way, also to make the waiting times shorter for people cycling. That was not taken into account in the temporary arrangement and so the installation had to be switched off for reasons of safety in the final moment. It took some time to reorganise everything, and the contractor should have covered the lights that were not in use to make that clear to traffic users. The traffic wardens were there at the request of the city, but only at peak moments. So in short: there had been insufficient internal communication about a small but very important detail in the temporary traffic arrangements. Where people work together mistakes are going to be made. For us this is a reminder that all departments of the city have to cooperate very well in such a project.”

4 thoughts on “Road works: detours gone wrong

    1. It’s only a turning lane for a motorway, which is exactly where cars and lorries should be encouraged and made attractive to be, instead of going along narrow country roads and through town centres like here in Scotland. The Netherlands has a first-rate motorway system – where the A2/E25 crosses over to Belgium it feels like going to a third-world country.

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