Enschede, nominee for best cycling city

Enschede is one of the five nominees to become best Cycling City of the Netherlands in 2014. Chosen from a long-list of 19 municipalities, these five municipalities compete to take over the title of current best cycling city ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which was elected in 2011. I will make a small portrait of all five nominees and in reversed alphabetical order Enschede is the third after Velsen and Zwolle.

Enschede’s big cycle bridge that featured in an earlier blog post.

Enschede is a larger university city in the East of the Netherlands, close to the German border. With its population of about 160,000 it is the largest city of the province of Overijssel. The city’s main industry had long been textile production, but that collapsed in the 1970s and 80s. The former industrial city has re-invented itself and now focuses on research, innovation, education, culture and sport, but the city hasn’t lost its down to earth worker’s mentality.

Many cities in the Netherlands are compact and Enschede is no exception. Coupled with good policies for cycling this makes that cycling is an important means of transport in this city. In the Bicycle Vision of the city for the period 2012-2020 we find that Enschede choses consciously for sustainable mobility and tries to get people to make the shift to cycling to improve traffic safety and the liveability of especially the city centre.

This shift is needed. The same document reveals that for even very short journeys under 2km 35% of the people in Enschede take the car. Tucked away in a diagram is the finding that cycling in Enschede decreased when you compare 2007 with 2000. It fell from a little above average to below average for larger cities. That may sound worse than it is: about 34% of all journeys up to 7.5km are still made by bicycle.

From Enschede’s Cycle Vision, a picture showing examples that need to be updated to meet modern Dutch standards.

Enschede wants to increase that number to 40%. To reach that figure the city wants to improve the cycling climate, by improving infrastructure, increasing bicycle parking places and by reducing theft. There is an array of measures with regard to the improvement of infrastructure. For instance by unbundling new cycle routes from the main routes from motor traffic and by improving existing infrastructure to meet modern standards. (See picture above, that shows what that means.)

For the entire Cycle Vision Enschede sets aside 9 million Euro and that doesn’t include larger projects that would eat the budget too much, but only the “ordinary” updating measures.

One of those larger projects that was already finished is the cycle bridge over Auke Vleerstraat that featured in one of my earlier blog posts.

Enschede had been a pioneer with new cycling measures in the past, but cycling got a little bit less attention in more recent years, which may explain the decrease of the modal share. In the early 1990s Enschede was the first city that gave cyclists priority on roundabouts. This concept that I wrote about a lot already has since been adopted in the entire country and is now standard policy in most of the Netherlands.

Simultaneous green was invented in Enschede. It works only under specific conditions, if those are not met there is no advantage in this system. (Picture courtesy of Fietsersbond)

Enschede is also the birth place of cycle traffic lights that are green for all directions at the same time while motor traffic is stopped entirely. On my visit to Enschede it was the first time I really experienced what it is like to be cycling left through an all directions green junction. This ten year old concept is not something that has widely spread so far. I know Groningen and Assen have it and I saw it in Beverwijk, but in the larger cities in the west I have not yet seen it. That may have to do with the recommendations of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union for “simultaneous green” junctions. It really only works on compact junctions where not all directions have separate green cycles already. There shouldn’t be a higher volume than 25,000 vehicles per day and from all directions at least 10% of cyclists have to make a left turn. The all directions green has to take place twice per full cycle to make it preferable over a ‘normal’ Dutch junction with cycle tracks all around the junction. The main advantage is then that you can quickly make a left turn. It seems to be popular where people are used to it. I am not, and I did not like it, it felt “messy”.

A car passing close and fast while I cycle on a cycle lane in Enschede. The lane becomes a track at the junction. Why not have tracks all the way?

What I also disliked very much was the fondness for cycle lanes in Enschede. I was surprised to see newly reconstructed arterial roads with cycle lanes. Even when they are 2 metres wide, car traffic passes you much closer than when you cycle on a separated cycle track. It was good to see the lanes changed to tracks right before most junctions, but I do not understand cycle lanes. For lanes to be good and safe they need just as much space as separated cycle tracks and those have a far greater feeling of subjective safety, so why not opt for those?

Cycle lanes complicate junction design. This ‘mini-track’ for a left turn is needlessly complicated and thus unused by most cyclists (hence also the debris). They simply use the left-turn lane for motor traffic.

Cycle lanes have many disadvantages. They can be invaded by motor traffic either legally when they have to cross them to park, or illegally when they park inside the lanes. With cycle lanes junction design becomes needlessly complicated to a point where people choose to ignore the design altogether. A left turning track I saw was ignored by all cyclists I saw turning left. And I understand them completely.

With its Cycle Vision Enschede commits fully to cycling again, and the best example of new infrastructure in Enschede must be the high-speed regional cycle track that starts in Enschede and that will be 60 kilometres long. I have shown you this amazing route before as well.

So will this bring Enschede the title of Best Cycling City in the Netherlands? To be honest, I have my doubts. But who knows?

My video portrait of Enschede.

9 thoughts on “Enschede, nominee for best cycling city

  1. I imagine that if Mark used an SG junction on a regular basis, maybe it formed part of his commute to his workplace in Utrecht, he may become interested and like it. Do you agree with the recommendations of SG junctions, in particular the 10% turning cyclists part (excluding those who make turns that do not conflict with motor traffic anyway) and the two stages per cycle (assuming 4 way junction)? I think those are the main things that I would require, because if there are hardly any turning cyclists, then SG does not have much advantage. It could very well be used well in the city centres of many cities if there are traffic lights that cannot be removed and cities like maybe Utrecht certainly Amsterdam and the Hague. Amsterdam in particular due to the large numbers of cyclists coming and going every which way and the lack of space to have enough lanes to separate turning cars from cyclists, a major advantage to safety. I agree that it would feel a bit messy to someone like myself who has no SG junction within thousands of kilometres from my home.

    The only reason I would build cycle lanes is if there was a street like one whee Mark covered in North Utrecht that needed optical narrowing, and only if they transition to cycle tracks at bus stops and at major junctions.

    I wonder David why you did not chose Houten. It is well connected to Utrecht by train and by cycling and has absolutely 0 interactions between a car road larger than an access road and cyclists, and is thus very safe. In the last several decades, I think just 1 person was killed on a bicycle. Obviously not good for that 1 person to be dead now, but compared to even Assen it is safer and also feels much safer.

  2. That would be because they meet those specific requirements. Enough bicycles turn left, the volume of motor vehicles is not to high for all way greens to work well, and they have enough all ways per cycle. If those requirements are not met, then all ways are not justified.

  3. That is very illuminating with the van parking in the cycle lane. Most decision makers here have a hard time understanding the benefits. Even in NL, people will park in a bike lane!

  4. I’ve lived in Groningen for four years. It took me about a week to get used to simultaneous green, but after that I was sold. You don’t have to wait so long to be able to cross and you can take a direct left. It feels much safer, as all cars have to wait (no chance of a right hook accident). It might feel messy at first, but everyone is able to negotiate the conflicts that might arise. In four years I’ve cycled daily and I can’t remember seeing any collisions.

    Recently I moved back to Amsterdam. I truly miss the simultaneous green junctions. Although in some places the lights for a left turn are timed with the other lights, so you don’t slow down for a left turn, this is hardly anywhere when you get closer to the city center.

    1. Though of course, if there are not enough cyclists making left turns for the wait to be worthwhile, for both drivers who have to put up with it and the cyclists, though with their two reserved stages, assuming a four way junction, they can have a maximum of 2 stages wait, while cars must wait 5 stages at their lowest, (assuming you also separate the turning stages from the through stages for cars too),

    2. I pass a junction with simultaneous green in all directions four times a day to bring my son to school and to pick him up from school. Personally, I don’t have any problems with it. I cross this junction straight on. At green first I look left, then I look across to see if there are people coming from across who are turning left and will cross my path. And last but not least I look to my right.

  5. Thank you Mark for providing this overview of all the Fietsstad awards candidate cities for 2014. It is immensely insightful for us overseas and helps us understand what is going on in the Netherlands as your country continues to lead the way in developing & implementing the world’s best cycling infrastructure.

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