Cycle route update: it’s all in the details

Cycle routes in the Netherlands are constantly being updated. Wanting to keep things tidy and in a good order is a Dutch trait and you see that reflected in the streets. The Dutch language has different terms for small repairs and everyday maintenance (‘klein onderhoud’ or ‘small maintenance’) and major maintenance works such as a complete resurfacing which is called ‘groot onderhoud’ or ‘large maintenance’. The latter is scheduled with regular intervals, the first is executed on a need to do basis. ‘Major maintenance’ for streets takes place at intervals of about 30 years. The pipes and cables in a street will then be renewed and a complete new surface including new kerbs and surfacing material (asphalt or pavers) will be used for the new street design. Since all streets have a different life span this process is constant and continuous. At almost every time there is a street that is going through a major maintenance treatment. That means that recently reconstructed streets are everywhere. It’s also the reason that Google StreetView is outdated at almost the moment Google publishes its pictures.

Route from the city centre of ’s-Hertogenbosch (starting at Koningsweg, at the green flag) in the direction of Vught (Finish flag to the left). North is right on this 2014 picture of the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch. The 2009 picture of Google does not show the new ring road and all kinds of other details are outdated.

In ’s-Hertogenbosch the reconstruction of the route from the centre to a town south of the city called Vught was recently finished. The proces had started in 2012 and was finished last June. (There is now a blog post about that reconstruction.) Here the major maintenance cycle was combined with a road diet. When the new south ring road was finished the main flow of traffic was first relocated away from this route and then the streets in this route could be downgraded to signal that is it no longer a main route for motor traffic. For cycling on the other hand the route has now more importance, so for cycling the route was upgraded. In the pictures below I give you some more information on what you see in the before and after situation.

Koningsweg ’s-Hertogenbosch. What was once a one-way cycle path is now a bi-directional cycleway. Note how well this T-junction for cycling is designed. There is space for people waiting for the light without being in the way of other people passing in either direction. Also note that the building to the right has a new façade. The 1980s dark brown bricks have been replaced with a lighter and smoother marble façade. A ‘large maintenance’ process for that building as well.
From a cycle lane to a bi-directional cycleway. Only a very small percentage of the cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands is formed by on-street cycle lanes and I have the feeling that percentage is also going down*. Protected cycleways are always to be preferred over on-street cycle lanes. Two-way cycle paths are tricky. The Cyclists’ Union does not prefer them, ‘unless’… And that is because they are slightly more dangerous at intersections. But when (as in this case) the bi-directional cycleway makes that you have fewer crossings with motor traffic, then it can be okay to build them. Note how well protected the cycleway is from the carriageway. There is also cycle infrastructure on the other side of the street. With bi-directional cycleways you can usually choose which side of the road is more convenient for your particular route.                                                                     * In the Netherlands there are 4,700 kilometres of on street cycle lanes versus 35,000 kilometres of protected cycleways. (Source Fietsersbond 2013)
This is where we turn left. The new bi-directional cycleway straight-on was already under construction in the before picture. It is finished now. Here too there is also a one-way cycleway on the other side of the street. Again, you have the option to use this side or the other side of the street. The new left turn is in a slightly different location. It is now a bit further away from the stairs on the right hand side than it used to be. That is to make the crossing better (as can be seen on the next pictures).
Crossing some lanes for motor traffic. In the before situation there was a triangular traffic island in the centre of the intersection. Pedestrians and cyclists approached that island from three sides and could choose from two directions to continue. Which meant there were always at least two and sometimes three sharp turns in your crossing. That island has been completely removed. Crossings are now straight as a line. Much more convenient for cycling and walking.
An aerial picture of the same crossing. The traffic island was a bit hard to see so I drew the outlines of it and the crossings on the picture. Clear to see that any crossing would have a few sharp turns this way. In the old situation it was not automatic that a green light to get to the island would also mean a green light to get from the island again. You would sometimes have to wait again on the island. In the new situation the traffic island has been removed and the crossings were replaced by two straight crossings. A green light is now always for the entire crossing. There is no stopping in the central reservation (or median strip).
This before and after picture is clearly showing how standards have changed in the Netherlands in the last 30 years. Before a typical 1960s/1970s cycle path, 1.5 metres wide and tiled with concrete pavers. In the after picture we see a standard cycleway of the 21st century. At least 2 metres wide and paved with smooth red asphalt. This is a cycleway in one direction.
In the before picture a cycle path from the left joined this cycleway. That was hard to know. In the new situation that cycleway to the left has become bi-directional and the junction has become much clearer. You can now see very well that you can expect people cycling from the left. Also note that there is space for the man to wait for the light without being in the way of people cycling straight-on here. There are traffic lights for motor traffic going straight-on, but  – as is usual in the Netherlands – people cycling can just ride past these lights.
The one-way cycle path on this bridge has been widened at the expense of one lane for motor traffic. This was possible because this road was downgraded from a main arterial road to a neighbourhood access road. It went from 4 to 2 lanes (but at this location there is a dedicated right turning lane for approaching traffic, so there are 3 lanes in total). Also note that the bridge railings have been painted in a darker colour now. When you do major maintenance you have to do all maintenance. The iron barrier between the cycleway and the carriageway has been removed. That would signal that this road would be an arterial road (which it is not anymore) and these fences are dangerous for people cycling if you accidentally hit them. The new kerb forms a better division. It is low at the cycleway side and high at the carriageway side.
This service street has become a cycle street and that made the approach different. In the before situation people cycling rejoined the service street from the cycleway on the bridge (of the previous photo) with this old-fashioned chicane. That is no longer wanted, as it makes it necessary to reduce your speed. People could fall if they accidentally hit that central kerb or the two strange bollards. That is why all these unwanted obstacles have been removed now. Speed on the cycle street is 30km/h. On the main carriageway it is 50km/h.
It seems not much has changed here. But the colour of the brand new asphalt indicates it is now a cycle street where cars are guests. All pipes and cables under the surface have been renewed, as were the kerbs and the pavers of the side walk. The entrance to the side street in the front is now formed with pavers under an angle. In the before situation the kerbs were lowered. If you look carefully you will see that the main carriageway between the large trees to the left has been narrowed from 4 lanes to 2. The trees have much more grass to their left. (A much better view in the two pictures below.)
Vughterweg ’s-Hertogenbosch before reconstruction. A 4 lane arterial road squeezed in between the trees. (picture Google StreetView).
After reconstruction (late 2012) the road went back to just two lanes (one for each direction). The trees have more space now. Since this picture was taken the grass has grown back.
A speed bump, that was added in the 1990s by the look of it, has been removed. They are too uncomfortable for people cycling and do only little to reduce the speed of motor traffic. Again on this picture you can see that the grass strip to the left of the large trees is much wider now. Because of the removed two lanes for motor traffic.
The right turning lane that was there for motor traffic in the before situation has been completely removed. Grass with trees came in its place. The lowered kerb in the front right, an access to a drive way, has been replaced by pavers with an angle. That detail makes that the rest of the side-walk is much more even and horizontal now. In the before situation the whole side-walk was under an angle, now only a small part is. For (older) people walking that makes a difference. The surface was originally brick here, now it is smooth asphalt.
The road diet is clearly visible on this picture. In the before situation there were three lanes for motor traffic at this intersection. Two to go straight-on and one right turning lane. That was reduced to just one lane. The space that became available was used for grass and new trees and also the cycle street was moved to the left slightly, so the side-walk could be widened too.
The lights have been changed. In the before situation the light for right turning traffic as well as the light for cycling were default red. Depending on which type of traffic arrived first, that particular light would turn green. In the after situation the light for cycling is default green. Only if there is traffic coming from the side street the light turns red. Turning traffic has to give way to people cycling straight-on because that is the law in the Netherlands. There is room for motor traffic to wait – out-of-the-way of other traffic – for people cycling. Note also that the cycleway has become bi-directional now. This gives people the opportunity to choose on what side of the intersection they wish to cross. So they can reduce the number of crossings in their particular route.
What was the start of a service street has now become a bi-directional cycleway with a bus stop. In the distance some trees could be planted because of the room that became available when the road went from 4 to 2 lanes.
From this location the before and after pictures become the same again, but for one detail: three larger trees in the before situation have been removed. I hope they were replanted. I know some larger trees were indeed moved to a better location and I hope that that were these trees (it would be a shame if they were just cut down). In the after situation you see that a new line of trees was planted, really in one line. The older trees were not in that line and too close to the cycle street. I assume there was fear that they could later uproot kerbs and asphalt.

What I tried to tell you with all these pictures, is that the details of infrastructure are very important. You need them to be just right for a good cycle route. Details, which you might have overlooked if you just watched the video. Now that I have pointed them out to you, I am sure you will watch the video with different eyes. Oh, and before you think we always do our maintenance well… No, that is not the case. Otherwise we would not need a term for maintenance that was supposed to be done, but wasn’t. And we do have that term! So ‘achterstallig onderhoud’ (‘overdue maintenance’) does exist; The Netherlands is not perfect!

My video showing a before and after of a cycle route in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

30 thoughts on “Cycle route update: it’s all in the details

  1. ” And we do have that term! So ‘achterstallig onderhoud’ (‘overdue maintenance’) does exist; The Netherlands is not perfect!”

    Even with that said, it is still awesome to see a culture that values biking and ensuring infrastructure that is well suited for the needs of the community. No country can be perfect but I know I have learned so much.

  2. “The new kerb forms a better division. It is low at the cycleway side and high at the carriageway side.”

    Why there’s a kerb on the cycleway side at all? It reduces effective width of the cycleway and usually requires additional drainage (maybe not in this case, as there are spaces between sections of the kerb). Why not use entire width available for a cycleway, like in Denmark?

    1. Even in Copenhagen there is a height difference between the cycleway and the carriageway, so also a kerb. But we do have a different tradition of building cycling infrastructure. In the Netherlands the CROW design manual recommends a partition verge between cycleway and carriageway of at least 35cms in the built-up area (or 1 metre when there are lampposts or other street furniture on it, or when the cycleway is bi-directional). That is because here we feel there has to be a buffer space between people cycling and motor traffic. That space is the protection between the two types of traffic. It wouldn’t be a protected cycleway without it. The space could not be used as you suggest. Motor vehicles and people cycling always have to keep space between them. We show the width of it. In the Danish tradition you have to estimate and keep that distance yourself. That said; last week’s post showed that we do have some ‘Copenhagen-style’ cycleways in this country. But they are not recommended.

    2. I think that many cyclists would be happy with cycling sometimes a bit closer to the carriageway than CROW recommends, if only it allowed them to overtake other cyclists more easily. But it’s true that if the cycleway is wide enough, using all space available for widening it is not very important. However, I just don’t see the point putting in a kerb which complicates drainage (like in this case – you can even see debris accumulated along the kerb) and adds risk of blocking the wheel while overtaking. It’s not even “forgiving” 45 deg. kerb like between cycleway and the sidewalk, just the good ol’ 90 deg. low kerb. There are verge separated cycleways in Denmark outside built-up area without a kerb between the cycleway and the verge (there are some in the Netherlands too, but it’s not always the case). If marking the safe distance from the carriageway is really needed (or edge of the cycleway), then a painted white line should do the job. Otherwise it almost looks like the hedge needs to be protected from cyclists by a kerb 🙂

      1. What you call ‘debris’ is actually just a bit of sand. This infrastructure was finished only days earlier and it hadn’t been washed away yet. Nothing to worry about, you can ride over it without any problem.
        Paint is never a good protection. My earlier explanation stands; it wouldn’t be a protected cycle track if there wasn’t any physical barrier to motor traffic and that’s why we have it.

      2. Of course sufficiently high kerb along the carriageway is needed even if there is a partition verge, I don’t deny that. What I’m asking about is the second, low kerb adjacent to the cycleway. It does nothing to protect cyclists – rather the opposite is true.

        Paint between cyclists and fast moving motor traffic? Not enough.
        Paint between cyclists and pedestrians? Not enough.
        Paint between cyclists and grass or low vegetation? I dare to say it’s enough 🙂

        1. 1. Because it eases mowing the grass and avoids having to hire people who will cutt the grass that’ll grow over the cycle path (and by that narrowing the cycle path).
          2. Because it looks nice. In the Netherlands we really value neat public space.

      3. @ewaimirek1, with respect I think you need to be careful when attempting to speak for “many cyclists”, and suggesting you know better than the CROW guidelines which have the benefit of so many authors and so many decades of experience (although of course improvements can always be made).

        I cycle in the UK so I’m used to cycling in the carriageway (with or without a painted lane), and I felt even more comfortable cycling in Copenhagen with a slightly raised cycle lane adjacent to the carriageway. But when cycling with my children you can be sure that I would very much appreciate some kerbed “protection”, and my mum – their Grandma – feels the same way. This is about the people who just won’t cycle without that extra space.

        Obviously bikes lean when turning, but buses etc don’t, so without an extra buffer you can end up closer to motor vehicles than you would without any cycle lane – drivers would give more space when overtaking on the carriageway. Also in the UK, without that added protection it’s common for drivers to mount the kerb and use the cycle lane for parking, or just unloading etc, which completely ruins the value of the cycle path.

        1. No, I don’t know better than CROW guidelines – what CROW says is that it’s best when a cycleway is separated from the carriageway by some extra space, and I agree with that. However, another thing is whether you make it possible to cycle on this space or not. I don’t know how many cyclists would do it and how often, but I’m sure that some would have no problem with cycling close to the carriageway if they needed to. On the new Mark’s video you can see that when this kerb is lacking, you have more space for overtaking:

          1. Ok, so perhaps we are talking at cross purposes. The difference between clearly defined “cycle-path/non-cycle-path” (a) and “cycle-path/non-cycle-path-which-you-can-actually-cycle-or-overtake-on-if-you-want-to” (b).

            I don’t object so strongly to (b), and I guess it can be argued that, since it’s on the outside of the cycle path you are unlikely to come into conflict with pedestrians, but I still think it’s a bit of a messy set-up. Is it part of the cycle-path or not? Because if it is then you’ve just removed the separation/protection/buffer.

        2. Is it messy? It’s like a paved shoulder along a carriageway – normally you are not expected to drive a car on it, but you can if it’s unavoidable. And (back to cycling) even if you don’t ride on this buffer, you can cycle on the very edge of the “real cycle path” without a risk of blocking the wheel. Not only you don’t need extra money for such a solution, but you can even save costs of installing additional drainage.

        3. You make a fair case. I guess the surface treatment would distinguish it from the main cycle lane, and the kerb on the carriageway side is what keeps the cars off (another big problem in the UK).

          I’m sure there must be instances of this kind of situation, and I’d be interested to know what the experts have to say, now I’m clearer about what you mean.

      1. Sometimes the sign does say cycle path, cars permitted (but musty yield). This is also called a fiestraat. S’Hertogenbosch does not use a sign to indicate a fiestraat, it is up to the municipalities.

  3. Thanks in no small part to the internet, U.S. traffic engineers are becoming more aware of the types of bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, though, they are like many of the tourists on Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills who cannot afford to buy what they see. What happens is that these engineers mainly rely on installing unprotected bike lanes or try to figure out a way to do a few protected bike lanes on the cheap by using road markings, plastic bollards, parked cars and occasionally bicycle specific signals.

    It can look like a cheap, crude, pathetic imitation of a cycle track in Denmark or the Netherlands, but the few that have been installed so far in the U.S. seem to be inspiring other cities to install them. Putting in context that the U.S. is in the early stage of bringing back, from near extinction, the bicycle as a form of transportation, this seems to be inspiring more and more cities to install their first on-street bikeways.

    When the mode share for bicycling is in the low single digits, or less, as it is overall for the U.S., simple bike lane striping can be a fast way to gain mode share even though its mainly attracting only about 7% of the adult population. That can be a several fold increase from what they are starting from.

    Having set the bar for a large U.S. city at a 6% bicycle commuting mode share for five years in a row, Portland Oregon seems to have plateaued in what can be achieved for a large U.S. using mainly just road markings on major streets. Two other large cities, Washington D.C. and Minneapolis, are increasing their bicycle mode share at a fast enough pace to catch up to Portland within a handful of years.

    1. @Dennis It is due to the enormous effort, dedication and good work of Mark and David Hembrow that all this incredible information concerning Dutch cycling infrastructure has been made available to the English-speaking world. The Internet is only the means. Thanks to Mark & David!

    2. While I would use kerbs as much as possible if I have the money, if flex tubes, paint and planters make people more willing to cycle, then lets do that so we can have more people cycling in a shorter timeframe, then once we have enough people to justify the costs of kerbs, then we can use curbs. It allows politicians to make it more likely they will support them because they can really say it would be possible to have a hundred kilometres of new cycle tracks by the end of the year and allows a trial that involved a width that was less than the Dutch recommendations to go up to Dutch recommendations, and they will not get blasted as much about spending money on a “useless track used by almost nobody” as called by the bikelashists. Though do use kerbs if it is in the budget.

  4. Fantastic series, thanks so much for putting this post together. Was wondering if you could shed some light on the van at 2:50 with what appears to be a pair of folding bikes racked on the back door. Do people doing home repair use the folding bikes to get into neighborhoods where car access is limited?

    1. No, that appears to be a camper van and my guess is that those people have folding bikes on them because they are easier to bring along and use up less space.

      I do not know of any place in The Netherlands where car access is so limited that you cannot bring in stuff using a van e.g. for home repair or moving, even in the old city centers with narrow and many one way streets. The only thing is that typically students sometimes use a “bakfiets” (i.e. cargo bike) to move house, because it’s cheap, they have few possessions anyways, and indeed it can be a bit more convenient in old city centers.

  5. Reading this blog from Australia is like watching a scene from a Merrie Melodies cartoon in which Wile E. Coyote, running as fast as he possibly can, surprises himself by catching up to and alongside the Roadrunner, who just looks at him, goes beep-beep, and instantly accelerates out of sight leaving Coyote standing on the road with his jaw on the ground. The analogy is that in terms of cycling infrastructure, in that scene the Roadrunner represents the Netherlands, and Australia is a saguaro cactus.

    Thanks for another great post Mark. As depressing as it can be sometimes to read each one and then look out the window, your blog is fantastic for showing us not only how cycling infrastructure should be done, but that it can and is being done in a country not too unlike mine to think it can’t happen here.

    1. I stopped reading many blogs from other countries on this subject, for the opposite reason: from a Dutch point of view, the struggles of for example the UK are really depressing.

      1. Tell me about it… I moved there two years ago, and only then fully realised how good the cycling infrastructure in The Netherlands is, or, how much it sucks (almost) everywhere else…

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