Intersection redesign in Utrecht (1)

See also part 2 of this blog post

It is one of my most viewed videos, the video in which I explain that common Dutch intersection design would not take up more space than typical US crossroads design. That you can indeed change your old fashioned intersection and replace it with modern Dutch design is now proven even better. Recently Utrecht reconstructed an intersection that was first designed in the 1960s and that had not been fundamentally changed since then. It now got this typical Dutch design and that was not before time!

The basic principle of Dutch intersection design with protected cycleways on the intersection itself.

All four roads leading up to the crossroads did already have cycling infrastructure, but it stopped right before the intersection. The Netherlands is no different than any other country. It first started to build cycling infrastructure alongside roads and larger streets, but not where it is needed most: at intersections.

St. Josephlaan Utrecht before the reconstruction.
The protected cycleway stopped and you had to cycle with motor traffic to reach the intersection. (Picture Utrecht Municipality)
St. Josephlaan after the reconstruction.
The protected cycleway continues at the expense of the dedicated right turning lane for motor traffic.

Fortunately that changed in this country and most intersections now have safe infrastructure for cycling. But for a few places with a design legacy that was for some reason ‘forgotten’ to be updated. I have shown you earlier that there is a whole range of solutions for safer intersections, but for an urban area like this one – with relatively narrow streets and a lot of traffic – this design – with protected cycleways all around the intersection – is really best.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The blueprint for the reconstruction showed the before situation in thin blue lines. So I was able ‘reconstruct’ the before situation and both drawings alternate in this slide show. You can choose which picture you want to see by clicking the picture and then using the arrows. You can also see the larger versions of the before and after situation. (Original blueprint courtesy of the Utrecht Municipality.)


For people from other countries, the before situation may look like something to strive for. In fact, a lot of Copenhagen’s intersections are very similar. Some advocates in the UK will be happy to see all the ASLs (advanced stop lines) and bike boxes. So they can point out that they are really Dutch. But this is old-fashioned design that has proven to be inadequate! This was one of Utrecht’s blackspots: an intersection of the city’s inner ring road and a main route into the city centre. The latter, Amsterdamsestraatweg, featured in quite a number of my videos, is used by 17,000 private cars and 13,000 people cycling per day (Figures Fietsersbond 2012). St. Josephlaan/Marnixlaan, the ring road, is used by circa 18,950 motor vehicles per day (Figures Utrecht municipality 2012). Where the two meet a total of 21 crashes, which injured 7 people, were reported for the period 2004-2006. Four people were injured so severe that they needed medical treatment in a hospital. That may not sound like a lot to some, but in this city there was only one intersection in that period with one more casualty.

No wonder the city made plans to improve traffic safety at this location.

St. Josephlaan in Utrecht in 1973, shortly after it was constructed this way in 1968. The cycleways on either side were designed in, right from the start. But they stopped at the intersection, of which you can just see the traffic lights. (Picture Utrechts Archief)
The same location in 1983 shows that one lane for motor traffic was added and that the cycleways on either side of the street were narrowed considerably for that reason. This was at the time that cycling declined dramatically in the Netherlands. A situation that was later reversed. (Picture Utrechts Archief).

The narrowest part of the city’s ring road (St. Josephlaan) measures just 21.9 metres (almost 72 Ft) from façade to façade. In that space we find 4 lanes for motor traffic, two one-way cycle tracks of 2 metres wide and side walks on either side. Not easy to fit this junction design in such a tight space, but Utrecht found a solution.

The city informed the residents of its plans as follows.

At this intersection there is little room for the many people cycling. From St. Josephlaan the cycleway even stops right before it reaches the intersection. People cycling have to manoeuvre between motor traffic to get to the traffic light, which is dangerous.

  • In the new situation the cycleways from all four directions will continue until the crossroads and also on the intersection itself.
  • The dedicated right turning lanes for motor traffic will be merged with the lanes for going straight-on. This way space becomes available in all four corners of the intersection for protected cycleways with sufficient space for waiting areas, that are large enough for the number of people cycling here.
  • The traffic light installation will be replaced and the new installation will be tailor-made for the new situation.

The works started in March 2014 and were finished in June 2014, but for the new traffic light installation that will be installed at the end of the summer. The gas company took this opportunity to replace gas pipes now that the streets were open anyway. Other cables and pipes were not replaced this time.

My video showing a before and after of this intersection and how that changes going straight-on and making a left turn and a right turn.

The reconstruction was part of a plan to reconstruct 28 locations in the city to improve traffic safety. The municipality informs about the progress of all these projects on a website. This is “measure number 8”.

The city considers the reconstruction of this intersection the first step towards a downgraded west-ring. The city has expanded so much to the west that a ring road here is no longer in the right location. In a concept report, published in January 2014, the city shows what it would like this road to look like in 2020. Downgraded to only 2 lanes for motor traffic and much more friendly to people (either walking or cycling).

From ‘ring road’ to ‘city boulevard’, a picture of the current (2014) situation and the vision for 2020 for St. Josephlaan in Utrecht. From the concept “Measures in Utrecht-West” by the Utrecht municipality.

This is the first post about this intersection reconstruction. This post and the video focus most on the before and after situation. In a follow-up post (scheduled for next month) we will look into the new situation in more detail. I can try to explain questions you might have about this design. So please use the comments to inform me of what you would like to know.

21 thoughts on “Intersection redesign in Utrecht (1)

  1. wow… finally a post that gives me hope 🙂 the prior video, while better than most of what we have, is something i can relate to infrastructure we have here, with bicycles needing to fight with cars at the intersection. perhaps in 30 years, it will be like your ‘after’ (although i will be 70, depressed again!)

  2. Mark,

    Thank you for this very good informative post. The historic photos are amazing and the before-after jpgs make it very useful to understand the concepts.

    I expect you’ll explain in the next post why the new cycle tracks have only been built 2.0m wide, which isn’t quite wide enough as you showed in the video, and won’t be the width for St Josephlaan in 2020 despite what the artistic impression shows.


  3. Mark, in the first diagram with the green bike lanes there doesn’t seem to be enough space for riding past cyclists that are waiting at the junction. The waiting cyclists would likely block the cyclists who are trying to ride by them. This problem of lack of adequate space to accommodate both waiting and moving cyclists at the junction is where I didn’t see how a typical Dutch bicycle junction design took up no more space than a typical U.S. junction design.

    The after blueprint clearly shows additional space for cyclists to wait for a green light at the junction without interfering with cyclists who want to ride past them. That additional space would have to come from the sidewalk or the roadway. Adding the space of what was the right-turn-only lane to the bike lane at the junction explains where that additional space needed for waiting cyclists comes from.

    Another example of where this additional space can come from is illustrated from 3:10 to 3:45 in this video of yours where parking is removed as the junction is approached:

    Parking on a arterial street is typical in a U.S. city. In Los Angeles the parking disappears on a arterial street as a major junction is approached to make way for a motor vehicle turn-only-lane. Its taking away that space from motorists and giving it to cyclists that runs counter to the typical engineering of junctions in the U.S. Motorists typically have priority over cyclists in roadway design for U.S. cities.

    In the U.S., removing a through motor vehicle lane on a arterial street usually meets less resistance from constituents compared to eliminating some parking. If cities would remove the parking on arterial streets, then this would free up space for bikeways to be installed on a lot more streets without interfering with the flow of motor vehicles. Some large U.S. cities are starting to do that.

    1. In the Netherlands parking on arterial streets really is the exception rather than the rule. I guess it has to do with the emphasis on reducing speed differences for safety: A car parking or coming out of a parking place has near-zero velocity, so we don’t want that on a road with fast traffic – which arterial roads are supposed to be. Likewise, no driveways are supposed to end up on those roads, and we try to diminish the number of side streets – if an arterial roads passes by a block of 3 or 4 streets, only one of them will connect, and drivers going for one of the other streets need to use that one as well. Apart from increased safety and room for cycling facilities, it also means that car drivers driving along those arterials have a faster and less stressful journey.

      1. Andre, you’ve brought up several features of typical arterial streets in the Netherlands that has puzzled me for some time.

        I assume that some arterial streets in the Netherlands will have stores facing the roadway. If there is no on-street parking, no driveways and few side streets, then how do people drive to these stores to shop? Or, are these stores located on secondary streets with easier access?

        Los Angeles streets are generally built into a grid system of major streets crossing every half of a mile. If a arterial street is close to residential areas then then are probably several smaller streets that connect to it and may cross the arterial street. This and the abundance of car parking on arterial streets and on side streets makes driving very convenient and it puts bicycling in a much less competitive position in terms of convenience and speed compared to traveling by car.

        The old streetcar or railroad right-of-ways in Los Angeles have no driveways and are intersected mainly just by major streets. These right-of-ways are where new light-rail passenger lines are being built without taking away any room from cars and a few of those also are getting mixed use paths for pedestrians and bicycles if there is enough space left over.

        A tactic that is going to start being employed for getting a network of bikeways in Los Angeles is to utilize residential streets that parallel or cross the busy arterial streets. The higher density population areas of LA have few bikeways due to the greater competition for street space that is congested with cars during peak hours.

        Here’s a map of the completely bikeways in the city of Los Angeles:

        The bike lanes are disconnected due to a section of street having 800 motor vehicles per lane during a peak hour. The department of transportation gives the decision of taking away space from driving on those streets to the council member of that district and it is usually turned down. There really is very little choice but to start utilizing residential street space in those situations. Not having access to arterial streets where there are barriers such as railroad right-of-ways, water tributaries or freeways makes creating a network of bikeways very difficult. Los Angeles has 7,500 miles of streets, which is a big canvas to paint, as ex New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said not long ago.

        An advantage of using residential streets for bikeways is that homeowners along these streets do not like a lot of car traffic in their area, yet they probably want all of the arterial street space used for cars. There is a fear that if a through lane is taken away from cars on the arterial street then the drivers will invade their quiet residential street as a fast cut through route.

        1. I’m not a specialist at this, just someone who lives here of course, but I can see two main methods:
          * service roads: Parallel to the arterial street there are extra, slower roads, along which the shops, side roads, house and parking are. These roads are only connected to the arterial sparingly. See for Mark’s description of one such situation
          * new roads and downgrading: If a road would have a dual function (both housing/shops and through traffic), and is too narrow for a solution as described above, it is downgraded, and another road is made into a through road, or another through road is being built – possibly quite far away, on the edge of town.

        2. Thanks Andre, I hadn’t seen that article before.

          There are a few streets in Los Angeles with a service road parallel to it. I had asked a traffic engineer about using this for bicycles instead of a bike lane on the arterial and he stated it involved much higher costs of having to install additional signals at every major intersection. Los Angeles hasn’t yet advanced to the point of doing intersection treatments for bike lanes on major streets. The 2nd cycle track for LA will be on south Figueroa St (first one was in a tunnel on 2nd st) and it will have bicycle specific signals that are activated along with no turn signalization for motor vehicles. This project will be finished in 2016.

          Downgrading a major road in Los Angeles would be a radical idea, much like closing off Times Square in New York City to traffic. A comparable street for Los Angeles would probably be Hollywood Blvd which gets a lot of tourists during the summer.

        3. Downgrading major roads once was a radical idea in the Netherlands too, but then we talk 20-25 years ago. The key event I think was the ‘verkeerscirculatieplan’ (‘traffic circulation plan’) of the city of Groningen in 1977-1978. The inner city of Groningen, until then a traffic interchange, was made unusable for through traffic by dividing it into four zones, between which no car traffic was possible. Car traffic was relegated to a ring around the inner city (nowadays it is moved further away, especially to a wider ring, roughly where the edge of the city was around 1970). It was a novel thing then, but since then almost all Dutch cities have created a car-poor and/or car-free area in the center.
          I do think that Hollywood Boulevard would be a good candidate to close off for through traffic. Looking at the map, it’s tripling up with West Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard big time. I would like to turn one of these into a Dutch-style arterial (block off minor sideroads, no on-street parking, perhaps even remove the sidewalks to create a buffer of green between road and city), slightly downgrade the other, and make Hollywood Boulevard into ‘large pedestrian’ – with bicycle access and with car access where needed, but without the possibility of going through with cars.
          Looking at the map, I think the center of LA is a real travesty. Parallel major roads every 200 meters? Come on… A traffic circulation plan would make a lot of sense there.

        4. Figuring out a way to make taking away space from motorists in the more densely population areas of Los Angeles enticing to politicians and stakeholders is difficult when the mode share for bicycling is very low.

          One of the more likely ways of succeeding in doing this would be to make the project “big, bold and capture people’s imagination” as Brian Payne states beginning at the 1:20 mark in this Streetsfilm about the Indianapolis Cultural Trail:

          Los Angeles doesn’t spend much per year for on-street bikeways, but it does spend a lot on bike paths next to flood control waterways and railroad right-of-ways. This half mile section of bike path along the LA river in the community area of Winnetka in Los Angeles cost about $13.5 million a mile to build and it is no more than 3/4 of a mile north of another bike path that runs parallel to it alongside the Orange Line bus rapid transit line:

          Winnetka is ranked 100th in the county of Los Angeles for population density with 9,826 people per square mile. The highest population density is just west of downtown Los Angeles in Koreatown that has 42,611 residents per square mile.

          If there were as much spent per capita on a bikeway in Koreatown as there was for the bike path along the LA river in Winnetka then it would cost $58.5 million a mile. As it is there is about a mile of bike lane and miles of sharrows installed in Koreatown.

          To get the highest mode share for bicycling in Los Angeles there should be just as much per capita spent on bikeways in the more densely populated areas as there is in the less densely populated areas. The tactic so far has been to do just the opposite.

  4. If a on-street bikeway design involves construction, then it is usually too cost prohibitive to install very many miles of it for most U.S. cities. New York City and Los Angeles spend about $10 million per year on bikeways.

    Most U.S. cities have been following the lead of New York City of using inexpensive materials such as road markings, plastic posts and parked cars for protected bike lanes. Los Angeles can’t even afford to use green paint on any but a couple of its bike lanes.

    There is also the problem of obtaining the space needed to install any kind of on-street bikeway in a major U.S. city. Los Angeles has located most of its bike lanes in less densely populated areas of the city. There have been some bike lanes installed in downtown, but that area is ranked 140th in population density for the county. The top five most densely populated areas in the city of Los Angeles are located directly west of downtown and that’s where you see much less bikeways than in downtown.

    Another impediment in Los Angeles is that if a on-street bikeway installation requires the removal of a through lane that has at least 800 motor vehicles during a peak hour, then the department of transportation does community outreach about their proposal and then the councilmember representing the area makes the final decision. Since there are about 77 drivers to every bicycle rider that commutes, its not great odds that a on-street bikeway will be approved with community organizations. That’s the dilemma going forward from this point on for Los Angeles as the DOT has just about run out of major streets that have less traffic than 800 motor vehicles per lane in a peak hour.

  5. I’m very interested to see how they’ve rearranged the signals do deal with this new configuration. Combining right-turn and through lane on a busy intersection would cause some delays for through traffic.

  6. Important to realize: The St. Josephlaan is a road where the official noise- and pollution limits for roads through residential area’s are not met (not by a longshot). The only effective sollution? Lower speeds and (a lot) less traffic. Both factors are important in the reconstruction of the whole “West-Ring”. It’s a nice plan, but whether a two lane road will automatically reduce traffic that much (- 20% would be the minimum required reduction) remains to be seen. Where would the cars go? Or are they going tot take bus and bicycle? Let’s hope so.

  7. “For people from other countries, the before situation may look like something to strive for… Some advocates in the UK will be happy to see all the ASLs (advanced stop lines) and bike boxes. So they can point out that they are really Dutch. But this is old-fashioned design that has proven to be inadequate!”

    Ha! This is true. The city of Edmonton, in Canada, has celebrated their new, painted bike boxes as “making intersections better for everyone”, and are planning to add more of them.

    I have a question. Why is there another plan for 2020 for St. Josephlaan? Did residents want to add more trees to the neighborhood (the new plan has trees dividing the road)? I think the plan looks nice, but wouldn’t falling tree branches be a potential hazard to vehicles/pedestrians/cyclists?

    1. The plan is coming from the municipality. The aim is to decrease the amount of car traffic and increase ‘liveability’. The trees are secondary – they are just an attractive ‘filler’ for the central divider, which has been planned to make crossing the road by foot easier, thus (hopefully) increasing the unity between the two sides of the road.

    2. I was also born and do live in Edmonton. I also make videos about cycling in it. And stupidly the council of our city voted to remove a couple of those cycle lanes, and in the Netherlands if you remove a cycle lane you replace it with a cycle track at the same time. Not in Edmonton. On the grounds that they didn’t do enough consultation. On those grounds we should rip up Whitemud Drive because the city and province didn’t care about the environment much when they built it. I don’t like seeing ASLs. The only reason I might use them is if the road is coming out of a 30 km/h zone, and even by Dutch standards I could not provide even a cycle lane with a Copenhagen curb to protect the cyclists, and there were traffic lights. The amoung we have is absurd. Assen has 28 lights total. Edmonton has 1100. In a city only 13.5 times as large, which would mean we should have just 377 traffic lights.

  8. Thank you very much for documenting one of the (previous) worst crossings in Utrecht.
    I would like to add some historical information.
    In your video you show (for example at 1:00) that there is/was a narrow cycle lane. To my memory it was never there, so that was done after the gas repiping as a intermediate improvement. In this googlemaps link you can see that there was nothing at all up to one year or so ago:,5.0921046,70m/data=!3m1!1e3
    Cars waiting for a turn, left mostly no space open for cyclists, most of them wanting to go straight over the junction and therefore in a dangerous conflict zone. So I would weave between the two car lanes to find your box. The box also was intermediate. There used to be just an advanced waiting line for left turning cyclist. The best strategy was to reach that waiting line and hope that the traffic light did not change before arrival. In short: the laws of the jungle in full action.
    The previous city council fell apart on this street and junction. So it has always surprised me that this misery had to continue for more than six years.

  9. Easily one of your best posts, thanks for the excellent and detailed analysis of the before and after situation. Very easy to understand and makes the point well.

    Thanks for your amazing work!

  10. Yet again, another very helpful post. Thank you.

    The vision for 2020 shows a much quieter street (I assume with a lower speed limit for cars) and a lane of traffic each side removed. Over here, we almost get the impression that the Netherlands is this magical wonderland where this sort of change is made almost as a matter of course and everyone goes along with it.

    Are there no complaints or angry letters to local newspapers when lanes for motor traffic are reduced? Our local mayor, after a long period of consultation, had a separated bike lane built on one road. It involved removing a lane of traffic each side. The angry complaints in newspapers and on talkback radio would make you think this was going to destroy the city. It had to be experienced to be believed.

    Do you experience any of that? If so, how do you bring the naysayers along for the ride?

    1. I live close to this intersection and have crossed it hundreds of times in the past decade, the new situation is a huge improvement because I often felt that this intersection took a month off my life every time I used it. But change doesn’t come easy or fast. The city council has been fighting over this section for a long time, a while ago planning to make it into the major highway INTO the city (which led to lots of protest in the area) and now planning to downgrade it to a more humane, livable level. I hadn’t seen the 2020 model yet but it looks in line with other plans around the neighbourhood with lanes of trees in the middle (cared for by the city’s greenery department so no huge danger of falling branches btw).
      It’s a pity we’ve had to live with this horrible intersection for so long now that we see how good it can be.

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