Child on the Marnixlaan crossing

Intersection redesign in Utrecht (2)

In this post a second look at a recently reconstructed intersection in Utrecht. In the first post about this reconstruction I focused on the differences between the before and after situation. In this post I focus on how people cycling (and walking) use the new intersection in more detail.

Child on the Marnixlaan crossing
The new intersection has improved the situation so much that it can be used by young children on their bicycles much safer than before.

This reconstruction underlines again that building infrastructure is about choices rather than available space. The cross sections of the four streets leading to the intersection already give some information about these choices. The one-way cycleways are narrow but at least the minimal width of the CROW recommendations (2 metres) was observed. Even though that width is recommended for less than 150 cyclists per hour during rush hour and it seems pretty sure that there are more people cycling here.

The plan for the reconstruction with the cross sections.
The narrowest west street measures just under 22 metres, which is very narrow considering this is the city ring road. The cycleways could be fitted here because there are no parking lanes. Which is a good idea anyway for an arterial road.
The north street of the intersection is 30 metres wide. Yet there are also no parking bays. In that space the city chose to have a bus stop with a floating island.
The east street is (almost) 30 metres wide. This is the city ring road again. Space was found for 6 lanes. But because there are only two needed to go east, one of those lanes is a parking lane. (Rather unusual on an arterial road, but this one was designed in the 1960s!) Of the three lanes going west towards the intersection, two are for going straight. But only the middle one is dedicated for going straight on. The outer lane is combined with a right turning lane. The left lane is dedicated for left turns. In The Netherlands, left turns generally have a separate green phase, so left turning vehicles do not have to wait for oncoming traffic going straight on.
The south street is also 30 metres wide. This is a street that cannot quite be categorised in the Sustainable Safety policies of the Netherlands. It is not quite a through road, but also not quite a street where people want to be. This is reflected in the street design. A through street would not have parking lanes, but a street where people would like to be would be a 30km/h zone that would not need protected cycleways. This street has both cycleways and parking bays.

The city of Utrecht chose to give up one dedicated right turning lane for motor traffic in each of the four approach roads and to use the thus freed-up space for people cycling. “Didn’t that lead to opposition from the residents?” was one of your questions. Apparently not. The city published the comments that were officially made, either in writing or at the hearing. There is not a single question about the disappearing turning lanes. On the contrary: most of the questions focus on cycling.

  • Why are not all cycle crossings in red asphalt?*
  • Will the traffic lights consider cyclists enough?
  • Will people cycling waiting for the lights to change be in view of motor traffic clearly enough?
  • Will there be room enough for people cycling to wait for a green light?

That last question was also one that my readers asked here and that was asked on YouTube as well.

The answer is yes. I made sure you can really see that in the second video. Even when the waiting area fills up, people appear decent enough to stop where there is room (on the cycleways that lead up to the intersection) so that the cycleway stays clear for people riding in another direction. I even observed people who were kind enough to not block the pedestrian crossing. The Utrecht chapter of the Cyclists’ Union would like to see a big white cross on the area that has to stay open. To remind people who don’t naturally do that to keep that space clear.

The approach from Marnixlaan had a very narrow cycle lane. There were 4 lanes for motor traffic. The most right lane was a dedicated right-turning lane.
The approach from Marnixlaan after the reconstruction. The dedicated right turning lane has been removed and it its place came a protected cycleway. Not all the space was needed. The remaining space was divided equally over the three remaining car lanes that each got a bit wider. The old markings of the former four lanes can still be seen as dark shadows.

Traffic lights and All-directions green

Like the residents, some of my readers also asked questions about the way the traffic lights function and unfortunately there is no answer yet. The exact same traffic light installation of the before situation now works in the after situation. That proves possible, but it is obviously not the best solution.

The city had announced that the new traffic light installation would be working from September, but that has not been the case. So I don’t know how the lights are going to work when the new installation drives them. It is clear from the loops in the surface and the buttons, that the lights will be more demand driven than is the case now. That usually shortens waiting times. What is also clear from the road design, is that there will be no ‘all directions green’ here.

What does Cyclists’ Union think about that? I had seen in one of their publications that already in 2011 they had recommended an ‘all directions green’ solution here. The ‘simultaneous green’ solution is still not very wide-spread in The Netherlands and introducing it here would have been a first for Utrecht. When I asked Ria Glas of the Utrecht chapter of the Cyclists’ Union if she was disappointed, she wrote me: “As it is now, people cycling only get a head-start of a few seconds and that almost doesn’t prolong the total light cycles.  All directions green would make the light-cycles longer, because all other traffic has to be stopped. We are going to ask for it again, because it would not require making a left turn in two stages. But we need to know if it would work in rush hour. Would re-entering the cycleways be possible, or would the entrances to the cycleways be full with people who would still have to start their crossing?”

I have written before that I am no big fan of simultaneous green. It would give people cycling a single stage left turn, but it comes at the cost of one very messy green cycle for which there may indeed be too many cyclists at this location. Anecdotally, I have seen more red light jumping by people cycling, when they had a red light while motor traffic going in the same direction as they would want to go had green lights. That situation doesn’t exist in the current design. So I am glad the city of Utrecht has chosen this design that has been tried and tested for decades.

The crossing of the Marnixlaan in rush hour shows all sorts of people cycling. From children to the elderly. Here you can see a pregnant woman with her older child and another mother with a bakfiets.

I have used the reconstructed intersection quite a number of times now, in my routes to my dentist and my parents, and I am very pleased with the improvements. As the video also shows, the current design works, even when people do things they are not supposed to and also with very large numbers of people cycling in rush hour.

It seems the city of Utrecht has successfully turned a former black spot into an intersection that can be used safely and conveniently by an 8 or an 80-year-old. No wonder the local users are pleased. Formerly you could see “the laws of the jungle in full action” and “I often felt that this intersection took a month off my life every time I used it”. That is no longer true. “The new situation is a huge improvement” and “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”.

My second video about the reconstructed intersection in Utrecht.

* The answer to the first question is: “That is only allowed for crossings where cyclists would have priority if the lights were not working. Crossings for cycling which have no priority cannot be red under Dutch law/best practice.” The answers to the other three questions are simply “yes”.

For a possible translation of this type of design to the situation in the US, see Protected Intersections for Bicyclists.

This is part 2 of two posts about the re-design of this intersection. See also part 1.

10 thoughts on “Intersection redesign in Utrecht (2)

  1. I live just around the corner of this intersection and it is much better now. I didn’t know that the cyclists will get their one traffic lights in the future. This will solve my only problem: the traffic lights don’t show the right time you have to wait before the lights are green again. This makes the cyclists who are waiting impatient and start cycling before the light is green. Seen some almost accidents…

  2. I notice that two of the bicycle crossings are not covered with red asphalt. Will this be done at a later date? I notice that ”the idiot in a hurry” is approaching one of these unresurfaced crossings crossings and think that that may be a factor. Surely it would be more visible if it was surfaced in red?

    1. The locals asked the same question, and as I wrote in the post script that is just not possible. There are two roads that intersect here. The one going east-west has priority over the one going north-south. So only the crossings going east-west can be red, because red indicates that cyclists have priority. If you go north-south or vice versa you do not have priority over cars going east-west. Of course you do have priority over cars turning, because that is the basic rule. Straight going traffic (cyclists as well as pedestrians) always has priority over turning traffic (drivers) on the same road. The “idiot in a hurry” was on the phone (illegal!). That was the reason he failed to give priority: no focus on what he was doing. Had nothing to do with the colour of the crossing there.
      You see this reflected in where there are sharks’ teeth. Traffic going east-west and vice versa never meets sharks’ teeth. North-south and vv does have the sharks’ teeth pointed at them. If the lights went off, traffic going north-south and vv would have to give the right of way to traffic going east-west and vv.

      1. Why not have colour and the elephants feet for bicycles, shark teeth and yield signs and diamond signs in the correct locations and it just becomes a matter of checking the yield/diamond sign and where the shark teeth are pointed towards to indicate who has the right of way. It would make it visible. Do you know what law makes it so that red cannot be used on a non-priority crossing?

  3. Reblogged this on urbanelijk and commented:
    Is Nederland een paradijs. Deze vraag is misschien een beetje extreem, maar van de perspectief van een Amerikaanse denk ik dat–tenminste voor fietsers is het als een paradijs.

  4. Love this post, reminds me of the early videos you used to make (hard to believe you’ve been at it for so long)!

    Though, as a hardcore fan, I wonder… why does your voice sound different?

  5. Yeah! I am so happy to see this! I sure wish that re-construction for bike paths was more common worldwide!

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