All about cycling in the Netherlands
A novel and dynamic traffic sign shows people cycling the fastest route across a big intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch. It works since Wednesday the 24th September 2014. For that occasion the city’s alderman for traffic, Jan Hoskam, said: “It is good to see that we make our city even more attractive for cycling this way. This perfectly suits our policies to make cycling great. The reconstruction of this intersection was an excellent opportunity to also prepare it for the future high-speed cycle route F59.”
That there can even be a faster route across an intersection may need some explanation for someone who is not from the Netherlands. Because it means there must be more than one way to pass an intersection and that is indeed the case.
This has to do with the fact that in recent years you see more and more bi-directional cycleways in this country. Sometimes these two-way paths are on the left hand side of a road. At some point they may connect to older routes where there are one-way cycle paths on either side of the road. That leads to a very unfortunate situation at crossroads: to go straight-on you need to cross the road twice! So how can a road manager soften that big disadvantage? The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch has done that by making the crossings bi-directional. That way you can choose how you would like to pass the intersection. Either the ‘standard’ way (first right and then left, so you pass the intersection along the right hand side), or you go straight first and then right. This means you cycle on the left-hand side of the intersection (‘against traffic’ as it were). Usually people chose which way they went by picking the first light that turned green. But you could never predict if you maybe had to wait longer for the second light in your second part of the crossing. To end that uncertainty, this new sign indicates which of the two ways is the fastest, including that second crossing.
The route in this particular case is the final part of the F59 high-speed cycle route that is under construction. In ʼs-Hertogenbosch it takes you to the central station. Most of the high-speed cycle route is away from motor traffic so you can really cycle at speed without interference of that motor traffic. But close to the central station there is this one big intersection with traffic lights, which kind of ruins that image of a fast route. However, this innovative new sign indicates which way around the intersection is the fastest way and that brings back the idea that this really is a fast cycle route.
My video to explain how the new dynamic traffic sign makes sense in this Dutch traffic situation.
As you can see in the video, people immediately adjust their route with this information. They either go straight and then right, or right and then left. Even when the lights are both red, you now know that when you follow the arrow, you will arrive at the far end of the intersection in the quickest possible way.
When I asked the city’s traffic engineer Arnold Bongers to tell me more about this novel feature, he said: “This is something we developed ourselves and we think this is a first in The Netherlands. We have our own in-house expert technician for our traffic light installations. This expert technician, my colleague Eric Greweldinger, did a great job in implementing the idea to inform cyclists like this, in the new traffic light installation at this intersection. The whole feature was created for an extra amount of €23,000. For that sum we realised the dynamic sign with detection loops and a detection camera. Modern digital methods offer a lot of possibilities, but who gets green and when is primarily a choice, laid down in the traffic policies. We try to optimise the green times by looking for the limits within the safety boundaries. I think people cycling in ʼs-Hertogenbosch should be able to notice this by now.
What this light offers, is information about which way to go for the crossing that takes the shortest amount of time. Not in an exact duration, it won’t tell you how many seconds it will take, but simply by indicating “that way for the first green light” and it gives a guarantee that the second light is also green.”
For the moment this is a one time experiment. A spokesperson for the municipality has been quoted as follows: “At this time there are no plans for more of these ‘dynamic’ traffic signs for people cycling.” Which is a pity, because there are several other locations in the city where a two-way cycle route on one side of the street continues as two one-way cycle routes on either side of the street. At least here it saves people cycling some time in an innovative way that is at the same time simple and quickly and easily understood. Key features of good infrastructure!