Heetmanplein 2014

Road diet XXL for an intersection in Den Bosch

To improve traffic situations for pedestrians and people cycling, road managers can decide to build extravagant infrastructure. Most of the time, however, it is much easier and much more effective to relocate motor traffic and to unbundle routes. When motor traffic is diverted to routes where fewer people live and away from areas where most amenities are, you can make those people’s places much more attractive.

Heetmanplein 2014
Many people cycling on the new intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch that came in the place of the notorious intersection that was nicknamed ‘Heetmanplein’.

A good example of how this can work is the reconstruction of a large junction in ʼs-Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch). This was one of the worst intersections in the Netherlands, located at the edge of the city centre for 48 years. It was nicknamed “Heetmanplein” after the traffic engineer who designed it.

In 1965, the intersection was built with only the specific needs for motor traffic in mind. That made it a terrible place for anyone, but especially for people walking and cycling. Reconstruction started late 2013 and was finished in the spring of 2014. The number of traffic lanes went back from 11 to 4, at several locations, which is a considerable road diet! Consequently, the new intersection wastes much less space and people walking and cycling can traverse it much easier.

Heetmanplein 1960-1968
Top: part of the intersection in 1960, when it consisted of two roundabouts.
Bottom: the same location with the hugely expanded intersection in 1968.

So let’s look at this intersection and its history in more detail.

It was built at the location of the former city wall. When the fortifications were dismantled in the 1880s, the city decided to turn the newly available space into a nice city park.

Wilhelminapark 1923
In 1923 most of the city park (Wilhelmina Park) still existed. Only in 1935 the road through the park would be expanded and two roundabouts would be built. (Picture Stadsarchief ʼs-Hertogenbosch)

But traffic increased and the main north-south route of the country ran through this park. So in 1935 the lovely park got two large roundabouts. By the time the private car became mainstream, these roundabouts were not able to handle the increased traffic.

The incredible traffic increase at this location (motor vehicles per day)

1951       4,252
1959     10,726
1962    24,000
1964    30,000

Source: Bossche Bladen

In the 1960s the city, therefore, looked for a new solution for this double roundabout. A lengthy fly-over was considered, but it was too expensive and in the end the intersection went from two clear roundabouts to a very unconventional intersection that was designed by a professor from Eindhoven, Mr Heetman.

Heetmanplein 1965 design
The 1965 design of Wilhelminapark and Willemsplein by Mr Heetman. The intersection would later be named after him, but never officially.

In later interviews he boasted that he had designed it on the back of a cigar box. This may even have been true in the time before computers. Mr Heetman came up with an intersection that gave every possible direction a separate route. This required all the space of the entire former park and it led to many separate lanes for motor traffic. The routes passed each other in such ways, that traffic was even driving on the left hand side at several locations and the 30,000 vehicles per day had to be managed by 50 separate lights. Contemporary traffic engineers were very critical of the design, that they called incomplete and needlessly complicated.  So on the opening day, 22nd October 1965, people really held their breath. But the wacky design worked; it was able to handle all those vehicles. People at the time were apparently very happy with that outcome.

For 5 years all traffic in the main north-south route of the country used this intersection, until on 29th of December 1970 the new motorway A2 was opened, that bypassed the city to the east.

That meant the traffic volume at this location dropped considerably and some people tried to get the intersection downgraded. But this wasn’t the time for downgrading roads, so the city hesitated. In the end the ever-increasing traffic volumes in the 1970s made the council decide to keep the intersection as it was. In 2010 there were again 29,000 vehicles using the by then notorious intersection daily.

Left: the original main north-south route in the country in red and the detour since 1970, the motorway A2 east of the city, in blue.
Right: the South Ring Road (2011) in blue took care of another diversion for motor traffic going south to west and vice-versa.
(The green dot is the location of (the former) Heetmanplein.) Maps: OpenStreetMaps

It wasn’t until another bypass, the South Ring Road, was opened on 18th March 2011, that the city took the opportunity to finally downgrade the intersection. This was possible because that South Ring Road almost halved the motor traffic volume. The times had also changed considerably since the 1970s. When bypasses are built now, the original routes usually do get downgraded. Often the original and shorter routes are then used as cycle routes. This has the advantages that people cycling have the more direct route and that traffic types are separated on route level, leading to much fewer conflict points. This is a policy called unbundling or unravelling. From the second half of 2013 the vast reconstruction works started and they took until June 2014. There are now two simple T-Junctions with traffic signals at the edge of the former intersection.

Left: Heetmanplein as it was 1965-2013. Right: the intersection as it is from 2014. The central area is now green grass. At this picture it was still sand. (Left Bing Maps, Right municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch)

With now about 16,000 vehicles per day, traffic flows very smoothly again. The modern signals are all demand driven and loops detect traffic, including people cycling. The waiting times are very acceptable and the routes for all types of traffic are now much more direct and intuitive.

On top of that the new junction requires a lot less space! A large open area remains. So what to do with that valuable open space? Right in the middle of that now open area was a former city gate and many people would like to reconstruct it. Even though that city gate was already destroyed in 1891, so in my opinion that would be a falsification of history.

Wilhelminaplein 2013-2014
A before and after from a different angle. Wilhelminaplein (as it is now again called) in 2013 and 2014. (Pictures courtesy of Brabants Dagblad.)

In 2012, the Bosch Architectuur Initiatief (BAI) joined forces with the Bond van Nederlandse Architecten (BNA) and the municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch and they organized a design-competition open to the general public, called ‘Reset het Heetmanplein’ – Welkom in Den Bosch! (Reset Heetmanplein, Welcome to Den Bosch!). The task for the participants was ‘design a new entrance for ʼs-Hertogenbosch and by doing so, give new meaning to this location’. A perfect way for the city to get more inspiration for this location. A staggering 62 models were sent in and they were shown at an exhibition in city hall.

Left: the present situation with the open space in white. Right: (a less detailed sketch of) the desired future for this intersection by the ʼs-Hertogenbosch council. A rebuilt city gate with a cycleway going through it. Drawings municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

The competition had a winner, but the winning design is completely different from what the city already had in mind for this location. Two years after the competition, still no decision was taken about what will happen with the central area. The council is not in a hurry to redevelop this area and sufficient funds need to be allocated. If the city does decide that the old city gate will come back in some form, the cycleway will go through it. That means that some of the newly constructed cycleways will have to be altered. That’s why those cycleways are not surfaced with asphalt. This indicates that they are not completely final yet.

Whatever is decided, at least the intersection has already been hugely improved. It wastes a lot less space and it is a lot friendlier to people walking and cycling. Thanks to the relocation of the main flow of motor traffic, the remaining volumes of traffic are lower than they were in the early 1960s and they can be handled by this dramatically downgraded intersection. It gives the city the opportunity to redesign this area much more as a people’s place.

My video showing the total reconstruction of an intersection in ’s-Hertogenbosch


13 thoughts on “Road diet XXL for an intersection in Den Bosch

  1. Compare those different designs over the years with the thought process that is now going on for a upcoming reallocation of space on a street in the city of Los Angeles.

    The Los Angeles County Metro transit agency is working on possible designs for a transit improvement project on Van Nuys Blvd in the San Fernando Valley part of Los Angeles. This project will be about 11.2 miles in length. It could consist of a simple re-striping of the road for bus only curbside lanes, or in the middle of the street a tram, light-rail train, or bus rapid transit.

    The project team consists of a private engineering consulting firm, LA county Metro, along with planners and traffic engineers from the city.

    This team came up with schematics of different design scenarios using the minimum width they had to work with of 100-feet, which includes two 13-feet wide sidewalks and 7 to 8 foot wide striped motor vehicle parking next to the curb on both sides of the street.

    Metro has 27,000 weekday bus boarding’s on Van Nuys Blvd and typical motor vehicle traffic is around 17,000 to 22,000 on Van Nuys Blvd at most intersections.

    Van Nuys Blvd is on the city bike plan to get bike lanes sometime in the future.

    Here’s a pdf that contains the different design possibilities that they came up with so far:

    Click to access esfv_Screening_of_Alternatives.pdf

    Page 7 has lovely pictures of the three types of transit considered. They initially threw out the tram option as they didn’t see the advantage of it over a bus when it has to run in a high volume of mixed traffic. The Metro Board of directors has since asked the team to study putting a tram down the middle of the street separated from other traffic.

    The first reconfiguration option starts on page 8. Which is a simple re-striping of the road to include bus only lanes (Metro requires that bus travel lanes be at least 12-feet wide) in the parking lanes only during peak hours. This has a recommendation to advance to the next stage of study at the bottom of the chart. No bike lanes. Bicycle riders can travel in the bus only lanes during peak hours. During off-peak hours on-street parking returns and bicyclists would have to travel as they do now, between the parked cars and the through lanes..

    Page 9 is rejected due to only have one through motor vehicle lane in each direction–not enough to handle the volume of traffic.

    The next option that got a recommendation is the light-rail train (LRT) schematic on page 12. This has bike lanes mid-block, but where the transit stations are located the bicycle riders are expected to travel in the middle of a through lane for motor vehicles (speed limit is currently 35 mph).

    I’m thinking, wait, there’s no bike lane where the transit stations are located! How can this be thought of having bike lanes when they disappear at a transit station?

    Notice the hierarchy for the different types of transportation. The sidewalk was narrowed from the initial 13-feet to 11-feet mid-block. Then, to keep the four motor vehicle lanes, and include a 16-foot wide transit station platform, they narrowed the sidewalks to 8.5-feet and eliminated the bike lanes.

    If that can be defined as having bike lanes, then what would stop them from only having a total10-feet length of bike lanes and then stating that they included bike lanes in the project?

    New York City defines a placement of sharrows that mark where a bicycle rider should ride in a motor vehicle lane as a “shared bicycle lane”. I’m not kidding. If you hear a NYC official talking about how many miles of bike lanes that they have, its likely to include miles of sharrows (former NYC commissioner of transportation Janette Sadik-Khan habitually overstates the miles of bike lanes installed under her rein by including sharrows).

    Chicago defines a buffered bike lane that has additional stripes as a buffer protected bike lane. That’s right, the extra stripes evidently offer some sort of protection from motor vehicles in their dictionary.

    The bus rapid transit (BRT) option on page 15 adds a vehicle turn lane at the station platform location, no bike lanes and the sidewalks are narrowed further to 7-feet and 8-feet. Why was a motor vehicle left turn added when it isn’t included in the schematic for the LRT? The importance of bike lanes on this project are evidently ranked in importance below a motor vehicle left turn lane. In fact, its obvious that bike lanes have the lowest ranking in priority of any of the different types of transportation.

    1. Something I like about urban LRT is that they can require quite a few less lanes. In 105 St in Edmonton, a thousand+ km northeast of you, our LRT trains run in the middle of a former 4 lane road. Now, it has a sidewalk in each direction, two car lanes in each direction, two LRT tracks in the middle and medium density housing on either side of the road. It runs smoothly even with LRT preemtion over other traffic, and no left turns allowed from 105 Ave. At the intersection of 105 St and 106 Ave, there are only gate arms and bells on the crossroads, and mini-flashing red lights for the pedestrian crosswalk. Cyclists are not accommodated on that road, but they are on a nearby parallel road, with a nice pathway through a beautiful tree canopy. It looks like a very complete solution, though I would have liked it if it had fewer curves, so the train speed limit could be 50 or so, not 40, but with frequent slowdowns due to curves. Oh well, 3.3 km in 9 minutes. Not bad.

  2. A marvelous tribute to the present and the past of the Willems- & Wilhelminasquare (also known as Heetmanplein) in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
    It’s a good thing that here too the countdown traffic light (“Afteller” in Dutch, 3, 2, 1 in the yellow light, before the light turns green) contributes to a better and adequate handling of all traffic participants, including pedestrians and cyclists. I am glad I was able to contribute my part in time, leading to one less traffic regulating system (Parklaan – Vughterstraat) as well as that the cyclists has become more the base of the design rather than the predecessor: the car.

  3. What a depressing post!
    1. Here in Lithuania we still see that traffic „problems“ are being „solved“ only through overcomplicated engineering, building viaducts, arranging „green waves“ for motor traffic and in other ways, destroying liveability of the cities, as this was the case in the Netherlands till 1970’s. Without any consideration about modality change.
    2. Even in the Netherlands in this example we still see overcomplication. 16000 PCU’s can easily be served by simple one lane roundabout instead of signalised junction. Why this wasn’t considered here?

    1. It depends on two factors:
      – how these 16000 are spread throughout the day.
      – how many cyclists there are

      Too many cyclists can (in the dutch configuration) easily block a roundabout completely for cars. Batching them via traffic lights can remedy that.

    2. Well, Edas, that was my comment and that of the local Branch of the Cyclists’ Union too: why no roundabouts? The municipality did consider roundabouts, but a traffic count showed that they would not be able to handle the traffic. Largely because the volumes would not be evenly spread over the different directions. Some arms of the roundabouts would be used much more than others and that does decrease the capacity. Also, the municipality thinks roundabouts here would be too large. They wanted to make the space that could be used for another purpose as large as possible. And the final reason is that this is not the end station for this area. Another bypass is currently being built. When that is finished this whole area will eventually become a 30km/h zone with a lot less traffic than remains today. The current layout is more easy to further downgrade than two roundabouts would be.

      All in all this conversion is not depressing at all for me. The current design is not just for motor traffic as the previous design so obviously was. Motor traffic is a given in the Netherlands just as everywhere else. But giving other traffic a rightful place in the street design is needed and that has happened here. And I think that is a good development.

      1. At http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=14y6g77&s=8#.VFSAXiisSM8 I have denoted the other bypass that is currently built mentioned by Mark. Like on Mark’s maps on this page, red means existing route, blue bypass route. Yellow is an extension of the bypass route which (as far as I know) is still in the planning fase. The intersection mentioned here is the lower green dot, the upper one is the intersection that https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/dynamic-sign-to-indicate-the-fastest-cycle-route/ is about, on which in a comment I also wrote about a bypass currently being built – which of course is the same one.

      2. I like 30 km/h zones. I wish all the roads in the city I live in that are not arterials would become 30 km/h zones, with smooth bricks, raised intersections and default priority, and a maze of one way roads that do not apply to bicycles. I have another question. I would consider the type of road that Utrecht created to be a neighbourhood ring in the northeast of the city with suggestion lanes and a road with two lanes/direction and cycle tracks to be two different road types, not both being distributors.

  4. Although I have never lived in Den Bosch, I occasionally had to pass this junction from the north-west side (coming from station) to south-east (direction Vught) on bike. See 1965 design drawing above. Coming from upper left you have to make left turn to cross the bridge over river. But on that bridge there was on the right side of the bridge where normally the cycle path would be a car lane for traffic coming towards you!(Note that little arrow in westward direction on the south side of the bridge). Cyclists were supposed to merge with the main stream of cars without any visual aids or clues how to behave. Indeed this was a place of national fame/horror amongst cyclist. The contra flow lane ruined the total design.

  5. I wouldn’t worry about a ‘falsification’ of history. All history is a construct. I would welcome this particular reconstruction of history (the old city gate).

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