All about cycling in the Netherlands
Some weeks ago I cycled just 7 kilometres to the subject of this post. It was nice that going there didn’t involve a three-hour train journey first. Since I had read a lot about this ‘bicycle roundabout’ during construction, I had high expectations. It was a very sunny day but there was an ice-cold wind and that gave a wind chill of minus 5 degrees Celsius. That cold hadn’t hit me as hard as the bicycle roundabout did though. What a disappointment!
I decided to take some pictures and tweeted them without any comment, just to see what would happen. Yes, the pictures were re-tweeted a lot, but it also didn’t take very long before the first questions were asked. It’s good to know that my Twitter followers are even smarter than I had hoped.
Looks like fun, but also a bit unnecessary?! Rangifer Revolution
It does look unnecessary doesn’t it? Only three side ‘streets’. Treating bicycles like mini-cars? Helmet Freedom
What’s the purpose ? It seems that there’s only two directions isn’t it ? So the only option is to go straight. Is the purpose to slow down cyclists ? Or other paths connected to the roundabout are planned to be built? Mon Cher Vélo
The tweet of bicycle expert Herbert Tiemens was the clearest of them all (even though it was in Dutch)
Aye yai yai, such bizarrely bad details. I don’t understand how you can come up with a design this bad for so much money
So what was going on here?
This roundabout is part of a reconstruction of the N617. That is a regional through road from ’s-Hertogenbosch to Sint-Michielsgestel and further east. The province was one of the road managers in this matter, together with Rijkswaterstaat, the national agency for roads. A stretch of 5 km had to be adapted to the Duurzaam Veilig (Sustainable Safety) Principles. That meant the road itself was re-designed, but also that three unsafe level crossings for cycling, walking and agricultural vehicles had to be closed. They were replaced by two safe underpasses. One large intersection was reconstructed to become a Turbo-Roundabout.
The works had started on 27 January 2014 and the road was opened on 26 January 2015. In exactly one year the total 5 km reconstruction was executed for the sum of 10.8 million euro. So far so good…
The opening festivities took place at the new bicycle roundabout that was built below the Turbo-roundabout. The builders called this bicycle roundabout the “heart of the reconstruction”. So why am I so negative about it then?
The problem is in the details. Or maybe it isn’t. I think there shouldn’t have been a roundabout in the first place.
My video about the bicycle roundabout of Sint-Michielsgestel
The turbo-roundabout for motor traffic is a good idea. It replaces a signalised intersection and fewer traffic lights is what we are after in this country. Turbo-roundabouts are designed to speed-up the traffic flow for a higher traffic throughput. That means cycling on a Turbo-roundabout, or even level crossings near a Turbo-roundabout for cycling, are out of the question. And it is good to see that the road managers here made sure there are underpasses for people cycling. The cycleways come together in a lower level under the Turbo-roundabout in what the Dutch call a “berenkuil” or bear pit. Because it reminds them of the old-fashioned way to keep bears in zoos. Utrecht has a “berenkuil” from 1943. Arnhem has one from shortly after WWII and also Eindhoven has a bear pit. Now the small town of Sint-Michielsgestel joined this list.
And as I mentioned before, they created a bicycle roundabout at the bottom of the ‘pit’. There is one thing they overlooked, however. Motor traffic can go in four directions, but that is not the case for people cycling! Since the N617 running east-west is a road for motor traffic only, people cycling can only go north-south. There is a bi-directional cycleway north of this intersection and there are two cycleways on either side of the road on the south-side. These flows do not cross each other’s paths. There is only one extra possibility to cycle from a minor side street to this intersection. That means there is only one potential conflict point. So it makes absolutely no sense to make all cyclists go in a tiny circle with horrible pointy corners. A Y-shaped connection would have sufficed.
This roundabout reduces people’s speed, right at the point where they would need some momentum to go up the ramps out of the pit again. These ramps are not steep and they are not long, because motor traffic is going up artificial inclines. That means the bottom of the pit is only slightly below the normal level. But even so; you would like to use your momentum! The sharp corners force you to go even slower. I had not been standing there too long with my camera, when a man on his bike stopped and started to speak to me. “Looks great, doesn’t it? But it was a mistake! They should never have built it with these sharp corners!” And sure enough, while he kept me from filming it, someone passed of whom you could hear that he scraped his pedals on one of these corners, he barely stayed upright.
Not everything the Dutch build is a success. This certainly isn’t! (And I haven’t even mentioned the odd centre line on the roundabout itself.) Do not copy this mistake. The tunnels are of course a good idea. There’s almost nothing wrong with those (apart from the fact that the sides of the tunnels should have sloped more). But the roundabout was a mistake, that I think should be corrected. And it could easily be corrected. Get rid of that strange circle in the middle. Round the corners and you’ll have a great intersection. To summarize my feelings about the bicycle roundabout of Sint-Michielsgestel I can quote the local here: “It looks great, but it was a mistake!”
Update November 2017
The sharp corners of this roundabout have finally been fixed! It is now much easier to cycle through the roundabout. The centre circle was not levelled, but with the corners rounded the roundabout proves not so bad anymore.