Goes; Cycling City of the Netherlands?

Goes is a historic town in the south-west of the Netherlands. The town has tried to become Cycling City of the Netherlands several times before. In 2008, Goes was already one of the finalists, but it just lost to Houten. The town has kept investing a lot in cycling since then and the people in Goes can be proud of what they have achieved. Goes was a very pleasant surprise when I visited it. In my opinion the town makes a very good chance, now that it is again one of the five finalists in this year’s competition.

Goes uses special markings to make bollards more visible. It works well for the central bollard, I'm not so sure about the two white poles on either side.
Goes uses special markings to make bollards more visible. It works well for the central bollard, I’m not so sure about the two white ones on either side though.

Cycling City of the Netherlands Competition

The municipalities of Goes, Groningen, Maastricht, Nijmegen and Utrecht are the finalists in the Fietsstad 2016 competition for which the overall theme is “Bikenomics”. The Cyclists’ Union in the Netherlands regularly organises a competition in which municipalities can try to become Cycling City of The Netherlands. The last city to win the title was Zwolle (2014), which followed ´s-Hertogenbosch (2011), Houten (2008), Groningen (2002) and Veenendaal (2000). Before 2011 municipalities were chosen on the basis of the results of a cycling quality investigation by the Cyclists’ Union. From the 2011 election on municipalities have to enter the competition themselves. The 5 finalists were chosen by a jury on the basis of the written motivation, the policies and the figures about mode share, traffic safety and the type of cycling infrastructure in a municipality. On my blog I will feature a video portrait of each of the 5 candidate municipalities. These posts will be published every other week from now, leading up to the announcement of the winner on 19 May 2016.

Goes is a town in the coastal province of Zeeland. The municipality has 37,190 inhabitants, Goes proper has about 27,000. The density is about 394 people per square kilometre. Goes is a historic town. Technically it is even a city, because it gained city rights in the year 1405! The residents are proud of their “little town” which was the reason for a song by the local band Racoon. For such a small town the investments in cycling are impressive. In these times of austerity the budget for cycling was the only budget that grew. To create coherent cycling policies the town allocated 380,000 euros in 2011. For the years 2014 to 2017 the budget is 30,000 euros per year to keep the policies up to date. For maintenance of cycling infrastructure the budget is 1 million euros per year and that is still not all. For bicycle parking in the town centre 100,000 euros were reserved and for larger projects another 2.9 million euros were invested in just the last couple of years. That last sum includes building a cycle tunnel, intersection reconstructions, surface upgrades and street redesigns. All in all a considerable amount of money per head which was invested in cycling recently and it shows!

Daily volumes of cycling in Goes.
Daily volumes of cycling at several key locations in Goes. (picture municipality of Goes)

The modal share for cycling for journeys up to 7.5km (which are almost all journeys in such a small town) is 50%.

Even though the budgets are mentioned for one mode here, the town’s policies are integral and for an entire area and not for separate modalities. Cycling benefits from upgrading the ring road for motor traffic, because it will be using the ring road more and there will be fewer vehicles in the town’s streets. A number of these streets were redesigned as cycle streets. But even with an integral approach it is possible to zoom in on investments for cycling, which were planned and documented in the Cycling Policies drafted in 2012.

Main points from these policies are:

  • Determining main routes as the backbone of the network; routes mainly from and to the centre. These routes will be used by 3,000 to 6,000 people a day
  • Creating secondary routes to connect the other parts of the town with each other. These routes will be used by 1,000 to 3,000 people per day.
  • Setting minimum requirements in width, priority and quality for both networks.

The main cycle routes get priority where possible. Other crossings are designed well, at some locations the town even constructed a tunnel. The design was completely according to the CROW recommendations. At another location, where a main cycle route crosses the ring road, a signalised intersection had a bad safety record. To replace that dangerous situation a novel type of intersection was designed to maximise the safety for cycling. This led to an oval shape for motor traffic. The cycle route cuts through the oval at the shortest side in two stages. Because of the shape, motor traffic can only come from one direction at every stage of the crossing, a bit like a roundabout. This increases clarity and thus safety. But motor traffic wanting to turn left into one of the side streets has to make a full 180 degree turn right after the cycle crossing.

A very special intersection in Goes, it replaces a dangerous signalised intersection near a school.
A very special intersection in Goes, it replaces a dangerous signalised intersection near a school. (Pictures Municipality of Goes and my own work).

For the surfaces of the cycle routes red asphalt is the standard, except where the cycleway is completely separate. Red asphalt is more expensive so it is nice to save money where you can. That doesn’t mean the town doesn’t spend money where it is necessary. Getting the smaller details right is expensive, but very noticeable on the streets. Road markings are not made of a thermoplastic material because that can become slippery in rain, instead paint was chosen as much as possible. On top of that, the block markings of a cycle crossing are not in the cycleway but on the outside of it. That way the crossing doesn’t look narrower than it really is. With these markings Goes follows the latest recommendations by the Cyclists’ Union. Kerbs (curbs) are all sloped to reduce the number of cycle accidents without the involvement of other vehicles. Where possible the cycleway and the footway are completely flush. Tactile markings help the visually impaired to find their way at such locations. The number of bollards is kept to a minimum and where they cannot be avoided the town of Goes has an exceptional way of marking bollards. This does indeed enhance their visibility.

A completely level surface even the brick surface. Kerbs (curbs) are sloped so they pose no danger when you hit them with your wheels.
Yes, a traditional Dutch brick road can be completely smooth! Kerbs (curbs) are sloped so they pose no danger when you hit them with your wheels. (Measurements in centimetres)

There aren’t many signalized intersections, but where there are traffic lights, the signals for cycling turn green twice in every cycle. The two stage left turn for cycling has a coordinated green cycle so you can do the two stages in one go.

Left the cycle routes and right the motor traffic routes in Goes. Two completely different networks.
Left the cycle routes and right the motor traffic routes in Goes. Two different networks with minimal overlap, especially the main cycle routes in green are away from motor traffic. (Maps Municipality of Goes)

Most of the infrastructure looked brand new and incredibly well maintained. So aren’t there any negative points that can be mentioned? Not really, but the shortage of parking spaces could be seen as an issue. Of course I also found some older infrastructure with worn surfaces that is narrower than it should be. But when I looked up the plans for the future these cycleways were already mentioned to be updated. There was one thing that didn’t really get a lot of attention in the bid book though and that is the theme of this year’s competition: Bikenomics. Not much more than mentioning bike racks outside supermarkets and organizing events. However, treating the people who cycle in your municipality as well as Goes does is already good for the economy. All in all I think Goes is a very good competitor in this year’s competition, a dangerous little outsider. I would not even be surprised if it did get the title, Goes would very much deserve it.

My video portrait of Goes.

26 thoughts on “Goes; Cycling City of the Netherlands?

  1. Some very good stuff in there. There are several roundabouts in Goes that have a red ring around around the edge like Marconisraat. That is bad practice in other countries. I assume it works here because driving culture and the interaction with cyclists is better.

  2. I have strong suspicion that the bollard marking i your main picture is somehow wrong. The Two “arms” of the marking should guide arriving traffic from the center towards the middle of each lane. Therefore is should be rotated about 10° clockwise.
    All the other markings of this type i saw in Goes (exept your example and another mentioned below) were rotated like that: https://s11.postimg.org/q3gk1ipyr/CIMG0258.jpg
    The second of the markings in Goes they got completely wrong (mirrored) is this one: https://s3.postimg.org/wr2h68fmb/CIMG0234.jpg
    Also dutch cycling administration has potential to improve.

  3. Excellent presentation! Goes is indeed a worthy candidate for the Cycling City of the Year award.

    I hope after you’ve presented all the candidate cities, you’ll allow us to vote. We can see how our opinion compares with the official selection.

  4. I still marvel at the precast materials used in constructing curbs and sidewalks in the Netherlands as shown in the closeup of the brick road. This makes it possible to use machines that can lay these standard size materials together like Legos. Are there other countries in Europe that use these construction methods?

    Also the wiring for telephones, power, and gas lines are located under the sidewalks in the Netherlands. This makes it much easier to access these utilities. In Los Angeles its fairly common that shortly after a street is repaved its cut into to make repairs to utility lines.

    Standard procedure for creating sidewalks and curbs in the United States would be to create a wooden form onsite and then pour concrete. I’m assuming that this would be much more labor intensive and potentially costly to build and repair compared to using precast materials.

    The Los Angeles department of transportation has recently decided to switch from mainly creating on-street bikeways with just stripes or sharrows to using higher quality design. The goal under the 2010 bike plan was to create 40 miles of bikeways per year. Now the goal is 10 miles per year of higher quality design focusing on short neighborhood trips first. The downside to that is there are about 1,200 miles of bikeways left to do under the bike plan. At 10 miles a year it would take over 120 years to complete that plan.

    Starting at 21:00 in this audio recording of a recent Los Angeles city council transportation meeting, Seleta Reynolds, the general manager of the LADOT explains some of the reasons for the change in focus from quantity to quality. At 47:00 I present some data before and after installing a large amount of bike lanes recently in Los Angeles.


    One of the slides in her presentation was of the California city of San Jose. That can be seen on page 33 of this study:

    Click to access 1005-low-stress-bicycling-network-connectivity.pdf

    The focus in this study was to try to make a low-stress bicycling network by mainly connecting residential streets. About 60% of the 7,500 miles of streets in the city of Los Angeles are residential. Since there would be no space taken away from motorists for bikeways on residential streets this reduces the potential arguments against installing them and saves on staff time by greatly reducing the amount of meetings needed with community groups.

    Here is a audio recording of a recent city of Los Angeles planning commission meeting about the 2035 mobility plan where in the first ten minutes offices of three council members presented reasons why two streets should be removed for bike lanes on the mobility plan. This included Westwood Blvd next to UCLA, which is surrounded by a wealthy community of homeowners and Central Ave which is mainly located in poor areas of south LA.

    [audio src="http://planning.lacity.org/StaffRpt/Audios/CPC/2016/2-11-2016/Track5.mp3" /]

    Here’s a 4-minute excerpt of a panel discussion at USC about the 2035 mobility plan where the manager of the city of Santa Monica explains that the city of Los Angeles has 17 directors of planning, the official director of planning, the mayor and the 15 city council members. That comment highlights the difficulty in trying to make changes to major streets in LA.

    1. Yes, nearly all concrete used in street paving in NL is prefab, the exception being things like bus lanes and rural bicycle paths. With all the different shapes and sizes available it makes planning, standardization and building of infrastucture easier. One can simply specify the required product to use. It also makes laying by machine easier. These curbs etc are machined using a dryish concrete mix in a metal stamping mold.
      An example of a concrete factory on youtube: /watch?v=dFzu7iTUQy4. Examples of street paving equipment on youtube: /results?search_query=machinaal+straten

  5. I am perplexed by the design of that intersection. It seems to take up a lot of space.
    Space that could be used for more buildings, or a park. Now, most of the space is not asphalt, which is good, but the space between the asphalt portions is not usable for anything else.

    Why didn’t the city choose to build a roundabout or build a traffic signal?

    1. This is the second intersection like this in Goes. The first replaced a dangerous signalised intersection. The reason the Dutch don’t like signals is that they are ignored on a massive scale. Especially by young people. Right next to this intersection a new school was opened so high numbers of school children cross the town’s ring road here. That is also why a roundabout is no option. For a roundabout the traffic flows should be evenly distributed over all four arms. That is not the case. Here, motor traffic moves in one direction and cycling only crosses that flow. So that is why this solution was chosen. The ring was made extra-large to make the area in the centre as big as possible. That means droves of children can wait there for traffic in the opposite direction. All deliberate decisions that were taken consciously.
      This is what the town says in the bid book:
      “In August 2014 a new school was built east of Oranjeweg. This was the reason for an integral plan for the traffic situation. Apart from a cycle tunnel [to the south, also shown in my video] we created a ‘reversal loop’ at the Vogelzangsweg.
      The essence of a ‘reversal loop’ is that the speed of motor traffic is decreased and that the intersection is simple, comparable to a roundabout. The difference being that motor traffic going straight-on has priority. This is a deliberate choice at this location because we want to keep the town’s ring road attractive to keep motor traffic out of the residential areas. At the same time we discourage turning left with this design.
      A design you won’t find in the manuals. That is why we did life size trials with a truck and a double bended bus. The speed was supposed to be decreased but the road had to remain attractive. Because of the trial we were able to fine-tune the design.”

      1. That’s a great explanation supporting the design.

        I have another question about the design: the long straightaways, with the slight curve at each end, seems to me that it would encourage faster driving, exactly in the place where you don’t want it (where children cross the road).

        1. True, the speed stays high for the traffic going straight. And that was the plan, it keeps the road attractive. But because all traffic comes from only one direction at the time the crossing (which is really short) is still easy to make, even for kids. I used it several times and you really needed only a tiny gap in traffic to get across.

          1. What is the official name of these junction designs? I want to see if there are more examples but I don’t know what search terms to use. Also, I found one example on the Northwest distributor in the town, but it had a bicycle underpass, not an at grade crossing. Where was the turn around thing you found pictures of on google maps?

  6. I think those blikvanger contraptions like the one on the first photograph are absolutely marvellous. And the pun is charming. We don’t have them in Sweden, but if we did, I’d bring some piece of garbage every morning on my way to work to throw into them for the sheer fun of it.

  7. I often hear that things like “higher taxes and a hippie culture (marijuana, prostitution and other things like that, other things that the Dutch, particularly Amsterdam, tends to be famous for) are the things that are needed to have a cycling culture”. I am trying to disprove that it costs that much (aside from the statement that cycle paths cost much less than a similar capacity road including motor traffic) and that such a hippie-ish (perhaps better described as liberal attitudes) culture is needed for bicycles, and also trains. Americans tend to view socialism in a particularly bad light, and thus some opponents use it as an insult, including bicycle related things. Even when the policy is unrelated to the economic theory.

    On an unrelated note, I am seriously considering visiting the Netherlands, mainly for a cycle tour, but probably also a museum or two (interestingly i will probably be 16, which coincidentally is the consent age, though I plan not to get any diseases), this year. Any advice? Good reminders to make sure I don’t call Fryslan Dutch by mistake. Definitely don’t call a person not from Noord and Zuid Holland a Hollander. Remember not to take a car through central Amsterdam? Etc?

    Something else I was beginning to wonder. If let’s say that Tilburg enters the race, and it has invested a lot of money proportional to it’s size, it has fantastic cycle routes, wide paths, angled kerbs, and very few traffic lights but on roundabouts it maintains the priority arrangement it has now, would it still be eligible to obtain the fietsstad title?

      1. I wasn’t thinking about discussing socialism or communism as an economic theory, or pros and cons, but how some people use it as an insult to describe various policies of governments.

        Then again, I’m pretty sure that in the US with a few exceptions about toll roads, we all pay for roads, and that goes into a big pot, and then the government uses part of that pot to pay for roadworks, and pretty much nobody has to pay directly when you use it. Sounds like free universal health care to me, except with roads instead of healthcare.

    1. Dear Cycling in Edmonton,

      It’s perfectly safe to visit The Netherlands without ending up a disease-riddled, communist junkey. Feel free to visit us, but please don’t behave like an attenttion-seeking toddler. It doesn’t work with us.

      1. And also, I was looking for things to know that even tour guidebooks often miss about what to do in the Netherlands. All of the guidebooks say don’t drive in the middle of Amsterdam, don’t cycle under the influence of marijuana (or alcohol for that matter, though I have no intention of taking either), but tips and tricks that you just have to live in the Netherlands to be fully aware of that you wouldn’t know if you were coming for a week or two.

        1. I went to the Netherlands for the first time last year. A few months earlier I had bought a bike again for the first time since my youth. My wife got a bike too, having never really cycled beyond learning to ride. After a few trips here in the UK (which necessitated a few hours studying our Ordnance Survey maps to pick out the quietest lanes) we found ourselves enjoying the experience so wanted to go on a longer trip. We picked the Netherlands largely because of this website.

          We travelled on our bikes throughout: we rode off the ferry and two weeks later rode back on. It could not have been easier. There is no need for tip and tricks, its just a simple, safe and interesting country to pedal around. We loved every kilometre of it. Our journey didn’t take us through Amsterdam, but it did take us through Rotterdam, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Venlo, and some other large towns. It was very simple, safe and straightforward. We just cycled a bit slower than everyone else and the vastly more experienced Dutch cyclists just made their way around us.

          Get on a plane to Amsterdam, rent a bike at the other end and you won’t look back. After an hour or two you will be right at home and, like us, wondering how our country could ever catch up to the Netherlands and its cycling infrastructure.

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