All about cycling in the Netherlands
An urban traffic circle with up to 4 lanes for motor traffic is rare in the Netherlands, but at least it comes with a whole different level for cycling. The Eindhoven “Insulindeplein” is obviously from another era, but it is also an example that even in the early 1970s the Dutch did build great and grade-separated cycling infrastructure.
Eindhoven planned its 12 km ring road in the 1920s already. To build it, a number of annexations of nearby villages was necessary first. It took decades to get that done and then the depression and World War II interfered. The first ring road was only finished in 1966. The “second phase”, to turn the road into a 2×2 lane road, followed right away. The Insulindeplein is a major intersection in the northeast. The important road to Helmond, the road into the centre and the main railway station, and the ring road intersect at this location. The 1960s design for this intersection was finished in 1972. Cars have their own signalised intersection at ground level. People walking and cycling are sent to a subterranean level to two connected roundabouts in a pit that was instantly nicknamed “berenkuil” (bear pit) after the examples in Utrecht and Arnhem that predate this one. I showed you these two in earlier blog posts. The bear pit in Eindhoven is slightly bigger. It measures almost 100 metres north-south (or 327Ft), while Utrecht and Arnhem measure 95 metres/312Ft. The outer edges of the two roundabouts for cycling in the Eindhoven pit are 60 metres, or almost 200 Ft, apart.
It is of course very good to cycle away from all that motor traffic in the traffic circle. But there are certainly also disadvantages to this bear pit. Because it is below ground level it takes effort and money to keep the place dry of rain and ground water. Newer examples of this type of intersection would have the motor traffic ring a bit above ground level, so cycling would not have to be sunken so deep. The cycle tunnels to reach the pit were constructed under a 45-degree angle compared to the road directions. This means that going “straight-on” is never possible. The double roundabout in the pit makes reaching the other end longer than would seem necessary. Roundabouts for cycling are usually a bit excessive. Bicycles are not mini-cars. We have seen an example of that going wrong in the “bear pit” in Sint Michielsgestel. Combine all these features with the height difference and it becomes a particularly long detour to follow the ring road “straight-on” south to north. No wonder people ride against traffic sometimes, in search of a short-cut. Right after the opening people cycling complained they had trouble to find the right exit. There are even reports that people were “forced to cycle the roundabouts several times” before they knew where to go. Again; projection of car drivers. Anyone on a bicycle would simply stop to look where he or she had to go. I don’t expect a modern intersection to be built like this anymore and indeed, Eindhoven has a fine example of a modern solution to cross such a large intersection: the Hovenring in the west of the city.
The “Berenkuil” also scores low on social safety. Over the years the pit has become greener, but especially in the beginning the “concrete jungle” was deemed unsafe at night. It didn’t help that at that time something novel found its way to the Netherlands and to this place in particular: graffiti! There was no way to end that appearing over and over again at such a remote location and in 2004 the city of Eindhoven designated the Berenkuil a free zone for graffiti artists. The place became well known and in 2010 it was the location of a graffiti festival. Graffiti artists from around the world came to create large and impressive works. This was repeated in the following year and again and again. In 2016, for the seventh edition, the “Step in the arena” festival had grown to become a three-day event. Early June 2016, over 150 artists from the Netherlands and the rest of the world came to the Eindhoven Berenkuil, their Arena, to create their latest pieces. The festival draws big crowds. There are videos, here and here, to get an idea of what it is like.
I filmed my footage just before the 2016 event, which means that the graffiti you see in my video no longer exists!
This week’s video. The opening still shows two foreign tourists on a tandem who came for the graffiti especially!