From ring road to city boulevard

Utrecht has changed part of its former city ring road. The 4-lane road has now become a 2×1 lane street which Utrecht calls a “city boulevard”. Drivers are discouraged to use the former ring road to pass through larger parts of the city. Instead, they should use the motorways, wider around the city, and choose an exit closest to their end-destination. This measure aims to improve the liveability in the city by reducing motor traffic volumes and subsequently pollution and noise levels. It will also give more space to walking and cycling. The space of the former traffic lanes will be used as extra green space.

Cycling in the new ʼt Goylaan is easy and safe for everyone.
Drivers were warned well in advance and advised to choose a different route. “Road works will commence in 22 days”

Roads with multiple lanes no longer serve a purpose in a dense city. In the past, they made it possible to overtake slower vehicles, but nowadays all vehicles are capable to reach the blanket speed limit, (50km/h in Dutch cities) which makes that unnecessary. The many junctions eliminate the advantages of the higher capacity of more than one traffic lane and the weaving from one lane to the other increases the risk of accidents. That is why the Dutch Sustainable Safety policy advises 2×1 lane roads. In its latest traffic policies, the current council of Utrecht has decided to change all existing 2×2 lane roads in the city to 2×1 lane streets. The city tested this in a 4-lane road that was not part of the ring road and the results were very positive. That is why the city has now started to reconstruct the first part of the actual ring road, called ʼt Goylaan.

The location of ʼt Goylaan in the south of the inner ring road of Utrecht. The city wants to downgrade that inner ring road and make drivers choose the outer motorway (freeway) ring instead.
Cross section of the new ʼt Goylaan at a narrower location. (Picture municipality of Utrecht)

With the transformation of the city ring road into a so-called “city boulevard”, Utrecht wants to improve the liveability in the city. The city boulevards have more dedicated space for walking and cycling. A wide sidewalk on both sides and a bi-directional cycleway, also on both sides. The centre is reserved for two travel lanes with a type of asphalt that reduces noise levels. A double line of new trees will be planted in the wide median. Between the motor traffic lanes and the cycleways, a strip can be used for either parking, bus stops or turning lanes. The number of crossing points for walking and cycling will be increased. The city boulevard is easier to cross, because of the reduced number of traffic lanes. When I filmed the “after” situation in ʼt Goylaan, the new trees in the median had unfortunately not yet been planted. They were planted in time for the offical opening though.

Cross section of the new ʼt Goylaan at the wider part. (Picture Municipality of Utrecht)
The protected intersection of ʼt Goylaan (east-west), Linschotensingel (south) and Scherpenburglaan (north). A text-book example of a Dutch protected intersection. To the east of this intersection ʼt Goylaan has again more lanes. Turning lanes, as this part of the street leads up to a motorway. (Picture Municipality of Utrecht)

Some of the intersections had to be changed. But the intersection of ʼt Goylaan and the minor streets Scherpenburglaan and Linschotensingel stayed exactly as it was: a text-book example of the Dutch protected intersection. The intersection with the far busier Constant Erzeijstraat / Hooft Graaflandstraat was transformed from such a protected intersection into a so-called Priority Square. A new type of intersection where roads intersect under a right angle, but with a central part for left turns, that looks almost like a roundabout. Unlike a roundabout, however, traffic on the square does not have priority. One of the intersecting roads is a priority road. Traffic from the other -minor- road has to give the right of way. This also goes for the cycleways around this priority square. The cycleways on the priority road have priority over traffic when crossing the minor road. The cycleways of the minor road crossing the priority road must give the right of way. Also indicated by the the fact that the red asphalt is interrupted. Such priority arrangements are standard in the Netherlands, so road users understand this easily. The only difference is the space in the centre for the left turns. Because there is such a lot of space on the priority square to stack waiting cars, it can function without traffic signals!

The new “Priority Square” and how it fits in the rest of the design. (Picture Municipality of Utrecht)

The reconstruction of ’t Goylaan took place in the spring of 2016. The city had to take a lot into account with the design of the boulevard. Preserving the existing trees was a given. The city also wanted to use high quality materials. Pavers of the sidewalks and the so-called “exit strips” (where parked cars are next to green space and not sidewalks, minimal paving is done in that green zone) had to match the high-quality street furniture. For the roadway, a type of asphalt that reduces noise levels was used. The cycleways all got red asphalt. All pedestrian crossing designs were checked and approved by a society for people with disabilities. The crossings got tactile pavers for people with visibility problems and lowered kerbs to also make them easy to use by people in wheel chairs and parents pushing baby carriages. With the companies who manage the gas pipes, water works, sewerage, power lines and communication cables – all underground – the location of every new tree was discussed, to prevent future damage by tree roots. This resulted in one projected tree that can not be planted. The number of car parking spaces stayed exactly the same; 28. Which doesn’t mean they all stayed in the same place. Some were relocated to improve sight lines for the new crossings for instance.

ʼt Goylaan circa 1965. The street and the buildings were designed this way in the late 1950s. This included a separate cycleway on either side of the road. Interesting to see that the roadway had a brick surface in those days. Everything in the picture has been replaced (the social housing in the 1990s) only the trees survived. (Picture Utrechts Archief)
The pedestrian tunnel to cross ʼt Goylaan had been built in the early 1970s. It was bricked up in the late 1970s, after vandalism made it increasingly socially unsafe. The tunnel is still there, but invisible under the surface. (Pictures Utrechts Archief)

Interestingly, the designers also had to be careful with an old pedestrian tunnel that was bricked up in the late 1970s (because it was socially unsafe), but which is still present below ʼt Goylaan. This old tunnel represents an era in which designers had a totally different view on urban design. While they design extra crossings now, in those days, pedestrians and cyclists ‘needed’ to be kept apart from the cars as much as possible. However, the era of designing first and foremost for the flow of motor traffic is over. Not that everybody agrees though. Not even in the Netherlands.

The new 2×1 lane ʼt Goylaan after the reconstruction. In the wide median a double line of trees will be planted later.

The opposition parties in Utrecht did everything they could to prevent the city boulevard from being built. They feared congestion and used the old rhetoric that a city will die economically when cars cannot enter it freely. The Christian Democratic party, conservatives in the opposition, even mobilised the provincial and national governments to oppose the plans of the Utrecht council. But Utrecht stood by them and rightly so. The plans were executed as intended.

A detail of the new “Priority Square” with some measurements. (Picture Municipality of Utrecht)

Of course, traffic investigations had been done. Video simulations had been made of the new situation and it all seemed to work just fine. A baseline measure of all types of vehicles passing ʼt Goylaan had taken place right before the reconstruction, the first two weeks of April 2016. Cameras now monitor the road constantly. When the last road works will be finished (expected in December 2016) the city will investigate whether the projections and simulations work out as expected. So far, the city is content with how things work. The first results for cycling are already in. Ria Glas of the local branch of the Cyclists’ Union noticed a decrease in the waiting times in this street. Where the delays used to be 30 to 45 seconds, they have gone down to 13 to 30 seconds. People also cycle faster. This could be concluded from comparing the results of the cycle counting week in September 2015 and 2016.

A special signal prevents congestion in the side streets (north/south). If congestion is detected by any of the detection loops, one or both of the signals can turn red to give traffic on the square time to clear it without new vehicles approaching on the east-west priority road. These special signals only have a yellow and a red light. Their default state is off. (Picture Municipality of Utrecht)

A safety measure was also taken. Because the former ring road has not been transformed entirely yet, traffic is grouped in platoons at signalised intersections nearby. That means traffic can be too intense at times, on the priority road, making it impossible to enter the priority square from the side streets. There are detection loops and a special signal that can stop traffic on the priority road, well ahead of the priority square. With traffic stopped temporarily, traffic from the side street can then quickly clear the junction and the lights can be switched off again. These special signals only have a yellow and a red light. In the default state, they are not green, but switched off. A green light could confuse traffic users.

Video about the ʼt Goylaan reconstruction

Now the reconstruction has been finished, the opposition parties are still claiming the new road causes congestion, increased pollution because of it, and the whole scheme would generally be bad for the area and its residents. Instead of politicians, it may be best to listen to residents though. As a comment to the negative article, with mostly negative comments as well, one of whom wrote:

“Everything really improved. I live on ʼt Goylaan. If anyone should be “suffering” the consequences of the “extra congestion and stationary traffic that causes more pollution” it would be me and my neighbours. But that is not what we see. The few times it was congested outside peak hours, it was due to road works or accidents elsewhere. Before the reconstruction, the same would happen. Now, on the other hand, traffic mostly flows smoothly and there is less noise and less pollution. Moreover, is it now much easier to cross the roads when you are walking or cycling and everything looks a whole lot better. Some points could be improved, like preventing drivers from entering roads the wrong way. Drivers have to get used to things, but other than that: nothing but praise!”

The official opening of the new ‘t Goylaan was on 7 December 2016.

Tweets from the official opening. The planting of the last tree in the median.
Tweets from the official opening. The planting of the last tree in the median.

A ride in the street before and after the reconstruction.

Google StreetView was already updated. Here is the picture from 2015.
And this is Google StreetView at the same location in September 2016. Note that the parking lane is now accessible from the central lane. This to emphasize that the road is no longer a main road. In general, there is no parking on main roads in the Netherlands.
I updated the post slightly, later on the publication date. The Utrecht alderman for traffic, Lot van Hooijdonk, was so kind to personally point out one mistake (I got one of the opposition parties wrong), she also tipped me about the tweet by Ria Glas and she told me the official opening would be on the 7th of December. The tweets from that event were also added.

22 thoughts on “From ring road to city boulevard

  1. Do you have any updates on encouraging drivers to use the outer motorway ring instead of the city ring road? One of the major problems we have in Oxford is that there’s only partial connectivity in between an inner-city ring (which we’d really like to get all traffic off) and a 25km ring road.

  2. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for all your work.

    The links to the City report and the Video monitoring are ‘not found’, or ‘error finding server’ on my computer. Would it be possible to update?

    I’m interested in making the boulevard ‘type’ a more central UK offering. We seem to have Highways Authorities, in all (?) counties, who simply refuse to move-on from the 1970s guidance (Design Bulletin 32) forcing development into segregated blobs, with ‘No-Frontage-Access’ Distributor roads.
    A car-centric and even car-obligatory’ layout type.


    1. Hi Graham, yes it’s been a while… The monitoring camera has been taken down and city of Utrecht always deletes pages of traffic projects after they have been finished. I did, however, download the city’s report and since it’s so important I uploaded it now on my own blog and linked to it. You can find it here: report.

  3. Hello Mark, excellent article as always.
    In this article you state that Priority Square is a completely new design. However, I’ve seen them before. Five were build during the reconstruction of the Diependaalselaan during 2010/2011. An example can be found here:,5.1634343,160m/data=!3m1!1e3
    The Diependaalselaan is part of the ring of Hilversum and has a similar function to ‘t Goylaan. Could it be Utrecht got the idea for these types of intersections from Hilversum?

    1. Yes, that is exactly where Utrecht got it’s inspiration. Hilversum is the only other place where there is a similar type of intersection. Although arguably the one in Goes also looks a bit similar. There are several in Hilversum, but they are all different and not so ‘square’ as the Utrecht version. Utrecht changed it to resemble a roundabout much more. That said, even when there are 3 municipalities with such a type of intersection, it is still very new in the country. I didn’t mean to say new in the sense of first.

      1. Is this the first implementation of a “Priority Square” with a traffic signal option that kicks in when the intersection backs up? I wonder how well that works in practice…

  4. The map of the inner ring road showed that ‘t Goylaan was a short segment in black. Does this return to the before 2×2 condition on either side? If so, how are the transitions from 2×2 to 2×1 managed?

    My city of Alexandria, Virginia, USA has reduced one of three main routes into our city from 2×2 to 2×1, but traffic is still quite congested where the road loses a lane.

    Thanks for all your posts. This American has found your site an incredibly informative (but distracting) look into how the Dutch manage their infrastructure. You’ve certainly changed my driving habits for the better (my city’s bike infrastructure isn’t safe or complete enough) and showed how my city can do better. Additionally, thanks for highlighting how the Dutch have space for everyone. My fellow Americans can be very anti-_____, and it is refreshing to see that even the bike friendly Dutch recognize that pedestrians, cyclists and even cars need space to get around.

  5. This really is an outcome of a short ambition document called “Utrecht Aantrekkelijk en Bereikbaar”. (Utrecht Attractive and Accessible). It cannot be praised enough. One time, long ago, I posed questions about liveability in the city versus traffic policy. I got about the same reactions as using the name of mr. T****, president-elect, nowadays.

  6. Wow. Out of this world. Even the before state is unimaginable anywhere else I can think of.

    Bi-directional cycle paths on BOTH SIDES? Surprised they’re only 3.5 meters wide, though, which is pretty close to the minimum width of what’s called a shared-use path in the U.S (10 feet = 3.3 meters).

    I do wonder if the new priority square is worth the trouble of introducing a whole new intersection concept. Will it aggravate drivers?

    1. Just a quick note. These 3.5-meter wide paths on both sides of the road are not shared-use paths like those in the US, so it’s quite a bit better in comparison.

      1. In Florida, where I live, protected bike paths don’t exist (except for a few hundred feet in Tampa) so shared-use paths are the only comparable infrastructure around. They can be pretty nice and are always separate from automotive traffic.

        I’m trying to convince local authorities to focus on safer intersections, as that is where the most dangerous conflicts occur. This protected intersection mentioned in this post (the one that remained unchanged), which is in line with some of the protected intersections that have been implemented in various cities in US, would be a great starting point.

        1. I believe that has changed some since the time of your post, although Florida is still very much behind most of the US when it comes to implementing protected bicycle infrastructure. It is really amazing how quickly the US is changing.
          As a general rule, shared use paths in the US usually don’t experience enough pedestrian traffic to significantly impede cyclists except on Sundays, and even then, many pedestrians are actually the running kind, so it is less of an impediment to cycling that it would be, although in such cases the authorities still sometimes decide to widen them anyway.
          The reason that this is so is because shared use paths are usually used either as recreational paths or to unravel/unbundle cycling and automotive routes. There are seldom shared use paths alongside roads in the United States, except in cases where the sidewalk is too full and people thus spill out onto the protected bike lanes (and this is often resolved by widening the sidewalk).
          It will be interesting to watch. Many cities of various different sizes all across the United States are making significant inroads into providing for cycling in a much more effective manner, and it appears that several major guides are being updated to reflect that. It’s an exciting time to ride a bicycle for transportation this side of the Atlantic, I think. Many things have changed even since you visited, Mr. Wagenbuur. The latest city to watch is New Orleans, which already has a network of painted lanes. They have pledged to upgrade 125 miles of that to fully protected infrastructure by 2022, and add several miles of protected infrastructure where none currently exists, and the city already has a relatively high rate of bike use (although US data only looks at commuting and breaks things down by distance, not by the proportion of trips like in the Netherlands, both of which bias the results against cycling. If New Orleans succeeds, it will be just that much easier for Atlanta and other Metropolises throughout the US South as well as many smaller cities throughout the US to follow New Orleans’ lead.
          New Orleans is far from the only one, though. It seems to be on the rise everywhere, and more and more cities from all over the nation are installing protected bicycle infrastructure, and if the AASHTO updates go through, it will become much easier for cities all over the US to install protected infrastructure.

  7. I’m struck by how high-quality the “before” conditions already were, and even something to be envious of by those cyclists living in other parts of the world. The “after” conditions are just amazing, though. This is what I love about the Netherlands. If you want to increase the numbers of cyclists, you need to always be improving the infrastructure. Now living in the NL but come from a place (Los Angeles) where our brand-new cycle infrastructure doesn’t even come close to the “before” example.

  8. Proud to live in Utrecht. I seldom take my car into the city. Although I live on the outskirts of Utrecht, I still take my bike into the center. Distance 8,5 km. And if it is raining hard, I can take the train after cycling 1,6 km.

  9. Funnily enough, in Canada, the Liberal Party is associated with left wing policies, although the NDP is further to the left, we have no socialist parties anymore in Canada, certainly not in the rather conservative province I live in.

    Do you have any good research and stats on that priority square junction design? I’m quite curious as to how those work. And how junctions work when the signals turn to flashing amber at night, what does 5 good minutes of observing the junction (although probably not such a pleasant thing to do on a December night) look like? Same with the priority square, just observing the junction would be nice. You did the same with roundabouts, I’d like to see simple videos of traffic actors just doing their thing on a variety of junction types for a good 5-10 minutes.

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