A disappointing pilot in Groningen

The 18,000 people who cycle to the Groningen University campus every day lost their priority again over the almost 12,000 motor vehicles on the cycle crossing with Eikenlaan. This priority had only just been granted to them. A two-month pilot with reversed priority was cut short. Right from the start the plan met a strong opposition from police and other emergency services, the bus operator and residents. After several incidents with drivers crashing into cyclists the situation was changed back. “The pilot was a failure, because it wasn’t safe enough” said a spokesperson for the municipality of Groningen in the local press. What happened?

The changed crossing on one of the first days after the priority went to cycling. (Picture Alternative Department for Transport, ADfT)
The crossing as it was before. Many more people cycling had to give way to a much lower number of cars. This is again the current situation.

When I visited Groningen early last year I cycled the route to the University which the city promotes as a safer and more attractive route. I was appalled by the crossing with Eikenlaan. Here was a well-used main cycle route that crosses a local distributer road and it doesn’t get priority? There were droves of people on their bicycles waiting every time a hand full of cars arrived as a peloton due to traffic lights further down the road. I did make some remarks in the blog post, but also noted that there were plans, fortunately, to change this priority arrangement. Because of those plans I didn’t publish a video that I had also made which clearly depicts the crossing in all its awfulness. Thinking that I was already negative enough about Groningen without this video.

The promoted alternative cycle route to the Zernike University Campus in Groningen was quite narrow for the volume of cycling. It is very good that this cycleway was widened considerably since this picture was taken in February 2016.
The widened cycleway to the Zernike University Campus in Groningen in September 2017. (Picture ADfT)

It took the municipality more than a year and a half, but last September the priority was finally changed. This had to do with the fact that the cycleways leading up to the crossing had to be widened too. When that project was finished the intersection was also reconstructed. But was it really? The crossing was painted red, but it wasn’t physically changed to slow down motor traffic. No wonder many drivers overlooked the fact that the priority had been reversed and that they had to let people on bicycles go first. The situation was so unclear that traffic wardens had to explain to road users what they had to do. Shouting “cycle on” to people cycling past and signalling drivers to slow down every time people on a bicycle approached. The municipality had planned a two-month pilot and would only make a final design after an evaluation of the trial. It never got that far, after a little over a month drivers on Eikenlaan already regained their priority on the cycle crossing. The municipality now talks about bringing in traffic wardens at busy hours and building a tunnel “in the future”. That sounds more like giving up than making real plans.

Apart from the forest of yellow signs (that confuse more than that they inform) there are no indications from the street design itself that you are approaching an intersection with priority for crossing cyclists. (Picture ADfT)

What genuine measures could have been taken to make the pilot work? From what I saw in the press I could already tell the design of the crossing was very poor, even for a two-month pilot. I asked a local what he thought. The author of the Alternative Department for Transport blog had also meant to write about this intersection, but he hadn’t yet done that either. He did go to the intersection to look at the new situation and told me: “There were no speed reduction measures for motor vehicles – just a couple of warning signs. A recipe for conflict […] I think north-south cycling priority could work here, but it would require something much more substantial than just red paint across the road.”

Some people would like to see traffic signals installed. But traffic experts in the Netherlands usually advise against traffic signals for a cycle crossing. At quieter times people will ignore the lights and that will make the crossing even more dangerous than it already is.

A clear priority crossing for cycling in Beuningen (near Nijmegen).
If you look at the Beuningen crossing from the perspective of a driver you see that there are clear visual clues in the design that tell you are approaching a special crossing, even if you miss the actual give way signs. (Picture Google StreetView)

There are numerous examples in the Netherlands of intersections with priority for cycling that do work. There is one in Beuningen, which also got a lot of initial criticism, but there the council stood strong, even after a crash. After some time the intersection turned out to work after all. Key points there: the crossing is raised (much more than the crossing in Groningen is) and has piano-teeth to make clear there is a speed table. The roadway is narrowed, there is a central refuge island and there are markings on the road, a long way ahead of the intersection (a zig-zag line and a triangle). All these visual clues alert drivers much more than signs alone can ever do.

The Zwolle cycle roundabout on the opening day in 2013. Drivers and people cycling instantly understood this design that resembles a normal Dutch roundabout with priority for cycling.
The Zwolle semi-roundabout from the driver’s perspective. Again, it is very clear that crossing cyclists have priority even if you miss the give way sign. (Picture Google StreetView)

Zwolle also had a problem with a crossing of two different traffic flows. The city’s traffic experts came up with the novel cycle roundabout that featured on my blog already in 2013. After some time, this roundabout was evaluated and it was found that motor traffic flowed freely, cycling crossing times improved very much and (objective) safety did not decrease.

The Eikenlaan running east-west with the problem crossing as a red dot. Note the big main road (in yellow) running parallel to the Eikenlaan, just north of it. Why wouldn’t you close the street at the green strip that runs from north to south, right at the intersection? Motor traffic would still be able to reach all destinations using the ring road, but you would completely loose through traffic. Creating compartments in the city centre was a Groningen invention. It is time that policy was also applied to the suburbs of Groningen. (Map Google)

It would certainly help if motor traffic volumes in the Groningen Eikenlaan would decrease. This street is a local distributer street, but it is more used as a through route, a short-cut to bypass the main road. A daily volume of 12,000 motor vehicles is a lot for a Dutch neighbourhood street. There is an underused big circular road just north of Eikenlaan. Drivers should be enticed to use that road instead of this smaller street. The city does have plans to make this street a 30km/h zone, but other cities have been much bolder than that. Why not completely close the street to motor traffic? Buses could keep on using it, since there are apparently 5 bus lines on this street. An astounding number of lines, but if private motor traffic would be forced to go somewhere else even that wouldn’t be such a problem. Does closing such a street sound farfetched? There are many examples of much bigger roads that were closed to all traffic but buses, such as Croeselaan in Utrecht. That 4-lane street in the city centre was closed to motor traffic at one location to make through traffic impossible. It improved the entire street, because of the reduced motor traffic volumes.

The Utrecht Croeselaan was still a four-lane main road in 2009. (Picture Google StreetView)
The same location in 2015 shows that Utrecht closed the street to private motor traffic. Buses can still go straight-on (as can people cycling and walking) but drivers of private cars must turn right or left. Left means a 180 degree turn back. (Picture Google StreetView).

Groningen didn’t choose any of these solutions. They gave priority back to private motor traffic after just a few weeks and talk about building a tunnel. I think that would be the first cycle tunnel to cross a 30km/h street, they were after all also talking about reducing the speed, weren’t they? Doesn’t sound very well thought through. All in all this is rather disappointing for the 18,000 people who have to cross the Eikenlaan every day. The crossing was now reversed back to the former situation, which I filmed in February 2016. I will now show you that video after all.

The Eikenlaan crossing in Groningen.
The priority arrangement is back to this situation of February 2016.


Jitensha Oni anaylised this video too!


16 thoughts on “A disappointing pilot in Groningen

  1. Too often the vulnerable or those presenting very little harm to society are having to cede priority or are effectively bullied off the roads.
    Maybe car drivers need to have a push button system to get past the crossing. Get out of your car, push the button, wait 45-60 seconds then have permission to cross? Isn’t this what happens at many pedestrian crossings around the world?
    Calls for a tunnel for people on bikes, hang on, why not a tunnel for the motorvehicles, making it harder for people on bikes is what puts people off from cycling, you only need to look at helmet laws to see this and so called cycle routes that are massively convoluted and undulate unnecessarily to accommodate motorvehicles and make their journeys easier (Stevenage in the UK had this put in place the 1960s and the cycle modal share is pitiful because the cycle lanes are crap and it’s too easy for motor vehicles to get about)

    Seeing this from the UK where our encouragement for cycling is basically NIL is sad to see that a city like Groningen has acted in this way.

  2. W. Palmer, Marry and Maarten all say that closing Eikenlaan to private motor traffic would be a bad idea, because there is not access from Iepenlaan to the ring road in both directions. However, unless I am mistaken, residents of Selwerd could access the ring road via Bedumerweg, couldn’t they? According to Google Maps, this would add about 4 minutes to a journey, in the case of the longest possible detour (at off-peak time).

    (I have never been to Groningen and am quite happy to be proven wrong on this!)

    This made me wonder, is there an optimum ratio for the distance from A to B by car and by bike? I mean, if the distance is shorter by bike, that encourages more people to cycle and is probably a good thing. But how much is too much? Perhaps beyond a certain point, everyone who is going to cycle is already cycling, so added detours for cars don’t encourage any more mode shift.

  3. What a terrible crossing! Bikers have to cross two bike lanes and one car street in just 15-20 meters! The film show how superior bikers maneuver in such a tricky situation. But they shouldn’t have to.
    In Sweden bikers would jump off and become pedestrians.
    There’s always a solution, but it might have to take more into consideration. For instance, the ambulance station doesn’t have to be where it is, if you want to box in car traffic.
    Many bikers turn left immediately, even though more room is needed a tunnel might demand too much of a detour for them.

  4. Mark wrote:
    “There are many examples of much bigger roads that were closed to all traffic but buses, such as Croeselaan in Utrecht.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Looking around the world, much, much bigger roads can be found. A very recent example is King Street in Toronto. As of last month, it is no longer a through street for the 20,000 private cars that used to use it. This was to give priority to the 65,000 people on streetcars that were being slowed down. But no more. See:


  5. The reason why so many cars have no other choice but to use the Eikenlaan instead of the big circular road to the north, is that you cannot enter or exit it in both directions in Selwerd. Unlike Paddepoel at the Zonnelaan, where entering and exiting is possible in both directions.
    Furthermore, with two traffic lights being so close to the intersection with the bicycle path, the change in priority meant instant and continuous traffic jams for all motorized traffic including busses and ambulances. Bicycles can cross the road in two steps, but cars cannot do the same.
    Added to that is the poor visibility of the bicycle path at one of the corners of the crossing due to the fence and bushes around the sports field.

    So there really was no other way, but to reverse the situation again.

    There are multiple routes for the thousands of students to go to the university complex, but no alternative routes for cars. Until this changes, cars need to have priority at this intersection.

    To accommodate the bicycles, the speed limit has been lowered to 30 km/h and speed bumps have been placed there as well.

    It’s not a perfect solution for both parties. But until either a tunnel for bicycles and/or an additional exit and entry for the circular road around Groningen is realized we will have to make due with the current situation.

  6. There are many situations where driving is necessary. Ambulance post is very close to that crossing. Busses are passing carrying heavy traffic to University canpus and several residential city areas. Further, this is the only way by motor transport from the north part of the city to the ring. So stopping motor vehicles is detrimental for residents and causes more polution. Who is to say that disabled people and children, people in need (ambulance), elderly that do not cycle, have to cycle? Is it that the whole city is young in their twenties and healthy?
    Not everyone works in the city, and they have to comute 50 km and more.
    Your solution of blocking the traffic is clearly biased and ignorant.
    For example, in the close vicinity of that crossing is a school for children with difficulties. They come from the whole province. They cannot cycle, so they have to be transported. This is only one example where motor transportation is vital, and since this is the only route to exit to the ring, slowing a motor transport here is not an option.

    Tunnel for cyclists is possible better solution.

    My suggestion to you is to cover all the facts and angles before writing such a heated blog.
    You can ignore normal locals for an idealistic idea but that is not a proper journalism.

  7. There are more things going on here, to put it as simply as above. First of all: There are way more cyclist crossing there than f.i. in Beuningen, therefor the traffic going over the Eikenlaan had no chance of crossing because of the constant coming and going of cylists. Busses and ambulances were kept up. There is a trainstation close by: Groningen Noord, and an ambulance post next to it, so many ambulances and busses are going through the Eikenlaan as well.
    The Plataanlaan doesn’t have a complete ramp for entering/exiting at the Iepenlaan, so people going to the west coming from Selwerd have to use the Eikenlaan to get out of Selwerd.

    Also, the councils of Selwerd and Paddepoel has asked for a study on where traffic is coming from. Just local traffic? Coming and going from Selwerd itself? Or from other parts in the city. When you know the answer to that, then you can look at what to change.

  8. Totally agree with your conclusion. ‘Compartments’ are vital to reduce unnecessary traffic flow, rerouting most vehicles via the bypass. It’s no hardship for a vehicle to travel an extra few hundred metres and in some cases might persuade against vehicular use. A tunnel in this location (from memory) is ridiculously over-engineering a solution and would be prohibitively expensive.

  9. I’m having a hard time trying to get what was wrong with this crossing, may you help me? You present a working crossing as having a raised table, piano-teeth painting, narrowed roadway and a central refuge island. From the pictures of the Eikenlaan you give (taken from quite far away unfortunately), I see the central refuge island, piano-teeth painting, the roadway looks not less narrowed than the Beuningen one, and it appears to me to have a raised table as well. So apart from the zig-zag line and the triangle, which I can’t imagine would have magically solved the issue by themselves, I really don’t get what has been done wrong here…

    1. The elevation here was very mild and could be taken at high speed. That should have been raised much more, also to mark the situation had been changed. The central refuge island is way too small (not even one bike length long) and the roadway is not narrowed enough to decrease the speeds. There are no markings ahead of the intersection (slow down lightning marking and big triangle). All those individually do not make much difference perhaps as you say, but when the whole package is missing you can say: yes, there was quite a bit wrong here.

      1. I’d say that what’s really missing here is a “refuge island” but for cars not for bikes, i. e. something like the Zwolle bicycle roundabout, which allows cars to cross the cycle path in two steps. Refuge island for bikes is only needed if they don’t have priority, so that they can cross in two steps instead. If they do have priority, such an island could be even unhelpful, because it lengthens the time needed to cross the road. There are better measures to reduce the car speeds – Zwolle roundabout is one example, a speed table is another.

        1. Indeed, the Zwolle roundabout would be a great idea. Groningen already has a cycle roundabout somewhere so that shouldn’t be the problem. However, space is going to be a problem here. https://www.google.nl/maps/@53.2317371,6.547083,3a,75y,101.61h,69.55t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sjSeK7oeypf8LzzzIUrIVtg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 So I think a bike tunnel (or a little car bridge, because the Eikenlaan has to be elevated so the cyclists can cross the Eikenlaan under the road without gradient problems) is the best option out here. However, that’ll cost some money. Also, the police has to accept such a situation, because a secondary school and sport facilities are nearby and the police want to have clear view with the possibility to respond quickly so a possible chase can be short. Especially near these kind of facilities.

      2. Hello, thank you for your answer. I now have a second question: you mention this was an experiment (a “pilot”), but apparently it could not have worked without a reworking of the road that looks quite heavy. How do you conciliate low-cost for temporary redesign, with all the costly and non- work that was apparently needed to make it work?

  10. This is unbelievable for a Dutch city which such a long cycling policy tradition. This is a clear example of the ‘law of the handicap of the head start’.

  11. The solution is clear, not just here but everywhere – everyone get rid of your cars and ride a bicycle as your form of transportation.

    71% of Americans are overweight or obese. Do I really need to say anymore?

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