A common urban intersection in the Netherlands

Can urban intersections be designed in such a way that motor traffic, cycling and walking flow smoothly and that the potential conflicts of these very different types of traffic crossing each other’s paths are made less complicated and less dangerous? In my opinion the answer is “yes”. Intersections are most important in making cycling safer and more attractive. They can be the weakest link in the chain that is your journey and one nasty junction can put people off cycling. In this week’s post I would like to show you a common intersection between a distributor road with protected cycleways and a smaller neighbourhood access street. How do the Dutch design an intersection between two streets like that and how does everything work?

Aerial picture of this intersection from Google maps. Google recently published 3D images from ʼs-Hertogenbosch. This is great to study the cycling infrastructure. In this post I focus on the crossing with the side street in the foreground.

I would like to emphasise that this intersection is not special in any way. You can find many similar examples all over the country. That is because the design features stem from the design manuals which are used throughout the country. This particular intersection is in ʼs-Hertogenbosch, between the recently rebuilt Bartenbrug, that I wrote about earlier, and the Graafseweg, a main street with service streets, that I also wrote about before. This distributor road has a speed limit of 50km/h, a surface of black asphalt and dedicated cycle infrastructure. Cycling takes place shared with cars on the service street and also on completely separated cycleways connecting the service street parts. The neighbourhood access street has a surface of bricks and a speed limit of 30km/h. The traffic volume here is low, since only residents will use this street. That makes mixing traffic possible and therefore there are no protected cycleways in the side street.

Drivers wanting to turn onto the main road or into the side street can wait out-of-the-way of drivers with priority on the main road.
It is easy for drivers turning into the side street to wait for people cycling. That means a driver in a Mercedes not only needs to let a child on a bicycle go first, but they really do that!

The intersection feels like a T-junction, but in fact it is a 4 arm-crossroads. The fourth arm, however, is a very minor residential street and that arm of the intersection is therefore designed differently. With far less turning movements, meaning far less potential conflicts, it is not necessary that the cycleway bends out the way it does for on the other side of the street with the crossing of the more important neighbourhood access road. Due to its different nature I will not discuss that fourth arm in this post. Other typical design features of the intersection are the differences in road surface and a split main street. Splitting the lanes for the two directions leads to room for refuge islands in the centre and a big central area where turning motor vehicles can wait out-of-the-way of vehicles that go straight-on. There is also enough space between the main road and its parallel cycleway, where drivers of cars wanting to turn into the side street can wait for people cycling, again, out-of-the-way of other traffic. The entire crossroads is raised to emphasise this area as a point of potential conflict at which people need to pay attention. There are of course yield signs in the side street, complimented with shark’s teeth in the surface. Last but not least the cycleway surface continues over the crossing, to make very clear cycling has priority over motor traffic in the side street. There is but one thing missing here: there should have been elephant’s feet in the surface alongside the cycleway on the crossing itself. I have no idea why they are omitted here, but maybe the city thought the contrast between the red asphalt of the cycleway and the reddish-brown bricks of the side street is already big enough as it is. What is perhaps also striking is the fact that there are no traffic signals. The Dutch generally feel that traffic signals are a last resort and that they should be used with care. Even the traffic signal expert of this city of ’s-Hertogenbosch is convinced that people are much better at negotiating who goes first than you can ever arrange with traffic signals. Without traffic signals people really must interact here, but their decisions are made easy by the clear design features of the intersection.

The distance between the driveway and the cycleway, in this case 5.5 metres, eliminates the blind corners almost completely, even for trucks.
Here you can see that a car drivers waiting for people cycling are never in the way of other people in cars.

Let’s look at the intersection from the viewpoint of the different type of road users.

1. Motorists

The intersection is crystal clear for drivers of motorised vehicles. On the main road they drive on black asphalt. That signals it is a 50km/h priority road. Parking is not allowed on the main roadway. This improves sight lines and it also signals that this is a main route. When drivers approach this intersection, even on the main road, they experience a speed bump, forcing them to slow down. They will also notice the two traffic lanes split with a space in between. This is to signal that attention needs to be given to turning traffic and the possibility of pedestrians crossing the street. There are no zebra crossings here, so there is no need to give pedestrians or any other road user the right of way. That changes the minute a driver would like to turn here. In that case priority must first be given to oncoming other motor traffic. The corner has a tight radius, so speed must really come down. For a left turn, a driver can wait out-of-the-way of other traffic in the median. This central waiting space is 6 metres wide, so there is more than enough space for even a larger vehicle. Once that stage is sorted, or when drivers make a right turn, the driver has to deal with crossing the cycleway. This crossing needs to be at least 5 metres from the main roadway, at this particular location it is 5.5 metres. That space reduces the blind spot to an absolute minimum, even for truck drivers. The cycleway is continuous and there are yield signs and yield markings (the shark’s teeth in the surface). Fortunately, thanks to the distance from the roadway, a driver can wait out-of-the-way again. The driver can look for pedestrians at the same time. Even though the driver is now at a straight angle, he or she is still making a turn and turning traffic must let pedestrians go first, because they are considered traffic on the same road and going straight-on. A driver may only continue when there are no pedestrians or people cycling.

Drivers wanting to turn into the main road need to wait for cycling first. The yield sign and the shark’s teeth in the surface make that clear. Also note the sign “end of the 30km/h zone” of the residential street. The main road has a speed limit of 50km/h. This is the blanket speed limit in the built-up area and it is therefore almost never indicated.

When you approach from the side street, as a driver, the order of dealing with other traffic is different, but the priority is similar. First you will notice a speed bump. The complete intersection is on a raised table. Pedestrians would not have priority if the street was level, but now that it isn’t the “exit construction” rule could apply and in that case a crossing pedestrian would have priority. But for that rule to apply the footway should be continuous, and that is not the case here. As a driver I would let a pedestrian go first at all time, to avoid any misunderstandings. You need to wait for other traffic anyway. As a pedestrian I would see whether a driver lets me go first or not. That way it doesn’t really matter whether you know the exact rule or not. What is very clear, is that people crossing on a bicycle have priority. Once you have dealt with that crossing you finally reach the main road. All traffic there, whether going straight-on or turning, has priority. You must wait until everything is clear and then you can turn into the main street.

A car driver waiting for a gap in traffic on the main road is also not in the way of people cycling.

2. Cyclists

When you ride on the cycleway alongside the main road it is clear that you have priority over all motor traffic, whether it turns across your path from the main road or whether it comes from the side street. The cycleway bends out, but the turns are not sharp, so you only have to slightly decrease your speed to take these curves. That way you can also make sure all other road users saw you. Preferably by looking them in the eyes one by one. Pedestrians who would want to cross the cycleway must wait for you to pass. They do not have the right of way.

A clear indication of the priority, also in the road surface. The shark’s teeth indicate you must yield. The so-called piano teeth markings indicate a speed bump. Note the continuous surface of red asphalt of the cycleway, interrupting the roadway.

If you were to turn into the side street on a bicycle you would have to let pedestrians crossing that side street go first. I would also do that if I were to cycle from that side street onto the cycleway of the main road. Even though pedestrians don’t officially have that priority here. When you want to turn left, onto the cycleway alongside the main road, you need to cross that main road first. In that case you can also do that in two stages, exactly like the motor traffic drivers do. First you deal with traffic coming from the left. Once that lane is clear you can go to the central waiting area and once there are no vehicles coming from the right you can cross that lane as well and turn into the cycleway.

Crossing a main road is convenient with this design. The crossing is cut up in four easy parts. This man is crossing the 3.3 metre traffic lane very quickly in 5 small steps.

3. Pedestrians

It could already be clear from the above paragraphs what the rights of pedestrians are. But I’d like to repeat everything from the view of a pedestrian nevertheless. When you walk straight-on on the main road you will have to cross the side street. For traffic turning into that side street from the main road, whether motor vehicles or people on bicycles, it is certain that you must get the right of way from those road users. The ground rule is namely, that turning traffic must give way to traffic going straight-on on the same road. And in this case pedestrians are consided traffic. It is a bit different for traffic from the side street, that is obviously not on the same road. And as explained previously, the tricky part is the fact that the intersection is raised, but that at the same time the footway is not continuous. Often when road users experience a level change in their path they must give priority, when they exit a driveway for instance. But that also goes for intersections that have a continuous and raised footway. I’m pretty sure many in the Netherlands would not be 100% certain about the priority here, or they think it is different from what it really is. To prevent problems due to such misunderstandings it is best to look the other road user in the eyes, read what they are going to do and act accordingly.

The crossing is flush. There are no kerbs. This makes it also easy to cross in a wheel chair or pushing a stroller. For people with impaired vision there are tactile markings in the surface, indicating the outer edge of the road.

When it comes to crossing the main road, everything is plain and simple again. As a pedestrian that crossing is divided into four parts. First you cross the cycleway. You must wait for the cycleway to be clear, because you have no priority. That would be different if there were zebra stripes, in that case you would have priority. The cycleway is 2.3 metres wide. That means you can get to the other side in 3 to 4 steps, so you need only a little gap in the stream of people cycling. There is a waiting space between the cycleway and the first lane of the roadway. There you can wait for a gap in motor traffic, because, here too, you have no priority due to the absence of a zebra crossing. The motor traffic lane is 3.3 metres wide here, a pretty standard width. That means most people will be able to cross this lane in 4 to 5 steps. This means you also only need a small gap in the motor traffic flow. That is one reason why you see so much movement in the video. Nobody really needs to stop for longer times. Once you have also walked the 5 metres of the central traffic island, you can deal with traffic coming from the opposite direction. First one lane of motor traffic and then the cycleway. The crossing is completely level. This makes crossing the road easy for people in wheel chairs or mobility scooters and for parents with a stroller.

A fine demonstration of how easy it is for pedestrians with all kinds of wheels to cross the main road and the cycleways.

This type of intersection is perfectly clear for all road users. Mainly because all the moments and locations, where you have to negotiate the right of way with different types of other road users, are separated. You can make one decision at the time and then quickly move to the next point. This makes that traffic can flow smoothly in a safe way.

In this week’s video I explain how a typical Dutch intersection works.

You may have noticed that I numbered the types of traffic and that we Dutch distinguish three different types of traffic. Not only do we acknowledge we have three types, we also design our infrastructure specifically for these three types of traffic. As Tim Burns, Perth Biker, noticed, this is what sets the Dutch apart from most of the world and he wrote an interesting post about it years ago. Always good to remember this key element of the Dutch traffic system!




40 thoughts on “A common urban intersection in the Netherlands

  1. Can anyone tell me: If you will bicycle up to 50 km per day in The Netherlands and you want to be as comfortable and as safe from flat tires as possible which is better, the city style bicycle or the touring style? It looks to me like the city style sits you more upright and would be more comfortable. The touring bicycles, while nice, look you would be more hunched over.

    1. The city style bike sits you more upright. Therefor you can see better what lies ahead of you on the bike path. There may be some children in the age between 12 and 18 who cycle more than 30 km a day. Because they live in a smaller village that doesn’t have the type of school they attend. When you watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrQ-d2PBUto you will see that all the kids use city style bikes.

  2. It seems like all the physical design attributes, i.e. continuous red asphalt cycleway, continuous black asphalt roadways, discontinuous pavers of sidewalks, raised intersections, and level crossings vs. non-level crossings, all have legally defined meanings? As in police could ticket a someone for violating one of these design attributes. Is that the case?

    If so, how did those come about and how do the Dutch ensure that everyone understands them, even tourists, short term visitors, or new immigrants? Or are these features just intuitive in the context of the intersection, as in, once you set foot or wheel on it you can figure it out?

    Here in the US we are not consistent even at the municipal level. So seeing all these physical design elements seems very confusing to me. I have seen more sharks teeth and zebra crossings but pavement color or pavement material (e.g asphalt vs. pavers/brick vs. poured concrete) means nothing legally except to highlight a feature for drivers (e.g. green says, “Hey drivers, there might be cyclists here” it doesn’t mean priority).

    1. Just a little perspective from a foreigner currently living there. I would say that for the most part, the infrastructure is pretty clear and easily understandable, though I was already a cyclist for years and tend to pay more attention to these details. The one thing that is (still) not always clear, is the priority from the right rule. While a lack of shark teeth is usually a clear indication that this rule is in effect, sometimes you get situations where one of the roads looks drastically different (resembling a busier road) and would seem it should get priority but yet it doesn’t. Besides the shark teeth, there are also sometimes the yellow diamond signs that signal absolutely priority for the road in question. This is usually more the case in smaller towns, where the infrastructure is not always quite as good.

      With so many tourists from neighboring countries and even farther away, I do sometimes wonder how big of an issue it is that foreigners can just come here and drive. For instance, I was legally allowed to use my American drivers license for the first 6 months of my residency, and tourists from the US can also do the same. It’s one thing if they are from Europe, in which case at least the signage would be the same. But even then, they may be from countries that hardly have any cycling. I wonder what proportion of crashes are caused by foreigners, immigrants, or people who live here but did not grow up in the Netherlands and/or undergo the Dutch driver’s license test.

      1. Streets inside a neighborhood have always priority from right. That means that everybody coming from your right side has priority over you. Except pedestrians. Pedestrians (only) have priority when a left or right turning driver, cyclist sees them from the front or the back. Because, in that case the straight on rule applies. Traffic going straight on on the same road has priority over turning traffic. When a pedestrian is seen from his left or right side then that pedestrian has to give priority to the other traffic. The straight on rule also applies for roundabouts. The car leaving the roundabout has to give priority to the cyclist who continues on the roundabout. Because leaving a roundabout is considered turning right. for more information see this internet site: https://www.government.nl/documents/leaflets/2013/01/16/road-traffic-signs-and-regulations-in-the-netherlands Or this site for the traffic signs: https://movetonetherlands.com/survivaltips_getting_around_traffic_signs.html

        1. Thanks for the link. Yes, I’m fully aware about the priority from the right rule now. I was only pointing out that you occasionally run into cases, at least in the smaller towns from what I’ve seen, where one of the roads leading up to an intersection has been designed very differently. The lack of any shark teeth and the yellow diamond signs would indicate this rule to be in effect. But because it looks so different, you often see motorist and cyclists hesitating on taking priority because they think the traffic coming from that road should have priority.

          In response to Larry, here is another situation where a tourist may be confused on what to do: https://www.google.nl/maps/@51.4930181,3.8791407,3a,75y,187h,80.59t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sbUrihafxpWL4ZXiIuF5y2w!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

          It’s in an industrial part of Goes and the non-obligatory “cycle lanes” eventually direct you to a cycle path. But the little sign is only in Dutch and it’s not so clear from teh dashed line whether the motorist would get priority or the cyclist.

          1. Dear USbike. My thoughts about your response to Larry are: I think that the cyclist should give priority to the car. 1) Because the cyclist is making a considerable turn to the left and the car is going straight on. 2) The speed of the cyclist is lower than that of the car. Therefor, the cyclist can stop much easier than the driver.

          2. Re Goes: First of all… These cycle lanes are obligatory as there is a cycle sign in them. The dashed line alongside the lane only means that cars can cross the cycle lane if needed.

            The cyclist crossing the street from the cylce lane to the cycle path has to give way to the car drivers as the cyclist is in effect turning left. The dashed line does not give priority to the cyclist. It is there to guide the cyclist and show drivers there is a crossing.

            1. Thanks Omar and Floris, for your insightful response. I previously thought that only bike lanes with solid lines were mandatory, but this is apparently not the case. As a follow-up question, some stretches of these lanes are too narrow for two cyclists to ride side-by-side without the outer one crossing outside of it. Is it still legally allowed to cycle this way or not in this case?

              These types of details may not be completely clear to a foreigner, which was what began this particular discussion.

      2. “The one thing that is (still) not always clear, is the priority from the right rule. While a lack of shark teeth is usually a clear indication that this rule is in effect, sometimes you get situations where one of the roads looks drastically different (resembling a busier road) and would seem it should get priority but yet it doesn’t”

        A driver (bike or car) coming from the right has always priority (it is the default), except
        – if it is a priority crossing (shark teeth combined with signs from the B-section https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verkeersborden_in_Nederland, where B1 indicates a priority street and B3/4/5 a priority crossing)
        – traffic signals
        – traffic from an unpaved (dirt) road has always to give way to traffic on a paved road.

        The width of the road, how busy a road is and how the road is paved is of no influance to the priority.

        1. There is one other “exception”. Traffic from an exit or from an exit construction (= continues foot path and a continues curb/kerb) has to give way to all other traffic, including pedastrians. It is not always clear if something is an exit, as there are no rules that define an exit. Neither will there be any traffic signs in this situation.

    2. Most of what you see is indeed intended to guide people to do the right thing. However, this of course builds on what is in the law. The signs and the shark teeth, the priority for traffic going straight on over that turning. And also the fact that pedestrians are not allowed to be on the cycle path when there is a sidewalk.

      None of what you mentioned has a legal meaning, it’s all meant to guide people, to make them do the right thing intuitively. Foreigners will have to get used to the concept of cycle paths, however, as is proven in Amsterdam daily.

      The one exception to the above (and Mark hinted on this in the video) is the fact that because the paving of the sidewalk does not extend across the side road, that side road is not seen as an exit. And therefore, pedestrians don’t have right of way over cars in that street.

      As for consistency, all traffic engineers use the same manual, leading to a fairly consistent experience across the country.

  3. I would be very appreciative of a orthographic diagram of the intersection, anyone able to post that?

    1. In the background the cyclepath is no longer a cyclepath but a service street where cycling and driving a car happens in the same space, so that driving car is okay where it is. That other car is indeed stationary on the sidewalk (As can be seen in the video). Dutch drivers are really no better than drivers of any other nationality.

  4. Dear Mark, excellent explanation of Dutch design principles related to basic traffic rules! These traffic rules are common in almost all European countries, but mainly on paper, neither practiced nor seriously taught in driver license lessons, unfortunately. Most cycling promotion videos explain the rules for cycle users… and car users then complain about the cyclist’s behavior, preferably in the media. This intersection is also safe for all users by night time and in wet / winterly circumstances, i.e. more critical periods. Key thing is the slow speed of all road users there! In some cities we see similar intersections without the raised table; I prefer this raised version. PS: The Dutch word for the ‘piano teeth markings’ is ‘talud’ markings, i.e. talus or slope. These markings date back to the ’70-s during the experimental ‘woonerf’ (residential traffic calmed street / area)in the city of Delft when the speed bump was introduced. When making design drawings for a ‘woonerf’ the engineer applied the ‘talud’ markings to indicate the speed bumps. And later on the the paver used white painted stones, which also support the visibility of the speed bump. Only later on the concrete speed bump with different speed levels was produced. So, originally the ‘piano teeth’ were used for drawing the slopes of dikes and canals at a drawing board. André

  5. Thank you for this post! But what do you do in the Netherlands when there is no place to split up every minor crossing in such a convenient way? I know many busy streets in my home town where there is just not enough room for this kind of crossing.

  6. Approximately how much traffic — car, bike, pedestrian — is this main road designed to carry? High volumes of Average Daily Traffic are used by transportation engineers in my country to justify some pretty unsafe designs.

    I’ve seen similar intersections in very busy commercial streets in the Netherlands. At what point does bike/car traffic volume trigger another type of road design?

    1. I don’t think they have an official name. I’ve seen “pianotoetsen” being used a few times now that I looked for it on the internet, but only in quotation marks. That means “piano keys”. I picked the English term up in Australia, last year, but maybe that is not a very common phrase either.

      1. Its the architectural symbol for slopes. In anglo saxion context they often the architectural symbol for ramp marking (the chiffron) for this.

  7. Great post once again !
    Would you mind if I’d translate it to French and post it on my personal non-profit blog (with of course a clear and complete reference to your blog) ?

      1. Of course !
        My translation is almost complete but there’s an allusion I don’t understand. It’s when you refer to a “exit construction” rule. Could you explain ? Thanks.

        1. You are referring to this part: “Pedestrians would not have priority if the street was level, but now that it isn’t the “exit construction” rule could apply and in that case a crossing pedestrian would have priority. But for that rule to apply the footway should be continuous, and that is not the case here.”

          In Dutch traffic law there is a rule that a continuous footway means that the side street has to be seen as an exit. Hence, traffic coming out of the side street has to yield, give priority to all traffic, including pedestrians, on the main road.

          A footway as in this photo is continuous and therefor the side street is considered an exit and pedestrians have priority.

  8. “And as explained previously, the tricky part is the fact that the intersection is raised,……………..” My reaction to the text under 3. that starts with the text between “” until the end of the paragraph.

    In the case there is a pedestrian who is going straight-on on the main road and a car turning off the main road into the side street has to give that pedestrian priority, then as a driver coming from the side street turning onto the main road I would signal to the pedestrian that I give him priority. Because that would be easier for the pedestrian. Otherwise, (s)he has to wait for me and after I have passed then has priority over the car turning into the side street. Seeing that I don’t give priority to this pedestrian the other car could start to continue his turn. Giving priority solve a possible conflict where the pedestrian could assume that I will also give priority to him,because the other car has to give him priority anyway.

  9. Once again a very good video of you, Mark. I only wish that German transport planners and politicians would think about what they can learn from our neighbouring country. There are so many accidents with trucks turning off to the right that when turning off to the right at a blind spot, they don’t see cyclists and take their right of way.

    A few weeks ago in Berlin, a 10-year-old girl was run over and killed by a truck turning off to the right. The advice is then always to seek eye contact. How can a 10-year-old girl standing next to a truck make eye contact with the truck driver in the cab? This is simply not possible. Maybe it wasn’t even aware of the danger it was in. This shows that the poor traffic infrastructure in Germany makes these accidents possible. A good crossing design, as shown in your post, would prevent this type of accident. This must be the primary objective of the transport planners. And you have impressively shown in your video that this is quite possible. The only question I ask myself is whether such a crossover design does not take up much more space than the usual design in Germany. Probably will be.

    Unfortunately, it would take decades to change our transport infrastructure according to the Dutch model (apart from the money that would be needed, and not to mention the fact that it is not even wanted by politicians). Contrary to what all politicians actually said in the election campaign that they wanted to promote cycling, the opposite is actually happening. In Germany, car drivers are primarily important, the car lobby is simply too strong and politicians are fuddling in front of the car industry (see only the diesel scandal). In this respect, I have no hope that there will be any substantial change in Germany for the better.

    But at least we can go on holiday in the Netherlands from time to time. I really enjoy cycling there in a safe way to explore the area.

    Mark, thank you very much for all the work you do with your contributions.

    Norbert Stegemann

  10. It must look very confusing, all these right of way-rules, but in reality it’s very intuitive and forgiving. I think most users never think of any rules when using them.

  11. if a visually impaired person were trying to cross the main road (Graffseweg) so they cant see oncoming traffic the vehicles have right of way there? no mandatory pedestrian crossing car stoppage? that intersection seems incomplete and dangerous.

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