All about cycling in the Netherlands
Brand new cycle destination signs, reminding of metro-line information signs, were placed alongside a test route in Tilburg. That city and the province of North Brabant are testing this new type of signposting (and another type) for the future fast cycle routes in the entire province, possibly in the rest of the Netherlands too. A test panel was asked to give their opinion, but the public was also allowed to answer an online questionnaire.
This type of signposting looks quite different from what the Dutch have been used to for about a century now. In 1919 a now common type of “mushroom”-shaped wayfinding sign was first placed in Baarn by a cycleway society. Anther type is the tall sign that developed from the ones the tourist board ANWB first designed. White signs with red lettering on a blue and white post.
The desire to distinguish the fast cycle routes from the ordinary cycleways has led to earlier experiments with a different type of signposting. The city of Nijmegen tested signs with purple letters. On the ‘Rijnwaalpad’, the fast cycle route to Arnhem, the city also tried a new type of sign that you could see from further away. Unlike the tall ANWB signs, that are placed right at the junction and for which you need to slow down to be able to really see them, these signs were placed ahead of the intersection, so that slowing down became unnecessary. Unfortunately, the signs were rejected by the board that supervises all signage in the Netherlands. The introduction of a new colour would confuse road users, who are conditioned to know blue signs with white letters are for motorists and white signs with red letters are for cycling.
Perhaps the failed Nijmegen attempt is why the colour red is the main colour again in the Tilburg tests. Especially the first set of signs that are tested stay very close to what is usual today. But this type of signs does not make me happy. Putting much information on a common sign makes that sign hard to comprehend in a fast way. And you need to do it fast because you ride past these signs rather quickly. Making the important information stand out by using different sizes of letters doesn’t really help. The signs appear cluttered and I almost needed to stop to see what they were actually saying. Having the main destination in a large size letter may work in Tilburg, but I dread to see the size of the signs pointing to cities with a longer name. Living in ʼs-Hertogenbosch makes you sensitive to such things.
When you want to do something new it may be a good idea to completely break with what you have been doing so far. On the other hand, it is good to relate to something people already know and recognise. The new “metro-style” signs in Tilburg are doing just that. These signs are not placed near an intersection but rather on a longer straight stretch. That is a place where you can easily read the signs, without the stress of needing to do it before you get to the intersection, in time to deal with the other traffic users there. These signs remind you of where you are in the route and which names the road manager choses to use in this particular route. Right before you approach a junction you see more traditional signs with those same names. That makes processing those signs even quicker. I found this set of signs very promising. Even if the supervising board would have problems again with the choice for black letters for the smaller signs they could easily be made with red letters too.
But those signs were not the only thing that was tested in the “Living-Lab” the city of Tilburg built with the help of the province, a design company and a university. Different types of asphalt, different types of road markings and new types of lines were tested too. I could see the differences in asphalt when I rode there, but on the video that is almost invisible. The survey didn’t ask anything about the asphalt either, so, even though I did have my preferences, I have no further comments about that. Reminders of the cycle route number you were cycling on were stuck to the surface. But the different types of asphalt made them stick better or worse. Many markers had come loose and were scattered in the surroundings. Tiny stickers on the light posts were much better visible, also because they were placed at eye level. But they are so tiny that not everyone may have noticed them. That also goes for the lines in the surface. It took me a while before I understood what a series of white dots could mean. It turned out they were guiding you across a roundabout. I doubt that is very helpful. I think white lines are telling you something about the road design normally, not about the route. So that is not a good colour. But the green lines, that were used here to make the fast cycle route more recognisable, were also confusing. Since a white solid line is something you cannot cross, the solid green line made me frown. Was or wasn’t I allowed to ride over it? The wider solid green line, with the traditional white interrupted stripes on top of it, made that perfectly clear again in the blink of an eye. The human mind works in mysterious ways. Tiny differences in appearance can make the difference between instant understanding and utter confusion. That works different for different people as well. Which is precisely the reason for these tests of course.
This test is done in collaboration with the European Union organisation CHIPS. In that respect I feel it is a missed opportunity that different countries are doing different things helped by the same organisation at the same time. In my opinion it would be much better if international standards were to be developed, similar to the ones we have for motorway signage, but that is apparently a bridge too far right now. That will mean that when you cross the border to Belgium the signage for main cycle routes will look quite different.
Maybe we should first wait and see what comes out of these tests though. New fast cycle route signage for Brabant or maybe for the Netherlands as a whole. Not even that is clear yet, and it is striking that the Province of Utrecht is also doing a test right now (with lines at least), so it will be interesting to follow these developments.
The ‘Living Lab’ cycle signage test in Tilburg
in this week’s video.