A huge transformation in ʼs-Hertogenbosch

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The current crisis, with the stay at home policy, forced me to be inventive in finding topics for new blog posts. That is why I browsed through my vast archive of never before used images and I found interesting footage filmed in my hometown ʼs-Hertogenbosch. I filmed before and after images of a huge transformation; an older intersection that was upgraded to become a near-textbook example of a protected intersection. For a number of reasons I had never used this material so far, but it is perfect material for this week’s blog post.

If you wanted to cycle straight-on in the before situation you had to position yourself in between two rows of (sometimes moving) motor vehicles. A terrible place for anyone, but especially for a child.
The current situation is completely different. Motor vehicles have their own space and so do people cycling. The separation in place and time is huge.

The four arm intersection of Oude Dieze, Hekellaan, Pettelaarseweg and Zuidwal (each arm has a different name) was obviously designed in a different era. I estimate it dated from the end of the 1960s, early 1970s maybe, clearly designed for motor traffic. That this design can be dangerous was unfortunately demonstrated in 2013, when a 77-year-old woman, cycling straight through this intersection, was crushed under the wheels of a right-turning truck. She did not survive this crash. The driver of the truck was prosecuted for not looking in his mirrors enough, but in the end he was not convicted due to lack of evidence. The city quickly responded with a mirror on the traffic light but fortunately also quickly redesigned the entire intersection, a much better way of preventing further crashes.

The intersection in the before situation. Only the bottom road had separated cycle paths. The east-west street had partial on-street cycle lanes. Note how ‘cluttered’ the design looks.
The exact same intersection after the 2015 reconstruction. The required space for this intersection has not changed at all. Note that the inside lines of the cycle crossings with the four corner islands form a clear rectangular. That makes the design easy to read and understand.
There were some protected cycle paths in the before situation but they are strangely shaped, especially in the right bottom corner of this picture. The pink paths are on-street cycle lanes. It is not instantly clear how these paths connect and how you are supposed to use all this.
In the new situation the cycle paths are clear and well connected. It is very easy to understand how you should use this intersection.

In June and July of 2015 the entire intersection was closed for 5 weeks, during which all the asphalt was taken out. The intersection was completely rebuilt as a protected intersection, with just a couple of oddities. First of all the surface was surprising; bricks. That can be explained because this intersection is part of the ring around the historic city centre. In 2011 the city council had decided that on that city ring the speed limit would have to be lowered from 50km/h to 30km/h and the streets would have to be redesigned accordingly. In 2013 a ‘Handbook’ for the redesign was published. For a 30km/h zone bricks are the surface of choice. That is why they were also chosen here. This intersection was the first part of the ring that was redesigned. Even though a protected intersection does not really make sense in a 30km/h zone.

After a deadly crash on the old version of this intersection a mirror was placed to give drivers a view of the location where people cycling would wait next to their vehicles to prevent right-hook crashes. This was a temporary measure until the intersection was completely redesigned.
These people are waiting for the light to change in the old situation. The light with the mirror in this case. They have to share the space with the mini-bus that goes into the historic city centre.
I think parents with their children can cycle here in the new situation in a much more relaxed way than before. The cycleways are easy to understand, even for children and the crossings are much shorter so the potential conflict with motor vehicles is much reduced.

Unfortunately, a new council was not really in a hurry to implement the plans of the 30km/h city centre ring. It took until 2018 before another intersection was reconstructed (Julianaplein). In the mean time there had been opposition against the use of bricks. The current council has decided to listen to the protests and that intersection got a surface of asphalt again. The same goes for a longer straight stretch of the ring that is under construction now. This part, in the north-east, will also get a surface of asphalt. I wonder what that will do to the average speeds. It is a pity that the residents here in ʼs-Hertogenbosch were led to believe that bricks would be noisier than asphalt. In Utrecht the ring around the historic city centre did get bricks for motor traffic and asphalt for cycling, which is very successful. I have shown you the Maliesingel and Tolsteegsingel before. This demonstrates once again how different the views and consequently the road design choices can be in different municipalities in the Netherlands.

How to use the intersection coming from the left hand side to get to each of the three possible directions. In this situation it is hard for drivers to know where to expect people cycling. For the left turn people need to have eyes in their back almost. And you cycle in the road space for long times. Even when the right turn was already made on a protected cycleway.
How to use the intersection after the reconstruction. Note how much clearer it becomes where every road user can expect others to be. The crossings which means the potential conflict points are now perpendicular which is better for seeing each other. The time people are cycling in the road space is drastically reduced by these much shorter crossings.

On this particular intersection the bricks were already used (and the builder was rightly proud of the result). Another abnormality for a protected intersection is that there is no kerb (curb) between the parts for cycling and walking. The different parts are only divided with a dotted line. (Which is actually formed by square pieces of grey marble in between the brown bricks.) This lack of a clear division does mean that people do sometimes use the bit that was meant for another type of traffic. People cycle in the pedestrian part and people walk in the cycling part. However, when you observe the intersection for some time (as I did a few times) you don’t really see that leading to conflicts. It could potentially be dangerous for the visually impaired, but for them there are tactile markers which indicate exactly where the crossings (also those of the cycle paths) are and where they are supposed to walk.

An oddity in this particular intersection is the fact that there is no kerb (curb) between cycling and walking. The man in the blue chequered shirt is actually cycling in pedestrian space in this picture (to the right of the dotted line). A better division would prevent that.
The signature protective traffic island in the corners of this intersection make this a near textbook example of a protected intersection. Only the surface of brick and the lack of a kerb (curb) between walking and cycling make it a bit special. The kerbs (curbs) on the corner island are only level on this side, they are about 10 to 15cm on the motor traffic side (see the last picture in this post for a better view.)
In the before situation you had to cycle on the road way for a long time. The crossings were very long and since there were no separate phases you always cycled together with motor traffic.

The protected intersection has all the textbook advantages. Thanks to the protective corner refuge islands cycling and motor traffic are no longer mixed. There are separate traffic lights with separate phases for cycling and there is a protected waiting area where you can wait in safety for these lights to change. The sight lines are much clearer and the length of the crossings is much shorter which also makes it much clearer for the drivers of motor vehicles where they can expect people cycling. All these features make the intersection a lot clearer, safer and also much more comfortable to use.

The inner city ring in green. This was supposed to become a newly designed 30 km/h zone. But the reconstruction doesn’t go very fast. After the decision in 2011 only the South-West corner was reconstructed in 2014 (which I showed you, but that wasn’t really part of the plan) and then this intersection (red dot) in 2015. In 2018 Julianaplein was reconstructed and now, in 2020, the north-west stretch is under development.
The plan was promising in 2011, but nine years later only fragments have been redeveloped and in a different way than originally planned (asphalt instead of bricks, to name but one thing). From the ‘Handbook’ for the city centre ring. Municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

Video for this week: a protected intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

There are no kerbs (curbs) between walking and cycling and they are level between the cycleway and the corner traffic island on the cycle side, but they are standard Dutch height of about 10 to 15 cm on the motor traffic side. The central traffic islands (in the foreground) also have kerbs (curbs) of that same height.

13 thoughts on “A huge transformation in ʼs-Hertogenbosch

  1. This crossing is a very good example – germany can learn lot´s of things from this!

  2. as a traffic engineer from Georgia, I wanna say thank you, we also have some things like this, of course we keep changing these but some people can’t understand clearly what we changed and why. so it is absolutely fantastic to share, thanks again

  3. On the one hand, the flat islands reduce the risk of cyclists accidentally running into it. But this could also make it more likely for cars to drive over it, so it almost defeats the purpose altogether. I personally prefer a separation in elevation between the bike path and sidewalk. The city of Goes has recently finished a new tunnel going beneath the train tracks. While the infrastructure on its own is very impressive, all of the sidewalks are at the same level as the bike paths. The angled curbs would have been better in my view. I wonder if this is a new/developing “trend” with infrastructure design in general.

    1. Ah that’s a misunderstanding. The islands are not flat, at least not on the motor traffic side. On the motor traffic side there is a curb! The standard height in the Netherlands, which is about 10 to 15 cm. Only on the side where people cycle they are flush. I added one extra picture at the end to show that better.

  4. Amazing how fast the intersection was rebuilt. Here we normally have to wait much longer times for smaller fixes, work like that could take at least 6-12 months.

  5. Brick for cycle infra… if all these councils who think that is a good idea lose their seats it would be progress.

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