All about cycling in the Netherlands
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Video for this week: a protected intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch.