All about cycling in the Netherlands
Another new roundabout was opened in the municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. This roundabout is located outside the built-up area close to ʼs-Hertogenbosch proper and business park De Vutter in the former village of Engelen. The three-arm roundabout was constructed in just under six weeks. It replaces a T-junction that was the site of a horrible incident involving two young girls who were severely injured when a truck crushed them while they crossed the main road on their bicycles, five years ago.
The T-junction was a protected intersection. That means it had separated cycleways. It looked like a textbook example of a protected intersection. So what was wrong with it then, you may ask. The fact that this T-junction was so close to two built-up areas plays a major role. At the border between built-up areas and the countryside the default speed limit changes automatically from 50km/h to 80km/h in the Netherlands. In this case there was only 1km of ‘countryside’ between two built-up areas and motor vehicles also often came directly from the motorway with a higher speed limit yet. Drivers were inclined to speed with that motorway speed still very much in their system. There were no traffic lights at this intersection and there were two lanes for motor traffic on the main road. With two business parks close by there are always a lot of trucks underway. That can easily lead to masking issues. Meaning a truck in the turning lane can block the view of the lane for traffic going straight-on. If you then intend to cross that lane a vehicle at a higher speed can very much surprise you.
In 2015, two girls, aged 14 and 15, crossed the major road and they were crushed under a passing truck. They both suffered life threatening injuries but did survive in the end, fortunately. The driver of the truck was later acquitted of guilt after the crash was thoroughly studied. The study even involved 3D modelling of the entire intersection and all available camera images in the entire area were checked. No technical flaws were found. This could have resulted in a status quo, but that is not what happened. Residents of Engelen had asked for a lower speed-limit, even years before the crash, but the council had never wanted to do that. The road has a rural look and feel they argued, it cannot have a speed limit belonging a street in the built-up area. Two years after the crash the press announced that the speed-limit was to be lowered to 70km/h, but that wasn’t true. That could not be legally done. Lowering the speed even further was completely out of the question. A 50km/h speed limit is not credible on a 4-lane arterial road outside the built-up area. Speed limits must be self-enforcing in the Netherlands after all.
That didn’t stop the comments and in 2018 the village council of Engelen was happy to note that the ʼs-Hertogenbosch council had budgeted money for the reconstruction of the T-junction into a roundabout. A roundabout really decreases the speed of motor traffic since they are designed for a passing speed of 30km/h. This is also not the first roundabout in this road, the next intersection already was a roundabout. Both are now connected by a road with single lanes and that did make it possible to lower the speed to 50km/h. Especially since the municipality had learned that the average speed of all vehicles was 55km/h when they had this investigated. This was even with the speed limit still at 80km/h. The look and feel is now really different and drivers hardly have the possibility to speed anymore. Although people had asked for it, the border of the built-up area was not relocated. That means the roundabout is located outside the built-up area and that has consequences for the priority arrangements. The local chapter of the Cyclists’ Union was not happy with that fact because this has now become a roundabout without priority for cycling. They argued that in the before situation cyclists going straight-on had priority over traffic that turned into the business park. Cyclists now lost that priority and the Union argued that this was a bad thing. While that is a fact, I think losing that priority is a small price to pay, shared with drivers going straight-on. They too lost their priority due to this new roundabout. I do not always agree with everything the local chapters of the Cyclists’ Union say. Now that motor traffic goes slower and everyone has to give all traffic on the roundabout priority the overall situation has become a lot safer in my opinion.
The actual reconstruction happened in a little under six weeks in the period from 25 May to 3 July 2020. This was earlier than expected thanks to the quieter roads due to the Corona pandemic. Dutch constructors can build roundabouts relatively quickly because they have a lot of experience and they have the benefit of pre-fabricated elements, even for the central circle. The contractor documented the progress on a website. Motor vehicles were diverted past the intersection on the west cycleway that was temporarily widened. Nice to see that the foundation of that cycleway was strong enough for even trucks. People walking and cycling were temporarily diverted on the side walk on the east side. That side walk was narrower than 1.5 metres which meant people could not pass each other under the current obligations to stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. After many complaints after the first day of the detour traffic wardens made sure that people only used the detour in alternating directions the following day and the entire building period. The wardens at either end informed each other when nobody was approaching from their end. It is unfortunate that 9 larger trees had to be cut for this new roundabout. They will be replaced by 18 new trees but those new trees will need time to be a genuine replacement.
Now that the roundabout is finished some people complain that they have to cycle further. That seems like an illusion when you compare the before and after situation. It is true that people cycling north have to make a few extra turns, but that nudges you to look in the direction of where motor traffic may come from, which is a good thing in my book. All in all I find this reconstruction really positive.
This week’s video: a new roundabout in Engelen.