When it gets too busy at the intersection

Utrecht has a bit more work to do around the canal ring which was festively opened earlier in September. Now that the number of Corona cases went down for a while* more people cycled to work, making the cycleways in the city centre busier again. Most notably on the busiest cycleway in the country; the east-west route crossing the new waterway. A reconstruction of the intersection directly next to the bridge will take place this coming weekend. I filmed the before situation to show you just how necessary that is.

Billet en français

The bridge between Vredenburg and Smakkelaarsveld looks great over the restored canal, but this cycleway can be a bit too crowed during rush hour.
It is not really one bridge, but a complex of five bridges, designed years ago. Even though it looked quite spacious at the time, cycling at this location has increased so much that some of the cycleways need expanding. Top right is the intersection that will be reconstructed.

For this post we stay one more week at the restored moat of Utrecht, the reconstructed 900-year old ring canal around the historic city centre. The 5-bridge complex to connect the old city to the station area was designed years ago. The bridges were finished in 2015, but cycling has increased a lot since then at this location. Even though the intersection is relatively new (not even finished yet!), it was never designed for the volumes it has to process today. When I filmed three weeks ago that was very visible. There is not enough space to safely wait when you need to make a left turn. The lights also only regulate the crossing with motor traffic. That means that people who need to cross the east-west main stream of cycling on foot or by bicycle have a lot of trouble to make that crossing. People in the main east-west stream keep cycling up to the lights even when they are red. It would be friendlier if these people waited a bit further back to let the north-south stream flow when the cars going north-south have a green light as well. The video makes clear that many people are not that courteous. Additionally, more space to keep a safe distance in the Corona crisis would be better.

In a survey about user satisfaction almost 60% of the cyclists in Utrecht said it is too busy at places in rush hour, but you can still see people of all ages cycling here.
You see various types of bicycles here and some people even bring their dogs.

The executive council of Utrecht reports about the Corona measures regularly in letters to the council. In their letter of 16 September there was one important line (on page 6):

“On the intersection Vredenburg-Catharijnesingel we are going to enlarge the waiting areas for cycling by widening the cycleway between Tivoli Vredenburg [music hall] and the intersection.”

A representative of the city was kind enough to explain this a bit further to me when I asked about this coming project. The cycle way is now 5 metres wide. There are walking areas for pedestrians on either side of it, also on the bridge. The narrower sidewalk on the north-side is lesser used and that is the side where the cycleway will now be widened by 2 metres to a width of 7 metres. To make the connection useable, the traffic light poles on the intersection will also have to be moved. I hope (and expect) that the light poles and the stop lines for east-west traffic will not only be moved sideways but also further back, in the way that the light also regulates the crossing with the cycleways for north-south traffic. I am an advocate for not using traffic signals to regulate different flows of cycle traffic, but in this case (and the video shows that) the volumes are so large that the limit to do that safely and in a convenient way has been reached. People who want to cycle alongside the Catharijnesingel (north south) do not get enough room to do so when the light for motor traffic is green on that Catharijnesingel. People cycling east-west block the way even though they have a red light and can’t continue anyway.

A lot of people need to take a left turn. In this particular green cycle they had enough space to make the turn, but that is certainly not always the case.
People cycling here, alongside the canal, do not always get enough space crossing the main stream. It would help when the traffic lights would be relocated so the crossing stream would keep the path for these people clear. The patch work of surfaces and lines and the temporary pole of the traffic light (in an old oil-drum!) show that this intersection has never really been finished.

Not only can you observe those obstructions in the video, I even filmed a minor collision between two people on a bicycle. I didn’t even notice it at the time but I saw it when I was editing. A young boy cycled from the west and wanted to go north (making a left-turn). Being a young boy he didn’t chose the best route to do so. At around 2:52 in the video you can see him cycling on the right hand side of most people. (He should have positioned himself on the left hand side.) He then quickly cuts left in front of a lot of people but at the 02:58 mark he then collides with someone coming from the east, who wanted to go straight-on. The boy really tips over and falls off his bike, but he is up on his feet immediately after and can be seen shaking hands with the man who hit him. (They must have forgotten about the Corona rules in the heat of the moment.) The boy was clearly in the wrong, but the circumstances (there really is no room to wait safely) made this minor crash likely to happen. I then cut the scene but made stills for this post. On the stills you can see that they are both on their way to continue when the boy realises that that is not possible. The man then gets off his bike again and helps the boy with what appears to be straightening the handlebars. Then there are so many people waiting that we can’t see what happens. After the light turns green and the view is clear again we can see the man continuing east. The boy has disappeared and must have continued too. There was apparently no real harm done, but this is a good illustration that this cycleway widening doesn’t come a moment too soon. On Tuesday 22 September the works were announced on the internet. The intersection will be closed to all traffic at the coming weekend from Friday afternoon to early Monday morning to make the changes. I am looking forward to see the changed intersection the next time I will visit Utrecht. You can see in the video what it looks like until next weekend.

The boy on the bicycle tries very hard to be out of the way of the man but it’s too late and they collide. The boy should have waited for his turn, but there was no place to wait. (Stills from the video starting at 02:58)
In a matter of seconds the boy fell and also got up again. The man didn’t fall.
They both mount their bikes and want to get on their way, but the boy’s bike has issues.
The man dismounts and helps the boy with some adjustments to his bicycle. On the right picture the scene gets obscured by people waiting for the light. When they start riding the incident is over. Boy and man have gone.

The detours for the three types of traffic (walking, cycling and driving) are very different.

The road works were announced in advance. I showed the sign in last week’s post.

This week’s video, rush hour at Vredenburg.

* Unfortunately, the second COVID19 wave has now officially started in the Netherlands and things may be very different again soon.

8 thoughts on “When it gets too busy at the intersection

  1. Today, September 23, about 1:00 I was biking here coming from the station towards the Vredenburg. A woman ahead of me had just mounted her bike and wobbled a bit as she was starting to ride off. I guess I turned ever so slightly to avoid her, when a woman on my left on her bike brushed up against me, nearly knocking me down but her body, interestingly enough kept me upright. It happened so quickly. No harm done. If you had been filming on a day I was riding through, I would never have noticed you. I would be too busy focusing on the cyclists alongside me.

      1. I disagree, this is not against people riding mopeds, this is against people riding mopeds on the cycleways, especially when they do so breaking the speed limits. The law is simply wrong, mopeds should be on the roadway with other motor vehicles.

      2. Thank you for pointing this very interesting post out. David Hembrow makes some good points for sure but one can wonder why, in a country with a such extended and consistent cycle network, some people keep going on NOT cycling on it. From a French point of view it seems very odd.

        1. Sure, and probably it would be good if the government would try to nudge them into doing so. But isn’t it still their right to choose? And should these people therefore be banished to the main carriageway in front of car traffic doing 50km/h, while they go at 25km/h? What about: don’t inflict upon others what you wouldn’t want to be inflicted upon yourself?
          And the fact that some (maybe many?) people on mopeds break the speed limit, should not be generalized to the whole group. If this is an issue, then it should be addressed by better enforcement.

          1. Let me suggest to read another post: The moped menace. This is a group of which 94% admit to break the rules, demonstratively endangering themselves and others. Enforcement was tried in Amsterdam. It took up way too much police time and made no difference. They’re not just going fast but they actively and illegally alter their machine to do so. Amsterdam has become a lot safer since the mopeds were sent off the cycle paths into motor traffic. There they blend in nicely because traffic hardly ever goes 50km/h. Mopeds should be banned from the cycleways everywhere. Every relevant organisation in the Netherlands agrees. And if you don’t want to be in traffic. Nobody forces you. Get an e-bike and you can stay on the paths.

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