A reconstructed intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch

The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch redesigned a major intersection. Until the 1970s this intersection was part of the main north-south route in the country. Fortunately, most through traffic now uses the motorways around the city. Even though this intersection is still part of the main road network, the city wants to see it much more as a green gateway to the ring around historic centre than a main thoroughfare. That needed to be reflected in the design. The intersection was therefore reconstructed from April to July 2020. A lot of asphalt was taken out, it is to be replaced by a lot of green.

The new cycleways on this reconstructed intersection are clearly not ‘an addition’ to it. They are not ‘on the sidewalk’ or ‘next to the roadway’ they are a separate and important part of the design. This is a main cycle route and it looks the part.

The intersection Orthenseweg / Aartshertogenlaan in ʼs-Hertogenbosch is an important link in the city’s main road network, but it is no longer a main through road. The Orthenseweg gives access to the city centre ring that will become a 30km/h zone in the future. The city has had these plans for many years, but it takes a lot of time to slowly update the entire network to make that change possible. Street by street the city works towards this new situation, as I have shown you in earlier examples. The street designs in that ring look a bit unusual now, because they are made in anticipation to the change. I have shown you one example of these streets on my blog and also of an intersection with an unusual all brick surface.

With the roadway so much narrower the intersection is literally further away from where it once was. An extra bit of cycleway had to be built to reach the new crossing. The new extra space only has green weeds so far, but it will get 62 new trees, shrubs and flowers.

Now that the traffic light installation needed to be replaced at this intersection, and with all the considerations I mentioned above in mind, the city made a completely new design for this intersection. They tried to make it as sustainable as possible: greener, with less asphalt and more attractive and safer for cycling and walking. The new design includes a much more compact signalised intersection and a so-called priority square where signals are unnecessary. This relatively new type of intersection was also used in Utrecht (and has been altered a bit recently there.)

The second part of the reconstruction is this priority square. Here photographed from a bus. If you want to make a left turn you need to make a 180 degree turn first and then -on your way ‘back’- you make a right turn. Such an intersection can do without traffic signals.

After 4 years of careful planning with many stakeholders the reconstruction started in April 2020 by relocating many of the existing trees. Six trees could be relocated to their new location immediately, 17 were relocated elsewhere and 37 trees had to be ‘stored’. They were planted in a temporary location and they will come back after the reconstruction. With those trees and 62 new ones the new intersection will have many more trees than the old situation. A lot of shrubs will be planted too and flower seeds will make sure there will be many colours next spring. All the existing street furniture was removed; the asphalt, kerb stones, foot path tiles, existing shrubs, street lights and the old traffic light installation. The roads had to be partly closed. While one direction of Orthenseweg was replaced the other former half was used for both directions. When the first part was finished traffic could use that new part and the rest of the intersection could be finished.

The old situation (Google Earth). Left: the signalised intersection with a lot of black asphalt. In essence this was a four-lane road with added turning lanes. On the right hand side the priority square was constructed now. There used to be side-streets that you could only reach from one side of the road.
The new situation requires a lot less asphalt. The road mostly has one lane for motor traffic in each direction now, but it seems wider with all the added turning lanes. There is much more room for green. The two side-streets on the left hand side can now be reached from both directions, thanks to the priority square, which looks a bit like an oval roundabout. In red the new cycleways around the intersection.

On 15 July 2020, the alderman for sustainable mobility and accessibility, Ufuk Kâhya, opened the new intersection by starting the new traffic light installation. The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch is known for its state of the art traffic light installations that cater for every road user individually. Advanced detection loops and even an app for cycling make that possible. This sustainable traffic light installation is yet again more modern to even better optimise that individual treatment. The aluminium posts of the signals can be recycled up to 95% and the installation is solar powered. It generates more power than is needed for all the signals. The lights for pedestrians are exceptional for the Netherlands. They are on the near-side, which was only legally possible after a law changed on 1 July 2019.

Alderman Ufuk Kâhya opened the redesigned intersection on Wednesday 15 July 2020. Due to Corona with only a few people present, who all tried to keep the social distance of 1.5 metres.

The near-side lights are a result of road user input. Catering for every road user separately leads to very short green times of sometimes only 5 seconds. That is fine for motor traffic and cycling because for these road users the signals are only on the near side in the Netherlands. People cannot see the light changing to red only seconds after they started traversing the intersection. There is more than enough time for them to finish the crossing, but other people should no longer start. That system didn’t work so well for pedestrians. They saw the light change on the far side of the intersection and that confused a lot of people. They complained the cycles were too short to complete the crossing conveniently. Some started to run, others even went back. There was enough time for the crossing, but that was not always understood.

Alderman Ufuk Kâhya demonstrated how the new near-side traffic signals work. The yellow part is buzzing, so that people can now also feel what the status of the light is. The buzzer was designed at the request of the Platform for people with a disability in addition to the audible signal and the standard red and green lights.

This new installation therefore has near-side pedestrian signals. People can now start a crossing and then they have no idea the light changes back to red behind them. This must give them a more relaxed user experience. ʼs-Hertogenbosch was the first city to make use of the law change which allowed near-side pedestrian signals. The lights are placed in such a way that the pedestrian automatically looks in the direction where traffic comes from. There is an acoustic signal indicating that it is safe to cross (standard) but also a buzz function on the button. Next to the visual and audible clues (light and sound) you can now also feel the state of the light. The new pedestrian signals were designed in collaboration with the Gehandicaptenplatform (platform for people with a disability). The platform specifically asked for the buzzer and ʼs-Hertogenbosch was able to create it.

The road way for motor traffic has a foundation and then three base layers of asphalt and a top coat (not yet present in the picture).
To demonstrate the width of the new cycleways I placed my bicycle across this one when the intersection was still under construction. The lines were not yet there and the yield sign was put up here in error. It would later be removed.

The cycling infrastructure was also updated. This intersection is part of the F59 fast cycle route from ʼs-Hertogenbosch to Oss. The cycleway was widened. The new traffic light installation interacts even better with the app Schwung that was designed to give people the opportunity to get a green light even sooner than with the advanced detection loops. The detection loops are now invisible. They were placed in the base layer of black asphalt and then covered with the top layer of red asphalt.

The new overhead traffic lights with the solar panels on the back were placed last. The posts of the traffic lights are aluminium and can be recycled later for up to 95%.

After the re-opening the new areas started to get green all by itself, but with weeds. The planned new shrubs are not yet there. The trees would return around this time of the year, but they haven’t yet. Traffic flows well but the final part of the reconstruction, the new green, will only be visible next spring.

This week’s video: a reconstructed intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

6 thoughts on “A reconstructed intersection in ʼs-Hertogenbosch

  1. I rather liked the situation in the Netherlands where cycling signals were near-side and pedestrian signals far-side; made a distinct contrast between the two.

    Near side pedestrian signals have been the standard in the UK for a few years now, although the design is not that great from a usability standpoint. Mostly because it seems that approximately 2 seconds worth of thought, total, was put into the design of the boxes they use. The buttons are awkward to press (especially when wearing winter gloves) and positioned poorly, especially if you are riding a bike or even worse, a cargo bike.

    Of course, pedestrians and cyclists shouldn’t have to press buttons at all to get a green light. Motorists aren’t forced to do that! It’s automatic.

    A lot of people don’t like the near-side signals and London has been continuing to use far-side signals for pedestrians, at least.

    The biggest problem with near-side pedestrian signals is when you have two crossings next to each other. For example, on a refuge island with crossings going in several different directions. Sometimes people get confused about which green man corresponds with which crossing!

    This has been implicated in at least one death where the person stepped out into the wrong crossing. I’ll dig up the reference if you’re really interested.

    1. Yes looking at the right light for the right crossing is very important. Here the lights were placed in such a way that you always face oncoming traffic and you can’t see wrong lights. That means lights on the middle refuge island are turned 180 degrees from each other. Hopefully that will prevent such tragedies.

  2. Since the priority square includes U-turn ramps, the left turn for the direction coming from the left at the modified signalized intersection is probably no longer necessary. U-turns beyond an intersection replacing left turns at an intersection are a “superblock” concept that was advanced decades ago and are an effective safety improvement, since left turns are one of the most dangerous movements at intersections, especially for cyclists. Their relative rarity are often due to space constraints.

    1. The priority square does not replace the left turn at the signalized intersection . If all traffic turning left had to use that square, it would become way too busy and therefore unsafer. What the priority square actually does, is providing easy access to the residential streets parallel to the road, without the need to make a U-turn at the traffic lights.

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