Where ʼs-Hertogenbosch got things wrong for cycling

When in 2014 the temporary situation on the south-west corner of the ʼs-Hertogenbosch city centre was finished, it was many times better than the previous sea of asphalt that had been there. The former 1960s design had only been optimised for moving motor vehicles. But after those roads had been removed there were no funds to redevelop the location of the former city wall and gate. The area was turned into a grass area with a road around it. The road did have protected cycling infrastructure, but the red tiled surface indicated that this was only a temporary situation. Fast forward to 2020 and the city finally allocated some money to what was called “phase 1” of the redevelopment of the Wilhelminaplein as this area was once again called. When the plans materialised, in the first months of 2021, it was clear that the desire to show some of the history of this location had been more important than designing a safe main cycle route.

The current situation at Wilhelminaplein in ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Note that the main roads around the grassy area do not have cycle tracks. There is now a diagonal shared use path with two sharp angles (if you travel North-East to South-West).
From 2014 to 2020 there were bi-directional cycle tracks directly next to the travel lanes for cars. They forced people to cycle around the central grass area but these routes were more logical and safe.
There is no doubt that the old situation from 1965 to 2013 was even worse. But the space that was won by removing much of this asphalt could have been used better.
An older sketch for a redesign of the Wilhelminaplein showed a diagonal cycleway, but not as shared space and with a better curve on the south-end. Also, a new bridge was drawn north of Willemsbrug which would have been more diagonal than the (still) existing bridge, to better connect to the infrastructure on either side of the water. Sadly, this is not what has been built now.

Early 2021 the temporary cycle tracks directly next to the travel lanes for motor traffic were removed completely. They were replaced by a path that followed the former road through the old city wall. There was no money to reconstruct the city gate that used to be here. In 2016 further excavations had revealed the exact location and measurements of that gate, of which the fundaments were still largely intact. In the new design the gate would be represented by hedges, and they constrained the width of the new path going between those hedges. That new path was to be shared by people walking and cycling. This meant that the area went from two separate wide bidirectional cycle ways at a logical location to a narrow shared-use path at an illogical location for quite a few cycle routes traversing the area. No wonder people complained. Not least the local branch of the Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union).

In the new situation the cycle track from the right of the picture stops at Wilhelminaplein and people coming from the north-east are forced to take a right turn and find their route via the new square, which requires them to make a diagonal crossing and find a way around the new tree area.
In the previous design there was a clear and safe crossing and the cycle route continued south-west in a clear and direct way. There was no need to remove this cycle way. The space were it ran is not used. There is just more grass now.

The north part of the area has now been redesigned as a mini-park and of course most people enjoy the fact that some trees were planted and a nice green area appeared. The low walls to indicate the location of the former city wall are great to sit on and the whole area is a lot nicer than a simple grass field. But why did the cycle routes have to be removed? Why do people cycling have to take illogical detours and why is there a shared space in a main north – south cycle route from the city centre and the station of ʼs-Hertogenbosch to Vught?

The intersection north-west is now very unclear. A part is shared between motor traffic and cycling, another part is for cycling and walking. Where the two meet a row of bollards was placed. The priority is unclear. Is this an exit construction or do people coming from the right have the right of way? The parked cars make sight lines very poor. The access to the stairs to reach the water can be mistaken for the access to the bridge, especially in poor light conditions. A famous tiktok celebrity plunged to his death via those stairs on his scooter.
In the previous situation there was a clearer T-junction and kerbs guided people better to where they needed to go. There was also better separation between walking and cyling. Because of the two extra cycle tracks fewer people had to use this part of the square.

The local branch of the Cyclists’ Union asked me if it would be possible to show what they think is wrong with the current design of this space, especially regarding cycling. I went there and filmed for a little over an hour on a Saturday afternoon late August 2022. In that hour I saw a lot of near misses (more than I could record with my camera in time). I witnessed dangerous interactions between cyclists and between cyclists and drivers, drivers of cars as well as buses. Not to mention the many conflicts and near misses between people walking and cycling in the same constrained space. On top of everything three people asked me for directions! Several people made remarks to each other about how terribly stupid the cycle routes had become since the last reconstruction. The Cyclists’ Union wishes to show this video to the new alderman for traffic with whom they had a talk planned (I also talked with him at the presentation of the new council, earlier this year) and they hope to persuade him to authorise significant changes to the area.. Trusting to thus improve the situation for walking and cycling. If a hedge showing the location of the old city wall must be sacrificed for a better traffic safety, I am all for it. After all, no walls or hedges were planned at the location of the roads for motor traffic, even though the city wall was there just as much. Such a difference in how the different types of traffic are being treated is unworthy of the municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which had been chosen as “Cycling city of the Netherlands” in 2011! I do hope the new alderman is willing to listen and act.

The new shared path for walking and cycling connects to a bi-directional cycle path in the south with very akward corners. These corners make it extra dangerous for people walking here, since people cycling understandably cut the corners to be able to get through there at all. The route, diagonal on the grass, serves only one direction. People going to the station (north-west) or people wanting to turn east have to make a considerable detour. Since all directions now have to use this shared path it is much busier than the former cycle tracks were. Inset: what the city wall with the gate looked like at this location. Model in the Noordbrabants Museum.
In the previous design (2014-2020) there were clear and wide bi-directional cyclepaths going east and north-west and the people going to the centre had to make a detour, but that was not so big and it was much clearer. You can already see the location of the old city gate in the grass. After an investigation in 2016 revealed what was still there of the gate. I see no reason why it couldn’t have been made visible with hedges and walls without removing the cycle tracks.

See for yourself in my video and in this post on the pictures what the complaints about the new design of this area are.

This week’s video. Mistakes are made in the Netherlands too.

6 thoughts on “Where ʼs-Hertogenbosch got things wrong for cycling

  1. Hey, ich habe eine Frage unzwar in deinem Video kreuzungsdesign da hast du diese Kreuzung mit den Grünen Radwegen gezeigt. Kann man das selbst auch am Computer bearbeiten und sich seine eigenen Kreuzung erstellen, gibt es eine Website oder App oder so.

    Danke

    1. Das habe ich damals einfach in Photoshop gemacht. Das sind also ein paar Dutzend Bilder. Geht heutzutage sicherlich auch anders mit Software für Animation aber das ist was ich damals machen konnte.

  2. Urban planning & design principles were non-existence during this reconstruction. In the USA liability attorneys would be drooling over the potential settlement rewards from this hazardous situation.

  3. Even the best make mistakes I suppose.

    But that’s quite the cock up (by Dutch standards – in the UK we’d be celebrating having something like this).

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