Saturday, 6 September 2008

Designing for the future. Simultaneous Green junction at a large junction

How are roads designed where you live ? Are planners still operating in the 1950s mode of trying to make space for ever more cars, or have they moved on to more modern road design methods which place emphasis on people ?

In the 1950s and 60s, cycle paths were removed in the Netherlands to make more room for cars, very much following the American lead model of building for cars, as represented by the photo on the left of Los Angeles in 1959. This was seen as aspirational across the world at that time.

However, following the oil shock of the early 70s and the Dutch all-time peak in road deaths in 1972 there was a change in policy followed by surge in the building of cycle paths, a renaissance of cycling and cities being designed for people more than for cars. This process continues to this day.

Some parts of the country had already been designed and built on the cars-first principles. This junction Groningen was one of them

Where large multi-lane roads exist in the cities here, they've been civilized for cyclists as you'll see by watching how you can cross such a major junction as shown in this video:


Note that this video has explanatory captions which are not visible on a mobile device. Play this video on a computer to read the captions and understand how the junction works.

This is the main ring around Groningen, built when the city's plans didn't include cyclists as they do now, and it has many lanes. If you look at the aerial photo you can see them (we're going from the South West and turning left to head North West in the video):


This is the junction in the video. Many lanes of traffic in each direction. Simultaneous Green junctions scale well from small to large junctions and they work well at each size. Click for larger map

Two more views of the same junction. Note how while cyclists use the junction, all the motor vehicles are stationary:


Cyclists get two simultaneous in all direction green phases for each cycle of the lights and as a result this is a place where you can cycle both efficiently and safely.

I've never seen anything so
ridiculous as this in NL
A junction which doesn't work well for cycling
On the other hand, look what happened just a few years ago where we used to live on a much smaller junction with far less traffic. In 2004, planners in Cambridge came up with the road junction design in the photo on the left. Cyclists and pedestrians in the bottom right hand corner were to use four different toucan crossings, each involving pressing a button and waiting, merely to get to the other side of Cambridge Road. On each of the islands they planned railings which would make use of the junction difficult, and the crossings don't line up, so crossing involves 6 right angle turns in confined space as well. It was so obviously bad that many people complained, including myself. The eventual outcome was that they built exactly what they'd planned, complete with all the crossings and right angle turns, as can be seen in the aerial photo of this area.

This is but one aspect of the design of the area that was complained about, all of which proved to be just as hostile to cyclists and pedestrians as it they were expected to be. This is design which merely pays lip-service to cyclists, can accommodate just a few, and is expected to be used by just a few. The Dutch don't do things like that.

So, what's going on in your back-yard ? Are your local planners still following dreams of the 1950s, or have they progressed ?

The photo at the top is from "The Book of Knowledge" encyclopaedia published in 1960. The original caption read: "Traffic Congestion in the United States. Though new roads, specially constructed to accommodate dense motor traffic, are continually being constructed in United States, construction can not keep pace with the rate at which additional vehicles are being put on the road. This photograph was taken on a motorway outside Los Angeles." It sounds to me that the writers of this encyclopaedia could already see that the writing was on the wall for this type of provision.

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