Wednesday 10 November 2010

Non-stop relaxed cycling in Utrecht

Another of Mark Wagenbuur's videos. He says: A bicycle friendly junction in the historic city center of Utrecht in the Netherlands. A main hub for cyclists going to the city shopping center and back to its suburbs. It is actually a bridge with a junction on either side. Cars are discouraged to use this bridge. For motorized traffic almost all the streets are cul-de-sac streets. The result is a friendly junction with large numbers of cyclists that weave in a very relaxed way. Note that hardly anyone ever stops. The cycling really is non-stop.

Mistakes are made every now and then (there is even a near collision between a car and a child on a bike in the video) but mostly all traffic flows very well.

And now watch this video explaining about the junction:

Mark continues: A motorway was planned on this very spot in the 1950s and 60s. When building for that road began, there were increasing protests against it and all the demolitions that went with it. The opposition became so strong, that in the 1970s the works were stopped and the road was never finished. Building was stopped just before this area was reached. That is why the bridge stayed as it was.

Since then motorized traffic was diverted and it has decreased so much that even this 1930s bridge became too wide. Half of the bridge is now side walk. The other half is mainly used by bicycles. Cars driving here really have to be in the area.

The unfinished city ring road never really served a purpose. It took the city 30 years to realize that it was best to reverse the situation. After bringing the water back to a place where the road was never built (there the old city moat had been a parking lot for 30 years) it was clear to everybody that this was really what should be done. It took yet another 10 years for the works to start to bring back all the water. Soon the 1970s inner city ring road that should never have been built in the first place will be completely removed.

It could so easily have worked out completely differently...

This type of road often confuses outsiders. It looks initially like any road anywhere else in the world - "shared" equally by drivers and cyclists. Sometimes people who ought to know better but have actually missed the point entirely feel that they have a need to point out that "there are also lots of places when cyclists have to mix it with other traffic" in the Netherlands. However, that is to completely miss the point. Actually, cyclists are nearly 100% segregated from drivers in the Netherlands.

Due to the way that planning of roads works here, this "mixing it" is not on an equal footing at all. Cycle routes are unravelled from driving routes. The second video shows an example. This is is a through road for cyclists, but not a through road for drivers. In fact, drivers are strongly discouraged from using this road, and that's the reason why there are so few in the video. It's not an isolated case, but the norm for most such areas in most cities in this country. Similar results are achieved across the country by using one way systems and bicycle roads.

Cyclists are segregated from the majority of motorists even on roads like this where there are no cycle paths. That is why the majority of cycling happens without interaction with drivers, even though there are 130000 km of road in this country and "only" 35000 km of cycle path. That is how subjective and actual safety is maintained even when the road appears to be open to cars.

I should point out that the priority at a junction like this in the Netherlands works such that everyone, whether driving or cycling, should give way to anyone else, whatever mode of transport they are using, who comes from their right. The speed limit is 30 km/h. And yes, I tried responding directly on Carlton's blog to point out that he'd got the wrong end of the stick, but my reply did not appear there. Explaining such things is a part of what we have tried to do on our study tours.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark & David. Wonderful to see and it almost brings a tear of despair to my eye...

A few things I noticed:

- Cars, when present, seem to be going very fast! This could be an illusion due to the bicycle traffic which dominates although the car drivers look like they're in a hurry.

- A great police presence. I counted 3 pairs (2 on bicycles and 1 walking). More subjective safety.

- Hub dynamos are popular (we have them on our Dutch bikes here - they are excellent) and there were quite a few pedelec (electric bikes) being ridden by ~30yos

- Only one helmet and it is being worn by a guy on a sport bike (perhaps on the way to an event)

Oh so civilised!!!

This is what an official opening of a separated bike path looks like in Brisbane - no 'citizen cyclists' in sight.

Kind regards,

Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

James D. Schwartz said...

Lovely junction David.

You're right - it definitely could have worked out differently - as it did in most other parts of the western world.

kfg said...

I love Mark's videos. I've actually been playing them as environmental recordings. They're very soothing, even the "rush hour" ones.

I can't imagine getting the same effect from rush hour on the M1 Motorway or San Bernardino Freeway.

David Hembrow said...

Paul: The speed limit in (at least most of) this area is 30 km/h. However, Dutch drivers don't always obey speed limits. Note also that the road surface is relatively noisy, which makes the cars seem faster (from inside and out. It's a way of slowing people down).

But finally, you see pedelecs ? I saw only one (at 6:46 ) ! There were two others that I was not absolutely sure about. Apart from that you see a range of other types of bikes, including low step through mamafietsen which could perhaps be confused with pedelecs.

At commuting time, pedelecs are not very commonly seen. You see them far more on nice Sunday afternoons when retired couples go out for a ride.

Michael S said...

I love the part at 0:22 with the impression what would have happened...

In fact, here in Berlin the idea of giving way for motorized traffic had a strong impact, especially in the western part. Of course, much had been destroyed during WW2 already, but more was torn down to give way for a motorway (the Berliner ring). This was partly extended to the east since the fall of the wall and in principle this shall be continued. It is only now with growing protests, that the decision to build further has been postponed for some time. I do hope that the expected 420 mio. Euros will be spent in a better way than building 3.2 km of motorway.

Micheal Blue said...

Nice videos. I could see a few foldable bikes - good. While the cobblestone surface looks nice, it must be a rattling experience on a bike. It's kinda surprising that there are so few bikes with suspension. At least a seat-post suspension. BTW, what do you think about Marathon Extreme tires? They could be the ultimate winter tires, short of the studded ones.

amoeba said...

The trouble with the Dutch is they're so damn civilised.

I really don't understand why we can't learn from the Dutch model. There's so many reasons that recommend it and it would be cheaper than building more roads.

As usual, the British know best, or at least we like to fool ourselves that we do.

kfg said...

@Micheal Blue - So far as I can tell every bicycle in this video is fully gas sprung.

Nearly every one also has a steel coil spring seating suspension system (where you can't see the suspension system itself you can see it functioning in the motion of the rider).

The eyes only detect light. It is the brain that sees. If you are not seeing what I am seeing, open your mind.

Anonymous said...


2:40 (?)
3:39 (?) - in the background

The two (?) could just be big hub dynamos!

There is something very noticeable in that film - but only by its absence: noise. It is so peaceful without the motorised traffic.

Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

David Hembrow said...

Paul: I bow to your superior pedelec spotting ability. I had completely missed the one at 0:20.

However that at 2:40 is a hub brake with heatsink (as seen here). The bike at 3:39 - same again, I think, but who knows at such a distance ? 5:34 - yes. 6:46 - yes, that one too.

So, there are three (and a half) in total. But I counted 34 bikes in the first minute. I can't be bothered to count them all, so lets assume 340 over ten minutes. That's about 1% electric, which is roughly as you'd expect to see.

However, go to the right cafe, popular with the right (i.e. older) demographic, on a sunny Sunday afternoon and you'll find every other bike has a motor. I know some electric bike boosters don't like me saying this, but I'm only telling it as it is.

Michael Blue, kfg: The surface is another interesting point, actually. Roads on which cars should be driven slowly and which go past people's homes often have surfaces like this, which make quite a bit of noise. Conversely, motorways are extremely quiet and benefit from decades of research into making quieter road surfaces. Why ? It's another psychological thing. Drivers adjust their speed in part to the sound. On noisier surfaces they drive slower.

It's not the best surface for cycling, but on an upright bike with big, fairly wide, sensible tyres, it's not a problem. Usually, where cycle paths go alongside such roads, they have a beautiful smooth surface.

This is something I need to photograph and put on the blog at a later date.

Kevin Love said...

Today being Remembrance Day, I thought that I would put up a link from the City of Toronto website about the D-Day landings. Notice that in most of the photographs, the soldiers are carrying bicycles.

At 11:00 AM I'll be at Fort York Armoury with the unit that I served with for so many years, The Royal Regiment of Canada.

My grandfather fought in The Battle of Groningen. He went back to visit a few times after the war. He always thought that it was a very nice city, particularily when nobody was shooting at him.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: Something which always seems a bit odd to me is not doing anything on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. However, I'll be thinking about it anyway.

The Netherlands was neutral during the first world war, and so the date for remembrance here corresponds with the end of the second world war. The official date is the 4th of May immediately before a celebration of freedom on the 5th of May.

amidnightrider said...


Anonymous said...


My comments were innocent! ;-)

You are right - such a tiny minority of riders and mostly older folks, which is reflected in other statistics (sales, etc).

Certainly if pedelecs are something that will keep people using bicycles well into their 80s & 90s (or with disabilities) then it can only be a good thing. I know a few folks with Myasthenia Gravis who benefit from the assistance. If only our infrastructure made them feel safe enough to bicycle everywhere.

The comments on the road surface treatments are interesting. The small street in front of our house has a 50km/h limit, however the surface allows a car to go in excess of 100km/h if they so wished (some do...) - much like all suburban roads in Australia - it's utter madness.

I only wished that our transport planners would look to the 'gold standard' - and that is The Netherlands - for inspiration. I fear that by the time we do it will be all too late!

David Hembrow said...

Paul, I know you're "innocent" !

I also think it's great that people keep riding, including if they do it with electric bikes. Definitely a good thing overall.

Unfortunately, that old people continue cycling causes another problem. As you know, old people are relatively fragile, and don't necessarily recover from what would be minor injuries for younger people. Pensioners make up a surprisingly large percentage of deaths of cyclists in the Netherlands due to minor falls, usually on their own. It's another reason why winter road treatments are so important, of course.

Road surfaces are a subject in themselves. There are so many small details which contribute to what NL has achieved.

Ceci n'est pas un display name. said...

One thing that surprises me is that _no-one_ signals. It seems that some of those near misses could have been avoided by sticking out one's arm.

Ok, two things surprise me: everyone is so relaxed, near misses and all. Here in Canada, cyclists all but cutting each other off would results in shouting matches.