Friday 11 November 2011

The most dangerous junctions in London and in The Netherlands

Tomorrow, the 12th of November 2011, is the day of the tour of the ten most dangerous junctions in London led by Charlie Holland. I can't be in London for that tour, but urge people who are there to take an interest.

London has a rising cycle casualty rate and Londoners find the experience of cycling to be increasingly scary (this is the subjective safety problem about which I've often written). The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, responded to recent calls for improved safety at the most dangerous junction in London, Elephant and Castle (89 cyclist injuries in two years) by suggesting that conditions are fine "if you keep your wits about you". This is a classic example of the fallacy which I call "I cycle, so you could cycle too". It's not a reasonable response. It's not applicable to the majority of the population.

There is already one invitation out for Boris Johnson to go and ride with the group in London tomorrow. I'd like to extend a second invitation to Boris. If he would like to come here and take a look, I'll quite happily show him what well designed infrastructure for cycling looks like. He won't see anything which looks quite like this does:

Elephant and Castle - the most dangerous junction for cyclists in London. A large roundabout with buildings in the middle. View Larger Map

Which lane would you pick to make a right turn ? View Larger Map

It seems that there is still a struggle ahead in London. The city seems unwilling to change its direction without a fight. While they say they are "working flat out to deliver" better safety for cyclists in the city, it's really more of the same as has been promised for the last thirty years.

The "action" that is planned is on a list predominantly of statements involving "awareness", "guidance", "training", "calling for more more to be delivered". What is really needed are fixes to the truly dreadful infrastructure of the city. This means more than adding a few advanced stop lines (a type of infrastructure so outdated that we don't have any left in Assen) and mirrors. It's not difficult to see why some people believe it's time to get angry.

By way of comparison, what is the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands ?
I recently discovered that the most dangerous junction in the whole of the Netherlands is in Groningen. There have been 14 incidents causing injury at this junction in the last three years. Those are figures not just for cyclists, but for all modes. Note that this is the worst junction in the whole country, and also that these are numbers for a period of three years. By comparison, Elephant and Castle's 89 injuries have been over two years, and these are just the injuries to cyclists. We don't know how many people were injured using other modes of transport. There is a huge difference between these two.

Like Elephant and Castle, the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands is also a large roundabout with buildings in the middle. However, cyclists have separate paths here, the roads have fewer lanes, the speed limit is lower and the accident rate is also very much lower even though far more cyclists ride here than at Elephant and Castle. View larger map

And what does the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands look like ?
The most dangerous junction in the Netherlands is busy for cyclists as over 14000 people ride along the Korreweg each day. I made a video. :

The explanatory captions which explain the problems with this junction are only visible if you play the video on a computer and not on a mobile device.

You can also take a look around the junction yourself by using Google Maps. How does this compare with the Streetview of Elephant and Castle ?

For the Netherlands, this is very substandard. There were 39 reported collisions here between 2007 and 2012Show larger map

This junction has quite comprehensive cycle-paths and lanes in all directions, and motor traffic proceeds mostly at very moderate speeds. Compared with many other countries, this might initially not look bad at all. It certainly doesn't look anything like so daunting as Elephant and Castle.

Actually, nowhere that cyclists go in the Netherlands ever looks remotely like this huge junction at Elephant and Castle, or any of the other 9 junctions on today's ride in London. Such junctions, where they existed, have all been redesigned some years ago. London could have done this too by now, had they started taking notice thirty years ago.

I can imagine that some readers from outside the Netherlands will be surprised that this is the most dangerous junction. While it doesn't look as good as many of the other junction designs on this blog, it doesn't really look all that bad either. Perhaps in other countries it might be seen as a success story. And actually, in one sense this is a success story. The most dangerous road junction in the Netherlands is responsible for just 14 injury incidents for all modes of transport in three years.

An explanation of what is wrong here
This junction design doesn't meet current standards. It is not designed with sustainable safety principles in mind: it doesn't explain itself well, but confuses people using it, so they make mistakes.

We feature the most dangerous junction in
the Netherlands on our study tours. No
white-wash here - we show what works
and what does not. Don't repeat mistakes
While priorities are clearly marked on the road surface, the stop line for cyclists crossing this junction is too far back, making it difficult to accelerate across the road between motor vehicles going along the other road. This is why cyclists stop ahead of where they should, in the middle of nowhere.

There is a temptation for all modes to try to push through when the way isn't entirely clear, and everyone has to look in several directions at once to see what everyone else is doing.

These are the types of reasons why this particular junction has the unfortunate position of being the most dangerous in the whole of the Netherlands.

Change is coming
This junction has remained as it is for a surprising amount of time, but now it is obviously outdated. The Dutch press covered this story and made demands for this and other similar junctions to be changed. Current plans are for reconstruction in the near future as part of works when a new tram system is installed.

Total traffic victims in the province of Groningen 1995-2008, all modes of travel. Yellow = injuries requiring hospitalisation, Red = deaths.
I couldn't find figures for deaths and injuries for the city of Groningen, but I could find them for the whole province, of which the city is a part. While 190000 people live in the city, 574000 live in the province.

As you'll see, the trend for all injuries is downwards, as is that for deaths, though 2008 sadly had a higher death rate than the three previous years. A target was set ten years ago to reduce injuries and deaths to 425 and 35 per year by 2010. This target was met before schedule. Another target has been set to reduce the figures to 300 injuries and 25 deaths per year by 2020.

These figures are also for all modes of travel.

Read more about Road safety in the Netherlands.

2013 update
We invited Boris Johnson in 2013 as well. He didn't reply.

Watch a video which shows Elephant and Castle being built. Cyclists were far from the thoughts of the designers of this junction.

The blue flags show crashes, yellow
show injuries between 2007-2012
2014 update
Read more in-depth analysis of this junction in Groningen and other dangerous junction in the Netherlands.

Not everything in the Netherlands should serve as inspiration.

When considering cycling injuries and deaths in Groningen vs. London, bear in mind that while Groningen's population is only about 190000 while London's is 8 million. However, Groningers cycle a lot more than Londoners. They make over 250000 cycle journeys each day. By comparison, 8 million Londoners make approximately 500000 cycle journeys per day.

Do you want to see this for yourself ? Book a study tour.


Nathan said...

Thanks for another inspiring post, which makes me feel both anger at how little we have done in Britain, but also hope because there is a clear example of what can be achieved.
Please take a look at my biking blog at in which I try to do my small bit to raise awareness in Cheshire where I cycle.

Anonymous said...

Haha, this Dutch intersection would be considered as unparalleled progress if it existed in the United States.

Karl McCracken (twitter: @KarlOnSea) said...

David -
Another great post. I'm sure you've written in the past about how such large junctions are handled in the NL - have you got a link for that?

David Hembrow said...

Karl, people keep asking me that question. However, there's nothing more hairy to ride around than this example.

You can see some bigger junctions in posts tagged with roundabouts or traffic lights. The simultaneous green treatment remains my favourite.

Here is the biggest junction in Groningen for cyclists. At this one too, there is no conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

marcelkuyper said...

It's quite ironic that this junction is located in the city that is most bicycle friendly in the Netherlands.

I used to live in this city. I know this junction. You will see more people crossing this junction by bike than by car. This junction connects the popular Korreweg (a street where many students live) and Noorderplantsoen (a huge Park that was created after the city fortifications were no longer needed). In 1994 or 1995 the population of Groningen decided that cars should be banned from this park. Nowadays it is an eldorado for pedestrians and cyclists!

Andy in Germany said...

I do wonder if we're seeing a backlash against cycling now that it's increasing without any help in places like London. With the evidence so clear I can't help wondering if some bigger organisations and car owners clubs aren't realising that they now need to fight for the 'rights' of their members or to try and make sure they are still going to get a bigger part of the pie.

Dennis Hindman said...

This is a link to a short film of the most dangerous intersection in New York City. The traffic cops are directing motorized vehicles to turn into the crosswalks while pedestrians are legally crossing the street. I was laughing out loud at this unbelievable disregard for pedestrian safety. The traffic cops are much more concerned with motorized traffic flow than the safety of the much more vulnerable pedestrian.

From what I have seen on other videos, this is not an abnormal event in New York City. Motorists also routinely make u-turns, park in bus stops or bike lanes, and pedestrians cross the street at any part of the block.

This blatant non-enforcement of traffic rules must also have an effect on the rate of cycling in the city. How comfortable could you be on a bike if you know it's everyone for themselves.

New York City is the biggest city in the U.S., with about two and a half times more people than the next largest city, Los Angeles. However, downtown L.A. doesn't seem to have even a fraction of the traffic violations that NYC does, and I've never seen a traffic cop in L.A. have such a deep concern for traffic flow over safety.

Bob said...

First of all. Enjoyable post. Thank-you.

When reading all of this, (rather depressing account of bike "infrastructure" in the UK) I'm once again reminded of just how prudent it was when, after visiting both Birmingham,(UK, West Midlands, you know, that one) and then Hengelo (Overijssel) my wife thought we'd be much better off living in the Netherlands.
This in spite of the language barrier. She never did do too well with her Dutch lessons. I was able to muddle along, but that was no doubt only due to having a degree already in German. (many, many years ago I might add.)
We rode our bikes just about everywhere, especially into Delden, where parking on a Saturday is neigh on impossible. Easy peasy by bike however.
She did drive her car to work, but when you're "out in the boonies" as one of my Dutch Canadian friends put it, and the company is not only paying for the car but the fuel to put in it, driving a car to work isn't all that onerous.

Don't get me wrong, I've visited Birmingham. I liked it, a visitor. I particularly enjoyed being able to speak (wait for it) English! How refreshing.
I certainly would have thought twice about riding a bike there however. I'm not so young and foolhardy to think I'd ever get on two wheels anywhere in the UK.
Besides, who could afford all that body armour?

Multiparty Democracy Today said...

And change is coming when I would like to know? Did the city administration release their plans yet? Also David I thought you were in favour of intersections like just a pair of access roads in a 30 km/h zone with the standard treatments for it, curb extensions if parking is present, raised tables, brick paving, no markings, are your favourite, not simultaneous green, though I know that is your most liked traffic light controlled junction, especially when it is the default direction that is green.

David Hembrow said...

Restlesstablet: Plans for the junction in Groningen are still not public. Some work is promised here, but we still have to wait to find out what.

You have misinterpreted what I said before about uncontrolled junctions. Many residential streets in the Netherlands, 30 km/h zones, have no through traffic at all. These are uncontrolled and work just fine. However the junction in this blog post has nothing in common with those at all except for the speed limit. Lowering of speed limits has long been known not enough to ensure safety. Residential streets are safe not because of their speed limits, but because almost no-one drives a car there. This junction does not have that advantages. That is why at this junction in Groningen I'd like to see traffic lights or a drastic reduction in the number of motor vehicles using the junction. I suspect that given the proximity to the city centre and use as a main motor route it is unlikely that the traffic can be reduced enough to be safe without control.