Thursday 8 December 2011

Fast urban cycle route: Spoorbaanpad Almere

Spoorbaanpad is a 12 kilometer (7.45 miles) long fast cycle route in Almere. According to a site about fast cycle routes in the Netherlands it is the longest urban cycle route of the country used by 21,000 cyclists per day. The name means ‘Rail road path’ and refers to the fact that it follows the rail road for its entire length. I visited Almere for my series of modern fast cycle routes in the Netherlands.
"Spoorbaanpad" a cycle path right through Almere, the blue part is shown in the second video Link to map
Almere is the youngest city of the Netherlands. Last month it was only 35 years ago that a handful of people got the key to the first permanent homes. Almere grew rapidly from the first 50 people in 1976 to a city of 190,000 last year. Putting it in the top 10 of largest cities in the Netherlands. By 2030 the city will have an expected population of 350,000 making it the 5th largest city. Almere is so young because it was founded on reclaimed land: sea bottom not 50 years ago. After a ring dike was finished in 1967 the area was pumped dry by 1968. The first trees were planted in 1969 but most of the city is from the 1980s. That makes almost all in the city not much older than 30 years and everything was designed, including of course all infrastructure.
Almere city centre, not your typical Dutch city. From right to left just behind the tall buildings you can see the elevated cycle path "Spoorbaanpad" next to the also elevated railway.
The infrastructure was designed following the Dutch principles of segregation. Traffic with a different speed, mass and direction is kept apart from traffic with another speed, mass and direction to improve overall road safety. Since this city was literally started from a blank canvas the principles could be followed 100%.

We therefore find no less than four entirely separated grids of infrastructure:
  • an elevated railroad with only multi-level crossings;
  • separated bus-only tracks (that can also be used by emergency vehicles);
  • separated fast through cycle routes;
  • through roads and connector roads for private motorised traffic only.

    The four different grids; black dotted line, rail road; green (dotted) lines: cycle paths; yellow lines: bus tracks; thick gray lines: private motorised traffic only, thin gray lines: shared space motorised traffic/bicycles.
    Note how direct the cycle/bus routes are and how indirect the routes for private motorised traffic.
Most of the crossings of these grids are multi-level. Unfortunately the bus track crossings for cyclists are all level crossings but they are traffic light controlled and these lights are green for cyclists most of the time, unless a bus arrives. Cyclists also cross most of the main roads at a different level. There is just a handful of level crossings with motorised traffic. Only the end-destinations, the small low speed residential streets, are shared space for private motorised traffic and cyclists. But there the speed differences are almost eliminated because these streets have a speed limit of 30 km/h or 18mph.

Spoorbaanpad, a look into how it is used, the final 90 seconds show the biggest crossing and the interaction between motorists and cyclists.
Some details tell us the route is already a bit older. The width is not consistent for all of the route and neither is the surface. The level crossings with the bus tracks almost seem a design flaw. Even though the route crosses the bus tracks only about 5 times, I had to stop twice for a bus and that is a bit odd for a "non-stop cycle route" to say the least. But one junction is even stranger, a crossing with a main road near the end of the route. It is the only crossing where cyclists do not have priority over motorised traffic which is inconsistent with the principles of a modern fast cycle route. The last 90 seconds of the first video focuses on this crossing because something strange happens there. Even though the cyclists do not have priority here, they do get it most of the time. Here we see the other Dutch road safety principles of predictability and forgivingness at work: since drivers know exactly where the cyclists want to go they are willing to be courteous. Not very strange because the design of the junction (with large speed bumps for drivers) also implies cyclists could have priority. It is interesting to see most cyclists respond just as friendly with a ‘thank you gesture’.
The (almost) full route at very high speed: 11 kilometers in 5 minutes, only the first kilometer is missing but that is going through an area that has yet
to be developed. It then goes through the centre and the end is
in the east of Almere.

More info on Almere on Wikipedia (where you can also see that Almere and Milton Keynes in the UK are twin towns) and a page with pictures of the (sometimes) exceptional architecture. 
This is the second fast cycle route I covered. The first was the inter urban route between Breda and Etten-Leur.


Frits B said...

".. because the design of the junction (with large speed bumps for drivers) also implies cyclists could have priority. "
In Assen, the South quadrant of what was - long ago - the road around the ditch surrounding the then village, in short: Zuidersingel, is being reshaped and turned into a 30 km/h road with shared use by cyclists and drivers. There is a crossing which is 3-way for drivers and 4-way for cyclists as one leg is for cyclists only. Cyclists usually had to give way there to drivers on Zuidersingel, but as the crossing has now been raised and marked with white bands, drivers feel that they are entering the "table" and give way to cyclists (and pedestrians, for that matter). It's an almost subconscious reaction to a warning given by the road itself; there are no signs.

In the same vein, the footpath along the water has been removed and trees have been planted there, with a new, narrow footpath slalomming between the trees. I'm not sure but it very much looks like this has been done to discourage cyclists from taking the footpath - as there is no separate cycle path anymore. Design that works. Maybe David can post some photos.

Patrick said...

When I lived in Amsterdam I used this path quit a lot visiting friends in Almere buiten.
It will need some maintenance because some of the tarmac is uneven or better word is "sinking".

Another great bicycle route is from Lent (trainstation) straight to Nijmegen Central station and ending (today) by the Radboud University.It's just 4,5km far and runs completely parallel to the railway tracks but almost without crossings and traffic lights.

Clark in Vancouver said...

What I find interesting is that at 01:21, the light for bicycles turns green again immediately after the bus goes by. There isn't a few seconds added there.
I like it.

Frits B said...

@Clark: even more interesting is that the arrival of the bus is signalled not only by a red light (because cyclists tend to ignore them?) but also by a bell like on railway crossings. New to me.

Mark W. said...

@kegge I too wondered about the strange curves. But then I realized that they were only at crossings. I think they are detours for when the multilevel crossings have to be built. In the plans I saw the path is straight again and with multilevel crodsings.

webmaster said...

Great videos! I have to visit Almere again, it has been a long time I was there. The interaction between cyclists and car drivers is really good. I think the design of the bends at crossings is to provide sight under the railway bridge and to slow down cyclists and mopeds. And as mentioned already, it gives space to build a bridge.

Clark in Vancouver said...

Frits B: Yeah, it's treated like a train crossing. Something to tell you that you can't expect conventional traffic (that might stop for you) but buses that will go through without stopping.

kegge13 and Mark: My assumption about the curves around the intersections was that they were there to avoid blind corners. It helped both those driving on the cross roads and those cycling on the paths see each other without a surprise.