Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build, part two. Features "old, inferior" infrastructure

I read a story today about how the route between Eindhoven and Valkenswaard in the Netherlands was to be improved. Interestingly, the author of the story put the case that while the new cycle-path would cost €2-3 M, the benefits greatly outweighed the costs. He put the benefits at a value of €8 M due to saving of time for existing commuters and the likelihood that the new route would attract more people to cycle. More cycling means reduced emissions, cleaner air, health benefits to individuals, society as a whole and also to employers.

The old, inferior route between Eindhoven and Valkenswaard for cyclists. The photo, with that caption, generated quite a lot of discussion on Twitter. I rode here with my family on holiday in 2003.
As well as retweeting the link, I also posted the photo above to twitter as an example of what the new improved cycle-path will allow people to avoid riding along. The benefit of the new path comes in part due to a more direct route for some users, but with my eyes now adjusted to living "40 years in the future" compared with other nations, I can now see how this cycle-path is inferior to best Dutch practice. Things have moved on in the last ten years. There is better infrastructure than this almost everywhere near where we now live.

Andre Engels provided this map.
The new path in orange takes a
different route, better for commuters
to the High Tech Campus. This is
the route of a disused railway line
In 2003 this cycle-path impressed me enough to take photos specifically so that I could show them to campaigners in the UK as the sort of thing we should have been campaigning for, rather than the compromises which we were campaigning for. Overall, I'd still be as happy to ride there now as I was in 2003. It's not "bad" as such. However, this path is also not ideal in 2014 in the Netherlands. Expectations have increased and in order that people will want to cycle for a larger proportion of their journeys than they currently do, the quality of the experience has to be better than is offered by this cycle-path.

The old cycle-path is not quite wide enough and it's alongside a busy road so can be noisy. Junction designs along here are not ideal and at some points the cycle-path is a bit too close to the road for comfort. There are also some stops along the way which increase journey time. While the photo shows a point at which the cycle-path is bidirectional, further along there are single direction paths on both sides of the road. This requires that people cross the road. Once again, not ideal.

The new route will avoid the problems of the old and because it will exist in parallel with the old route it offers people more choices and makes more journeys attractive for cycling. Not only will the different alignment of the route offer shorter distances for some cyclists, it is also expected to result in higher average speeds due to the relative lack of interruptions and higher surface quality.

Standards are improving all the time
The Netherlands is not standing still. The rate of change and improvement to cycling infrastructure here is still beyond that of other countries which sometimes talk of "catching up". You can never catch up by starting from behind and doing less. Catching up will only happen as a result of out-spending and out-planning the Netherlands. Low aspirations and politicians delaying tactics and broken promises will never result in adequate progress. Make sure that "Going Dutch" isn't just a slogan.

It's important to campaign for the highest standards. If you ask for less, you'll certainly achieve less. Falling further behind is the inevitable result.

Just because something can be found in the Netherlands, that doesn't automatically mean it's best practice. On our study tours we not only demonstrate the best infrastructure which should be emulated but also point out why some infrastructure which may look impressive actually falls below the best standards. Our aim to to avoid inspiration being taken from the merely adequate and mistakes being made.

Only low quality infrastructure has a cost
Cycling infrastructure which is of such a quality that it can be used by the masses has a huge positive effect on the economy. This infrastructure doesn't have a cost to society but provides a benefit. It is only infrastructure which is of such low quality that it does not encourage mass cycling which places a burden on the economy.

In the Netherlands, cycling infrastructure is a fiscal measure. It saves the country money. There are many reasons why it makes no sense at all for any nation to view cycling infrastructure as "too expensive" to build.

The subject of cycling infrastructure being cheaper to build than not to build has been discussed before. Read part one.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Every Traffic Light in Assen

In Assen and other Dutch cities, traffic lights are used to control motor vehicles. Cyclists do not require traffic lights on their own but only on some occasions when they come into the same junctions as motorists. Assen provides an excellent example of how to minimise interactions between cyclists and drivers. The city also provides an excellent example of how few interactions with traffic lights there can be for cyclists where the infrastructure is well designed.

Every traffic light in Assen. Note how the centre of the city and residential areas have no traffic lights at all. Most traffic lights are on main routes for cars, not for bikes. Some spots show more than one set of lights.
Every Traffic Light in Assen
There are many misconceptions about how cyclists use traffic lights in the Netherlands. In order to try to explain how cyclists really use traffic lights in the Netherlands, this blog post shows every traffic light in Assen and explains what interactions, if any, cyclists have with each example.

You will see from the map above that there are few traffic lights in this city and those which exist are almost entirely on the main routes for motor vehicles. Residential areas have many junctions but no traffic lights in them at all. The very centre of the city also has no traffic lights at all. Many journeys by bicycle can be made without interacting with traffic lights. It was a specific goal when building the new suburb of Kloosterveen outside of the city on the west, that new residents would be able to reach the city centre by bicycle without meeting any traffic lights along the way. Traffic lights do occur on the motor vehicle route from the new suburb to the city.

Traffic lights are to be found where there are most cars, not where there are most bicycles. In many cases, due to the unravelling of driving routes from cycling routes, these traffic lights are not used by cyclists at all so never cause any inconvenience. Most cycle journeys do not involve repeatedly stopping at traffic lights.

Traffic lights controlled crossing are also provided to help cyclists to make convenient and safe crossings of major roads.

In total there are 28 locations with traffic lights in Assen, numbered 1-26 below (with "a" and "b" used where there are two too close together to separate on the map above). They are classified as follows:

Pedestrian and cyclist crossings (1, 6, 13)
These lights are provided in order to improve cyclist safety when crossing potentially busy roads. While cyclists may find a red light when they reach one of these crossings, they never have to wait more than eight seconds (it's often less) before motor traffic is stopped and the light goes green for crossing. Junction one in a west-east direction is shown in this video:



There is also a traffic light at this location which occasionally stops both cyclists and motorists travelling north-south if a bus goes along the bus-road parallel with this cycle-path. However this defaults to green for both bikes and cars and provides only a very rare and very brief inconvenience.

Earlier videos demonstrate both junctions six and 13. These are just as convenient for cyclists as the crossing illustrated in the video above.

Simultaneous Green for bikes (9, 14a, 22, 23)
In Assen, traffic lights prioritize cycling. One of the ways in which this is done is the use of simultaneous green lights on which cyclists ride in any direction, including diagonally, across the junction with no interaction whatsoever with motor vehicles. These are combined with being able to turn right against a red light. Junction 22 is a mid-sized simultaneous green junction which has featured several times on this blog but this principle can also be used successfully on smaller and large junctions.

Where cyclists use traffic light junctions, the simultaneous green layout is the most convenient and safe way to do this.

Cyclists using the secondary W-E route south of the canal use
a simultaneous green junction. Those using the primary route
north of the canal have a bicycle road with no traffic lights
Junction nine is interesting because west-east (the most common direction of travel at this location) cyclists will only have their journeys interrupted by this traffic light if they are on the southern side of the canal, which is a secondary route. The North side of the canal is a bicycle road which offers the primary route for cyclists. It provides a direct nearly-car-free route to the city centre with no delays due to traffic lights for people who live on the west of Assen.

The main route for motor vehicles is also west-east in this location. The north-south route connects to residential feeder streets with lower traffic levels.

Junction 4a. One of three in Assen
where cyclists have a green light by
default and drivers wait for the light
to change
Default to Green for bikes (3, 4a, 17)
Three junctions in Assen default to a green signal for cycling and only make cyclists stop if a driver has triggered a sensor. The intention is that it is normally the case that you ride over these junctions without stopping.

There are videos which demonstrate both junction 3 and junction 17.

Traffic light junctions which only exist for motor vehicles (7, 14b, 16, 18, 19, 26)
These junctions simply don't exist so far as cyclists are concerned. They regulate motor traffic along busy roads which provide routes for motor vehicles completely unravelled from cycling routes.

Previous blog posts cover how cyclists use an underpass so that they never have to stop at junction seven and how junction 26 exists only on the unravelled motor vehicle route.

Junctions 16 and 18 don't apply to cyclists at all even though they are in line with junction 17 which defaults to green for bikes. You can see them in this video.


Junction 19. On the other side of these traffic lights is the motorway. The only reason why you would reach this point on a bicycle is if you were that sort of vehicular cyclist who is determined to ride on motorways. There are far better routes North from Assen by bike than this one and they have fewer traffic lights too. View Larger Map

Traffic lights with only incidental interaction with cyclists (12, 25)
To access the hospital from the city
centre we follow the cycle path in
red directly to cycle parking by the
front door
. It's only necessary to cross
using the lights from the South
Junction twelve is being rebuilt right at the moment. It was the home of the nearest thing we had in Assen to an advanced stop line. I used it in a blog post four years ago to demonstrate why London's new design for Bow Roundabout would be dangerous as even the old design of this junction in Assen already eliminated the conflict which London was building into a new design.

Junction 25, at the hospital entrance, is a major junction for motor vehicles combined with a simple crossing for bikes.

Major road junctions with cycle crossings on some sides of the roads (2, 4b, 5, 8, 10, 11, 15a, 15b, 20)
Junction 15a (15b is nearly identical)
A major junction for cars. Delays are
short for cyclists and there is time to
cross all six lanes without stopping
in the middle.
These junctions are nearly invisible to cyclists because they serve traffic on the ring road and in industrial areas and cyclists routes are mostly unravelled from them. When we do have to ride near these roads we often ride alongside them and do not cross. Nevertheless, when we do cross at these points, the delay to get a green light for bikes is not excessive: generally less than 30 seconds.

Junction five. In the video below, I ride
from South to North here. Pink/red
show cycle-paths/my route.
There is never a requirement for cyclists to stop in the middle of the road and operate a second traffic light in Assen, no matter how many lanes are crossed.

Junction five is illustrated in the video below. This video also demonstrates the junction timing. Note how the delay before crossing is not long (these cyclists reached the junction only slightly ahead of me) and how when cyclists are given a green light, it stays green long enough that a large group can cross this major junction (in this case five lanes of traffic) in one:

The blue bridge which the cyclists go under carries only cars, but it was built for the benefit of cyclists so that there did not need to be a traffic light on the cycle-route. Find out more about this.

Where there is a requirement for cyclists to be able to turn right, these junctions provide for safe right turns when there is a red light (a privilege which motorists don't enjoy in the Netherlands). It is very rare that anyone should have to ride across two arms of these junctions as part of one manoeuvre because in each case, another route exists.

Junction eight is really only a crossing so far as cyclists are concerned. It featured in a video showing children on a school trip.

Oldest junctions, soon to be replaced (21, 24)
Outside the railway station. Cycle
routes (not all are cycle-paths)
highlighted. This is being changed.
Junction 24 almost made it into the major junctions category. It doesn't cause many problems for cyclists, but it does represent an older attempt at providing cycling infrastructure and the work has already started on replacing that junction altogether within the next few years.

Junction 21 is an interesting example. It's the least satisfactory traffic light junction in Assen and because it's right next to the railway station, it's one of the first pieces of infrastructure that people see when they visit the city.

This is the closest example that we have of the sort of thing that seems to come to mind to many people outside this country if they try to think of what a typical Dutch traffic light junction looks like. It's actually one of the oldest pieces of infrastructure in this city, dating back to 1989 when the existing railway station was built.

This junction dates from the 1980s. It's the most awkward traffic light junction for cyclists in Assen and often requires people to make a two-stage turn. Don't take inspiration from older infrastructure like this. It is soon to be removed.
In the near future, through motor traffic
will be underground while cyclists
stay at ground level. No traffic lights
will be required so no more delays or
multi-stage turns for cyclists.
The railway station as well as the junction are to be replaced in the next few years and the traffic lights are going away. Most of the problem with traffic here is caused by through motor traffic travelling North-South. This traffic will use a tunnel in future. The result is that the junction outside the railway station can be transformed into a far more pleasant space which will provide for access to the station by car but should not be dominated by motor vehicles.

When this work is complete, this last of these older style traffic-light junctions in Assen will be gone. No traffic-lights will be required here once the main road is underground, greatly increasing convenience for cycling. The cycle-route between the railway station and the centre of the city will no longer have any traffic lights on it.

Places where there used to be traffic lights, but they're no longer needed
The first traffic lights installed in Assen were here. They
are no longer needed because this is now nearly car free
The idea of changing places so that motor vehicles don't dominate is not new to Assen.

Like all city centre streets in Assen, and across the Netherlands, the streets in the photo on the right was dominated by motor vehicles in the mid 20th century. This was the busiest street in Assen and the first traffic lights in the city were installed here in order to deal with the traffic.

However, the city centre streets are now either completely car free or now nearly car free. They can still be used as a through route by bike but not by car. The removal of through motor vehicles meant that the traffic lights were no longer needed at this location or several others in the city centre, making cycling more convenient.

Watch a video which demonstrates this street in action in the 1970s and now.

How well does this combination of junctions work ?
Every junction in Assen, whether with traffic lights or otherwise, can be used safely by every cyclist in Assen. What's more, this infrastructure is not only safe but also convenient. Children, older people, those with disabilities all use the same infrastructure as confident adults and fast cyclists because the same infrastructure works best for everyone in terms of both safety and convenience. No-one is expected to choose between a safe route and a convenient route.

Of Assen's 28 traffic lights, six simply don't "exist" so far as cyclists are concerned. Two more of the local traffic lights have only incidental influence on cyclists. Three are provided specifically to create safe crossing points for cyclists and three more default to green for bikes so rarely cause slowing for cyclists.


An underpass built in the 1970s
allows cyclists from the east of the
city to pass under three railway lines
and two roads, and avoid the old
set of traffic lights by the station.
Only half the traffic lights, fourteen sets, remain to be considered. Four of these are of the excellent simultaneous green design which provides the best combination of both convenience and safety for cyclists. Nine are large junctions which we use rarely by bike but which are in any case safe and convenient if you should have to use them.

Just only junction is annoying to use - the old junction at the railway station which is soon to be removed and will no longer cause inconvenience. Even at this location, though, there are ways in which many people can completely avoid the delays caused by that junction.

Infrastructure that we don't have. Lessons to be learnt
A current proposed design in
New Zealand. In the 1970s
there was a road in Assen
which looked a bit like this
but this dangerous design
was removed many years
 ago. This would never be
built now. Kiwis !
Please do not build this !
In no cases at all in Assen do we have cyclists on the road mixing with cars at a traffic light junction. There are also no cases where cycle-lanes lead cyclists between streams of moving vehicles. There is no location at which cyclists clash with motorists or have to turn across moving traffic at all. There are no advanced stop lines (bike boxes) used in Assen as these are inadequate to keep cyclists safe. There are no two stage turns and certainly no instances at all of the dangerous design in which cyclists are expected to share their straight on lane with that used by drivers turning right.

The sort of thing that many people think
of as a "Standard Dutch Junction". This
is again a proposal for New Zealand,
 described as "Dutch" though it's not.
Again it's not something I'd want to
see. In any case, large junctions are
but a small part of the picture.
We also don't have any junctions of the type which have become known in some circles as a "standard Dutch junction" and this is a very good thing.

The junction closest in design to these that we have is the outdated example by the railway station which, as described above, is being removed. Yes, Assen is getting rid of junctions which look like that, not building more of them.

Badly designed junctions lead to inconvenience. They perhaps also result in a reduction in safety as people try to find more convenient ways to make turns across traffic without having to stop twice.

Unfortunately, the idea that there is such a standard traffic light junction design, that it looks something like this, and that it's something to emulate, has become popular. I've seen this idea pop up in many places. In this case, it's gone so far as to the other side of the world. It is precisely to help people to avoid making mistakes like this that we began running cycling infrastructure study tours way back in 2006. It's not too late for New Zealand's planners, or those from elsewhere, to avoid making expensive and dangerous mistakes. You can do a lot better than this. Contact us. Ask for advice. We're here to help you.

Much more common than any traffic
light junction, this is in a residential
area
, has a 30 km/h speed limit, raised
table, small corner radii, and most
importantly it's not a through route for
motor vehicles
.
Huge junctions on small roads ?
We often have people ask us how the Dutch accommodate their "huge" junction designs on minor roads. The correct answer is, of course, that they don't do so because they do not need to.

Most junctions are not "huge". Most junctions are not busy. This is by design. Most junctions simply are not on the routes of through motor traffic. You'll note from the map at the top of this blog post that Assen simply doesn't have many traffic lights, and large parts of the city contain none. Many Dutch towns are like this.

In reality, at the most common design of junction in the Netherlands there is very nearly nothing at all to see. However, this is possible for reasons that go well beyond merely how you design traffic light junctions. Minor roads and residential streets have almost no motor traffic on them. To a far greater extent than other nations, the Netherlands has removed opportunities for rat-running.

Cycling routes are unravelled from driving routes to a great extent, making routes for cycling more direct and allowing cyclists to avoid traffic light junctions on their journeys. The only junction at which stopping is irritating is the older style junction at the railway station. This is from another age and we won't have to put up with it for much longer.

Summary
Readers may recall that when I visited London last year I was frustrated with the low speed and stop-start nature of cycling in that city. Many places in the world are like London in this regard. By contrast, it is rare that I stop for a traffic light when cycling in Assen and that is how it should be. Journeys by bicycle must be continuous and direct.

If cycling is convenient as well as safe then people will cycle. Apart from the few traffic lights installed specifically to allow cyclists to cross roads, cyclists do not need traffic lights. What they do need is a very dense grid of very high quality car free, or very nearly car free, routes.

If you want to emulate the Dutch success you need to emulate the best of Dutch practice. Don't make or accept proposals for second best.

Study Tour
Learn about real Dutch cycling infrastructure
The material above is an example of what we cover on our study tours. We don't just talk about this, but we demonstrate the infrastructure so that participants can see for themselves how well it works. It's important to distinguish the features of modern Dutch infrastructure which make cycling accessible to everyone while also demonstrating where it falls down. Where the Netherlands has made mistakes, and where those mistakes have not yet been corrected, it's important that those things are recognized as what they are and do not form the basis for new designs elsewhere.

Assen provides an excellent example of how to do the right for cycling. This city has no university and therefore does not benefit from a large student population which would boost the cycling modal share regardless of infrastructure quality. Assen's higher than average modal share for a Dutch city (a higher cycling modal share than any city outside the Netherlands) has been achieved by investing in a very comprehensive network of better than average infrastructure which is constantly being improved.

On our tours we also visit Groningen, which for many years has been the top cycling city of the Netherlands. Different design choices were made in Groningen. There's also much older and less polished infrastructure than what we have in Assen. This gives an opportunity to compare how well different things work, to point out some errors and to show how older designs differ from modern designs.

We're independent. This means we are not supported by government or engineering companies. We can be entirely candid about what is good and what is less good. We have no commercial reason to push one idea over another, we only tell you what works.

Update 2015: Comparison with Bolton
A correspondent from Britain, Mitt Doot, understood the point I was getting at with this blog post and produced a map showing the positions of all 102 traffic lights in Bolton, a city in the UK with about double the population of Assen:

Mitt writes: "It's really revealing of how endemic Britain's traffic problem is when a town of a similar size to Assen needs 102 signalized junctions in order to 'safely' function. And let's not forget that every single one allows both pedestrians and cyclists to travel through them, only the pedestrians (most of the time) get their own signal phase. Some of these junctions are enormous, multi-laned deathtraps, and cyclists are expected to ride over them nonetheless." and further "The blue line is the most direct route cyclists could take from Farnworth, in the south, to Astley Bridge, in the north. It involves 25 separate traffic light junctions, almost as many as every type of signalized junction in Assen combined, just to travel this 5 mile journey." You can read his entire comment below.

Another correspondent informs me that the blue line which has 25 traffic lights in a five mile distance is designated as a strategic cycle route. That does not make for efficient cycling. It seems the words are rather more impressive than the reality in this case.

Just like the traffic lights, all the roundabouts in Assen also work very well for cyclists. Read the older post "Every Roundabout in Assen".

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Christchurch New Zealand Cycle Design Guidelines

Christchurch in New Zealand published a Cycle Design Guide last year. My attention was drawn to it because of a bad design which I discovered came from this design guide. I've read most of the design guide now and sadly it's at least as deserving of criticism as Ontario's lacklustre design guide or the NACTO guidelines.

This will not be a full point by point critique. I can provide one if Christchurch wants it.

"Dutch Junction"
Christchurch's ideas for a "Dutch
Junction" prompted me to write this
piece. They appear to have based this
design upon a sketch which was part
of a criticism of someone elses poor
design standard
I was drawn to this section of the document because of the flawed illustration of this type of junction which had appeared across several New Zealand blogs. I found the image in a blog post on the Cycle Action Auckland site, but it originated in Christchurch's design guide.

Christchurch's design guide calls this junction a "Dutch Junction". The section about this type of junction starts on page 32 of the document where there are two photos of what the authors think a "Dutch junction" looks like. However, neither of these photos are actually they think they are. The upper photo is actually of a simultaneous green junction while the lower photo doesn't look like the Netherlands.

The Christchurch design misses many key details. The geometry of it is also completely wrong.

Cyclists are shown as stopping at the same stop line as drivers so there is no head start over drivers. That is not according to Dutch practice. In the picture there appear to be no cycle traffic lights. The description only says that separate lights are required "ideally". What's more, they don't seem to have understood how cyclists are protected in the Netherlands from drivers turning left across their path. The Christchurch document merely says that this type of junction "can incorporate advanced cycle starts", which is not the way in which cyclists are usually kept safe in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands current practice would require that drivers turning left do not receive a green light to proceed at the same time as cyclists have a green light to go straight on. There also appears to be no expectation that cyclists will benefit from being able to make a left turn when the traffic lights are red. That's normal in the Netherlands and helps to offset any additional delays that cyclists might have on occasions when they are turning right.

With this design you would also expect to see multiple lanes on road (Mark's sketch, which seemingly inspired this, includes such on one arm). What's more, there's no way for a cyclist who has crossed one arm of Christchurch "Dutch" junction and wants then to turn right to actually see his traffic light as it will be behind him. To end, the angles at the junction are wrong. Cyclists travel through graceful curves, they cannot make on the spot 45 degree turns.

A mish-mash
Christchurch's design guide features a mish-mash of different ideas from all across the world with no apparent overall concept of which is the proper way to go. There are some relatively good ideas, though even these are compromised in the way they are presented, but they're given equal billing with types of infrastructure which happily no longer exist here in Assen (advanced stop boxescycle-lanes in the middle of the road) and other things which we never had in Assen and would never want to see (sharrowstwo stage "hook" turns).

The design guide also offers an interesting insight into how the designers view cycling. For instance, page 16 discusses one type of "major cycleway". This lacks specifics such as how wide a cycle-path should be but they clearly expect cyclists to make slow progress ("approximately 15 km/hr for expected users" of one type of "major cycleway") and they want to micro-manage how cyclists cycle (messages stencilled onto paths "move off path when stopped", "warn when approaching"). This would appear to be a tacit admission that the planned width is rather narrow, such that these low speeds and warnings might be required for safety. Good cycling infrastructure never requires cyclists to travel at an artificially low speed.

Where widths are mentioned, they vary. On page 20 it is said that "a desirable width of 2.4m on
both sides of the road" is required in order that cyclists can pass each other while by page 24 that has reduced to "approximately 1.8m to 2m on both sides of the road"

Christchurch's design guide is not a coherent piece of work but more of a summary of things that the authors have read about, and in some cases misunderstood.

Unfortunately, it appears to lean heavily on photos and opinions swept up from across the internet, some perhaps used without credit and some of them used without the concept being well understood by the authors. That may seem harsh, but I can say for certain that it's true in at least one case:

Cycle Barnes Dance
Is it not a bit rude to take credit for
someone else's work ?
Someone working for Christchurch copied a photo from my blog of a simultaneous green junction here in Assen (find it here), edited it to remove my URL, and reproduced in black and white on page 34 of Christchurch's document. It is labelled "Cycle Barnes Dance". Perhaps after all that work they thought I'd never find it. While a small number of people are credited as photographers on page two of the document, my name does not appear and I certainly wasn't asked for permission to use this photo. I wonder who took credit for this photo ?

More seriously, we have to ask why did they use photos that were swept up off the internet rather than their own. Presumably the answer is that they didn't have any of their own. The probable reason for a lack of photos is that the authors of Christchurch's design guide have never actually seen and used this type of infrastructure. Their take on what a "cycle barnes dance" should look like is as follows:

Christchurch's take on a simultaneous green junction. They've missed key details of the design. This photo is taken from Christchurch's document. I certainly do not claim credit for it.
Unfortunately, the authors of the document have clearly misunderstood how simultaneous green junctions work. They have unhelpfully provided extra paint on the ground seemingly to guide cyclists to ride across diagonally rather than using the curved paths that are normally taken and which are essential to avoid collusions. They've also again forgotten about the opportunity turn right against a red light at junctions like this. That's normal in the Netherlands.

The text accompanying this is also interesting to read. Again, the document refers to separate traffic lights for cyclists being required at such a junction only "ideally", suggesting that you could allow cyclists to cross like this at the same time as drivers were in motion. I'd expect that to cause carnage. It never happens in the Netherlands. There are always separate traffic lights for cyclists at simultaneous green junctions. This is not optional. The document also refers to a possibility of combining the pedestrian and cycle phases, which again does not happen in the Netherlands because this would cause conflict and probably injury.

More bad practice lies below
The further I read through the document, the more examples of lacklustre design glare out at me. On page 38 there's a photo of a really dreadful and actually pointlessly badly designed "cycle bypass" (compare with the same concept done properly). On page 41 there's a relatively decent bus stop bypass design followed by a design which is almost impossibly bad on page 43. By page 57 it's back to discussing how to "encourage slower cycle speeds" (this should never happen) on shared paths on a page which also features a narrow "berm separated" cycle path which has an enormous drain in it.

Christchurch uses the term "hook turn" to refer to what is known elsewhere as a two stage turn. In most parts of the world, the word hook is used in this context to refer to the type of crash that it common to this type of infrastructure.

In general, there's far too much emphasis on on-road cycle-lanes. These are relatively uncommon in the Netherlands and just as in other countries, they're not entirely safe here either. The picture on page 61 especially horrifying. It combines those on-road lanes with several other examples of bad practice, several examples of how cyclists can be put into danger, in one image:
Let's count the problems:
  1. Cyclists turning left have a potential left hook problem due to there being positioned on the left of left turning motor vehicles.
  2. Even though there's a separate lane for cyclists turning left, no thought has been given to how cyclists could have been allowed to turn left on red without conflicting with anyone.
  3. Cyclists going straight on experience added potential for danger due to having to try to stay in the middle of the road cycle lane. Drivers on their right but who want to turn left will turn across this lane.
  4. Advanced stop lines have never really provided any benefit to cyclists.
  5. Cyclists turning right are expected to go straight on, then slam on the brakes in front of other cyclists, turn left a bit and wait in the small green box. However, they won't know when the traffic light for their direction has gone green because it's behind them. If there's a separate left turn phase then drivers wanting to turn left who come from behind the cyclists waiting in the box won't be able to get past those cyclists.
  6. Cyclists need to be able to make efficient journeys so many won't want to make their right turns in this inefficient way. That does not only apply to "fast" cyclists, but to everyone. If a child is late for school, they won't want to use this box either. They will have to cross two lanes of traffic on the approach in order to be in the right turn lane. Drivers will resent this because the cyclist is not using the provided cycle facility.
  7. Cyclists coming in the opposite direction are forced into a left hook situation with drivers who wish to turn left.
This junction design is a recipe for disaster


I have to also mention that treatment of roundabouts is lacking. On page 64, they're talking about "taking the lane" on roundabouts. That's a very long way from best Dutch practice.

It goes on and on. There are very few gems in there (the bus stop bypass design isn't bad). Very few. Please, Christchurch, if it's not too late, do not adopt these guidelines.

You need coherence in design, not a mixture of ideas picked up from different places and with a wide range of different qualities. Copy from the best, not from everything that you've seen.

Don't guess. Know !
Christchurch could have found out a lot more in advance. For a start, they could have asked us specific questions about how these junctions work. They could have asked about what is actually built and how well it works but also specifics such as measurements of different parts of the junctions, radii. Instead of guessing and writing down those guesses as design guidance, they could have found out in advance and adopted best practice. Christchurch could even have employed us to write about things that we do know about rather than employing someone else to write about what they don't know about.

Christchurch: Don't just "borrow" my photos
uncredited, send a party of people on the
study tour to learn about real Dutch cycling
infrastructure. They'll then be able to take
their own photos in the same locations,
having seen with their eyes and used this
infrastructure and hopefully also
understood what they're looking at.
Ironically, the URL which someone in Christchurch removed from my photo was for the cycling infrastructure Study Tour on which they could have sent participants to learn about real Dutch cycling infrastructure so they can't have been ignorant of what they did. The photo was taken during a study tour and two previous participants are shown. One of them is cut in half by Christchurch's edit.

It seems to me to be very strange to start by writing standards and only find out later on what it is that you should have been doing. Surely it would be beneficial for Christchurch to send people to see infrastructure like this first hand before making an expensive and dangerous mistake by copying it incorrectly.

That my photo has been taken without permission and without credit and used in the Christchurch design guide should not in any way be thought to represent my endorsement of their guide. Overall, this is a poor guide to cycle infrastructure design.

The myth of the "standard Dutch junction"

Before starting his own blog, Mark Wagenbuur made videos for some of my posts and then became a regular guest blogger here. Some of the blog posts and videos that he made for this blog are still quite popular.

In April 2011, Mark wrote a blog post in which he criticized a dangerous junction design suggested by the then new and claimed to be "state of the art" US NACTO design guide. I thought this to be a very good blog post. At that time we would discuss posts before publication and the only thing that I asked to be changed was that the article should include a reference to other types of junction such as the more modern simultaneous green design. That was added before anyone read the post.

Mark's approximation of Dutch ideas
applied to a hypothetical US junction
seems to have been misinterpreted as
a design which should be copied.
Mark tried to demystify how traffic light junctions in the Netherlands worked and he sketched out how Dutch ideas could be applied to the mock-up American junction from NACTO in a video. The object was not to design a real junction. His approximation consisted of on-screen graphics based upon the dimensions of the original NACTO graphic in order to try to show that a safer type of junction could be built within the same dimensions.

Many people misinterpreted what Mark had written about and between us we wrote some additional notes which were added to the blog post in order to try to explain.

This confusion continued so Mark wrote a second post to follow the first a month later in an attempt to explain yet more misconceptions. This again included information about more modern solutions, referring to the simultaneous green design and the use of roundabouts instead of traffic lights.

Sadly, the confusion continues
I've re-read both of Mark's blog posts and I still see nothing wrong as such with what he said. Perhaps the problem is what he didn't say. Somehow people keep reading something other than what was written. Rather than seeing Mark's sketch as an approximation of a Dutch junction created with the aim of dissuading NACTO from promoting a dangerous design, people now appear to be using his sketch as a design guide in itself.

At first sight, this looks remarkably
similar to Mark's sketch: A design
proposed for Christchurch in New
Zealand, heralded as "safe",  but they
have misunderstood. Cyclists are not
supposed to stop at the same stop line
as cars and traffic lights need to be
positioned so that they are visible to
cyclists making the second part of a
right turn. Also, the geometry is wrong.
This would require sharp turns.
Versions of this junction "design" now pop up everywhere. They've even reached the opposite side of the planet.. Unfortunately, as the idea that this is somehow a good design has taken hold, many of the key points of the real design and of Mark's argument were lost. What's more, alternatives that are more common in the Netherlands, safer and more convenient for cycling are being ignored in favour of pursuing this one design.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, a design which superficially looks similar to Mark's sketch is referred to as "the Dutch intersection", though their design departs in several ways from any real Dutch intersection through which I've cycled.

Is this just a matter of language ? Has this design been picked up so widely for no reason other than that Mark referred to this as "Dutch standard junction design" ? Was the confusion caused by a matter of English usage ? Junctions which look similar to his sketch are not "standard" in the sense of being "to a standard" but "standard" in the sense of being unexceptional. i.e. there's nothing special about this in the Netherlands. It may even be inferior.

Is it because people view the video in isolation from reading the related blog posts so don't ever see the explanations ? Why are engineers and planners trying to design infrastructure based on what they've read on blogs, watched on Youtube and looked at through Google Streetview when it is possible to come and see the real thing being used in a real context ?

I think some explanation is required of why the emphasis on this design is wrong:

Junctions like this are neither common nor desirable
In Assen we have no junctions at all which are of this design.

The closest thing we have to this type of junction in Assen is
here by the railway station. It was built in the 1980s and
is now planned to be removed in the very near future.
Only one junction near the railway station has a strong resemblance to this design. This is pictured to the right. This is the only junction in Assen where a commonly used left turn requires use of two traffic lights, both of which are likely to delay you. The design dates from the late 1980s when the existing railway station was built.

Part of the plan for the new railway
station area. The through road is going
underground. Cyclists will not longer be
faced with delays due to traffic lights
Over time, many traffic lights have disappeared in Assen and this one will be next. Plans are very well advanced for the replacement railway station and as part of this work through motor traffic is to be redirected through a tunnel which will make these traffic lights superfluous. In future, the cycle-route between the railway station and the centre of the city will have no traffic lights on it.

I have to cycle quite a long way to find a junction which is really similar to Mark's sketch. About 40 km South of here in Hoogeveen there are some older junctions which have not yet been reworked. One of them is known to me because it is one of two slightly inconvenient points for me, where I am slowed and delayed on a route which I have cycled fairly frequently to visit a friend who lives 100 km south from here.

Older designs simply are not so good as newer designs and they should be where inspiration for other nations comes from. If you are inspired by the Netherlands, take your inspiration from the good stuff.

There is no "Dutch Standard Junction Design"
There is not really such a thing as a standard Dutch junction. In fact, every junction is designed to fit a particular space and is designed with the needs of the traffic in that space. Another blog post shows every traffic light in Assen so you can see the great variety of designs used. In the 1980s it may be been acceptable to expect cyclists to make slow two stage turns but that is a last resort measure now.

The best junction for cyclists at any particular location is whatever can keep cyclists safe while not causing slowing, deviation from a straight line or stopping. In practice, this is achieved in Assen by unravelling routes for drivers from those used by cyclists so that cyclists do not have to interact with traffic lights installed to manage motor vehicles. Where cyclists do have to use the same junctions as drivers, they are often provided with simultaneous green traffic light designs (the safest and most convenient option) or roundabouts.

Junctions between large roads in the Netherlands often don't need to cater for cyclists at all. These include traffic light junctions where cyclists have another route and "turbo roundabouts" which provide convenience for drivers. This special type of roundabout is entirely designed around driving and cyclists have other routes.

The most common junction design in the Netherlands is almost nothing at all
A better contender for the term "Standard
Dutch Junction" is something like this.
Much more common than any traffic
light junction, this is in a residential
area
, has a 30 km/h speed limit, raised
table, small corner radii, and most
importantly it's not a through route for
motor vehicles
.
Most junctions in the Netherlands are on residential streets or in town centres where low speed limits, raised tables, special surfacing, small corner radii and one-way systems which apply to drivers only make them unattractive to drivers. These do not operate as through streets for motor vehicles. On such streets, you meet very little motorized traffic and these junctions do not require traffic lights on them.

Not one option, but many
Where cyclists and motorists do have to use the same junctions, there are many options, not just one. Roundabouts with separate infrastucture for cyclists are very commonly used, for instance.

We demonstrate a wide range of solutions on our cycling infrastructure study tours.

Update. www.protectedintersection.com
A few days after I published this post, a new website authored by Nick Falbo appeared which promotes a variation on the same design of junction as Mark described three years ago. The main feature of the website at this time is this very well made video which describes Nick's interpretation of a Dutch traffic light junction design:

Not only does this video show a junction design, it also includes car parking in the right place relative to cycle-paths, so there are good aspects to this.

It's late as I type this. I've just watched the new video and these are my first impressions. While watching the video, I kept expecting the author to trip up at some point or another, but he does seem to have almost everything covered. Overall, I'm impressed. The video necessarily covers much of the same ground as did Mark's video and I'm very pleased to see that Nick acknowledges that debt. I'm also quite pleased to see that he acknowledges influence from this blog and other sources.

I had to look through old local government
publications to find an example of what is
now being proposed as a "protected
intersection" elsewhere. This junction in
Assen was rebuilt as something much better
in 2007. Don't be taken in. Copy what the
Dutch really do now, not a knock-off of
what they used to do.
The incorporation of simultaneous green into this junction is not quite right from a Dutch point of view because the geometry of real simultaneous green traffic light junctions is different to this junction. The "corner refuge" will get in the way of the most efficient use of the junction where diagonals are allowed. However, in my view this wouldn't stop the junction being able to work at all in that way and of course we do have to proceed in steps. If the US can start to install civilized junctions based on this design then we will perhaps see variations including more Dutch style simultaneous green in future.

Apart from the 6 m (car length) setback for where cyclists cross the street (itself an important detail), there are no dimensions on the video nor in the accompanying text. This brings me to my concerns:

The devil is very often in the details of implementation. If dimensions are adequate, traffic light timings are adequate, if cyclists have separate traffic lights and motorists can be prevented from making right turns on red (which I know many US motorists expect to be able to do) then I think the design will work well. However, that's quite a list of details. Quite a list of things which could be got wrong if the junction can't be built to the standard that it needs to be built to. I hope that Nick can prevent that from happening.

There is also the not so small matter that this design represents an Americanized version of just one of the many tools used by Dutch planners. This design of junction is only used at a minority of intersections in many Dutch towns. It is certainly an advance for the USA if this type of junction can be built, but please also look to the other interventions taken in the Netherlands but it should not be over-applied. Most of the places where we could have a junction like this in Assen, for instance, are now places without traffic lights at all. Understandably, it may take a little time for those other ideas also to be imported to the USA.

For cyclists, well designed Simultaneous Green junctions are more convenient than every having to make a two stage turn. Roundabouts are also more convenient. However, it's most convenient of all to have no traffic lights or other major junctions which need to be negotiated when cycling.

It's the "second revolution". i.e. getting rid of through traffic in cities and therefore also being able to get rid of the traffic lights and wide roads required to control motorized traffic which has done much to civilize Dutch city centres. This is more of philosophical approach than merely moving concrete, and it's perhaps too much of a leap to make immediately. But this where the big prize is.

Few Dutch people would now vote for a return to what streets looked like in the 1970s.

Another possible pitfall
John Pelletier pointed out another possible pitfall in email: "One thing that I noted he missed and mentioned in the comments is the issue of drivers not stopping at the stop line and blocking either the bike lane and/or ped crossing.  In the US the standard is to put traffic lights at the opposite side of an intersection, I am sure this contributes quite a bit to folks not stopping at the stop bar.  I notice in many instances the Dutch bring the traffic lights close to the stop bar so that going past the bar means you have no idea if the light is red or green, this confusion forces folks to more likely stop behind the bar".

In the Netherlands, the traffic lights for cars are always just beyond the stop line, not on the opposite side of the road. If drivers pass the stop line then they can't see whether the light is green or red.

Has Alta altered ?
On of the reasons why I am enthusiastic about this video is that Nick works for Alta Planning and Design. I've criticised this company in the past because they were involved in design standards and plans which I consider to be inadequate (e.g. Ontario and Los Angeles). Alta were also involved in work for NACTO which prompted Mark's video and blog post to which this is a reply.

Nick's video criticizes older, more dangerous intersection designs (e.g. two stage turns and merging right turning cars with cyclists) which Alta appears to have supported in the past. These same designs as were also criticized by Mark and myself amongst others. If Nick is the new face of Alta, and this type of design is the sort of thing that we can expect the company to advocate in the future then that's a very good thing. Alta would appear to have altered its recommendations in the light of what has been learnt. I hope to find that Alta will from now on pursue this better design and not merely advocate it alongside the inferior designs.

This could be a very good first step for America... but you do eventually also need to do the other things.

Update 21 Feb 2014
NACTO appear to have adopted Nick Falbo's design. I asked NACTO to let me know whether the new design will replace existing, less safe and convenient, junction designs in their standard or whether it will appear beside these inferior ideas.

While it is an advance for NACTO to adopt this design, there is a risk that this design could well end up being the best option alongside a range of inferior options in the toolbox available to American planners.

In the Netherlands, junctions like this are an average option offered alongside several superior options in the Dutch toolbox.

My concerns about this type of junction being over applied are still valid.

Is this for countries outside North America ?
There is no reason for countries outside North America to seek to emulate the NACTO guidance. With the adoption of this design, NACTO's best solution for cyclists is a copy of an average solution in the Netherlands. Come directly to the source.

Update May 2015
Salt Lake City design.
There is now a proposal for a real implementation of the "protected intersection" in Salt Lake City in the USA. Unfortunately, this departs from the the best recommendations of Nick Falbo's video. One of the most important things missing from the Salt Lake City design is that there are to be no separate traffic lights for cyclists. This creates a dangerous conflict between drivers turning right and cyclists going straight on or turning left. This is similar what occurs in "mixing zones" which have proven to have fatal outcomes elsewhere.

The drawing also makes it appear as if the kerb lines on the cycle-paths are intended to impede cyclists. This is not a feature of Dutch junctions where widths and radii are quite generous on cycle-paths to ensure that people can cycle efficiently.

In my view it is still unfortunate that the superior simultaneous green design wasn't adopted for this experiment. That is far more efficient for cyclists and avoids all the dangerous conflicts.

Update June 2015
Austin in Texas is also jumping on the "protected intersection" bandwagon. Here are pictures of two of their examples. In both examples there is no separate set of traffic lights for cyclists so motorized traffic is expected to magically stop in the face of a cyclist. But the problems with these two examples are greater than that. The geometry of the crossings seems to include pinch points for cyclists and very tight corner radii. The other problems isolated to each individual design are in the comments under each picture:
In this example there is no safe way of exiting the junction to head East or North. The buffer only gets in the way of cyclists and makes it difficult for them to join the road in those directions  forcing two 90 degree turns where there would otherwse be no requirement to turn at all (for a cyclists going straight on through the junction). It is possible to join segregated junctions with roads which don't have segregated infrastructure in a seamless and safe manner, but no attempt at all has been made to do that at this intersection. The only direction in which cyclists are actually protected by the buffer is if they proceed from the west and turn right. i.e. this "protected intersection" protects cyclists from motor vehicles in only one of the twelve different directions in which it can be used by cyclists. 1/12.

This example is on a huge road which certainly requires separation of cyclists from motorists by use of separate traffic lights. Cyclists who are late in crossing the road have absolutely no refuge between eight lanes of traffic. No do pedestrians have a refuge. Cyclists heading South and wishing to go straight on or left have a dramatic diversion from a straight line which they have to negotiate before finding themselves in front of motor vehicles which were making a right turn with a far more generous corner radius, leading to higher speeds around that corner. Cyclists coming from the west and wishing to continue North are first placed in conflict with one lane of right turning cars heading south and then placed in conflict with two lanes of cars going in a straight line towards the East. In this case, right turns are protected by the buffer in all four cases, but neither straight on or left turning cyclists have any protection at all. 4/12.
These appear to be nothing more than "cargo cult" copies of Dutch designs. The subtleties of the real designs have not been understood at all and some ideas from a third-hand half-remembered idea which could perhaps have worked at a relatively small intersection with little traffic have been scaled up to form the basis of a design for a completely different context. This seems to have happened without any real thought as to how it will work in practice. These intersections are not genuinely similar to Dutch intersections - they merely look superficially similar to designs which work at some places in the Netherlands.
At a real-life large scale Dutch intersection with many lanes on the road, the cycling facilities are completely separate from the driving lanes. Cyclists are assured absolute safety because they use completely separate traffic lights which remove all conflict between cyclists and drivers. This example would have made a far more suitable starting point for the Texas intersections than the design for much smaller intersections which they tried to scale up. If they'd sent people here, or even just asked sensible questions, we would have shown them this.
Before wasting more asphalt, before putting people in danger through bad design, come and see how real intersections in the Netherlands work.

In both these cases I've given directions relative to the pictures, assuming that North is at the top of the picture.

Mark criticized just one feature of the NACTO design guidelines. Read my longer critique of Ontario's design guide, which shares many similarities as well as authorship with the NACTO guidelines.