In the Netherlands it is not expected that cyclists should be mixed with motorized traffic on roundabouts. There is always a cycle-path or lane of some form. While cycle-lanes around roundabouts are not generally thought to work well. there are two opposing views on how these cycle-paths should be designed. One view holds that cyclists should have priority across each road leading to the roundabout, the other holds that it is dangerous for cyclists to have this priority. The current recommendation1 is for roundabouts within towns to give cyclists priority at the crossings and roundabouts outside towns to give priority to motor vehicles, and many towns in the Netherlands have adopted these recommendations. However, not all towns have done this and Assen is one of the hold-outs.
|Adverse camber on the roundabout|
itself encourages slow speeds, which
improves safety for all users. Longer
vehicles have to use the red surfaced
raised area which further increases
The design of Assen's roundabouts results in crossings of roads always being at 90 degrees. This makes it easier for drivers and cyclists both to see what is happening in all directions of interest. This roundabout design also makes sight-lines longer which gives more time to react, more time to adjust speed so that it's possible to cross without stopping. Both of these result in safety advantages over the annular ring design.
With this design, a significantly higher degree of safety is achieved in exchange for perhaps a very slight decrease in convenience. But the decrease in convenience is not as large as is often feared, especially when we take into account that cyclists can cross safely in both directions around roundabouts where the crossings are at 90 degrees. This saves time because it's possible to take a short-cut across the junction and reduces exposure to risk as we need cross only one arm of the roundabout to make a left turn instead of more if we had to ride all the way around the roundabout to make a left turn.
The video shows one of the busiest roundabouts for cyclists in Assen and demonstrates why it is both safe and convenient for cycling. Only four collisions of any type were recorded here in five years, and they were all of the "fender bender" variety, where one driver shunted another at low speed on the way on or off of the roundabout. No cyclists or pedestrians were involved in any way in any of these minor collisions and there were no injuries to the drivers either:
This is even more important for other nations
52-73 in-patients a year"). The decision to favour the cycle priority design was taken in an attempt to increase cycling convenience at the cost of safety.
The safety cost of choosing cycle priority will almost certainly be greater in other nations than it is here in the Netherlands. Dutch drivers are more familiar with bicycles than drivers of other nations and there is also a good chance here that bicycles will dominate any particular roundabout, making them difficult to ignore or overlook. Neither of these factors can be relied upon in other countries. For that reason I suggest that the safer design presented here should be the only roundabout design for cyclists adopted by other nations.
|A much smaller example following the|
same princples. A busy roundabout
serving a high-rise car park which
does not injure cyclists.
I chose this particular example for the video because it's very clear what is going on. It's large and it's relatively green for an urban location, but this makes makes it easy to demonstrate in a video how the roundabout works. The principles which make it safe (90 degree crossings, good sight lines, plenty of time to make decisions, obvious priority, some journeys made without joining the roundabout at all) can be, and often are, applied on a smaller scale.
|The small size of the island at this|
roundabout can be seen in this photo
from a recent study tour.
Not every junction should be a roundabout
CROW suggest that roundabouts are appropriate only on junctions with up to 500-1500 motor vehicles per hour on the busiest arm of the roundabout. Where more vehicles must be catered for, they suggest not having cyclists going around roundabouts at all, but using other junction types such as traffic light junctions or cycle unfriendly multi-lane roundabouts which then require grade separation (see next section).
|Too little space ? Too much traffic ?|
Think about Simultaneous Green, the
other really good junction design.
For a complete picture of all the complex junctions in Assen, see previous blog posts about every roundabout in Assen and every traffic light junction in Assen.
Don't forget about unravelling
Another factor which leads to the safety and convenience of Assen's roundabouts is that they are largely avoided by cyclists. Bicycle routes here are unravelled from driving routes. Many of the 21 roundabouts feature only infrequently on cyclists' journeys or do not feature at all.
CROW suggest that higher traffic levels should result in cyclists being grade separated. Here's an example of just that. This roundabout on the ring-road in Assen has a perfect safety record for cyclists and probably always will have. Why ? Because there's absolutely no need at all for any cyclist to ever interact with motor vehicles on this roundabout:
This roundabout is even safer for cyclists, but it cheats by not really being a roundabout for cyclists at all.
Other real-life Dutch roundabout designs
Below you'll find examples of other roundabout designs used elsewhere in the Netherlands. Most of these examples have a less convincing safety record than the examples illustrated above. They're shown along with their safety records in order to demonstrate what does not work well and should not be emulated elsewhere.
Shared Space "squareabouts"
There has been considerable international attention drawn to a Shared Space "squareabout" in that town. Much has been written about this being a safe design. However, if we ignore the hype and look at the statistics then we find a very different story:
|Laweiplein Shared Space "squareabout" in Dracthen. There have been ten crashes here, injuring three cyclists and one moped rider. This single Shared Space junction is more dangerous for cyclists than all of Assen's 21 roundabouts and all of Assen's Simultaneous Green traffic light junctions added together.|
|Turbo-roundabout under construction|
by a motorway junction south of
Assen. Absolutely no bikes near here.
This is a huge mistake. Turbo roundabouts are designed to maximize flow of motor vehicles. They're a good design for motorway junctions and similar places where there are many motor vehicles and absolutely no cyclists or pedestrians.
Groningen, which won the Fietsstad competition in 2002, is famous for having the highest cycling modal share in the world. This is the result of policies starting in the 1970s and it is also contributed to by the extremely high student population.
|Dangerous roundabout in Groningen.|
See the first picture below.
One of the most dangerous roundabouts in Groningen has been featured in previous blog post. We've used it for some time on study tours as a contrast with good roundabout design. To demonstrate what not to do:
|This busy Groningen roundabout is the scene of 36 incidents in five years resulting in injuries to two pedestrians, three cyclists and two moped riders. This is not good design.|
|A suburban roundabout, relatively low traffic but with 18 crashes including six cyclist injuries.|
|A few metres away, this roundabout in the same suburb is the scene of 13 crashes including two cyclist injuries|
Zwolle is the current holder of the "Fietsstad" award, an occasional award presented to the Dutch city which is considered to be trying hardest to grow cycling.
Press releases about this junction and other sources have made claims made about its safety but in my view praise should wait until there is a proven record of safety. That is why I did not write about this junction before now. We must first wait to find out what the long term safety outcome is and until then treat the new design with caution. This is especially not something for other nations to try to emulate.
It is claimed that Zwolle drivers' familiarity with existing roundabouts will lead to the bicycle roundabout being safe. I see this as spurious as while Zwolle doesn't have many other roundabouts those that it does have do not have a great safety record by Dutch standards.
Update: I've discovered that the Bicycle Roundabout in Zwolle has in fact already claimed victims. It opened at the end of August 2013, the first cyclist injury was in September and another cyclist was injured in November. Zwolle's Bicycle Roundabout has therefore claimed as many victims in three months as all twenty-one of Assen's roundabouts caused in five years. Even relative to the previous supposedly unsafe situation this doesn't seem very impressive. According to the Ongelluken Kaart, there was only one injury in this location in the five years between 2007 and 2012. Also read how the Bicycle Roundabout was advertised in advance as part of the effort to win the cycling city (fietsstad) award.
|Zwolle Urban roundabout with priority for bikes. 15 crashes here including four cyclist injuries|
|Zwolle Suburban roundabout with priority for bikes. 25 crashes here including six cyclist injuries.|
|Another of Zwolle's cyclist priority roundabouts. 22 crashes here including two cyclist injuries|
Eindhoven is a city which we used to visit quite often as for a while we thought we might settle in that area. It's a larger city with few roundabouts. Much as we've seen elsewhere, the roundabouts which have priority for cycles have injured cyclists while those which keep cyclists well away from motor traffic have not:
|Eindhoven roundabout with priority for cyclists. Ten crashes in total, four cyclist injuries|
|This is the Floraplein in Eindhoven. A turbo-roundabout. Turbo-roundabouts are designed for maximum flow of motor vehicles and should never be built where there are cyclists, but this one was. There has been much local opposition to this roundabout including a protest video showing the problems that it causes. I featured a video of this roundabout in a blog post from 2012 in which I warned against campaigners mistakenly calling for this infrastructure for cyclists. Needless to say, between 2007 and 2012 there were multiple collisions here, several involving cyclists and one cyclist had to go hospital as a result.|
|Valkenswaard roundabout visited in|
2006. Not a safe design. See below for
The group spent some time looking at and riding around one roundabout in particular as cyclists had priority there. That's why I've included this village in these examples.
We now know that this wasn't really a good example to take notice of as even though this is just a small village and there is little traffic here, this roundabout is the site of quite a number of cyclist injuries. Compare this photo with the new Zwolle bicycle roundabout (above). The obvious similarity is part of why I am skeptical of that new design.
|A roundabout which the 2006 study tour group were somewhat enamoured by. It's in a relatively low traffic situation suburban but there have been seven incidents here including three cyclist injuries. i.e. even this single roundabout in a small village is more dangerous for cyclists than all of Assen's 21 roundabouts put together. This is because the annular ring design is more dangerous for cyclists even when traffic volumes and speeds are low.|
|Outside Valkenswaard, a rural roundabout without priority for bikes. Just one crash, no injuries, no involvement of cyclists.|
|Outside Valkenswaard, a busier roundabout without priority for bikes. No cyclists involved in crashes here.|
One of the most influential pieces of research in the Netherlands which convinced many people that cyclists having priority on roundabouts was a good idea was carried out in Enschede in 1991 and appeared in a report from 1992. Unfortunately, as is admitted in the conclusion, this research was based on just a few hours of observation. Based on their short observations, it was estimated that the change in priority would have a very small effect on safety. We've now had many years to see what really happened. This is the very same roundabout:
|A few hundred metres to the North, this is the roundabout between the Knalhutteweg and Vlierstraat. At this location, there have been 15 crashes and no fewer than five cyclists injured in five years.|
|Closer to the centre of the city, this roundabout has been the site of 38 crashes. In this case only one cyclist was injured, but two car occupants were also injured in one crash.|
|Another Enschede roundabout. This example has had 20 crashes over 5 years. Six cyclists were injured here.|
|Looking for relatively good examples from Enschede, I found this "roundabout", the location of just five minor crashes and no injuries over five years. Suspicious of the exposed ground on the left of the picture, I looked at Streetview which revealed that this wasn't a roundabout at all during the time when the statistics were counted. It will be interesting to see what happens here in the future. Will converting this previously very safe junction into a roundabout lead to a safety improvement ?|
Update: Where the danger comes from
It seems I need to explain more about why the roundabouts with priority dangerous, regardless of their layout. It's not just that the annular design of cycle-paths makes visible difficult but also that it expects perfect behaviour from drivers.
Giving cyclists "priority" sounds positive, but what actually happens with the priority design of roundabout design is that cyclists are stripped of control. The design requires that cyclists should ride out in front of motor vehicles and hope for the best. On this type of junction design, cyclists are used as mobile traffic calming devices. The cyclist priority design requires that drivers who don't know the rules, are tired, talking on the telephone, changing channel on their radios, arguing with other people in their cars, who can't see out of misted windows, who are impatient and don't want to stop for a cyclist (especially important in other nations where there is more anti-cycling sentiment than here) or who are simply not skilled at driving must never make a mistake because the safety of cyclists depends almost entirely on the driver and not on the cyclist themselves.
My view is that cyclists make better decisions about their own safety than drivers can make for them. This is supported by the comparative injury statistics above for roundabouts which give cyclists control over their own safety vs. those which give them "priority" or supposedly let them share equally with drivers.
An incident from earlier this week may help to explain. Judy and I rode nearly 80 km planning a cycling holiday route and we passed seven roundabouts on our way. Five of them were of the safe design and were crossed without stopping. One was of the safe design and we had to wait about ten seconds.
There was no crash and both these drivers stopped, but they both did so too late. With slightly different timing, for instance if either the drivers or myself had been going slightly faster or slightly slower, it could have worked out differently. This is not fail safe design. SWOV point out that "drivers have to make (too) many observations in a brief time span, resulting in them noticing cyclists too late" and that is precisely what seems to happen at cyclist priority roundabouts.
That is but one anecdotal illustration of the type of incident which simply doesn't happen with the roundabout design which I prefer, and which has been proven to be safer. We have known for more than a hundred years that we cannot rely upon perfect behaviour from drivers but this is what the priority roundabout design does rely upon. Instead of cyclists being able to take safety into their own hands, their control is taken away and their safety is assured only by drivers behaving perfectly. The roundabout priority design flies in the face of the sustainable safety principles which otherwise keep Dutch roads safe.
|Even very young cyclists can ride|
safely across this junction in Assen
where cyclists have priority over
drtivers. Perfect safety record here.
Don't confuse the concerns about safety at roundabouts with priority with other locations and situations. It is never helpful to try to apply a one size solution to all problems.
Concerns about roundabout priority do not apply in other situations. There are many thousands of safely designed junctions between roads and cycle-paths, here in Assen and elsewhere in the Netherlands, where cyclists have priority. Where this is the right solution. i.e. junction design is good, sight lines are long and traffic volumes and speed are not overly high, these junctions have very good, often perfect, safety records.
It is the existence of such infrastructure which makes cycling both convenient and safe in the Netherlands.
Find out more
Book a study tour to find out more about good junction design and other factors which lead to the high rate of cycling and good safety record for cyclists in the Netherlands.
1 The CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic states that "On roundabouts inside built-up areas, it is recommended that cyclists on separate paths continue to have right of way. After all, this corresponds with a cyclist-friendly policy". I disagree that this is the best way to design roundabouts, especially when considering road conditions and existing road use conventions in other nations. The CROW manual also refers to low traffic (less than 6000 pcu/day) roundabouts as not requiring cycling infrastructure. In reality, roundabouts in the Netherlands without cycling infrastructure are roughly as common as unicorns. I can't remember seeing a single example.
The Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research, SWOV, are also skeptical about roundabouts which give priority to cyclists. You can read more from them here: http://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Roundabouts.pdf, http://www.swov.nl/rapport/R-2004-14.pdf
Part way through writing this blog post, several people drew my attention to the new Austroads document about cycle-lanes around roundabouts. They came to a correct conclusion that encouraging people to cycle around the edge of roundabouts is a bad idea, but their suggested fix (sharrows to encourage cyclists to "take the lane") is not adequate. The design presented above works well for all abilities of cyclist.
All the aerial photographs with flags showing collisions on this page come from the excellent ongelukken kaart. This shows all crashes in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2012. Blue flags indicates crashes and the number is how crashes have occured at that location. Yellow flagss indicate that at least one injury occured, red indicates at least one death
This post originally referred to 19 roundabouts in Assen which I had written about in a previous blog post. That has now been updated to cover an additional two roundabouts which I overlooked. These had also not injured cyclists.