Saturday, June 9, 2012


I was privileged to be given a four hour tour of Utrecht and its facilities by the knowledgeable Frank Buchner from the Department of Transport and Water Management.  Being a study tour (map below), quite a lot was covered, so apologies for the unusual length of this post.  Normal service will be resumed hereafter.

Route map for Utrecht tour
The most surprising and useful thing I learned in Utrecht was about the use of bidirectional separated cycleways.  

Local opponents of Sydney’s cycleways like to quote old European studies that label bidirectional facilities as dangerous, and I’ve heard some Europeans say that they wouldn’t use them – but in Sydney it is simply not possible to put a cycleway on each side of the street.  So I was very interested to hear that Utrecht is making more and more of their unidirectional cycleways into bidirectional – on each side of the street, “so that people will not need to cross the road” mid-block to reach or leave the cycleway in the direction they are travelling.  An eminently sensible move, since to avoid crossing, people were riding in both directions when they needed to anyway.  Bidirectional cycleways are not regarded as a safety problem here.

Ahead is a quiet street which changes (just behind me at the intersection) to being busier, with a cycleway on each side.  To allow oncoming riders (on the left) to transition to the bidirectional cycleway on this side, a hook turn with priority crossing is provided (though apparently not used, as riders tend to just take the most direct line if there is little traffic
We looked at four different roundabout treatments:
(a)    Signalised, where the cycleway/car priority is controlled by traffic signals (one of these had signals half way around for cars, too, because the tram went straight through the middle of the roundabout);
(b)   Cycleway priority, set back a little (like a bent out intersection, to allow vehicles to store), where vehicles on the road always have to give way to bikes (in both directions) before entering or after leaving the roundabout;
(c)    Road priority, also set back, where bikes have to give way to vehicles on the road; and
(d)   Using underpasses to grade separate the bikes from the road.
The second type, with cycleway priority, worked well in terms of maintaining smooth traffic flow and safety.  There is potential for different treatment at different roundabouts to create some confusion.
Signalised bike crossing at roundabout
Bicycle priority crossing at roundabout
Bicycle priority crossing again - closer up
Car priority at roundabout
Grade separation at roundabout
This one is not a roundabout, but a standard, large signalised intersection.  Note it caters for bidirectional crossing of all legs, to allow crossing by the shortest route for all journeys.
Signalised intersection
Interestingly, mopeds and motorbikes are regarded as vulnerable road users – like bicycles.  So where intersection treatments (such as underpasses at large roundabouts) are needed for the safety of bicycles, mopeds are allowed to use them too.  They get redirected onto the road afterwards.
The ramp and sign to direct mopeds back onto the road
This sign indicates the path is bicycles only from this point
(and, above, that this bike route is used for the children’s traffic exam)

The other really interesting and relevant insight was about traffic signals.  When there is low traffic (such as in the evenings, or on weekends near the university campus) traffic signals revert to flashing orange.  This means that normal give way rules apply instead and it is particularly used for bicycle signals since bicycle riders cannot be expected to wait when there is no traffic around (just as pedestrians won’t wait for a green man if there is clearly nothing coming).
This bicycle light is flashing orange – ok, currently flash off, unfortunately, but you get the picture (taken in Den Haag)
Utrecht University (founded in 1636!) has 30,000 students and Frank estimated that perhaps about 80% get there by bike.  Roads and the bus system simply wouldn’t cope otherwise.  The university is about five kilometres from the city centre.  The two main routes to the university each have a cycleway that is five metres wide (normal standard is 4m), suitable for the high volume of bicycle traffic, and a bus road.  Anyone coming to the university by car needs to come by the more convoluted road route.  Here are a series of photos showing the two main university routes.

University buildings come into view on the right

This is the cycleway, off to the left is the bus only roadway

5m wide cycleway, with bus road off to the left

Crossing of the bike road to reach the bike parking for one building

Taking the other route from the university back to the city centre - another bus road on the left

The main shopping street of Utrecht has footpaths, bike parking, cycleways and bus lanes – there is no motor vehicle traffic or parking.  The commercial success of the high street has led other shopping areas to request removal of cars and parking.
Utrecht high street

Residents of some streets, sick of difficulty finding car parking, request paid parking for their street.  There are resident permits (for an annual fee) but other cars are charged hourly.  When implemented, this sometimes frees up road space that can be reallocated to cycleways or for on street bike parking garages (lockable and weather proof) that residents can rent from the council.  These are not very common, but are in demand in streets where houses have no rear entrance to enable storing bikes in a back shed, as is most common.


At June 9, 2012 at 2:08 PM , Blogger bikesaint said...

This tour was on a Saturday, hence the empty university area


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