What Qualifies As Dutch Design? – Certainly NOT Jackson Boulevard

Background Reading

Summary

Chicago has been rejoicing over the introduction of Protected Bike Lanes (PBLs). We also have a newly minted set of Complete Streets Design Guidelines (PDF) to help in the creation of new roadway designs going forward. But there are some misconceptions about how things are being done here as opposed to the Netherlands which after all is the place whose successful reduction of automobile vs. bicycle crash reduction rates we are attempting to emulate.

What we called PBLs they call segregated bike lanes. Evidently like the US the UK is attempting to get on board with bicycle designs that they too hope will reduce the carnage on their roadways. To that end Dutch designers have been invited to speak at workshops to assist in the design effort of UK engineers. But there are some major differences in how things are being done both here and in the UK that concern the folks at a sister blog titled BicycleDutch.

It is imperative that we take a look at these differences to better judge how the development of our own PBLs is proceeding and to help the layman anticipate problems that might be arising in our own designs. Steve Vance has offered a glimpse into what is being done locally to redesign an especially troublesome intersection that just about everyone traveling north from Wicker Park on Damen has encountered, name the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection. What is interesting is the idea that the average cyclist is being asked to submit ideas on how best to make this redesign meet the needs of even cyclists.

So it is not beyond the purview of “real cyclists” to develop an understanding of just what makes a bike lane conform to “Dutch Design“. The BicycleDutch blogger puts it this way when describing the problems he sees with what the Brits are attempting to do:

Yesterday, I read about the conversion of a Manchester junction. There is no design included but the description starts promising: “segregated lanes will be set up on the approaches to the junction on Wilmslow Road,”. Great: this is a big road and a big junction and it is good practice in the Netherlands to separate cycling traffic and motor traffic on roads like that. So that sounds perfect. But the description continues: “to allow cyclists to reach the waiting area in safety. The traffic signals installed at the site will have dedicated lights for cyclists allowing them to set off and turn in safety before cars are released.” Hang on… ‘waiting area’ and ‘set off before cars are released’? On a Dutch junction there is no ‘waiting area’ at least not on the main carriage way and ‘set off before cars’? The cyclists need a completely different green cycle. It almost seems as though they are talking about an advanced stop line on the road. Something the Dutch would never combine with segregated lanes in the approach to such a junction.

He goes on to write about another development:

Today there was another announcement. This time about a junction in Southampton, which is announced as a Dutch style junction. A picture was included and I was totally surprised. What is depicted there bears no resemblance to a Dutch junction at all!

Left: design for a Southampton junction (pic courtesy of DailyEcho), right: design of a real Dutch junction. In red the cycle paths. Note how straight forward crossing this junction is. Even turning is clear. In the left picture it is really a puzzle how you go from one end to the other via the fragmented pieces of cycle infrastructure that seem randomly scattered around the junction.

Left: design for a Southampton junction (pic courtesy of DailyEcho), right: design of a real Dutch junction. In red the cycle paths. Note how straight forward crossing this junction is. Even turning is clear. In the left picture it is really a puzzle how you go from one end to the other via the fragmented pieces of cycle infrastructure that seem randomly scattered around the junction.

Yes, advanced stop lines or bike boxes if you like to call them that, do exist in the Netherlands, but they are only used in low volume traffic situations. What really struck me were those coloured squares in every corner. I’ve never seen them. Oh yes wait, I did see them, but not in the streets, in the design examples of NACTO from the US!

We Yanks are under the impression that what we are currently designing and installing on Chicago streets is essentially what exists and more importantly has worked to reduce traffic mortality rates in the Netherlands. But is it? He goes on to complain:

In my opinion that design is not the best solution for cyclists on that junction. Of course UK traffic engineers have every right to come up with their own solutions, but to call that Dutch style is simply not right. Dutch junctions are very straight forward. All the routes for the different types of traffic are clearly connected and separated from other flows of traffic. There is no turning in strange and unexpected places, no waiting on a coloured square with other traffic passing on all sides.

Are our designs in actual violation of the ones we are attempting to copy? I certainly think so. And that might come as a surprise to many an Urban Cycling Movement enthusiast who believes they are welcoming in the best in European bicycle infrastructure design.

I have explained the basics of a Dutch junction before. The problem is that we Dutch have moved on. Our traffic is now much more separated on route level, not on street level anymore. So the situation on junctions becomes ever more incomparable. But we do have older style junctions that are comparable enough with the average UK junction. We have tried and tested our designs for cycle infrastructure on such junctions for decades, it has proved to be clear, safe and pleasant. Why come up with something from a US guide that is new and experimental? UK and US roads are far less comparible than UK and NL streets. And then to promote such experiments as Dutch, it is almost offensive. As someone on Twitter says: We Dutch should trademark ‘Dutch Junction’ to prevent these kind of PR accidents.

Dutch Junction Design Explained

Jackson Boulevard Is An Epic Fail

If you viewed the video clip above you will note that Jackson Boulevard (a one way street from Damen to at least Clinton) violates some of the Dutch Design Principles shown. Here is what the street looks like as of this writing:

Jackson-Morgan Intersection (Showing Missing Bike Box)

Jackson-Morgan Intersection (Showing Missing Bike Box)

The first thing you notice of course is the left turn lane for automobiles. It uses the “poor line of sightcrossing pattern highlighted in the video to allow automobiles to make left hand turns. But the glaring problem with this design is that here at the Morgan intersection the lane is on the wrong side of the road for cyclist wishing to turn RIGHT to head into the UIC Campus area. There is essentially no place to put a “Bike Box” to effect such turns.

According to the Dutch video there should be a bike lane on the right.

(Note: The bike box I show in the drawing is where it could be placed except for the fact that the left turn lane for automobiles prevents this.)