What qualifies as Dutch Design?

April 12, 2013

Source: BicycleDutch

The UK have recently started to look across the North sea for cycle infrastructure inspiration… again. Because some people in the UK already did that in the 1930s and also in the 1980s. One thing that seems different now, is a willingness to actually do something with that inspiration. Dutch professionals are invited to speak at design workshops and to offer their advice for real traffic situations. That is a development that I applaud. Now we even see the first plans emerge. That should make us very happy, but, to be honest, these plans give me cause for concern.

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.

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 NACTOfrom the US!

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.

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