Category Archives: shared space

Some Dutch roundabouts

Dutch roundabouts have received a lot of publicity, notably here:

Roundabout design in the Netherlands has seen a long process of trial and error. A design used until bicyclists complained strongly enough about it placed the bikeway away from the circular roadway, but cyclists were required to yield. Here is an explanation of Dutch roundabout design developments.

The current preferred design places the bikeway away from the circular roadway, and motorists are required to yield, as shown in this video below. That clears up yielding issues.

Here is a video of a roundabout outside the city of s’Hertogenbosch, put forward as an example of good design.

There is a long discussion of this roundabout, among others, on Facebook.

This is a rather large roundabout at the intersection of major highways, and with moderate deflection on entry or exit.  Looking here in Google Maps,  it’s clear that the highway in the background at the left is a bypass around the city of s’Hertogenbosch — though not a limited-access highway like the one which appears in the distant background in the video.

This roundabout was constructed in connection with the new bypass road around the city. Google Street View from 2009 shows the roundabout under construction. A sidelight on this observation is that Dutch practice does consider motor traffic. Two of the legs of the intersection at the roundabout are new roads being constructed at the same time.

I’ve been told by a knowledgeable person that the  bikeways on either side of the highways are supposed to be one-way, but the only destinations along these bikeways are at intersections — reducing the temptation to ride opposite traffic.

The design requires a lot of space because the circular bikeway is  much larger than the circular roadway. The roundabout  is outside a city, but nonetheless, it appears that several houses had to be demolished or moved to make way for this roundabout.

The installation here  places separate bikeways (red asphalt) and walkways (paver blocks) outside the circular roadway. Bicycle traffic shown in the video is light. If bicycle traffic were heavy, it would result in  congestion of motor traffic because motorists yielding to cyclists could not enter or exit the roundabout. Having a path (or for that matter, crosswalks) around the outside of a roundabout obviates the main advantage of the roundabout, that traffic can keep moving. Only grade separation would avoid this for both bicyclists and pedestrians. Motor vehicles and bicycles sharing the roadway would avoid the bicyclists’ causing congestion, but would not be as attractive for bicyclists lacking in skill and confidence..

If you look at the video full-screen, you can see a number of details which are not evident in the small window on this page. I am most interested in the interactions and negotiations for right of way, which are the central issue with mobility and safety in any intersection which is not traffic-signal controlled.

Expectation in the Netherlands is that motorists will yield wherever they see shark-tooth markings. The path around the outside of the roundabout is brought out to the entry and exit roads at a right angle and far enough outside the roundabout so that motorists will be able to see approaching bicyclists. Ohio resident Patricia Kovacs has investigated roundabouts in that state and demonstrated that motorists don’t even yield to pedestrians. She has posted some comments about roundabouts on this blog and in the Facebook thread mentioned earlier.

Some cyclists in the s’Hertogenbosch video are shown looking to their right as they pass paths coming in from their right, for example at 0:55 and 2:25, but many are shown not turning their heads to look for conflicting motor traffic. That is to say, they are putting their complete faith and trust in motorists to yield to them, which is a comment on Dutch expectations for motorist conduct. There is an especially stunning example of this at 1:59, where a cyclist powers through an intersection as motorists approach from the left, inside the roundabout, and the right, entering it. However, at 6:07, a motorist stops abruptly at an exit to the roundabout as a fast cyclist comes around from the right.

One cyclist leaves the roundabout on the left side, opposite the intended direction, at 1:38 in the video.  Another is riding around the roundabout clockwise at 2:40 and apparently while talking on a mobile phone.

At 2:34, a motorist is shown slowing to yield to a cyclist who turns right rather than to cross the exit of the roundabout. With no lane changing or negotiation betwen motorists and cyclists, the motorist did not have a way to know which way the cyclist would go.

Cyclists carry various objects in their hands or on the handlebars. At 6:40, a cyclist is carrying something which looks like a hockey stick.

At 7:18 a young woman has a disabled bicycle and is walking.

Now let’s look at some other Dutch roundabouts.

A roundabout inside s’Hertogenbosch, here,  has the bikeway immediately adjacent to the circular roadway, so that cyclists are hidden directly behind — not next to — exiting vehicles. The video shows motorists required to yield to cyclists in spite of this right-hook threat.

Here’s the video of the roundabout. Are the cycling facilities safe, as claimed? Or if safety is achieved here, is it maybe achieved in another way? You decide.

The description of the video indicates that this roundabout is rather new. Its design appears to be restricted by the small available space at an urban intersection.

Some notable interactions:

At 0:20, a car brakes rather abruptly. Shortly thereafter, a motor scooter passes through the roundabout on the roadway.

At 0:30 and again at 0:53, a car blocks the bikeway to allow a pedestrian to cross in a crosswalk which is just outside the bikeway.

Most bicyclists are not paying any attention to the traffic in the roundabout, At 0:45, a bicyclist is looking down at a cell phone, but at 0:50, 1:10, 1:29, 1:53, 2:03 and 2:10,  and a few additional times, bicyclists perform a shoulder check. The one at 2:03 does this while also carrying a cell phone in one hand.

At 1:49 and again at 2:20, there is a motorcycle in the bikeway, waiting along with bicyclists to enter the roundabout, and there is a bicyclist standing over his bicycle, facing opposite the direction of traffic.  It appears that he is having a conversation with the motorcyclist and a couple of pedestrians. They are blocking the crosswalk.

At 2:49, a motorist stops in the roundabout to yield to a bicyclist who does not cross, but instead turns right. The bicyclist gives a right-turn signal, but too late for the motorist to react, and in any case, a prudent motorist would not risk that the bicyclist would go straight even though signaling. The design of the roundabout does not make the bicyclist’s intentions obvious.

At 2:58, a bus barely outpaces a bicyclist through the roundabout. The bicyclist turns right, but the bus driver has no way to know that he will. The bus driver is either very highly skilled at judging the bicyclist’s speed, or reckless. The bicyclist would have had to yield to the bus if going slightly faster and continuing around the roundabout.

Starting at 3:00, several bicyclists enter traveling the wrong way on the bikeway or sidewalk. Some turn right but others pass close to a doorway which a pedestrian has just exited, and a blind corner, and cross from right to left in the crosswalk or bikeway. An articulated bus enters the roundabout and these bicyclists pass behind it. Other bicyclist traveling counterclockwise around the roundabout will have to yield to the long bus, though this occurs outside the field of view of the video.

At 3:45, bicyclists share the bikeway around the roundabout with a skateboarder and motor-scooter rider.

Almost all the bicyclists are pedaling about 40 rpm.

Here’s a roundabout where bicyclists go around square corners:

And a little roundabout with advisory bike lanes at some of the entrances:

In the so-called “shared space” roundabout in Drachten, cyclists share space with pedestrians. The meaning of the term “shared space” is very different here from its more usual meaning, that motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians all operate in the same space.  In the Drachten roundabout, bicyclists and pedestrians share space — as on shared-use paths in the USA — but are strictly separated from motor traffic except in crossings, as in the other Dutch roundabouts. The space around the margins of the Drachten roundabout also serves as a pedestrian plaza.

I’m poking around in YouTube and Google maps. Here’s a roundabout in YouTube — — location not given, as is usual in such promotions, but I found it in Google Maps by searching on the name of one of the businesses nearby: A special feature made the roundabout practical: the buildings are set far back at a 45-degree angle on each corner. The circular bikeway around the outside makes it possible for motorists to see cyclists in order to yield (though motorists don’t always, as the video shows) and greatly adds to space requirements, which already are large for a roundabout. There wouldn’t be room for such a roundabout at many urban intersections.

Here’s a blog post which includes the video just described and others of the same roundabout, and describes different types of Dutch roundabouts.

Another roundabout in Amsterdam is of the spiraling Turbo Roundabout design, with a path close around the outside and scary sight lines which place a cyclist too far to the right to be in view of a motorist exiting the roundabout: and street view, . Traffic signals have had to be placed at the exits to mitigate these conflicts. This is a triple roundabout with a tramway going around the inside, also requiring traffic signals.

The left and center roundabouts in this overhead view, also are of the bikeway around the outside type: but the rightmost one, in a wooded area, is of the newer type.

Dutch roundabouts are  of several types for motor traffic, but the major difference for bicyclists is whether they travel around the outside of the roundabout, or there are grade separations. There are no examples like the small modern roundabouts and neighborhood traffic circles in the USA, where bicyclists share the roadway with motor vehicles.

Here is an example of grade separation:

And here is a showcase example of grade separation — replacing an installation much like the one shown in the first video embedded in this post :

Roundabouts are expensive and take up a lot of space.  Many of the promotions we are seeing of Dutch facilities ignore these limitations and the compromises they exact and/or celebrate the newest and most impressive examples.

No rules?

Quite by chance, I encountered an advocate of “shared space” and had a conversation with him at the start of a ride I undertook to illustrate the concept. The advocate expressed that there are “no rules” in this kind of space, which is dominated by pedestrians. Do you agree?

Dr. Furth’s and his students’ plan for South Brookline

On March 14, 2011, I attended a meeting in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. At that meeting, Dr. Peter Furth of Northeastern University, and some of his students, gave a presentation on proposals for street reconstruction and bikeways in the southern part of Brookline.

Proposed treatment for West Roxbury Parkway

Proposed replacement of two two-lane one-way roadways with shoulders by a narrowed two-way roadway without shoulders and an adjacent multi-use path; Newton Street (up the embankment at the left) to provide local access only.

Most of the streets in the project area are fine for reasonably competent adult and teen cyclists to share with motorists, though one street, Hammond Street, is much less so, with its heavy traffic, four narrow lanes and no shoulders. I do agree with a premise of the presentation, that bicycling conditions could be improved, but I suggest different treatments, such as conversion from four lanes to three, with a center turn lane which becomes a median at crosswalks, also freeing up room at the sides of the roadway for motorists to overtake bicyclists.

Please read through this introduction before looking through the photo album I have posted with images from the meeting presentation, and drawings which were taped up in the meeting room.

My Concerns with the Proposal

Generally, I am concerned with the hazards and delays — and in winter, complete lack of service — which the proposal introduces for bicyclists, and with the blockages and longer trips it introduces for motorists, resulting in delay and in increased fuel use and air pollution. Some specifics:

  • The proposed system of narrow two-lane streets and segregation of bicyclists onto parallel paths makes no provision for the foreseeable increasing diversity of vehicle types and speeds as fuel prices rise. This trend can only be managed efficiently and flexibly with streets that are wide enough to allow overtaking.
  • Proposed paths are on the opposite side of the street from most trip generators, and many movements would require bicyclists to travel in crosswalks, imposing delay, inconvenience and risk for bicycle travel on the proposed route and on others which cross it. Small children would not safely be able to use the proposed routes unless accompanied by an adult, same as at present.
  • The proposal would further degrade or eliminate bicycle access in winter, because of the proposed 22-foot roadway width, and because the proposed parallel paths could not be kept ice-free even if they are plowed.
  • Though intersections are key to maintaining traffic flow, the proposal puts forward an incomplete design for most intersections and no design for some of them.
  • The narrowed streets provide no accommodation for a vehicle which must stop while preparing to turn left into a driveway, or to make a delivery, or to pick up or discharge passengers, for bicyclists who must travel in the street to reach a destination on the side opposite the path, or for bicyclists who wish to travel faster than the path allows.
  • The proposal includes no discussion of improvements to public transportation, which would be key to reductions in congestion and fossil fuel use. There are no bus turnouts, although Clyde and Lee Streets are on an MBTA bus line, school buses use the streets in the project area, and additional bus routes are foreseeable.
  • The proposal includes a 12-foot-wide service road along Clyde and Lee Street, part of which is to carry two-way motor traffic along with bicycle and pedestrian traffic. At times of heavy use, 12 feet on the Minuteman Bikeway in Boston’s northwestern suburbs is inadequate with only pedestrian and bicycle traffic. 12 feet is not wide enough to allow one motor vehicle to pass another. Larger service vehicles (moving vans, garbage trucks etc.) could access parts of this service road only by backing in, or by driving up a curb and across landscaped areas. These vehicles would completely block other motorized traffic on the service road.
  • The proposal is expensive because it requires tearing up every one of the streets in order to narrow it, not only construction of a parallel path.

Confusion in the Presentation

There also was confusion in the presentation:

  • North is confused with south, or east with west in the captions to several photos. Due to the confusion, some photos show a path on the opposite side of the street from where the plan drawings place it.
  • Some items in the illustrations are out of proportion. In one illustration (the one near the top in this post), a two-lane arterial street is only 10 feet wide, based on the height of a Segway rider on an adjacent path, or else the Segway rider is 12 feet tall, riding a giant Segway.
  • Other details are inconsistent, for example, showing a sidewalk in a plan drawing, but no sidewalk in an image illustrating the same location.
  • There is confusion about location of some of the photos. Some cross-section drawings are shown without identification of the location in the plans. The location of one cross section is misidentified.
  • The proposal makes unsupportable claims about safety.

There also is an ethical issue: in their presentation, the students have appropriated a number of Google Street View images without attribution — a violation of copyright and of academic ethics. (Furth’s students also plagiarized photos from my own Web site for a different presentation, but I digress.)

Overview and Conclusions

The proposal generally attempts to make bicycle travel a safe option for children and for people who are new to bicycling. It fails to accomplish that, due to problems with access across streets to the proposed pathways. It also adds complication and delay for motorists and for the majority of existing and foreseeable bicycle users. It degrades and sometimes eliminates bicycling as an option in the winter months, and it pays no attention whatever to public transportation.

I have no objection to construction of a path in the parkland adjacent to the streets in the project area, but the proposal also works to enforce the use of the path by reducing the utility of the road network for bicyclists as well as for other users.

I do think that street improvements are desirable, and on one street (Hammond Street) a high priority to improve bicycling conditions, but these improvements can be achieved mostly through restriping, without the massive reconstruction, or rather, deconstruction, that has been proposed.  This narrowing the roadways is intended to increase greenspace, and also  apparently to reduce speeding, but the proposal goes way overboard in reducing capacity, convenience and flexibility. There are other options to reduce speeding, most notably enforcement and traffic-calming measures which affect speed without decreasing capacity.

The large multi-way rotary intersection of  Hammond, Lagrange and Newton Streets, West Roxbury Parkway and Hammond Pond Parkway is the one place where I consider reconstruction to be a high priority.

Education also is an essential element of any attempt to make bicycling safer and a more practical option.

Larger Contextual Issues

Long-run issues of energy cost and availability raise questions about the viability of sprawled suburbs whose residents are dependent on private motor-vehicle travel.

South Brookline is more fortunate. It is a medium-density residential area of single-family homes, only about 5 miles from the Boston city center and also only a few miles from the Route 128 corridor, a major employment concentrator. Schools, places of worship, parklands and shopping are closer than that. Bicycling can and should have a role here, but for many people and many trips, it is not an option, due to age, infirmity, distance, and the need to transport passengers and goods.

South Brookline could benefit from a comprehensive transportation plan, including strengthening of public-transportation options and maintaining arterial roads with capacity for varied existing,  foreseeable and unforeseen uses.

Developing such a plan requires skills, resources and time beyond what I can muster, and so I’ll not attempt that here.

Now, please move onto the photo album.

German town’s traffic plan: retrenchment, not radicalism

Parts of European cities have a modern streetscape, — Paris, due to Baron Haussmann‘s urban-renewal projects in the mid-19th century; many other cities, due to bombing in World War II and subsequent reconstruction.

But ancient, narrow streets without sidewalks are very common in European cities and towns. As an example, in 1989 during a bicycle tour in France, my wife and I walked east from the central plaza of the provincial town of Loches along a main street to attend a historical lecture. We had to zigzag from one side of the street to the other to find narrow sidewalks on the way to the lecture at a public school in town.

In this light, let’s examine the removal of signs, signals and markings from part of the Bremer Straße, the main street of the German town of Bohmte, which has received heavy news coverage recently. North American news media generally express wonderment that such a radical and unusual plan could reduce the crash rate, as claimed. Consider the article by Craig Whitlock published in the Washington Post on Wednesday, December 26, 2007.

The headline reads:

“Europeans try to solve traffic woes by throwing out most road rules”

A quote from the article reads:

“Generally speaking, what we want is for people to be confused,” said Willi Ladner, a deputy mayor in Bohmte. “When they’re confused, they’ll be more alert and drive more carefully.”

The article also mentions an underlying, rather familiar reason for the town’s traffic problems: merchants didn’t want a bypass, because it would divert traffic away from their places of business.

But the headline, and the following quote, are off-base:

“Only two traffic rules remain. Drivers cannot go more than 30 mph, the German speed limit for city driving. And everyone has to yield to the right, regardless of whether it’s a car, a bike or a baby carriage.”

The reported speed limit is incorrect — it’s actually 30 km/h, about 19 mph, a common speed limit for low-traffic residential streets in Europe. And the posted speed limit is not the only speed limit, in Bohmte or anywhere. There’s also the fundamental speed limit rule — to drive no faster than is reasonable under the existing conditions.

The article’s statement about yielding to the right could mean either of two things, both of which apply: drive on the right, and yield to a vehicle entering from the right — the universal rule for uncontrolled intersections.

So, removing signs and signals emphatically does not remove road rules. It only imposes different rules.

Confusion may increase for readers of the article! But on the Bremer Straße, uncertainty, rather than confusion, has been increased by the removal of signs, signals and markings.

(I thank Don Cook of the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for making this distinction!).

To get some perspective on the situation, you may view a Google map of Bohmte, though the section of the Bremer Straße with its special red-colored pavement doesn’t show up yet in the images posted in February, 2008. Some crosswalks are shown with red pavement — a usual color in Germany to identify zones where drivers pay special attention (another rule!).

Uncontrolled intersections are very common in European cities and towns, stop signs less common than in North America. European drivers understand that the vehicle on the right has priority when two vehicles arrive at an uncontrolled intersection at the same time — also, that an intersection with restricted sight lines requires slow, careful driving. And it is always necessary to look out for pedestrians and bicyclists.

So, the main street of Bohmte has merely been reduced to the status of many other streets. Without the signs, signals, markings and sidewalks, slow and careful driving is necessary, as on many other European urban streets.

This approach also increases safety as long as everyone travels slowly enough to avoid collisions. But if used to excess or inappropriately, this approach defeats the major advantage of bicycling or motorized travel. If a street is too narrow for motor vehicles to overtake bicycles, motor vehicles must go as slowly as bicycles. And if pedestrian space is not defined and available, bicycle traffic as well as motor traffic must slow to walking speed.

Then, fuel economy decreases, while travel time and pollution increase. On a street used mostly for local trips, a mode shift to bicycling and walking may follow as motoring becomes less convenient. On an unavoidable through route, there will be a a “bottleneck” — a reduction in speed but not in volume of the through traffic. — Bohmte being one example; another, in North America, is Burlington, Ontario before the high bridge was constructed –see Google map of Burlington.

European drivers generally understand uncontrolled intersections. Americans, not so much. The first intersection down the street from my house on a dead end in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA is an uncontrolled intersection. Most neighbors understand that they need to be prepared to yield, but some assume that if they don’t see signs or signals, drivers in the cross street will yield to them. There was a nasty collision a few years back when two vehicles entered this intersection at right angles, both traveling around 30 mph.

A common response to such an incident in the USA is to post stop signs or signalize the intersection, further increasing drivers’ expectation that they can rely on signs and signals. Old-school traffic engineers resist this trend, but politics often overrides their advice.

The real confusion in the Bohmte situation is in the minds of advocates of urban reform. The removal of signs, signals, markings and sidewalks is diametrically opposite the common approach which installs all of these — and bike lanes too — but advocates of urban reform get excited about both.

Why? Both approaches are seen as ways to reduce the dominance of motor vehicles in the urban landscape. While streets shared with congestion-free, slow motor traffic work well for bicyclists, shared streets all too often reflect a vision primarily from the point of view of pedestrian advocacy, which neglects the different needs of bicyclists. I have seen too many advocates for traffic calming assume that plazas and sidewalk-less streets crowded with pedestrians make good bicycle routes. They most certainly don’t, and so bicyclists deserve to take a good hard look at the unintended consequences when such measures are proposed!