For this post I didn’t have to travel to the other side of the world, to India or to the European Parliament. Just around the corner, only 70 steps from my backdoor, there is work in progress to to improve traffic safety. It is an understatement to say that municipality of Utrechtse Heuvelrug is not very known for the quality of the bicycle infrastructure. In his excellent blog Mark Treasure showed the main road connecting the villages of the municipality. Even for English standards this road is bad for cycling, we planners named it the “Axis of Evil”. Aside of this main road the residential areas show signs of the time they were build in. My neighborhood was designed in the 1960s, with the typical straight housing blocks and wide roads.
Great roads to have the Tour of Driebergen on, the local cycling sport event for amateurs so nearby. The event unites the sports lovers in the street, waiting for spectacle as one of my neighbours shot a few years ago in this clip. Even more off-topic, my daughter once won the children’s race.
But that wasn’t the point I wanted to make in this blogpost. It is more about the retrofitting of these streets to the insights the Dutch developed the last 30 years. Since the 1970s new roads are designed at a more human scale to reduce speed of cars. Nice for the residents of these new neighborhoods, but what to do with the existing streets? Budget cuts make the municipality focus on the real traffic safety issues, and the maintenance budget doesn’t allow any change in layout of the streets at all. So the renovation of 40 year old flats and building of new houses on a nearby land is very welcome to adapt some changes to the existing roads. A few years ago it was started with renovating the road “De Wissel“. In the video a before/after situation of “De Wissel” renewed in 2009.
At the same time this street was renewed, a new lay-out of the street Damherlaan was made. However it wasn’t a complete succes, the axis lines are unnecessary and the cycle lanes are too narrow to cycle two abreast in, the division of space makes the road look more narrow.
Recently we viewed a very clear demonstration of a road diet at “Lange Dreef“. To build new dwellings in a compact way, car parking is only allowed at the existing road. To make space, the road was narrowed by cutting off the asphalt and making parking bays aside from the new houses. It doesn’t only narrow the road, an additional advantage is that the parked bicycles are nearer the house as the parked cars. All houses have a bike garage in the garden, and some people park their bikes in the joint courtyard in front of their houses. It looks like a modern setting in the original fabric of the neighborhood.
I don’t expect that the municipality has made a real analysis of the speed in the before situation and afterwards, but as an everyday user of this road, I got the idea that car drivers are driving slower and more careful in overtaking cyclists.
The local policy to reduce the width of roads is not a local issue. It is part of a nation wide program. The Dutch policy of “Sustainable safety” is a long term policy to improve road safety in the Netherlands. Part of this policy is to bring the design of streets more into conjunction with their function, so traffic becomes more predictable and speeds of traffic are more according to the needs of people. Still, this new converted road is not according to the standards of of the “Sustainable safety” policy. The speed limit is still 50 km/h, the street design is somehow between 50 km/h and 30 km/h. On the other hand, maintainance budgets don’t allow to redesign roads without any serious safety record, so every adaptation in the right direction should be welcomed. The recent trial of Transport of London to remove centre lines is one of those adaptations.